Joining Team Flake

I’ve been looking to get a set of 1983 Topps Foldouts, five oversized mini-sets (leaders in pitching, batting, home runs, stolen bases and relief). It’s easily gettable for under $10, but I’m holding out to save every dollar. (It’s actually kind of silly how single dollar sensitive I can be).

I was wondering whether the cards, unfolded, would fit in 4-pocket sheets, so I went to the pdf of my always at hand 2009 Standard Catalog to check the size. The first comparable set I thought of, that I had in sheets, was a late-‘70’s Minnesota Twins team issued postcard set. Alas, the foldouts are bigger.

Knowledge attained, I aimlessly scrolled down, looking for nothing in particular, past Montreal Expos player pins and matchbook covers, when I ended up at “N.” First entry – 1969 Nabisco Team Flakes.

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Usually I’m not a big fan of sets that are nearly only found hand cut, but now that I am committed to completing the 1975 Hostess set (the only year that I cut out the cards), I’m changing my tune a little. Reasonably well hand cut cards have started to appeal to me.  And, if you’re a frequent reader, you know I’ve been looking for new sets to pursue. A 24-card, hand cut set is right in my sweet spot.

I’d heard about these cards, but never paid them any mind. I had a vague picture in my mind of dark, unattractive, crooked cards, but NO!, the cards are mini-replicas of late 1960’s Sports Illustrated posters and, as I looked at each card online, I was, like Proust via madeleine, taken back to my room in Canarsie, and then in Lake Grove, Long Island. Much of my posters of that time are gone – Aaron, Yaz, Ken Harrelson – but one has survived, travelling with me through college, Chicago and Cooperstown.

Seeing a mini – Mays seems to be enough to make me go for this set. I’ve seen uncut boxes, but I prefer hand cut. Unlike Hostess, which provided space between the dotted-lined cards, there’s no separation between the Team Flakes cards, which makes nice copies hard to find, helpful in pricing. But what I really want to know is who the hell ever ate Team Flakes?

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So now I have another target, one that seems easily attainable. We’ll see if that pans out, but I’m sure it’s easier to buy these cards than try to buy back my old posters. I don’t have the room or wall space for those.

It’s Fun to Share, But…

A great joy that comes with the SABR Baseball Cards Committee is sharing what we have, what we want or what we discover. I genuinely enjoy that and, in many ways, it’s a key part of why we like collecting. Telling people what we own is an important piece of the equation, whether it comes from pride or bragging. There’s an old Cindy Crawford joke about that. (See bottom of post; I won’t interrupt my flow here.)

I wonder, though, what becomes too much information. If I had a case of unopened 1952 Topps high number packs (I don’t), would I share that? Should I share that? It strikes me as dangerously provocative and, though I like you all, I don’t know you.

“Hey, did I ever tell you guys about that unopened case of 1952’s I have? I keep them next to my desk in my office.” That seems like an excessive share and a tad dangerous.

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I wonder too if there’s etiquette on asking what a fellow collector has. “Hey dude, I see you collect pre-war cards. Do you have the T206 Sherry Magee error card? That’s really valuable.” Maybe I’m overly suspicious, but that kind of approach makes me paranoid.

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I’ve been thinking about this as I see various collectors’ posts, whether here our on our Facebook page (or on the Baseball Card Freaks Facebook page, which, I believe, is a closed group). I don’t want to be a downer and start promoting my concerns, but I often wonder why people post about excessive pricey items they own.

Anyway, it’s been on my mind, so I’ve got nothing more to add as per usual, about cards I’m looking for, sets I’m collecting, or general hobby stuff. I am very curious if others have these same thoughts, or at least similar ones. Let me know.

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Now here’s the Cindy Crawford joke, though I used to hear it about Claudia Schiffer too:

A young single guy finds himself stranded on a deserted island. As he washes ashore, he sees a woman passed out in the sand. Able to perform CPR on her, he saves her life. Suddenly, he realizes that the woman is Cindy Crawford. Immediately, Cindy falls in love with the man. Days and weeks go by, and they’re making passionate love morning, noon and night.

One day she notices he’s looking kind of glum.

“What’s the matter, sweetheart?” she asks. “We have a wonderful life together and I’m in love with you. Is there something wrong? Is there anything I can do?”

He says, “Actually, Cindy, there is. Would you mind, putting on my shirt and pants?”

“Sure,” she says, “If it’ll help.”

He takes off his shirt and pants and she puts it on.

“Okay, would you put on my hat now, and draw a little mustache on your face?” he asks.

“Whatever you want, sweetie,” she says, and does so.

Then he says, “Now, would you start walking around the edge of the island?”

She starts walking around the perimeter of the island. He sets off in the other direction. They meet up half way around the island a few minutes later. He rushes up to her, grabs her by the shoulders, and says, “Dude! You’ll never believe who I’m sleeping with!”

Little Black Rectangles (Or, In the Eye of the Beholder)

In my quest for sets to complete, manageable sets, not too expensive for a one-time purchase, I’ve begun to look, in earnest, at old Topps inserts. I’ve got my share – 1969 Deckle and Decals (see last post), a random assortment of others – but there’s always room for more.

I’d like to grab some 1968 and 1972 posters.

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I don’t have any of them and they’re pretty nice, much nicer than the 1970 posters I do have

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(though not as nice as the 1967 pinups). But, since I have none, will I really put together a set? I’m pretty doubtful. Still, I’ll occasionally look for a lot and, if I do end up snatching some, we’ll see what happens.

What’s been grabbing me are the 1970 and 1971 Topps Scratch-Offs. Why? Not because of looks. These are the most unattractive inserts that Topps ever produced. Ugly little head shots on the front, a centerfold of black rectangles and a back that clearly didn’t take too long to design, all housed on rough cardboard (that’s how I remember them).

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It’s in the remembering that the scratch offs live.  They’re inserts I had, unlike the posters which I never did, so don’t have any feelings about one way or the other. I have a connection to these scratch offs that is real and, though they repulse me in most ways, they attract me in others.

Interestingly, I don’t recall them in 1971 packs, only in 1970. Turns out there is a distinguishing mark to tell the two apart – 1970’s are white inside, 1971’s red.

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Both sets are 24 cards, both should be pretty reasonable to buy unscratched (though a NM 1970 set recently sold for $117.50, way more than I’d consider.)  I’m thinking $65 for 1970, $75-80 for 1971, harder to come by, which is why I don’t remember them.

I’ve also been slightly obsessed with the 1970 Topps Football Glossy inserts, but that’s for another blog.

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The Making (Actually, Building) of a Complete Set

It’s a daunting task to start collecting a full vintage set from zero. I only did it once, about 25 years ago or so, an old set of over 200 cards. In those pre-eBay days, it wasn’t quite clear what a complete set really went for in the open market. All you could go on was price guide prices and, since they were usually higher than actual, going for a set from scratch wasn’t necessarily an economic mistake.

It would be now. There’s no way you can put together a vintage set for a better price than buying it straight out, unless you either have a good critical mass of cards to start from or you can trade. Or, and herein lies this post, it’s a small enough set that prices won’t get out of hand.

Until a few months ago, I didn’t have a single 1969 Topps Decal in my collection. Why? Who knows. Never interested me, my 1969s weren’t my original cards from packs so I didn’t have the inserts, and so on. They’re interesting items, small and glossy with plain white paper backgrounds, the photos almost the same as the regular issue cards. They ain’t no Deckle Edges, I can tell you! (By the way, can anyone tell me which series the Deckles were inserted in, and which series had the Decals? I’d like to know that.)

Earlier this year, Mark Armour and I, hot off a huge trade of 1970’s basketball for 1968 and 1969 baseball, bandied about what we may still have to swap. It came down to Hostess, Kellogg’s, Fleer Cloth patches (from me) and other oddballs for some Post Cereal and, when I saw them calling out to me, 1969 Decals.

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I was on my way. From zero to 10, in one swoop, 20% of the way to the end. All I needed was a good, cheap lot, ideally with a bunch of stars. That came my way soon after.

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The nice thing about this lot was that now I had doubles to sell, which I did. Oddly, I couldn’t buy commons for less than $2-2.50 and couldn’t sell them for more than about $1.75. Still, selling extras helped me whittle down my cost (I still have a nice Hoyt Wilhelm, if anyone is interested).  I even sold the backless Pete Rose for over $4 and bought a super nice one for $10.

With Joey Foy now in hand, I’m down to one, Reggie Jackson. I want to pay $10-15, EX or better, but it’s likely to run me $15-20. Weird, because there’s no way there are more of these out there than Reggie’s rookie card, which goes for way more. The Decals are definitely a lowish supply, lower demand kind of issue.

As to the price? I’ll have ended up spending around $150 for the complete set in overall EX (some VGEX, some EXMT, hard to know with Decals) and sold listings show most sets in this condition going for $200-300. Not that I’m selling, but it’s nice to know that, after the dust settles, I ended up with a bargain.

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Induction and Cards – The Reese’s Cup of Baseball

It’s taken four days to unwind from Hall of Fame Induction Weekend. While being an ex-Mayor made this past weekend a different, less immersive experience (I don’t get invited anywhere anymore), much of the four days were the same – non-stop eating and drinking, a house full of guests, a seemingly continuous party from Friday through Monday and, of course, baseball cards.

Though most locals don’t love it, Cooperstown has a high percentage of baseball stores, many of those card shops. They’re all different in their stock. Some are classic local card shops, with old and new cards, pricey and cheap cards, everything you’d expect from a full service dealer. Others are more specialized. They either don’t focus on cards or have their own niche.

I know I’ve written about Baseball Nostalgia before. For over four decades the shop has been in Cooperstown, in one form or another. It’s amazing and a key part of what we do on Induction weekend. My pal Jimmy explained it best. Baseball Nostalgia is the kind of store you can go into and say, “I’m looking for something in an Elroy Face” and, within 20 seconds, you’re holding an awesome (and authentic) signed picture.

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I had a few successes, adding two more 1972 Fleer Famous Feats, whittling my want list down to seven cards. Jimmy went to town, scouring rack after rack, diving into the quarter bin. When we got back to my house to look at his haul, I saw a 1994 Fleer Frank Thomas. I always liked the look of those (though somehow I don’t have the set).

“Wait a minute,” Jimmy said, went out to his car and handed me a complete 1994 Fleer Sunoco set, 25 super nice cards. He happened to have bought two. I’m telling you, cards surround us on Induction weekend.

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We didn’t break out a box of unopened packs this year. Last year we had 1992 Upper Deck. I had a box of 1991 Topps ready to go, but totally forgot to bring it down. That set has a Chipper Jones rookie card which, though not incredibly valuable, was apropos for Laaaaarrrrry’s special weekend.

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The inextricable connection between the game, its history and baseball cards is never more clear to me than on Induction weekend. I couldn’t imagine the two being separated. The weekend wouldn’t be as much fun without the cards.

As Jimmy said after another round of card shopping, “I can’t believe it. Where else can I go where I give a guy some money and he gives me a pile of baseball cards that I need?” There’s nothing better than Cooperstown and cards, together.

Dealing from the Bottom

I once read that good collectors sell the bottom of their collection to pay for what they need. That seemed very shrewd and made me realize I was not a good collector, at least by this standard. It’s only in recent years that I’ve sold the bottom, or some of the bottom (doubles, triples, stuff I don’t want) to subsidize my new needs.

In the early ‘90’s, my interest in cards and my income were equally high, and I thought I’d begin to pursue one card of every Hall of Famer from when they were active. Of course I was covered from the 1950’s on (not counting Negro Leaguers, 19th Century guys and other similar cases), but I started in somewhat earnest. Within a few years that goal disappeared. I don’t think in a way that makes a personal collection of random cards, from various years, interesting to me. I don’t like things so open-ended and the failure of this effort underscored my collecting, and psychological, MO.

But I did get some nice pre-war cards, including two from the 1928 George Ruth Candy Company set of six. Thinking on it recently, I concluded that I don’t need two Ruth cards. One is plenty and selling the other would help me with my current needs. I listed it on eBay, ungraded, but I’ll likely get it slabbed by SGC. My gut tells me I’ll get $1250-1500, but who knows. I can’t even remember what I paid for it, though I know I bought both at once and I never spent a ton on anything.

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So is a 90-year- old Babe Ruth card in the bottom of my collection? Can’t be, right, but I’m not so sure. It’s an extra, though not a double. I’m never going to finish that set (nor do I want to) and, the more I think about it, the more I WANT to sell it. And that, realizing that a card could be a one of a kind in my collection yet still be disposable, is liberating.

About 15 years ago, I decided I really wanted autographed cards of ARod and Jeter. I’ve always like Rodriguez, still do, but never cared one way or the other about Jeter. I got a good deal on a signed 1993 Jeter Upper Deck rookie, with LOA. I think it cost around $75. Noodling around on eBay I saw that one sold in the neighborhood of $300 (listed there, best offer accepted). Once I saw that I was intrigued. (Thought you’d guys would like to see the page Jeet is on.)

If someone walked into my house and said they’d trade me a 1956 Mantle in EX for the Jeter auto card and a couple hundred bucks, I’d take the deal (after saying “What the hell are you doing in my house?”). I know that to be true. Yet I’m having a harder time listing the card, getting the dough first, and then searching for the Mantle in the $450-500 range.

The jury’s still out on this. If I do list the Jeter, it’s going to open up the floodgates and I’ll look at what I have in a different light. There’s a lot in my collection that would qualify as “this is really nice, but I’d rather have that.”

Is that the bottom? I don’t know. I’ll let you know if I get there.

The Price is Right?

I’m in the home stretch for my 1956 Topps set – 330 down, 10 to go. My tendency is to back into the most expensive card in any set I’m working on, because that puts me in a corner. “Are you really not going to buy that last card, regardless of price?” says the collector voice in my head. Of course I’m going to buy that card, hopefully at the price/condition equilibrium that’ll make me happy. So, yeah, I’m going to end up buying a 1956 Mantle.

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I’ve noticed a good amount of collectors approach the pricey card predicament in different ways. Some go lower condition to get a manageable price; some accept that they’ll simply never be able to afford that high dollar card. Some I’ve come across make do with reprints as a way to fill a sheet and look complete. I have thoughts.

How does one embark on set collecting? For me, from the onset, the overall cost has to be attainable. We all have different budgets, sure (though it seems clear to me that some of you spend far too much!), but putting one’s self on a completion path that you’ll never see the end of seems like bad planning and hugely frustrating. Snipe hunting sucks.

I’ll gulp when I buy that ’56 Mantle, but I knew it was hovering on the horizon when I decided to work on the set. For that reason, I’ll never even begin a 1952 Topps set, and didn’t even in the ‘70’s, when the prices were still relatively high to my income, which was non-existent. I could, back then, work on late ‘60’s sets which, at the time, were closer to my grasp.

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But, if you’re determined to finish most of a set, what’s the best option? It’s got to be the worse condition rather than the reprint. I know even low grade high end cards (oxymoronic?) can get up there dollar-wise, but a genuine card by default is preferable. Want to use a reprint as a placeholder? Sure, I guess. As an end in itself? You’re better off selling all the cards you have and redirecting towards a more attainable year to pursue.

All of that certainly makes it more difficult to pick a set. I’ve been inching my way along a 1970-71 Topps Hockey set, because I had a critical mass of cards to start with (around 25%) and the priciest cards I still need won’t run more than $30-40, and there’s only two of those (Orr and a checklist).  It’s definitely the last old hockey set I’ll tackle, because I know from the get-go that I’m unwilling to pony up the dough for certain cards.

I’m definitely running out of sets that I can reasonable hunt down.  I know I’ve written about that before, but it really bothers me.  I’ll figure something out. Until then, I’ll be on the lookout for a VGEX or EX 1956 Mantle that won’t keep me up at night.