Die Cuts (or, as German card collectors call them, The Cuts)

Die cut cards have been around for a long time, 19th century style long time. I’m not going to write about the history of die cuts; that’s not my style. You want to know more about them, go for it. You’re not gonna get that here.

In the mid-‘80’s, Donruss put out Pop-ups in conjunction with their set of All-Stars. Here’s a Wade Boggs card:

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Here’s the eye-popping special effect:

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The worst Kellogg’s set did a better job of 3-D. Most die cuts don’t even try that hard. You just pop out the player and stick him in a little paper stand. Not very believable, if you ask me.

Every once in a while a die cut set catches my eye.  The 1973 Johnny Pro Orioles set is all kinds of awesome. Great players, good pictures, and even a couple of harder to come by cards – Brooks Robinson, Bobby Grich and Jim Palmer got two poses each! I’m still on the trail of Brooks batting and Palmer in his windup. The supply seems very scarce, but, fortunately for me, the demand is low. If I ever track them down they shouldn’t set me back too much. Orlando Pena’s card, oddly, is not die cut. Pena probably wasn’t worth the price of the labor!

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The next year Johnny Pro put out a Phillies set. While the O’s got 28 cards, the Phils got only 12. The Orioles deserved more cards, they were good. The Phillies were lousy, but, and it’s a big Kardashian-sized but, the Johnny Pro set had a Mike Schmidt card. Though both sets have a solid color background, there’s something unfinished about the Phillies set, all in white. The green of the Orioles cards seems somehow more polished. I have no idea what Johnny Pro Enterprises did, but their corporate filing was forfeited in 1979. The significance of that also something I have no idea about.

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The only other die cut set I went gaga over was a Dodgers team issued pinup set from 1963. A most incredible set of actual head shots on cartoony hand drawn bodies; it seems likely that this set, in its super cool envelope, was sold at the ballpark. They look a lot like the 1938 Goudey Heads-up cards, but so much better. They’re really big, 7 ¼” X 8 ½”.

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People are probably most familiar with the 1964 Topps Stand-ups. Weird that I never dug those; I can’t figure out why. They seem right in my wheelhouse and I probably could’ve gotten them relatively cheaply in the ‘70’s, when cards like that were easy to find and inexpensive.  I should at least have a Wayne Causey in my collection.

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Is It the Cards, or Is It the Baseball?

“Beatle cards, Beatle cards!”

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I was a late talker, but somewhere between two- and three-years old, I got it. My Great Aunt used to tell me that I would howl about Beatles’ cards from my crib (Are two-year olds still in cribs?). The love of cards was strong with this one from early on.

Yes, this is a baseball card blog and, partially, this is a baseball card post, but it’s clear from what I gather of my own personal history that my love of cards began with Topps’ Fab Four, not ’64 baseball, cards.

Baseball cards are absolutely the vast majority of my cards. The sets are bigger, I’ve been buying them longer and continuously and, when I became the recipient of the card collections of friends, their shoeboxes were always dominated by baseball cards.

So what came first, the baseball or the card? That I’ve always bought lots of cards, of all sports and some non-sports, means that, for me, it’s always been the cards first, the baseball second.  Cards are talismans, direct memories of the past, but they can also be indirectly evocative. When Munsters’ cards came out in 1996 and 1998, I bought them. When Twilight Zone cards came out from 1999-2002, I bought those sets too. Same for the 2001 Planet of the Apes cards. Though not the original issues ( the 1964 Leaf Munsters and the 1967 Topps Planet of the Apes cards are a tad pricey), the recent sets were good fun, brought back great TV and movie memories, not so much from the time like a 1972 Gary Gentry would, but looking backward. They were definitely as much fun as those year’s baseball cards. The ’96 Grandpa Munster cards were as good, if not better, than the ’96 Derek Jeters.

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Is this off topic? Kinda, but I’d like to know what is at the core of the card collector. How many readers of this blog only collect baseball cards? How many collect other sports? How many collect non-sports? I want to know who’s harboring a secret Partridge Family set.

These days I am fully immersed in baseball cards, but that doesn’t mean I’m averse to picking up the occasional 1959 Fleer Three Stooges card, if the price is right.

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Amazing Stuff

In the wake of the Mets winning the World Series in 1969, a flood of cool items hit the market -buttons, records, Daily News portraits (“A Portfolio of Stars,” drawn by cartoonist Bruce Stark), ugly Transogram action figures, even an IHOP placemat (which I have, which is remarkable considering I’ve eaten at an IHOP maybe three times in my life).

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The one that grabbed my interest the most was a gas station giveaway that came out during that championship season.

Nostradamus-like, Citgo put out an 8 card set BEFORE the Mets won the World Series. Way to get on the bandwagon before the bandwagon even existed! At 8” X 10”, are they cards? I don’t know. They’re card-y enough to make it into the Standard Catalog. The fronts of the cards have both portrait and action shots, the eight lucky Mets featured were Tommie Agee, Ken Boswell, Gary Gentry, Jerry Grote, Cleon Jones, Jerry Koosman, Ed Kranepool and Tom Seaver. No Jack DiLauro? No Bobby Pfeil? For God’s sake, where the hell is Nolan Ryan?

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The backs have brief bios of the players (Cleon Jones, football star), some statistics, and a longer bio of the artist, John Wheeldon. Wheeldon gets some pretty heavy duty coverage here. Clearly he was a big deal – he painted Gene Kelly! There’s solid PR for him on the back, as well as for Citgo. “A nice place to visit” – really? I can’t think of a place more dirty and sad than a 1969 era Citgo gas station. Only your local porno theater was more gross.

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I didn’t collect these when they came out. I was six- years old, going on seven, in the summer of ’69, and didn’t have my card collecting and gas station promo game down. By 1972, when Sunoco issued NFL stamps, I was all over it.

Years after the Citgo Mets were issued, I found a nice set at a Chicago National and, having completely forgotten about them, was consumed by a flush of warm nostalgia when I saw them. I was instantly brought back to the Canarsie of my youth and the pure heaven of the Mets World Series win. I stopped being a Mets fan years ago (mid-1977 to be exact), but 1969-70 has a special place in my heart, as does this set, which was yours for $0.35 per gallon.

What’s in the box? *

Long before the advent of storage boxes, boxes created solely to hold cards–properly–sized and designed to keep corners crisp–collectors of a certain age relied on shoeboxes. (Collectors of a much older age relied on cigar boxes. I am not that old.) I still have a few odd shaped cards in 1970’s era shoeboxes. I don’t really care to put them in sheets. The old boxes have done yeoman service over time.

As I do every week, I got to thinking about what to write for the blog. Last week’s post on oddball sets got some nice traction, so I didn’t really want to write another post about that. There’s no glory in becoming the “oddball king,” but I started thinking about the old shoeboxes and thought a layer by layer reveal might be fun to write, and read, about. You be the judge.

There’s the box top, with a little note telling me what is inside. Or was inside. Most of those were relocated to an undisclosed site. I have no idea which of my mother’s old shoes were originally in here, but the red and gray of this box has been part of my card world for 40 years.

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Cover off, much to be explored.

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1978 Twins Postcard Set

Why? I have no idea. I think I ordered it from the team, but I’m really at a loss to explain why this is in my possession.  Sure, I love Hosken Powell as much as the next guy, but…

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1977 Pepsi-Cola Baseball Stars

In the mid-late ‘70’s, discs were everywhere. First, they seemed cool. Instantly, they were boring as hell, but not these, oh no, not these. The Pepsi cards were discs, inside a glove on a long rectangle! That’s something that caught my eye big time.

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It’s an Ohio regional set, which explains why they’re pushing a Rico Carty shirt as one of the top shirt options.  Get a look at the “save these capliners” tag at the top. Explain what those are to your kids.

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I don’t know if there’s a sheet around that would work for these cards. In the shoebox they remain.

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1976 Towne Club

I guess Towne Club was a soda maker in and around Detroit. I have no idea really. I just read that it was a competitor of Faygo, which I’m also unsure of.  The Pop Center was a store where people would take a wooden crate and walk around a warehouse to choose their pop. Seems like an idea doomed to fail, which it did.

This was the first disc set I saw and I bought it. Nothing to note; it’s pretty dull.

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1980 Topps Superstar 5” X 7” Photos

I’ve written about the 1981 version of this set in my Split Season post. The 1980 version came in two types – white back and gray back. Like the following year’s set, these cards are beautiful in every way – photos, gloss, size. Perfection!

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1986 Orioles Health and 1981 Dodgers Police

Nice sets, worth the inexpensive cost of admission.  The most important part about the Orioles set is that it proved that a Cal Ripken autograph I got in the mail was real. Cal sent me the Health card signed. Having an unsigned version was all I needed to know that he delivered a real signature.

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1986 Kay-Bee Young Superstars

Rob Neyer recently wrote a post about the Circle K set. These small boxed sets were the locusts of the card world. All through the ‘80’s, some company had a small deck of baseball cards to sell. These two boxes (why two?) have mostly served as a base for the Orioles and Dodgers sets, but I cracked one open and they’re fine, especially the 1971 Topps style backs.

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You can see beneath all the cards is a four decade old piece of paper towel, serving as a cushion between cards and box. No detail regarding proper care was lost on me.

 

*Congrats to those who picked up the Se7en reference.

Different sizes, weird cards, one album

Only in Cooperstown can you go into a baseball card store and find inexpensive genuine autographed cards. Baseball Nostalgia, right next to Doubleday Field, is a frequent haunt of mine. They’ve been around for 40 years, were once the flagship of TCMA, and remain as the depository of awesome things. They have rows and rows of autographed cards, not only big stars but nobodies. Maybe nobodies is unfair; let’s say non-stars.

Last year I bought a handful of signed cards, but in the little pile of goodies were a few photos (Jim Bibby, Buddy Bradford) circa 1974 and a postcard of Jack Brohamer from 1975. Why would anybody buy a signed Jack Brohamer postcard? Readers of this blog know the answer to that.

The Brohamer card is pretty sweet and, as I was researching for a new book proposal, I stumbled on the fact that Ken Berry (outfielder, not F Troop star) finished his career on the Indians. I didn’t recall that, Googled, and came across the one card of Berry in brilliant mid-‘70’s Cleveland garb. It was from the same postcard set as the Brohamer! It took time, but I finally got the full set last week, shipped in sheets.

I grabbed an album off the shelf that would be appropriate housing for this set. It’s an album of misfit cards – oddball sets, different shapes and sizes, in 2-pocket, 4-pocket and 9-pocket sheets. Besides the 1975 Cleveland Indians set (here’s a photo of one page, not with Brohamer but with Ed Crosby, Frank Duffy, John Ellis and Oscar Gamble, for Dan Epstein), the other sets are:

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1963 Pepsi-Cola Tulsa Oilers

12 panels, 2 cards per panel, 24 cards with a big loop above to hang on bottle tops – what more could you ask! The Pepper Martin card is the coolest, but for my card collecting age group (I’m 54), a minor league set with Jim Beauchamp, Tom Hilgendorf, Chuck Taylor and some batboys, is hard to resist. It’s not a very pricey set, I have no idea when I got it and how much I paid, but it’s way cool.

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1966 East Hills Pirates

There are a few great regional sets featuring the Pirates of the 1960’s – KDKA, Grenier Tires and East Hills. Produced and distributed by a big mall outside Pittsburgh, the East Hills set is very nice and essential for Al McBean completists. Sure, Clemente and Stargell are the highlights, but every Bucco picture is a gem. There’s something about Matty Alou that fascinates me. He seems a bit like an alien, if an alien could hit .342.

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1961 Nu-Card Baseball Scoops

Not odd in size, the Nu-Card cards are odd in content. Contemporary quasi-achievements are sprinkled amongst all-time moments. Was Roy Sievers’ 1957 American League Home Run title equivalent to Lou Gehrig’s streak or Willie Mays’ 1954 World Series catch? If you’ve got an 80 card set to fill, you bet it is!

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1966 St. Petersburg Cardinals

A bit larger than regular postcards (they peek out above a regular 4-pocket sleeve), this 20 card set was put out by Foremost Milk. Of course, nothing screams hot summer in Florida more than a glass of milk. Sparky Anderson’s card is the key, and here he is. You can’t tell me this dude was only 32 at the time.

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There’s something about these sets that resonate with me – there’s a romantic vision I have of suburban Pittsburgh 10-year olds bugging their Mom to take them to East Hills for a Gene Michael card, or some kid deciding to buy a pack of Nu-Cards instead of Topps and insisting that Nu-Cards were better. The very idea of seeing shelves of Pepsi bottles with Tulsa Oiler card hanging from the necks makes me light-headed.

 

Those Damned Slabs!

I love the feel of cards. Not modern glossy cards and definitely not those uber-glossy, oily mid-‘90’s cards that stick together when stacked! I hate those.

In 1998 I started working on the 1963 Fleer set. It seemed easy to put together from scratch, a 66 card set with one harder to find checklist. I lucked out with a few reasonably priced lots, then, since I was already hooked on eBay, started hunting down stars. I did well, finding EX-MT or better cards for reasonable prices. Soon enough, I’d have the whole set and sock it away in a box, my preferred method of storage.

Then I started winning auctions for graded cards. Not because I preferred them (see tactile thoughts above), but because the price was right. Now I had a dilemma. How to store the set? I couldn’t put nearly all of a complete set in a box and put what would end up as four graded cards somewhere separate. I thought about cracking the holders, but I’m pretty feeble when it comes to the most basic skills and, for sure, that would have resulted in ruined cards and me bleeding. So I ended up putting 63 cards in top loaders and finding a box to hold those and the oversized graded cards. Now, when I look at that set, I don’t get the enjoyment of having a stack of 50+ year old cardboard in my hands.

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The rise of the graded card ruined the hobby for me (until recently). I get it – it provides a certain consistency of grading, better than the old days when you had to take the seller’s word for how a card looked (though putting up actual scans goes a long way in accurately portraying raw cards). It definitely made it easier to buy online with confidence and, in the beginning, it made sense to grade stars and superstars, but when commons started getting graded, it killed the joy of completing sets for me (again, until recently). Every card in remotely nice shape was slabbed.

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I came up with a solution to knock me out of my card doldrums and the problems of slabbing. Starting last year, I completed a 1971 Topps baseball set in a condition only a fool would grade. Many many are EX-MT, some pretty sharp for a set notorious for chipping and bad centering. A lot are VG at best and some look like they were run over by a car, repeatedly. Still, now I can pull out the box and flip through them all, getting that smooth sensation from the fronts and that rough feel of the backs.

Still, as I work to complete multiple older sets, I’m running into the problem of key cards in slabs. I’m not sure what to do – pass them up and wait for a raw card, or suck it up and end up with a card or two in slabs? I know what I’d prefer – raw cards only – but I know that price will dictate results, exactly like it did almost 20 years ago.

Shows, real and virtual

I’ve been on eBay since 1998, but my frequency of visits since last July, both as a buyer and as a seller, is ridiculous. I’m checking in all day, all the time, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I remember the hassles of card shows.

Starting in 1973 (yes, 1973!), I attended at least one big show per year. Back then, there were only one or two big shows in all of New York, either at a church whose name escapes me or the Roosevelt Hotel. We would drive in from Long Island for the day and I’d spend my dearly saved $100 very carefully. I got some good stuff back then, missed out on more.

By the mid-‘80’s, I started frequenting shows a bit more, both locals and nationals. The Chicago National shows were impressive, maybe too big, and while it was fun to see all the merch on display, it could get grueling to go from table to table, looking for what I needed, haggling with dealers who held all the power and, by the end of the day, I was usually pissed off and had a headache.

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A small story: I used to go on Sundays because you could get deals. Dealers wanted to sell rather than pack up. I forget what year it was, but one dealer had an unopened box of cards I wanted. Let’s say it was $75. Another dealer came up to him and said, “I’ll give you $35 for each box.” He had three. “Sold,” and that was that.

“Can I buy one?” I asked. Maybe I offered $35, maybe $45.

“No, they’re $75 each.” You can imagine my response.

So card shows were a mixed blessing. I’d often find a lot of what I set out for, usually got as good a price as I could, but the power balance was way off. Buyers had no power other than to walk away.

eBay is great for truly sussing out what is rare and what isn’t and, even better, getting a true sense of supply and demand. Something rare may not be expensive if nobody wants it. Case in point: I’ve been working on the 2000-01 Topps Heritage Basketball set (yeah, I know that’s outside our blog’s purview) for 15 years and still need five of the short prints (1,972 of each made). I usually pick them up for $4-6, but I STILL NEED FIVE!

Having a vast amount of listings, easily found, is a  buyer’s paradise. I’ve been working on the 1949 Remar Bread set. The Billy Martin rookie is the only card that is relatively expensive, but the rest of the 32 card set won’t set me back much. In the last week, three listings for an Artie Wilson card, of varying quality, were up for auction. Wilson was a Negro League star, so there’s some additional interest there. I watched them all – one went for $20, another went for almost $40 – and the third popped up because I’ve got it tracked as a “followed search.” I bought it for $10.

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From a seller’s point of view, shows were a disaster for a normal non-dealer type person. Though I never sold anything to dealers, I watched one scene consistently unfold. Someone comes up to a table with, say, a 1952 Mantle. Dealer says, well, I can only give you $100 for it. Person says, but it’s worth $1,000. Dealer says, it’s going to be hard for me to sell, I have to keep it in inventory, I don’t have the kind of customers who pay a lot for cards, blah blah blah. Person either walks or gets ripped off.

Between eBay and PayPal the seller will give up a meaty percentage of the sale price, but it’s a fraction of what dealers would skim off the top. I’ve been selling more doubles and triples (sometimes quadruples and quintuples) to pay for cards I need. It feels great, like a solid trade, and the market rules. I usually get around what I want.

I don’t miss much about real card shows. Dealers tended to be unfriendly, fellow collectors absorbed in their quest. Even went I went with a friend we’d go our separate ways, with different want lists in hand. What’s there to miss? Plus, I can go to a card show on eBay whenever I want. In fact, I bought 4 1971 Kellogg’s 3-D cards at dinner last night, right in the middle of my Chicken Tikka Masala!