Accessorizing with Tony Horton

Recently, Jeff Katz revealed on the blog how he stores the 1984 Fun Foods pin set by using pocket pages designed for stamps.  In a vain attempt to keep up with the “Katzes,” I completed my set and used tobacco card pocket pages to store mine. The pin subject reminded me that I have around 20 pins from the 1969 MLBPA pin (photo button) set.

This set consists of 60 pins measuring approximately 7/8”. There are 30 players for each league, with the American League featuring red borders and the National League blue.  The photos are all “floating heads” in black and white without cap emblems. The unnumbered pins were distributed in vending machines for 10 cents apiece.

Included in the set are most of the greats and near greats of the era. The set does not include players from the four expansion teams that began play in 1969-alas, no Seattle Pilots!  However, there is a George Brunet on the Angels which sort of counts.

Printed along the bottom is the following: “1969 MLBPA MFG. R.R. Winona, MINN.”  The reason I point this out is that a similar version of the pins was released by persons unknown in 1983.

The unauthorized pins are easy to spot. 

  • The photo and the pin themselves are smaller.
  • Players from either league show up in blue or red.
  • The player’s name appears above the photo and team name below-just the opposite of the originals.
  • Some hats include team logos whereas no 1969 hats do.
  • There is no manufacturer printed on the pin. “1969 MLBPA USA” does appear, but the issue was not sanctioned by the union.

The make up of the “bootleg” set is quite different.  Only 13 of the 60 players from the original issue show up in this 36-pin set.  The remaining 23 pins are all time greats including Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, and Satchel Paige. I found no reference to how the pins were distributed, but the gumball machine method seems logical.

A complete set of the originals in excellent condition is quite pricey.  On the other hand, you can pick up off grade singles at a reasonable price.

Since this set is not exactly aesthetically pleasing, I’m hoping this scintillating post doesn’t spur Jeff Katz to put the set together.  I don’t want to become mired in a “cold war” pin race. Meanwhile, I will make a fashion statement by pinning Tony Horton to the lapel of my leisure suit.

Fun Buttons, Not Food

I asked people to send me their “junk wax” faves at the end of this post on Fleer Classic Miniatures and I got a lot of solid suggestions. The 1985 Fun Foods set was one, and I took it to heart. I am now the proud owner of a complete 133 button set.

I was not unaware of the Fun Foods set; I’ve always had a soft spot for it. I’ve had the Seaver button, and only the Seaver button, for decades.

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The beauty of this little item was not lost on me, but I never went for the whole set. Not a cost issue, the set should run $20 tops, more of a storage issue. Where would I put 133 buttons – in a box? In sheets? I really couldn’t figure it out, so I passed.

When I started pursuing the 1964 and 1971 Topps coins sets, I ended up with some coin sheets whose pockets were too small. Too small for the coins, but perfect for the buttons! (Never throw anything out!). Here’s how they display:

It’s a super attractive set – the colors are vibrant, the photos are sharp, the checklist is terrifically 1984/1985.

They’re thick enough that my binder won’t close now, but I’m not worried. It’s a binder full of metal discs, not cardboard. No bent corners here!

I won’t claim to doing much looking into this issue: they were sold as complete sets and in packs of three, though I never saw those packs in the wild. As to Fun Foods, I have no idea what they did, or made, or how much fun their product may or may not have been. Maybe all they made were the buttons, maybe the buttons were meant to be eaten. I have no idea (though don’t do that.)

Whatever business Fun Foods was in is of no matter to me. They made cool buttons, I now have them all, and that’s enough for me.

A Little Patch of Heaven

Today’s card collectors are familiar with the bonus cards, posters, coins and other products that are inserted in blaster, hobby and retail boxes.  Autographed cards, relics and “buy backs” are common examples.

In 2010, Topps inserted Manufactured Commemorative Patches in “blaster” boxes.  The cards feature all-time greats accompanied by patches for All-Star games or World Series in which the player was a participant.  A few cards feature contemporary players with patches matching those wore on players’ uniforms.

The cards consist of a small player photo placed to the side with an embroidered patch in the center, filling most of the space.  The cards are extra thick to accommodate the patch.  There are 100 different cards, with the first 50 distributed in “blaster” boxes for series one of the base set.  The second series base set contains the last 50.  An additional 50 cards were issued in the Update “blaster” boxes.

There is an ersatz nature to some of the patches, which might raise the hackles of some curmudgeonly purists. Since official logos were not issued for World Series and All-Star games until at least the 1970s, Topps had to create the patch-but not necessarily from “whole cloth.”  Fortunately, they used the press pins issued at the time as the models.  Thus, most of the logos are accurate to the event.

Dizzy Dean’s card is beautiful example of the use of the press pin design.  As you can see, the patch is derived from Cardinals press pin issued at Sportsman’s Park at the 1934 World Series but with the word “press” removed.  The card back shows a printed version of the patch logo

The 1948 World Series logo is unique in that “Chief Wahoo” is facing forward, as seen on this Larry Doby card.  Once again, the emblem closely matches the press pin.

One of my favorites is the Juan Marichal card featuring the 1968 All-Star patch.  Held in the Astrodome, the game was broadcast for the first time in prime time.  This is the first All-Star game I remember watching on TV.

The Bob Gibson card is confusing at first since it features the Twins logo on the patch.  However, this is a faithful reproduction of the 1965 All-Star game press pin.

I am drawn to the design of the 1972 All-Star patch on Carlton Fisk’s card.  The Braves’ simple feather logo-which was worn as a sleeve design on their uniforms-is especially eye catching.

There are a few patches that were created without historical artifacts as inspiration.  The Jimmie Foxx card has an inaugural All-Star game patch of modern origin.  Nonetheless, the designer uses Art Deco elements to match those of the 1933 World’s Fair, to create a decent period piece.

An example of a contemporary players’ cards in the set are Mariano Rivera and Justin Morneau. The patches commemorate the opening and closing of ball parks. These are replicas of sleeve patches.

In 2011, Topps continue with the patch theme, but this time went with vintage team logos.  Most of the cards have modern players paired with past team logos.  A few old timers are thrown in as well.  I have a few of these, including-of course-Ichiro with a Pilots logo.  I like these as well but not as much as 2010.

Of course, Topps can’t leave well enough alone, and produced inserts in 2010 with cap logo patches and vintage players.  Subsequent sets have also featured patch themed inserts and bonus cards.

In closing, I will break the hearts of Red Sox fans by showing the 1967 World Series patch with Orlando Cepeda and mend the organ with a 1915 Tris Speaker.  Suddenly, I’m hearing a James Taylor song.

My Grading Experience – PSA 1 (Poor)

When grading hit the hobby in the late 1990’s, it was, for me, a death knell. As a set collector, seeing nice commons get sucked out of the market in raw form put me on a baseball card hiatus that lasted about 15 years (except for my annual sets and some occasional new things that caught my eye). I still don’t like buying graded cards (I crack them out of cases if I happen upon one for a set I’m working on) and I’ve never graded a card. Never, that is, until this past month.

As my friend Greg will tell you, my thoughts on grading my pre-war cards stretches back at least a year or more. I’ve been thinking of selling those off to support my current hobby interests. (Here’s a post from last July, which puts some kind of date on this exercise.)

In a very real sense, my back was against the wall when it came to my George Ruth Candy Company cards. A rash of fakes hit the market at the turn of the century, and, though I listed one of the two I have, it was clear that I’d need to get it graded to alleviate any fears of counterfeiting. PSA won’t grade these cards anymore because of the frauds, but SGC will. I sent off #3, the one I want to sell. It’s a pretty nice looking card, nicer than some I’d seen grade EX. I had high hopes.

Ruth front

Ruth back

To SGC’s credit, they promise a quick turnaround. To their discredit, they didn’t deliver on that promise, and I had to call to find out why it was taking so long to get back. I got good help, and, it was during that conversation, that I found out the grade, a 3, VG.

I couldn’t believe it. Not only is the card now valued much less, but I had to pay about $80.80 (including my priority postage to send it) for the privilege.  The whole ordeal made my stomach hurt.

Still, I had an extremely nice Ty Cobb Sweet Caporal Domino Disc to look forward to grading, this time by PSA. I searched around and found some EX ones that sold for well over $1,000, and I was at least in that condition ballpark. While PSA cost less SGC, $49.80, they take longer.

I checked the PSA site often, almost daily, and the card was in processing for a long time. Finally, the grade appeared – PSA 4 (VGEX). I was appalled.

I was once told “Buy the card, not the grade.” That’s good advice, but getting lower (though still good) grades feels terrible. Not only will I end up with less money via sales, but the grades have affected how I feel about these cards. Though I made the intellectual decision to sell them, I enjoy (enjoyed) having these, especially the Cobb, which I loved. Not anymore. Now it feels lousy and I don’t know what to do moving forward. I really would prefer not to have my other pre-war cards graded, but I wonder if I can sell them at a fair price without that. It’s a trap and, for a Katz, I feel pretty mousy.

Overall, it was a Pretty Shitty Adventure. I can’t give it a worse grade than that.

A Hinton Price Discovery (or, Causey effect)

One of the nice things about pursuing sets that are out of the mainstream is that there’s a real chance for bargains. I need an ungraded 1956 Topps Mantle in VGEX. It’s going to cost me $350-450; maybe more, unlikely less.

The cards I tend to go for have relatively little demand and, even when there’s somewhat less supply, the paucity of interest works in my favor.

I just nailed down the final coin I needed for the 1964 Topps set. If you read my last post, you know what it is.

Fine, I’ll tell you again; it’s the Wayne Causey All-Star coin, NL back variation. I’ve seen them go for $20 and up, but was holding out for $20. I picked it up for $13.50, plus postage.

The reason I was holding out was because of the other “NL” variation, Chuck Hinton. Both errors (they were corrected to AL backs, but not before some NLs got out) are harder to find than the other coins (even the Mantle variations, which were purposeful), but neither is more or less scarce than the other. So why did I get Hinton for $6, and have to wait awhile to get Causey for less than $15?

Patience helps, but lack of interest helps more. People are not really running after these variations, so, in time, they settle to a price I can be happy with. My goal was to get them both for a total of $20. I came close.

It’s easy to assume sellers/dealers are very knowledgeable, but many aren’t. The guy I bought my coin from knew he had an error, and listed as such. Last month someone listed three Causey All Star coins and two of them were of the NL kind. He had no idea. I tried to swoop in cheaply, but someone else in the know grabbed them in the final seconds. At the recent Boston show, I talked to a guy selling coins and a guy looking to buy them. Neither knew about the variations! I told them all about them (after I had looked through the dealer’s stock), but I was shocked at their ignorance.

Here’s some good background on the whole set (and other coins), but I’m still puzzled. The Causey and Hinton All-Stars, #161 and #162, are at the end of the set, with all the other NL stars. Why are the fronts blue, like all the AL All-Stars? If Topps (wrongly) assumed they were NL players, they should have had red fronts. If Topps knew they were actually AL stars (or what a KC A and Washington Senator came close to in 1964), why were they numbered with the NL guys? The linked post has a guess, but I’m not so sure there was a reason. I can’t figure it out.

Lack of consistent price discovery can bite as well. When I was finishing up my 1952 Parkhurst set, I tired to get a seller to pull a Bob Betz card from his lot. He wanted to charge me $100 for it and I was in disbelief (and told him so). He went through a whole rigmarole about how Betz was moved off the Ottawa Athletics quickly and, as a short print, it was tough to come by. I argued that there were other players in the same boat and they cost me between $5-15. I came away from that exchange knowing that guy was a dope.

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Then a Betz card came up on eBay. I figured, OK, I’m getting down to the end of the set so I’ll pay $20. I ended up paying $80-something. I was bugged that, 1) someone else was forcing me to pay more and, 2) that other guy was right!

So it works both ways, but usually I get the best of the deal. I’m waiting for delivery of a 1963 Bazooka All Time Great Babe Ruth card. I fully expected to pay $35 if I was lucky, $50 if I wasn’t. I got it for $19. It helped that the guy listed it as “Bazooke.”

My 50-year chase to complete the 1964 Topps Coin Set

64ToppsBoxCling!

Oh, what a lovely sound.

A special coin just fell out of a 1964 Topps wax pack and into my dreams.

These were the greatest Topps inserts of all time. Color images of baseball heroes leaping off a metallic coin. 120 standard coins, 44 all-star coins. I read in 2014 that “a decent condition set will cost you $500-$1,000.”

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The photography on the standard coins ranges from headshots (no one is capless, btw) to batting stances (Pete Rose, #82, and Hank Aaron, #83, look fabulous). The rear of the coin featured the all-important info such as height, weight, which side a player threw or hit from, along with a brief info nugget. Coin #92 tells us Jim Hickman of the Mets was an ex-Cardinal. Your day is now complete.

206405  KoufaxAS  1964to4

Oh, those all-star coins! The vibrant colors! The simple but perfect graphic design. The sparkling photography. The A.L. coins were blue, the N.L. red. The color printing on the all-star coins was astonishingly brilliant and wears well to this day. The image registration is razor sharp. The beard stubble on Ken Boyer’s face could sand hardwood floors (#145). Roberto Clemente’s arm cocked, hand grasping a baseball, ready to mow someone down at the plate (#150). Chuck Hinton’s glower as he grips the bat (#162). Even the Washington Senators could look badass in this all-star set.

 

I was six years old when my brothers introduced me to baseball cards for the first time. The 1964 set and the accompanying coins planted the seed of a drug that has held me rapt for lo these 53 years.

We didn’t have many of those coins. Some were lost to the ravages of time, neighborhood thieves, and play rooms cleaned by a fastidious mother.

Decades passed. I started going to card shows. Technology evolved. I found people who gave or traded me coins for doubles of my cards. The grace of eBay arrived, backed by a celestial choir. There they were, gobs of the 1964 coins, separate or in lots, with plenty available. The ones in primo condition sold at crazy prices. I’m a possession collector, so I don’t care what condition they’re in, and I buy low.

1964 All-Star coins (Santo, Spahn, Killebrew, B Robinson)

In 2012, I put my hand on a rock and proclaimed I’d reclaim this special part of my childhood. I wanted every coin in the set. And, no, I did not need the error/variation coins of Chuck Hinton (#162A), and Wayne Causey (#161A)—Topps mistakenly made them as NL all-stars (I have no idea how many were made before corrected, nor do I care).

The first eBay pile came from a lady that found a bucket of coins in her attic, some partially corroded by moisture. Fine! Bring it! More lots followed, and I went down the checklist, ticking off stragglers.

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64 coin p2579

By 2014, I only needed 8 to complete the set. The last coin I needed, #100, Al Kaline, taunted me. I would not pay a king’s ransom for it. I finally saw it on eBay for a very reasonable price, and Nirvana was achieved!

al kaline #100

I must admit to a moment of sadness when I’d finally completed the set. The chase was over. The thrill of the hunt was gone. But I finally had them all and could move on to the next phase: obtaining the sleeved pages, final presentation, and endless ogling.

I take the magical binder out once in a while to luxuriate in the glow of my metallic beauties. I close my eyes, and it’s 1964. Triples go to die in Willie Mays’ glove. Frank Howard is still on the Dodgers, and Billy O’Dell still has that weird thing on his upper lip.

I have my doubles in a beat-up baggie that I sometimes bring to baseball-related meetings and conferences to give to others I know will enjoy them. I recently had lunch with Rich Kee, former photographer for the Dodgers in the 70s and 80s. I offered him any coin from the stack of doubles. No dummy he, Rich snapped up coin #106, Sandy Koufax. Who knows? Maybe if you’re nice to me, I’ll slip you one the next time I see you!

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An Unsettled Set Strategy

I fancy myself as a frugal guy. Maybe not frugal, not anymore. I used to be pretty tight with money, which was fine when I was on my own, a bit more problematic once I got married. Over time I’ve become somewhat more profligate, maybe not profligate, but I no longer spend money as if I was still a kid without a job or had an entire career behind me. Still, I don’t love the act of spending, so I still try to maximize my dollars. If I’m going to spend dough, then I want it to be as little as possible within the confines of market rates.

When I started working on various sets, I had two general situations – 1) I had more than enough of the set that it was way less costly to finish off the checklist and 2) that, for other sets, it would be cheaper to buy the whole set and sell off what I already had from said set. I was more than aware of that, but there’s little fun in buying the whole all at once. Building a set over time is more enjoyable. And yet…

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I had about 30 1964 Topps coins and a solid amount of those were high end guys in EX condition. I figured with Koufax, Clemente, one of the Mantle All-Stars and plenty of other Hall of Famers, I’d be able to finish off the rest for less than the cost of a complete set. I was wrong, and I was wrong in a couple of ways.

The first way I was wrong was that, regardless of book value, there’s a definite floor on prices for commons. Could I get them for less than $1.75-2? Not really. Oddly, I can’t seem to sell my doubles for more than $2, about $1.50 after fees. It’s not a great spread.

The second way I was wrong was in gauging opportunity. I didn’t expect to go back to a card show, which I did, wrote about, and that led to 48 coins in one shot. I didn’t expect a friend to have another 35 he was willing to sell at a fair price.

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That’s it. I’m done. I have the entire set, not counting the Wayne Causey and Chuck Hinton wrong back All-Stars (they say “N.L” when they should say “A.L.”). I’ll likely pick them up over time, though there’s a difference between a complete set and a complete master set with all errors. (I do have both Mantle All-Stars. Less a mistake than a conscious and clever effort by Topps, there are AS coins of The Mick batting right-handed and left-handed).

Even with the 30+ head start, I ended up paying more to finish the set than had I bought it outright. How much more? Maybe $25 bucks, maybe $45 bucks with the error coins. Was that worth it? I’m not sure. I had expected that it would take me a good year or so to cobble together all the coins I needed. Had that been the case it would have been worth the extra money to work slowly and enjoy the gradual build.

But was it worth it for what ended up being about 3 months’ worth of collecting? I’m still not sure. I get an inordinate amount of joy looking at them, but maybe that would have been the case had they all arrived at once.

What I do know is that this is probably the only instance of doubt I’ve had on my process. I’ve been able to make enough good deals (and offset a percentage of costs with eBay sales) on the other sets I’ve worked on that it’s been better to piece them together. At least I’ve managed to stretch those sets out longer in a way that doesn’t give me pause.