Card Play

Although this may elicit a groan or a “here he goes again,” I offer another profile of an obscure collectible whose inclusion in the baseball card category is dubious.  This time, I’m “shuffling the deck” and “dealing” the details on the 1953 Brown and Bigelow Baseball Playing Cards.

Cobb 2

Several years ago, I bought a single playing card with Ty Cobb on the back at an antique shop for a few dollars. The illustration features Cobb apparently dispensing base running advice to a stereotypical ‘50s boy, who is sliding into a base. The background has a “ghostly” newspaper with a headline about Cobb. At the bottom is a printed advertisement for a casement company in San Francisco.

The Brown and Bigelow printing company — which still exists — specialized in the production of promotional items. In the ‘50s, they employed many prominent illustrators such as Norman Rockwell and William Medcalf, who created the baseball illustrations. At the time, their main business was producing calendars but they also turned out other promotions such as playing cards.

In addition to Cobb, Medcalf produced images for Wagner and Mack which depicts them as they appeared in ’53, since all three were still living. Conversely, the deceased Ruth, Gehrig and McGraw have “ethereal” images. The illustrations are well done, but-in my humble opinion- they are “cheesy” or to be more charitable, “saccharine.”

Diamond Kings

Below the art work on the standard Bridge sized (2-1/4 X 3-1/2) card is where the advertisement is found. Since the cards were purchased by businesses across the US and Canada, the number of variations is unknown. Of course, since these are playing cards, each player technically has 52 different cards plus two jokers. Some merchants gave away a box set of two different decks labeled “The Kings of the Diamond.”

The Metcalf artwork was used on calendars as well. In fact, Brown and Bigelow produced baseball player calendars for years, featuring such players as Foxx, Hornsby, DiMaggio and many more. Since calendars were tossed out at the end of the year, they are much rarer than the playing cards.

Poker Dogs

In closing, I must mention that the Brown and Bigelow printed promotional materials featuring Cassius Coolidge’s 16 different “Dogs Playing Poker” paintings. Since they were widely distributed, the “gambling canines” became a familiar piece of Americana for people of a certain age. Of course, I have a large print over my living room couch.

 

 

 

Sources:

REA’s Blockbuster Spring Auction – Robert Edward Auctions. http://www.bing.com/cr?IG=8B83822FB5DA4E1A828C43F37DE60BAB&CID=2E265CD3CC77622D04005751CDD863CE&rd=1&h=HfZaxSi414hWEx08fNrlefy2ItpKLoQPO-iPrAEoZvI&v=1&r=http%3a%2f%2fbid.robertedwardauctions.com%2fLots%2fGallery&p=DevEx,5069.1.

1953 Brown and Bigelow, keymancollectibles.com/cards/1953brownbigelowbaseballcards.htm.

“New Mexico: “Ban the Box”.” New Mexico: “Ban the Box”Pardon Power, http://www.pardonpower.com/2009/03/new-mexico-ban-box.html.

 

 

 

Christmas Cards

The week before Christmas has been a good one for cards. That’s too bold; the week before Christmas has been a good one for me getting cards. I have no idea how cards in general are doing. A few random stories:

Though a long time collector, my re-immersion into the hobby the past year and a half has come with some re-education. I am consistently surprised by the variations in pricing and how, with patience, there’s always an opportunity to get what I need at a price I can bear.

My pursuit of a 1956 Topps set has been slow in comparison to the pedal to the metal pace of my 1960, 1968 and 1969 set building. I’ve gotten lots on eBay of cards in EX or better for less than $3 a card, low numbers and high, but there are usually too many cards in those lots that I already have. I never end up selling my doubles for more than $2 per card.

On Monday an eBay seller, justcollectcards, had a big 40% off sale. I was almost late for a lunch appointment because I went through all their EX listings. It was worth it though. I got 60 cards, including Minnie Minoso and a couple of teams, for $2.75 each. That put a huge dent in my checklist. Now I know I’m not going to get the big dollar cards for any discount from book, but if I keep getting the rest of the set for about 1/3 of stated value, I should have enough savings to make the Mantle and Ted Williams somewhat easier to swallow.

s-l1600 (1)

Cooperstown definitely needs more general interest stores, but that’s a difficult hurdle to jump with a year round population of around 1,800, slightly more if you add the surrounding area. Are there too many baseball stores? Sure. Do I want there to be no baseball stores? Absolutely not.

I’m not a binder and sheets person by nature but it has definitely been easier to put sets together when I can add a few cards into pages, rather than pull out boxes and sort through all the cards to put the new ones in their proper numerical place every time I get two new cards.

Yesterday Joey met me at Yastrzemski Sports on Main St., where I usually buy my supplies. I decided I’d put my 1967 set in sheets, since all my pre-1970 sets seem to have ended up stored that way. Joey needed sheets for his hoped for misprinted, psychedelic card collection.  

We got what we needed plus I found a 1988 Pacific Eight Men Out set for $5! Any set with four Studs Terkel cards is worth having.

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From there we headed to Baseball Nostalgia by Doubleday Field. I’m sure I’ve written how BN is my favorite store, filled with cards, cheap autographs, yearbooks and more. It’s been in Cooperstown, in a few different forms, since the mid-1970’s. Pete at the store had read the post I wrote about Joey’s quest for cards with messed up printing and he emailed me to say that he had a bunch of 1976 SSPC misprints. (Baseball Nostalgia began as a TCMA flagship.)

Boy, did he have misprints! Joey bit the bullet and bought all 140 of them, each a trippy nightmare of color mistakes. The Bruce Bochte card (left) looks like a still from a Peter Fonda movie and our buddy John D’Acquisto (right) seems to have two sets of eyes. Freaky stuff.

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A signed Jose Cardenal baseball Legends card caught my eye. You can’t beat the price!

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And so, that’s how my card year is ending. The 1956s are on their way, as are 4 more 1936 Goudey Wide Pens.

I’ll wrap things up as I did last year, with great thanks to Mark Armour and Chris Dial for not only restarting the SABR Baseball Cards Committee, but dragging me, quite willingly, into participating in a big way. That’s been the best gift of all.

Talkin’ Baseball…Cards (Part 2)

Frankly, all the audio cards profiled in Part 1 did not whet my collector’s appetite. However, there are several “gems” in this post worthy of adding to the collection.

Many of you remember “Sports Challenge”; a syndicated sports trivia game show hosted by Dick Enberg, which ran from 1970-1978. A set of audio cards was produced in ‘77 called “Sports Challenge Highlights.”

The cardboard, 6” diameter discs were part of a 12-card set that featured great baseball moments. The cards have a stylized player illustration on the front with a 33-1/3 RPM recording overlaying it. Scarrab Productions produced the cards, but the record was made by American Audiographics. I couldn’t find sales or distribution information.

 

Mattel Box

In ’70-’71, Mattel produced a product for the toy market called “Instant Replay.” Although listed in the Complete Guide to Vintage Baseball Cards and “Trading Card Database,” it is a stretch to categorize the plastic discs as cards. The baseball version features: Mays, Aaron, Seaver, Oliva, Banks, McCovey and Frank Robinson.

Mays instant replay

The initial ’70 issue consists of a black, miniature disc with groves on one side and a sticker with the player’s stylized illustration attached to the opposite side. Later, a version having pictures imbedded in the plastic on both sides with the record groves overlaid was produced. Several other sports were offered, including a “Sports Challenge” trivia version in ’73.

The discs are designed to be inserted in a hand-held, battery-operated player, which resembles a walky-talky. The player and several discs were sold together as a boxed set. As with the previously mentioned disc players, the sound quality was poor and it tended to malfunction soon after purchase. It is very rare to find one that still functions. Additional cards could be purchased in four disc, “blister” packs.

Aura Robinson

The real “star” of this genre is “Auravision.” A subsidiary of Columbia Records, “Auravision” produced 6-1/2 x 6-1/2” cards with gorgeous color photos on the front and black-and-white photos with stats on the back. Apparently, the photos are unique to this product and are vivid and well-posed. The 33-1/3 rpm, clear record overlays the color photo. As with most record cards, there was a punch is the middle to be removed for play.

The first series of seven cards was issued in ’62, followed by a 16-card issue in ’64. The photos on the two Mantle cards are different, with the ’62 being very rare.  Equally rare is the ’64 Willie Mays, which is considered a short-print.

Aura Colavito

Famous New York sportscaster, Marty Glickman, conducts a five-minute interview with players on 14 of the 16 recordings. Chuck Thompson is the interviewer for Warren Spahn and Ernie Harwell does Rocky Colavito.

The cards were used by several companies as premiums. Collectors could acquire the cards through offers by Milk Duds, Yoo-Hoo, and Meadow Gold dairy products. In addition, the “Good Humor” man would hand them out when kids bought ice cream.

Another set with some “pizzazz” is the 1956 Spalding “promo” cards offered as a premium at sporting goods stores. The two, 5-1/2’ x 5-1/2’ cards feature Yogi Berra teaching the listener, “How to Hit” and Alvin Dark offering instruction on, “How to Field.” The transparent record is laid over the picture on the front. The back has a photo of Yogi or Al and their gloves. The 78 RPM recordings were produced by Rainbo Records, who also made back-of-the-box children’s records for Wheaties.

Dark on Turntable

Being a glove collector who possesses a mid-‘50s Al Dark Spalding glove, I couldn’t resist buying one of the cards several years ago. The accompanying photo shows the Al Dark card on my state-of-the-art, ’47 Zenith radio/phonograph. I was hoping to add a video of Dark’s card playing, but the phonograph wouldn’t work. There must be a burned out tube.

I will close with cool set of baseball card records courtesy of a promotion by H-O Oatmeal. Produced by Sight ‘N’ Sound records in 1953, the four, 78-RPM cards were 4-3/4” in diameter and offered instructional tips from Roy Campanella, Allie Reynolds, Whitey Lockman and Duke Snider. The front side has the record and a black-and-white posed shot over a Yankee Stadium crowd. The back had a color portrait. One card was randomly packed inside the oatmeal box. For 25 cents and two box tops, a collector could obtain the other three cards.

The cardboard record was used by many different products for promotions or premiums. They were frequently included in magazines in the ‘70s and ‘80s to augment stories or to hype artists. My guess is that there are more “talking” baseball cards to be discovered. I will keep the turntable spinning and the needle poised to drop in case I happen upon additional “talkies.”

Sources

Complete Guide to Vintage Baseball Cards

Trading Card Data Base

KeyMan Collectibles: Product descriptions

1970s Flashback With Mattel Instant Replay. (2015, March 19). Retrieved December 13, 2017, from http://www.sportscollectorsdigest.com/the-offbeat-beat-mattels-instant-replay/

D’Angelo, B. (2016, May 30). Auravision Records Were A Hit With Baseball Fans. Retrieved December 13, 2017, from https://www.sportscollectorsdaily.com/auravision-records-showcased-baseballs-biggest-stars/

Auravision Records Gave Voice to Legends, But There’s More. (2009, April 06). Retrieved December 13, 2017, from http://www.sportscollectorsdigest.com/auravision_records_1960s/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cards with Balls

 

Brock

As an inveterate collector, I have saved almost every sports related piece of memorabilia though all of life’s transitions.  The one big exception is the loss of my Chemtoy “superballs” with imbedded baseball player photos.  My brother and I easily had 60-70 of these 1” diameter “high bounce” balls.  With the exception of Lou Brock and Don Mincher, the collection is lost.

Team
Major League box
AL and NL Boxes
League boxes

Many of you may remember that the balls were sold in vending machines as well as at drug, candy and variety stores.   My only source was a drug store in the “big city” of Yakima, WA, which had the mixed box of AL and NL players. Chemtoy also distributed the balls in separate NL and AL boxes or regionally by teams.  The balls sold for 10 cents each.  1970 was the only year of production, but the balls lingered in stores for several years

Each team had 11 or 12 players and a manager.  The inch diameter picture disk was a head shot without any MLB insignia on the caps.  Obviously, Chemtoy only bought rights from the MLBPA.  The backs were blue for the NL and red for the AL and contained the player’s name, team, position and an inventory number.

The pliable, clear plastic material served to magnify the picture when viewed straight on.  Unfortunately, the balls tended the turn “cloudy” with age, obscuring the picture. I remember that excessive bouncing could lead to the ball splitting at the center seem leaving you with a 1” baseball card.

Over the years, I’ve collected eight Seattle Pilots, paying up to $25 (ouch!) each.  I was recently narrowly outbid on a banged up Gene Brabender.

Chemtoy produced an AFL and NFL set in 1969 as well.

Here is a link with more information on these quasi-cards.

SABR 47 Checklist: Jean Afterman / 1991 Q-Card Hideo Nomo

The first panel I saw at SABR47 was a fine interview of Jean Afterman by recent JT Spink Award winner (and former Philadelphia Inquirer reporter) Claire Smith. I was a bit worn out from a combination of travel and enjoying a night out in the big apple when Afterman recalled that she was working as a lawyer when she had the opportunity to work on a copyright dispute over Japanese Baseball Cards.

Baseball Cards!! I was jolted awake.

The case led Afterman to become acquainted with the card creator Don Nomura. The litigation led her to Japan where Afterman went to local ball games and found the competitive level of the players to be comparable with American baseball. The ensuing realization was that Japanese players were restricted from participation in MLB because of an agreement made following Masanori Murakami’s stint with the San Francisco Giants (1964-65). The Murakami case was the subject of a very interesting panel at SABR 45 in Chicago. The audio from that panel can be found here while my fan highlights from that day can be found at my web site.

Jean Afterman and Don Nomura did their homework and eventually found a way to get Hideo Nomo a Major League Baseball contract, with the Dodgers. This was followed by Alfonso Soriano (a Cuban that came to the US via Japan), Hideki Irabu and several other Japanese players. Eventually this led Afterman to a position in the Yankees front office.

One could therefore argue that a dispute over baseball cards in the early 1990s eventually led to Japanese players getting a chance to play baseball in the United States. Here we find ourselves a quarter century later and Ichiro Suzuki has become the MLB all-time hit king among all foreign born players.

1991 Q Cards

1991 Q Card All-Star Hideo Nomo (RC)

Ok back to the baseball cards. Naturally I wanted to find out what baseball card set began this chain of events.

An LA Times article dated April 21, 1991 discusses Don Nomura and Nomura Trading Cards. The article also contains some key info about the cards. Most notably the cards were made of plastic rather than cardboard – more of a credit card material. Perhaps due to the upgraded material a pack contained only two cards. The packs sold for 500 yen in 1991 which was estimated to be $3.68 US at the time.

I was unable to find anything online about Nomura trading cards but the info from the LA Times made it easy to find these cards on the fun and informative Japanese Baseball Cards blog.

The above Hideo Nomo card is an All-Star card from a 62 card supplemental set of the original 120 card series. The design appears largely similar to the base with an all-star logo in the middle center rather than a team logo.

1991 Q Card Takeshi Nakamura with 1991 Q Card Wrapper

Above we have one of the base cards with the original wrapper. As pointed out by Japanese Baseball Cards there is a window in the wrapper that allows the buyer to know the team of one of the two cards in the pack.

Sources and Links

Japanese Baseball Cards / NPB Card Guy

LA Times

#SABR47

Baseball-Reference

#SABR45

Phungo