Cards of Cards of Cards

As a kid few things sucked more than being dragged to Kmart by my mom. All that changed one day in 1982 when I saw these on the shelves by checkout.

I don’t recall the price, but it was damn low for a set that included Mantle, Mays, and Aaron, and it was even low enough for me to somehow twist my mom’s arm into adding it to our cart. On top of that, these were no ordinary cards. These were a Limited Edition!

Opening the box on the way to the car, I was pretty thrilled with the look of the cards, the first 41 of which featured images of earlier Topps baseball cards. At least that’s what I thought.

In fact, the set not only included cards of cards but also cards of cards that never were.

The set also gave me my first Topps Traded card since the designers smartly eschewed the 1981 Rollie Fingers base card in favor of his Brewers update.

However, the most intriguing cards in the set were these five. Even as a Dodger fan, I had to love the idea that these were cards of cards of Cards!

Thanks to some trades and card show visits, I already had some cards of cards from 1975 in my collection.

Three cards in the 1975 Topps MVP subset even included cards that never were.

The Wills card appears to be the same one used seven years later by Kmart, which leads me to wonder if a “real” 1962 Topps Maury Wills was created but never released or if someone in 1982 simply said, “Hey, wait a minute! No need to make a fake Wills. We still have that one from ’75.”

The 1951-style Campanella seems to work well, but the 1955 is a bit of an eyesore. Not only did Topps aberrantly go black and white on the head shot but they “capped off” the anachronism by placing Campanella in L.A. three years early. (Collectors of the 1958 or 1962 Jay Publishing sets may recognize the source of the 1955 Campy fauxtaux.)

But I digress. What you really want to know is were there cards of cards of Cards, and of course the answer is YES! As the set’s theme was identical to the Kmart set and the time frame wasn’t too different either, we see the same cards of cards of Cards as Kmart, minus Keith Hernandez who of course hadn’t won his MVP award yet.

And just the year before that Topps recapped the entire cardboard career of the Hammer with its five-card “Hank Aaron Special” subset.

North of the border, the same subset was issued but with some twists I never understood until reading Matthew Glidden’s terrific article on the subject. While the first and last cards are largely the same as the U.S. issue, the middle three cards were split into six.

On the heels of their 1974 and 1975 successes, Topps created another “cards of cards” subset for 1976. Though there were no cards of cards of Cards, the “Father & Son” cards featured five (then) current players along with the 1953 or 1954 Topps cards of their Big League dads.

That same year, a lesser known set featured a card of a card. Were it not for baseball’s Color Barrier, it might have even been a card of a card of a Card since its subject spent ten years with the St. Louis Stars.

The card itself is from a 13-card set dedicated to the life and career of Cool Papa Bell, and the card it depicts is from a 1974 Laughlin set.

Cards of cards had a particularly strong run from 1985-1990 thanks to another Father/Son series, featuring (yes!) a card of a card of a Card…

…and the five-year reboot of a classic Topps subset that debuted in 1977.

Where the 1977 subset used ordinary (or sometimes extraordinary) photos, these later sets adopted a Kmartesque cards of cards design. There were five cards in the 1986 subset, but none were cards of cards of Cards, nor were there even cards of cards that never were. The closest we come to a novelty is the use of Fernando Valenzuela’s 1981 Topps Traded card.

The 1987 subset again featured five cards but sadly no cards of cards of Cards. What it did include was the by now familiar Maury Wills card that never was.

Finally in 1988 were are rewarded with two cards of cards of Cards, and these weren’t just any old Cards but two of the greatest ever to wear the uniform.

The 1989 subset had just about everything under the sun: a card that never was of Tony Oliva, a card of a card of a Card, and a card of my cardboard crush, the Topps XRC of Dr. K. Oh, and Hank Aaron and Gil Hodges are in there too!

Following the subset into 1990, equipped with airplane bag to stomach its design, we find no cards of cards of Cards, but we do see a tighter cropping of the Kmart Fred Lynn, more closely matching his actual RC, and a card reminding Cards fans of recent postseason agony.

The 1986 Topps set also doubled down on the Hank Aaron Special design to honor Pete Rose’s breaking of Ty Cobb’s career hits record.

Where Topps had already turned the multiplayer RC of Fred Lynn into a solo card for Kmart (and would do similar for Oliva and Lynn again), Topps left Rose’s iconic 1963 rookie card in its original format. Also breaking with card on card tradition, Topps ran with Rose’s main 1984 issue rather than his update card on the Expos. In retrospect we might regard this as the beginning of the end for Montreal baseball.

Before closing the article, I want to highlight one more card on card that depending on the release date may in fact be the first of its kind. The same year Topps issued the Hank Aaron Specials, Fleer and Bob Laughlin blessed the baseball world with a 42-card set of Baseball Firsts. Card 12 in the set describes the first baseball cards and the front depicts a tobacco-style card that never was of Beaneater hurler (pardon the visual!) Kid Madden (SABR bio).

Oh how I would have loved it had Madden been a Cardinal so I could end with a card of a card of a Card. About the closest I can come is to note that the James O’Neill mentioned on the back of the card did spend seven years in St. Louis, but of course his team was the Browns.

I’m curious to know if you’re aware of any cards of cards earlier than 1974 or know whether the Fleer set beat Topps to the shelves (or mail order catalogs). For those of us trying to collect the baseball card’s rookie card, if not the master set, this kind of thing matters a lot!

From our readers

Thanks to @DonSherm for supplying us this “cards on card” card a year before the Hank Aaron Specials and the Fleer Kid Madden.

The card back shows several cards, though it’s impossible to know whether any are cards of Cards or even cards of cards of Cards!

UPDATE: In the spirit of the 1973 Jack Hiatt but one year earlier many of the Topps “In Action” card backs advertised the makeup of the set. While the card images bore little resemblance to actual cards in the set I’ll note that the actual NL Pitching Leaders card included Steve Carlton, meaning just maybe we have a card of a card of a Card!

Now going way back, I’m reminded that some very early non-baseball cards of cards were issued in 1906 (!).

I’ll let you read about this fantastic six-car set over on my co-chair’s blog.

Walter Moved Quick and Horace Jumped to Candlestick

The New York Giants’ and Brooklyn Dodgers’ franchise shifts to the West Coast for the 1958 season is well chronicled. “White flight” to the suburbs, aging ballparks, and lack of parking all factored into Giants’ President Horace Stoneham, and Dodgers’ “Prexy” Walter O’Malley decamping to sunny California. Of course, the prospect of huge, untapped markets and new stadiums warmed the “cockles” of the two moguls as well.

The National League officially approved the franchise shifts on August 19, 1957. Topps-though probably bummed that their prime locations for NL photos (Ebbets Field and Polo Grounds) were gone-had plenty of lead time to produce ’58 cards for San Francisco and Los Angeles.

58 Mays

In the spring of ’58, young San Franciscans jumped on the nearest cable car and headed for Woolworth’s, Newberry’s or the candy store to buy wax packs in hope of finding cards embossed with “San Fran. Giants.” The youngsters received a real “San Francisco treat” when they discovered that Willie Mays was the first card Topps produced for the transplanted club (#5 in the set’s numerical sequence).

58 Kirkland

Obviously, Mays’s cap has an airbrushed interlocking “SF.” The artist probably made an educated guess on the emblem’s appearance by using the PCL Seals cap logo as a source. The airbrushed “SF” is found on the majority of the ‘58 cards and fluctuates in size and thickness.

Most likely, the first card with an authentic “SF” is that of pitcher Paul Giel (#308). The emblem is the right font and size. Plus, this ’58 Jay Publishing photo-taken in spring training- appears to be from the same session.

 

If you are skeptical of Giel’s photo being the “real McCovey,” there is no doubt the Orlando Cepeda (#343) is authentic. As you can see, the accompanying photo-taken during ’58 spring training-is identical to the card photo.

Other “real” San Francisco Giants are Jim Davenport (#413) and Ray Monzant (#447). By the way, Monzant actually has two cards in the ’58 set, since Mike McCormick’s card features Ray’s photo.

58 Neal

The first Dodgers card Angelino youngsters may have pulled from their packs was Charlie Neal (#16). Not quite as awe inspiring as Mays but a major leaguer, nonetheless. The airbrushed “LA” is a decent approximation of the real one but doesn’t quite match. As with the Giants, the artist may have been using the PCL Angels emblem as a guide. 

Collectors had to settle for airbrushed “LAs” on Drysdale, Reese, Hodges, Snyder and other familiar names before finding the first actual Los Angeles cap on the noggin of Danny McDevitt (#357). The emblem has the correct length of the horizontal part of the “L,” and the flourish on the tip is correct. The photo is almost identical to one taken in spring training for a team set by Dodgers concessionaire, Danny Goodman.

Pignatano

Joe Pignatano (#373) appears to be the only other Dodger with an authentic “LA” on the cap. The photo is also nearly identical to the one used for the Goodman set.

If you believe my conclusions are pure “California dreamin’,” let me know. I would rather be corrected than “stuck in Lodi, again,” with wrong suppositions.