Overanalyzing 1933 Goudey, part two

Author’s note: This is the second in a series of pieces that will offer a mix of fact, fiction, and speculation on one of the Hobby’s most iconic sets, 1933 Goudey. This installment looks primarily at the set’s sequel and how the two sets might fit together.

1934 Goudey Basics

“1934? Don’t you mean 1933?” No, not a typo. Just a very long detour.

We’ll start with some basic information about the 1934 Goudey set.

  • The set included 96 cards, a significant drop in the size from the previous year’s 240-card offering.
  • While the set included two cards Lou Gehrig and single cards of several Hall of Famers, Babe Ruth is conspicuously absent from the set.
  • Cards 1-79 and 92-96 feature a blue “Lou Gehrig says…” banner while cards 80-91, all National Leaguers, feature a red “Chuck Klein says…” banner.

With that background out of the way, we’ll jump into the checklist.

1934 Goudey Checklist

Just as the 1933 set was produced on sheets of 24, the 1934 set used at least three sheets of 24 and a fourth sheet of 25. “That’s 97 cards,” you say, and indeed it is! A careful look at the sheet of 25 will reveal a card not formally considered part of the set: the “1933” Napoleon Lajoie.

I don’t know if all copies of the 1934 set’s final sheet were 5 x 5 and included the Lajoie, or if some/most copies were 6 x 4 and minus the Lajoie. (As always, let me know in the comments if you have information on this.)

Sheet 1

The first sheet in the 1934 set was by far the most star-studded, highlighted by Grove, Dean, Foxx, Hubbell, and others. In fact, 13 of the set’s 20 Hall of Fame cards live among the set’s first 24 cards.

Unlike the 1933 set, cards on Sheet 1 bear the numbers 1-24, though the numbering within the sheet is so random even I have literally zero to say about it.

The most salient (but not immediately evident) characteristic of the set’s first sheet is that every single one of the cards is recycled from the 1933 set, artwork and all.

First, here are cards 1-6 from the 1934 set…

1934 1-6.GIF

And their counterparts from 1933.

1934 origins 1-6.GIF

And here are the next six cards, 7-12, in the 1934 set…

1934 7-12.GIF

…along with their 1933 doppelgangers.

1934 origins 7-12.GIF

And finally we round things out with cards 13-24.

1934 13-24.GIF

And once again…

1934 origins 13-24.GIF

Study the artwork carefully enough and you’ll spot some changes. One of the more notable updates is the coloring of Lefty Grove’s hat to reflect his move from the A’s to the Red Sox.

Add Ruth and Gehrig and this sheet would be nothing more than “1933 Goudey’s Greatest Hits!” Care to guess how many of the next 72 cards in the 1934 set reuse their 1933 images? [Cue “Jeopardy theme” while reader thinks.] Zero! This first sheet provides the only instances in the entire set and does so by going a perfect 24 for 24.

Sheet 2

Given the star power of Sheet 1, it’s no surprise that the second sheet has far fewer luminaries. Appling, Hafey, Lombardi, and Gehrig are the sheet’s lone Hall of Famers, but oh what a Gehrig! The next sheet will feature a Gehrig as well, but this yellow one, Card 37, seems to be the one nearly everybody wants more.

Cards are numbered 25-48 but again are scrambled within the sheet in a seemingly random manner. But hey, since it’s what I do, I’ll offer at least one thing not random about the numbering. Cards 25-36 are in the top two rows and cards 37-48 are in the bottom two rows.

Feel free to read a much earlier post on 1934 Canadian Goudey for more detail, but this is as good a time as any to note that its crazy hodgepodge of a checklist corresponds exactly to this sheet (numbered more sensibly), the preceding sheet, and Sheets 4 and 5 from the 1933 U.S. set.

Sheet 3

Reminiscent of the early 1933 sheets, we finally encounter a sheet arranged by color, this time progressing from yellow to green to red to blue. We are down to only two cards of Hall of Famers, though they represent two of the three top cards in the entire set: the Hank Greenberg rookie card and the green Gehrig. This Gehrig will also be the only instance of a repeated player in the set.

Card on this third sheet are numbered 49-72 but again in no particular order. A bit of trivia is that the mini-Gehrig icon that lived in the “Lou Gehrig says…” banner on Sheets 1-2 has now been updated to a new mini-Gehrig icon. The Coleman (Sheet 2) and Bolton (Sheet 3) cards below show the change at a size you can maybe even see on your phone.

Sheet 4

I started off the post with a picture of this final sheet, which not only includes cards 73-96 but the “1933” Lajoie as well.

If every instance of Sheet 4 looked like this, then we are forced to conclude that, at least off the press, the Lajoie card was no more rare than, say, Lloyd Johnson. Of course, very few Lajoie cards (I’ve seen estimates around 100) ever made it to collectors, which leads to the inescapable conclusion that a gigantic pile of these cards were simply thrown away…either that or make for one helluva find someday.

What kind of set is it?

You’re forgiven if you’re wondering what the question even means, but let’s take a quick detour nearly 40 years ahead and I’ll explain.

The first card below is from the 1981 Topps flagship set: 726 cards issued around the start of the 1981 baseball season, and largely a redo of similar sets from previous years (e.g., 1980, 1979, …).

The next two cards are from the 1981 Topps Traded set, which was very much not a redo of the flagship set but an extension of it. Were you to imagine a world where the flagship set never came out and only the Traded set were issued, collectors would no doubt be irked. No Garvey, Bench, Reggie, Ryan, Rose…just a bunch of rookies, benchwarmers, and traded guys!

Redo sets stand on their own. Extensions do not. What extensions do well is improve upon a prior set. What they do so poorly as to not do at all is replace a prior set.

Returning to the 1934 Goudey set, I consider the first 24 cards a redo, albeit a lazy one artistically and of course a much smaller one. Had Goudey only issued those 24 cards as their 1934 offering, we’d conclude that they simply wanted to go small that year. Good set, lots of stars, updated teams and bios, a new design…only ten percent the size.

As for cards 25-96, my conclusion is just the opposite! Of these 72 cards, 64 were of players absent from the 1933 Goudey checklist, which largely meant rookies, backups, and lesser stars. Had Goudey wanted an even bigger set in 1933, these 64 cards would have fit the bill perfectly.

Now what about the other eight cards, the players repeated from the 1933 set?

Two were the Gehrig cards already identified. With Gehrig the front man for the set, his two cards make sense, even if they “ruin” the clean run of nearly all new players. The next three cards will make sense also, even if the star power is several notches turned down from the Iron Horse.

First up is Mark Koenig, whose new card shows his move from the Cubs to the Reds.

Next up is Marty McManus, whose new card shows his move from one Boston club to the other.

Finally, Adam Comorosky’s new card shows his move from the Reds to the Pirates.

What remains are three players whose card in the 1934 set feels more mysterious to me. All were stars of the era but by no means the top stars from which to choose.

Even with these multiple exceptions, I choose to believe the final three releases of the 1934 Goudey set were an extension of the 1933 release more than any sort of redo. Along these lines I do not believe the set was small for financial reasons alone. I believe it was small for the same reason the 1981 Topps Traded set was small. Coming one heels of a release that already averaged more than a dozen different subjects per (Major League) team, were there really that many more cards left to add?

Thinking about the 1934 Goudey set as we would a more modern day Traded Set answers several questions at once:

  • Why no Ruth? He didn’t get traded!
  • Why so much smaller? It’s a traded set!
  • Why so many no-names? It’s a traded set!

In reality, I believe these same questions, particularly the first two, have other answers as well. Still, I believe the notion of the 1934 set adding to or updating the 1933 set is a mostly correct and mostly useful way to understand the two sets that for most collectors are synonymous with the Goudey brand.

In the next installment of the series, following up on a question from Nick, I’ll examine the chronology of the 1933 release based on three different sources.

Overanalyzing 1933 Goudey, part one

Author’s note: This is the first in a series of pieces that will offer a mix of fact, fiction, and speculation on one of the Hobby’s most iconic sets, 1933 Goudey. This installment looks primarily at the set’s unusual numbering scheme.

Founded in 1919, the Goudey Gum Company produced baseball cards from 1933 to 1941. Much like the Wallflowers, Counting Crows, and N.W.A., nearly all their greatest hits were packed into their debut offering. For those who not only collect cards but research them and write about them as well, the 1933 Goudey set provides near endless opportunity for inspiration, speculation, and frustration, much of which I intend to share in what is about to become a very long series of very long posts, even by Jason standards.

The basics

Before plunging into the deep end, I’ll start with some basics about the set, designated as R319 in Jefferson Burdick’s American Card Catalog.

  • The set officially includes 240 cards. Of these, 239 were produced and distributed in packs in 1933. The set’s final card, a very scarce Napoleon Lajoie, was produced in late 1934.
  • The set includes four cards of Babe Ruth, along with multiple cards of Gehrig, Foxx, and many other Hall of Famers.
  • The majority of the cards in the set are instantly recognizable from the red “Big League Chewing Gum” banner along the bottom of the card fronts. However, nearly a third of the set omits the banner, in my opinion yielding some of the most attractive trading cards ever made.
Author’s personal collection

the missing banners

The banner-less cards in the set stirred my initial interest in 1933 Goudey as an object of research. It felt odd to me that Goudey would arbitrarily omit their advertising banner at all, let alone across a random (so I thought) scattering of cards across their checklist, indicated by the yellow cells below. (The blue cell is the Lajoie card, which lives in a category all its own.)

Were the only cards missing a banner to be found at the very end of the checklist, I might have supposed Goudey simply forgot (!) the banner, ran low on red ink, or made an intentional decision that the cards looked better without a banner. But then what of these oddball occurrences like 97-99 or 142? Was I asking too much that there be some rhyme or reason to the approach?

mystery solved

I should emphasize here that for serious students of the Goudey set there never was a mystery. They already knew what I did not. Namely, the set was produced on printing sheets of 24 cards each, numbered rather haphazardly.

For example, here is the set’s fifth production sheet, with card numbers 53-57, 68-74, and 80-91.

Those random yellow cells of banner-less cards in my table then? They simply reflect Sheets 8-10!

While we still don’t know the why we at least have a better understanding of the which.

much, much, much, much more on the sheets

If you’ve been reading my posts for long, you know there is little I love more than wholly frivolous analyses of checklist patterns. Imposing order, however forced, on randomness is kind of my thing, at least when it comes to baseball cards. (As for the rest of my life, I’m more inclined to the opposite.) Therefore, is it any surprise that the oddball numbering patterns of the Goudey sheets captured my attention immensely?

In the eleven sections that follow, I’ll offer a description of each sheet (one of them twice!), along with a mini-analysis of numbering.

Sheet 1

For veteran Goudey collectors, the first sheet is quickly identified by “leadoff man” Benny Bengough in the top left position. Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons, and several other Hall of Famers are easy to spot as well. The sheet also features an orderly background progression from red to yellow to green to blue, a feature that will characterize early sheets in the set but not later ones.

The chart below shows the card numbers for the 24 cards on the sheet.

About the most notable feature of the numbering here is that it’s not 1-24. The cards themselves cluster into three separate streaks of 5, 11, and 8 while leaving two sizeable gaps: one from 6-24 and one from 36-44.

My personal theory, based on separate research, is that these 24 cards were not released as a single series but released concurrently with the second sheet.

Sheet 2

The second sheet is a little lighter in star power but still pretty loaded. This is 1933 Goudey after all! Aesthetically, I particularly like the purple-brown backgrounds in the sheet’s third row.

The card numbers on the second sheet (yellow cells) completely fill one of the major gaps from the first sheet and partially fill the other gap.

Compulsive set collectors of the era, who likely had no idea the cards were produced in sheets of 24, might have found themselves buying more and more packs in hopes of landing the elusive run of cards from 41-44. And if so, they would have been disappointed, just not for long.

Sheet 3

The third sheet introduces the set’s first landscape card (top left) but more importantly includes Lou Gehrig. Retired great Eddie Collins, in the set as an executive, seems a mysterious choice for inclusion, but he will soon enough be joined by another retired great, not even counting the Nap Lajoie card that will complete the set the following year. We also have some rich dark blue backgrounds to add to our growing color palette.

Numerically, that eyesore of a gap from 41-44 is finally closed, but four new gaps are created.

Sheet 5

Yes, I skipped Sheet 4, though we will come to it soon. Sheet 5, which I wanted to show first, includes the yellow Ruth (card 53) as well as the second retired great (Tris Speaker). Perhaps surprisingly, nine minor leaguers (counting Speaker, who appears with the Kansas City Blues) are included as well.

The reason I bumped this sheet ahead of Sheet 4 is the numbering of its 24 cards. Here’s how they fall in the checklist.

Sure enough, the addition of Sheet 5 to Sheets 1-3 provides for a clean run of cards, 1-96, uninterrupted. It would be possible (and perhaps even correct!) to read nothing of significance into this fact, but I prefer to believe that this collection of cards represented a possible stopping point in the set.

Yes, the card backs from the very beginning promised 240 cards, but it was not uncommon at that time for a large set to span multiple years. Goudey’s 216-card Indian Gum set that debuted the very same year was such an example, though in fairness its card backs did not initially promise all 216 cards.

Could there have been a “Plan A” to cap the initial release at 96 cards, or was this a “Plan B” to invoke only if sales proved low? Or is the way the numbering of the fifth sheet fills the holes from the first three sheets merely interesting but insignificant? Either way, “merely interesting” is still interesting.

Sheet 4

Instead, Sheets 1-3 were followed by (of course!) Sheet 4. Whatever good news this sheet brought to young collectors was probably overshadowed by the fact that they’d now been buying gum cards for months and still hadn’t pulled a Bambino. “Could it be he wasn’t even in the set,” they might have wondered.

As preposterous a proposition that might have seemed, it applied perfectly well to several other sets of the period including 1933 DeLong, 1933 George Miller, 1934 Goudey, and 1934-36 Diamond Stars.

Still, at least for the collectors keeping count, the numbering of these new cards offered comfort that there were still more cards to come. Just look at all these gaps!

Sheet 5 (again)

I’ve already introduced this sheet once, but now I can give you its actual impact on the Goudey checklist.

I’ll also show what might have been an explicit attempt to offset collecting mutiny. “Kids, we promise! Babe Ruth is in the set. We repeat: Babe Ruth is in the set.”

Finally, I’ll point out a somewhat overlooked feature of the set’s first 120 cards (i.e., Sheets 1-5). All 120 subjects to this point are different. Though a hallmark feature of the 1933 Goudey set is its multiple cards of top stars, they would all come in the set’s second half.

Sheet 6

If Sheet 5, particularly if issued out of sequence, would have tidied up the release, Sheet 6 is the one that blew it up. Still, if there was a time to buy Goudey cards, this was sure it! Just look at the sheet’s last column: Ruth, Ruth, Foxx, and Gehrig. You’ve also no doubt spotted a third Ruth on the sheet, and perhaps you even spied that Moe Berg!

Now let’s see where these 24 cards fell on the checklist.

Much like Sheet 4, this sheet filled none of the gaps left by prior releases. The numbering for this sheet is consecutive (143-165), something we had not seen earlier though we will see it again with Sheets 7 and 8. Most notably, however, the sheet includes only 23 card numbers. The two Ruth cards in the second row are both numbered 144 and represent the set’s only double-print. Much more on this later.

As the Ruth cards make immediately evident, the Goudey set now includes multiple cards of select players.

  • Lou Gehrig – Card 160 identical to card 92 (Sheet 3)
  • Jimmie Foxx – Card 154 identical to card 29 (Sheet 1)
  • Babe Ruth – Cards 144 and 149 both different from card 53 (Sheet 5), though all three came from the same Charles Conlon image

Feel free to read a much earlier post on 1933 Canadian Goudey for more detail, but this is as good a time as any to note that its crazy hodgepodge of a checklist corresponds exactly to Sheets 1, 2, 3, and 6 from the U.S. set.

Sheet 7

It wouldn’t. Yes, there is a fourth Ruth, card 181, and yes, that is the great Charlie Berry in the lower left hand corner. And yes, we even get the set’s first “traded card” in the person of Rogers Hornsby (Cardinals infielder to Browns manager) along with new poses of star players Joe Cronin and Heinie Manush…

But we also get six cards of minor leaguers and a (barely) image variation of a player I can’t imagine kids really wanted or needed. On the left I present George Walberg’s card 145 from Sheet 6; on the right, his card 183 from Sheet 7. “Why two,” you might wonder. Fair question. (Also see Al Corwin, 1953 Bowman.)

My own guess is it was a mistake, plain and simple. The cards are similar enough to constitute an image variation of the dullest degree but different enough to require actual work. I’d even hazard a guess that the cards were made by two different artists. Plus, if this was just Goudey being lazy, why go with two different bios!

Now truth be told, Walberg was hardly the only non-superstar to earn two cards in the set. However, as we’ll see on Sheet 10, the other ones all had a very logical explanation.

As for the checklist, Sheet 7 simply picked up where Sheet 6 left off, annoying any set collectors hoping to finally rubber band the set’s first 100. Goshdarnit, Goudey! Where the heck are cards 97-99?!

Unlike Sheet 6, in which the numbering of the cards within the sheet was a bit haphazard, Sheet 7 is numbered in perfect sequence.

Sheet 7 also marked the end of one of the set’s most defining features, the Big League Chewing Gum banner. As such, the remaining cards in the set are less iconic but more attractive.

Sheet 8

Sadly I was unable to locate any images of Sheet 8, so I have done my best to reconstruct it here. As such, the order of the cards may well be incorrect. (If you have a true image, please get in touch or post a link in the comments.)

Mel Ott’s first (but not lowest numbered) card in the set appears in this release, also highlighted by Hall of Famers Gabby Hartnett, Hack Wilson, Earl Averill, and Rick Ferrell. I’m a particular fan of the card of Tigers ace Tommy Bridges, which itself is part of a Goudey mini-mystery I will return to later in this series of articles.

The Ott card, among other cards on this and later sheets, should also put to rest any theory that the “Big League Chewing Gum” banner was omitted to save on red ink.

While the new card design is easy to spot, a more overlooked property of the sheet is that all 24 players are brand new additions to the set, reversing a trend toward duplication in the prior two sheets.

Rather than fill any checklist gaps, Sheet 8 kept the foot on the gas and brought the checklist well into the 200s.

Sheet 9

The next sheet in the set brought 24 more beauties–again all new players–and the end of the regular season releases. If I had to guess, I’d also assign the lowest production run of the set to these 24 cards. Too bad.

There was still room on the checklist for this sheet to rattle off the next 24 slots. However, for the first time in a while, some early gaps were at least partially filled. For the set collectors out there, it must have been particularly satisfying to finally kill off cards 97-99 and 142.

Sheet 10

The final release of the 1933 Goudey set is known as the “World Series sheet” and features the top stars from that year’s Fall Classic between the Giants and Senators. Note that I didn’t say the previous year’s Fall Classic. This was a real-time, ToppsNow-like look at the World Series that just happened.

I can’t say I like these cards as much as the previous 48, possibly the result of some “hurry up” to get the cards out before the interests of kids moved on from baseball to other things. Though the sheet included several players already featured earlier in the set, Goudey nonetheless went the extra mile by producing genuinely new artwork for 23 of the players. The only duplication came with Joe Cronin, whose card 109 (Sheet 10) was very similar to his earlier card 189 (Sheet 7).

This final collection of 24 cards not only added new art to the set but new bios as well, updated to reflect the results of the World Series.

“Led the Senators to the American League championship in his first season as manager of the club, although his club was beaten in the World Series with the Giants…”

At this point there is little suspense as to how the final 24 cards filled the checklist. Still, here it is for completeness. Only one hole remained, card 106, along with the question of why.

chase card?

Conventional Hobby wisdom tells us that the omission of card 106, later filled by Napoleon Lajoie, was intentional, a tactic designed to keep youngsters buying gum in their futile pursuit of a complete set. In modern parlance, card 106 was a “chase card.”

My own take differs.

For one thing, the Goudey set was very large. Completing the set, even assuming no duplicates, would require averaging a pack a day from Opening Day through Christmas. I’m not sure how many kids could manage this level of collecting in Depression-era America, even ignoring the competition from other gum cards on the market. True, the more compulsive collectors out there could augment their sets by cajoling or pilfering away the cards of their friends, but I still don’t see big numbers able to go 240 or bust.

Second, at what point in the set’s release would collectors even notice that card 106 was missing? Had the cards been released in numerical order, the missing card would have been evident mid-release–i.e., when even the most complete collections out there looked like this, give or take the substantial stacks of doubles needed to get this far.

Instead, set numbering was so haphazard that the hole at 106 (or equivalently, the brick wall at 239 cards out of 240) was largely undetectable* until the release of Sheet 10, a good month or so after the World Series ended. By then, even if collectors wanted to embark upon buying sprees, it’s unclear how much longer fresh packs would keep hitting shelves.

Don’t get me wrong, I do believe the haphazard numbering and gaps in the set, evident from the very first release, were an intentional tactic to boost sales. I just don’t believe card 106 itself played any outsized role. Why was it there then? Much like that second Walberg card, my personal belief is it was simply an oversight.

In the next installment of the series, I’ll offer a similar sheet-by-sheet analysis of the 1934 Goudey set (thankfully much smaller!) and highlight an easily overlooked connection between the 1933 and 1934 issues.

Jumping Into the Deep End

I’ve posted sporadically the last few months because my collecting focus has been almost exclusively on football. I’ve been juggling multiple sets – 1964, 1966 and 1967 Topps, and 1967 Philadelphia. With 1967 Topps done (thanks Big Ben Davidson!), I’ve been thinking hard about tackling a big baseball set. 

(We all know that in our card community we’re often spurred on to pursue cards that our friends show us and talk about. I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a nod to Mark Armour’s recent relentless assault on completing Topps sets he was reasonably close to finishing. Mark has thanked me for honing his thoughts on that, so thanks are due right back at him).

After much deliberation, I made my decision – 1964 Topps. Why? A few reasons:

1 – I’ve got a relatively solid start, with 157 cards (although 17 will need to be upgraded to set-building condition). Not a big base, but 27% is 27% percent. Though 1964 is a bit before my collecting time (I was almost two years old), these cards came from a friend almost 50 years ago. They were his brother’s cards, supplemented by star purchases I made in the ‘70’s. I’ve always loved the look of the 1964s.

2 – I think I can get from 157 to 400 pretty fast. I won, bought, traded, for 60 yesterday, with, hopefully, another 50-60 on the horizon in coming auctions. Checking Beckett Marketplace, I’m sure I can add another 100-150 at my price point. (COMC is usually my go-to on set builds, but with at least 3 month delivery times, I’ll have to hold off for now. It would be mentally debilitating to have 150 cards bought, but undeliverable, until early 2021).

3 – High numbers are very reasonable. In EX, they seem easy to grab for $2-3, and, in lots, even less. That’s important and pricey highs keep me from going after 1966.

4 – Mantle. Need him, but he’s not too expensive. I think, with patience, I can get a nice one for $150ish. Rose is the second biggest on my list, but $75 seems to be attainable. (I once had this card, or my pal’s brother once did. It was a nice card, BUT, on the back, in bold caps, was written “STAY OUT TIM!” I was so upset about that that I ripped it in half and threw it away.)

So my strategy is in place – quick lots to get to a reasonable place, hit the local Cooperstown card shops (Yastrzemski Sports and Baseball Nostalgia) to fill some holes, peck around for stars, and, in time, go to card shows once the coast is clear. Of course, if any of you out there have EX or better cards that you’d like to sell or trade, I’m open to talk. For now, sheets have been bought, an album attained, and starting cards placed.

There’s something sad about 587 card slots, mostly unfilled. It seems lonely and daunting, a few cards surrounded by ghosts.

It’s also hopeful. As pages get filled and the set fleshes out, there’s that wonderful sense of a goal gradually attained.

Wish me luck!

All Action All the Time

My time as a rabid collector lasted for approximately three years, 1986 through ’88. During those years, I blew nearly all my disposable income — mind you, I was a college student without a real job — on packs of baseball cards. Topps, Donruss, Score, Fleer, Sportflics… didn’t really matter. I was addicted, and spent an inordinate amount of time sorting my way to complete (or nearly complete) sets. I also had binders full of players like Cory Snyder and Tony Fernández. But that hoary old story is for another day!

This story’s about what I missed, by not starting earlier. No, not the outstanding 1984 Fleer set, which I’ve just recently come to love. That same year, Donruss produced their second Action All Stars set: 60 player cards + 1 checklist card; five cards per cello pack, plus a card consisting of three Ted Williams puzzle pieces.

Of course all the players were depicted in “action” photos, but what really distinguished these cards was their size. I like big cards. I mean, why would anyone not like big cards? The only downsides are a) you can’t stuff ’em in your pockets, and b) good luck finding the correct binder pages! But if the point of a baseball card is the image of the player, bigger is nearly always better (he said, overconfidently).

And these cards are 3.5 inches by 5 inches — essentially notecard size, or exactly the size of two lesser baseball cards.

I discovered the existence of this set just a few weeks ago, when searching eBay for “Topps big” or something (did I mention that I like big cards? I think I mentioned that). I really just wanted to hold one Action All Star, just to get a sense of the thing. But there was a good deal and … well, I wound up with eight five-card cello packs.

Look, I’m not stupid. I know I could have learned most of what I wanted to know by looking at images and reading stuff on the web. But not all.

All means holding a card in your hand, feeling its thickness and texture and turning it over and seeing what’s on the back. All means up close and personal.

Anyway, I opened all the packs. In retrospect, this was … okay, I am sorta stupid. For the money I spent on the packs, I could have picked up the complete set. With money left over. So buying the packs would have made sense only if I’d then sent some packs as gifts, or rationed the opening thrills for myself. But instead I did the other, stupider thing!

Oh well. Hardly the first time.

Anyway, the “action” images are really nice: well composed and framed, with a clean accompanying design (unlike too many cards in those pre-Stadium Club days). My research reveals that in both 1983 and ’85 (see below), Donruss went with two images on the front of their Action All Stars: action, and portrait … which only serves to detract from both.

Your mileage might well vary, but for my (not much) money the 1984 set is the only one of the three sets with real curb appeal.

Not that they’re perfect. In way too many of the images, the background is just sorta dark, or murky. Or murkily dark. Often the player is backlit. The overall effect is just … darkness. Which could be easily corrected today. On your cell phone.

Back then, though, they just went with the images they had, and we liked it. But among the 25 players I got, only a few — most notably, Dale Murphy — really pop the way you want them to. Just too many guys doing their actions in the shadows.

The backs of the cards could have been great, but are just passable. Using the top half for a head shot was a good idea, albeit still with too many shadows. The bottom half includes full name, biographical data, and a complete MLB statistical record. So far, so good. But then there are career highlights, with the combination of tiny black letters and dark red background almost impossible to read without a magnifying glass…

…which you could almost understand for the veterans with huge stat sections like Steve Carlton and Reggie Jackson. But Tony Peña’s got five stat lines, five lines of highlights … and a bunch of empty red space. Instead of using a bigger, actually readable font for the highlights, they just used the same teeny letters for everybody. Which I can barely read. Oh and by the way get off my damn lawn you meddling kids.

Overall, this is a good set that could have been great, with better lighting and some measure of design flexibility on the back. Well worth whatever they’re asking on eBay.


We’ve had a few articles on the blog recently dealing with set completion. Three that come to mind are the one from Jeff on which cards do and don’t constitute a complete set, one from Artie on building modern master sets, and “Set Building 101” from Jim.

What each of the articles has in common is the the informed, intentional, and methodical process by which each author defines his goal and progresses toward completion. Then there’s me. When I’m not busy presiding over my glitter empire or doing my day job, I’m writing articles with titles like “The Funnest Dumb Way to Collect (Almost) the Whole set.

As I prepare to dispense my questionable advice on our SABR readership, I’m reminded of the opening line to the Neil Young song “Hippie Dream.” (I have to imagine you all know the song by heart, but in case you’re having a moment, I’ll remind you: “Take my advice. Don’t listen to me…!”)

A set I’m collecting (or perhaps am done collecting) is somewhat typical of the almost aggressively anti-information approach I take to collecting, despite being someone who at times reads and writes almost manically about cards. Heal thyself, physician, as they say!

Some of you have seen from previous posts here or on Twitter/Facebook that I went from having no pre-1933 baseball cards (I have to say “baseball” here since my son and I have about 80 pre-1933 Sir Isaac Newton cards) to taking on the 1911 T205 Gold Borders Brooklyn team set. Here is a pic I posted back in March, with my dozen cards framed nicely by the Cigarbox Cards display.

Go ahead, ask me what I knew about the set before I started collecting it. Glad you asked! I knew the card were pretty, the only Hall of Famer was Zack Wheat, and almost all the other players were terrible. Of course I’m not an idiot, so I also did a quick eBay search and saw that “some guy” on the team could be had in reasonable shape (imagine the raw equivalent of a PSA 2.5) for $40. Okay, cool, I’m in.

Well, that picture from March is still my picture in August. Little did I know going in that three-time 20-game loser Kaiser Wilhelm is practically Walter Johnson in terms of price tag. Good chance I could take all twelve cards in my display–and even throw in the display!–and try to trade them for a Wilhelm in worse shape than all of them…and be refused.

So how bad do I want the card? I’ll answer my own question with a question. How bad do I want the team set? (And yes, I realize the completists out there are already wondering why I only have one of the two Barger poses.)

Whatever words I might offer in the affirmative, the facts of the case speak for themselves. I’ve been one player short for 6 months–the whole pandemic so far–and I’ve done nothing about it. I don’t even click when my saved eBay search turns up a hit. I don’t love being stuck at 12 players out of 13, but I love even less spending my (hopefully someday) 1960 Lake to Lake Dairy Hank Aaron money on a Kaiser Wilhelm. It’s a common limbo I find myself in often, a purgatory without the purgation. Done but not done.

True, it might be totally acceptable to go 79/80 on Fleer Ted Williams or 239/240 on 1933 Goudey. God knows plenty of otherwise respectable collectors are willing to set the remarkably pedestrian goal of 520/524 for T206, just as many modern collectors are able to settle for only the /5, /10, /25, /50, /99, /199, /400, /999, and /2020 Vertigo Refractor Rainbow Dazzle Tiffany versions of Jasson Dominguez “Move Over, Henry Aaron” Transcendent Museum Edition (Retail), foregoing the 1/1 in a last-ditch effort to avoid mortgage foreclosure.

Hobby orthodoxy permits those collectors to declare victory. Not so for a Kaiser-less Superba set. In fact, many collectors would insist I need two, and let’s not even get started about the factory numbers or tobacco brands!

The rational part of my brain recognizes it would have been prudent to do my homework before jumping in with both feet. Then I never would have gotten started on a set I couldn’t finish. I might have chosen something else, something I could do.

Then again, I wouldn’t have these cards, which are without a doubt among the dozen most beautiful in my entire collection. Yes, it was a dumb thing to do, to go in blind. Every now and then, however, you can be so dumb you’re smart.

So no regrets, that’s where I’m at. None at all. The set collector in me may be “suffe ing” 😃 but the card collector in me is doing just fine. In fact, he just picked up his fourth T206 Brooklyn card! Can the complete set be far behind?

On Becoming Complete: A Spiritual Journey

What is complete? Who decides that? How do we know when we get there?

Recently, Mark Armour (co-founder of this blog and current SABR President), Tweeted the good news that he snagged a 1956 Yankees Team Card and his 1956 Topps set was finished. But was it?


One Tweeter threw out a picture of the unnumbered checklists


and Jason (our current blog co-chair) said, “yeah, you need those to be complete.” This lead to a series of comments on what makes a whole set whole. Do you need the 24 blue team checklists inserted in 1973 packs, but not numbered, to have a complete set of that year? How about 1974, where you’d need the red team checklists, the Traded set and all Washington variations to be done.

I do think about this a lot. I’m now 3 away from a complete 1961 Post set, having bought a nice Clemente. There are 200 numbered cards in that set and having one of each number is what I’m shooting for. BUT, with all variations (company issue vs. box issue, Minneapolis vs. Minnesota Twins, players with more than one team, transaction notations, and so on), the set runs to 357! That’s almost 180% of the base numbering. Will I be complete at 200? I’m saying yes.

If you need unnumbered inserts to be complete. Do you need all unnumbered inserts? That would be absurd.


If you narrow that down to checklist inserts, my thoughts turn to the 2004 Cracker Jack set, which had two separately numbered checklists, which were not made of the same card stock.

Cracker Jack

And, while I don’t know how the 1963 Fleer checklists were distributed, that card is unnumbered.


Furthermore, does being an insert in and of itself make it part of the whole set? Can’t be, right? These were inserted in 1971 packs, but nobody (at least nobody I know) considers a 1971 Topps set incomplete if you don’t also have a complete set of these.

1971 Topps Coins 5

There has to be a right answer, and this is it:

A set is complete when you have all the numbered cards. Master sets are complete when you have all variations, non-numbered cards, etc.

Getting back to 1956 Topps, if you’re not complete without the checklists, then you’re also not complete unless you have all white and gray back variations and the different team card versions. In fact, they’re called variations for a reason; those cards are “a different or distinct form or version of something.” I would argue, in fact I am arguing, that the checklists are also variations – they are different from all the other 1956 because THEY HAVE NO NUMBER and, without a number, they are outside the set as presented.

Obviously, to each his own on this, but there must be a clear standard. Perhaps we all know what it is, and that’s why complete sets tend to be sold by the definition above, and, when variations, unnumbered checklists, etc. are part of the listing, they are given a separate shoutout.

I’m sure there are many thoughts on this, and maybe I want to hear them. I’m not sure. I imagine I will anyway.


2000 Skybox Autographics

Cards from 2000 are old enough to legally drive and vote, and almost old enough to legally drink. I want that to sink in – they are 20 years old. I think that qualifies them as vintage according to some definitions of the word. To a 10-year-old collector starting today, they are as old as 1966 Topps cards were to me when I “seriously” began collecting in 1986 (meaning I had a binder and some 9-pocket pages).  Yes, production and collecting has changed over time, but I didn’t have a lot of cards from 1966 as a 10-year-old.

Pack inserted autographs have been available since 1990, when Upper Deck inserted Reggie Jackson autographs into its product. Perhaps the “signature” product is 1996 Leaf Signature, with its one autograph per pack insertion rate.  There are great topical subsets, like the 1997 and 1998 Donruss Significant Signatures, which are essentially all HOFers … and Don Mattingly.  And of course, there are “vintage” autograph sets, like the Topps Stars run of rookie reprint autographs in the late 1990s. There have been a few posts on autographs on the blog but I think only Jeff has a similar type of post on pack inserted autographs with the Sports Illustrated Covers Autographs.

I want to focus specifically on the 2000 Skybox Autographics set. In an earlier post on master set building I mentioned that 2000 Skybox Dominion was one of the first master sets I attempted to put together. Some of these cards were part of that master set building process. However, the Autographics set was a multi-product set, with only a subset of players available in Skybox Dominion. Others were available in E-X, Impact, Metal, and Skybox. Some players were available in multiple products. Eventually the master set building of Skybox Dominion morphed into trying to build the complete Autographics set (Jeter and Pedro being the pricey remaining autographs to that quest).

First, let’s clear up some confusion. Here are fronts and backs from three different years (1999, 2000, and 2001) of autographics cards:

1999-2001 Skybox Autographics - both

The 2000 set is the one in the middle. The 1999 copyright date on the back is the source of confusion, as is the 2000 copyright date on the back of the 2001 card. That was the time period when companies would sometimes release next year’s products this year (a 2000 product would be released in 1999), sometimes last year’s product this year (a 2000 product would be released in 2001), and sometimes, if a product had multiple series, one series would be released in one year and the other in the next year.

To me, the 2000 set is the best looking. The big block “Skybox” running diagonally across the 1999 cards detracts from the photo, and the smaller photo on the 2001 cards, likely to leave more space to focus on the autograph, minimizes the focus on the player.  Also, I’m a bigger fan of vertical cards than horizontal cards.  The 2000 set is borderless, with bright color backgrounds which generally match a primary color of the player’s team (orange for Orioles, blue for Dodgers, etc. – I have no idea if inspiration for these colorful backgrounds came from T206s). There are a variety of shots: some action, some posed, and some in-game shots that I wouldn’t really call “action” shots. The shadows also add a nice effect. There’s some white space for the on-card autograph, which tends to be preferred to sticker autographs. There’s also an embossed Skybox logo that stays fairly well hidden on most of the cards. Granted, the backs of the 2000 and 2001 cards are weaker than that of the 1999 cards, but I’ll trade off a weaker card back to remove that big block diagonal logo from the front.

The set is 132 cards with players ranging from Hall of Famers to prospects who never made the majors.  The checklist is reasonably deep, particularly when one considers everyone was either active or potentially active that year.

2000 Skybox Autographics HOFers

Hall of Famers (or likely HOFers): Beltre, Boggs, Vladimir Guerrero, Gwynn, Hoffman, Jeter, Randy Johnson, Maddux, Edgar Martinez, Pedro Martinez, Mussina, Ripken, Thomas

Guys with HOF numbers: Bonds, Palmeiro, A-Rod, Beltran (I would have had him as a likely HOFer but who knows how the Astros sign stealing scandal will affect his candidacy – does anyone remember the sign stealing scandal with everything else that has happened in the past few months?)

Stars/Semistars/Minor Stars: Abreu, Alou, Berkman, Mike Cameron, Carpenter, Eric Chavez, Will Clark, Damon, Carlos Delgado, J.D. Drew, Jason Giambi (and Jeremy too), Helton, Tim Hudson, Andruw Jones, Kendall, Konerko, Lankford, Magglio Ordonez, Rolen, Rollins, Salmon, Soriano, Tejada, Billy Wagner, and probably a few others I’m missing.

Of course, there’s also Glen Barker (197 plate appearances), Orber Moreno (50.2 IP), and Angel Pena (206 plate appearances), who wound up with limited MLB action. And Norm Hutchins, Cesar King, and Aaron McNeal, who wound up with no MLB action.  And Matt Riley – if you don’t remember him, look up his minor league numbers early in his career. But that’s what makes this set interesting – an autograph set of all HOFers (or almost HOFers) like 1997 Donruss Significant Signatures is great, but the variety of players in this set is more representative of the game.

2000 Skybox Autographics Favorites-busts

The semistars also add to the appeal of the set.  Ray Lankford was a really good baseball player, yet he only has 10 different autograph cards from manufacturers (that is counting the three versions of his 1997 Donruss Signature autograph as three distinct cards and his two versions of the 2000 Skybox Autographics as two distinct cards – more on that in the next paragraph).  Tim Salmon has 110 different autograph cards, and many of those have small print runs (under 100). Lest you think that is a lot, Wade Boggs has at least 1,400 different autographed cards; Cal Ripken has at least 3,700 (these numbers are probably outdated at the time of the post – they are taken from Beckett’s online guide).  Lankford has fewer cards than Boggs has autographed cards; Salmon has fewer cards than Ripken has autographed cards.

2000 Skybox Autographics Purple Foil-semistars

In addition to the regular version of the card, there is also a purple foil version numbered to 50. The words Skybox Autographics running along the side of the card are the text that is in purple foil. I have seen Purple Foil cards without the numbering, which I believe were back-ups to be used as replacement cards. My understanding is that those cards made their way into the hobby through some liquidation sale, but I’m not sure how credible that story is. I have seen other cards (2002 Fleer Triple Crown parallels) without some of the numbering that are claimed to have entered the hobby the same way. I have also seen some numbered versions without the purple foil. I am more skeptical of those – I think they are just the regular cards that someone numbered after the fact. The numbers on the purple foil versions are hand-numbered, which allows that to happen. As always, education is the key.

Overall, the set appeals to me from both its look as well as its player selection. The design was also used in basketball and football sets around the same time and has been used in “retro” sets in 2012 for those sports.

An Unnecessary Premium

I’ve been selling my pre-war cards. Most of them anyway (there’s a few that I want around). In recent years my collecting has shifted, in ways that bring me great pleasure and, while it’s slightly odd selling off cards that are one of a kind in my collection (selling doubles is so much easier on the emotions), I’ve gotten enormous pleasure from the turnover.

I’m not sure why I have one 1934 Butterfinger Premium, (R310s for you scoring at home) let alone two. The Lloyd Waner made sense at the time, and in retrospect. I was looking for cards of Hall of Famers from their playing days. (Now that I have another “Little Poison,” a 1936 Goudey Wide Pen Type 1, I can let the R310 go).

1934 Butterfinger Waner front253

Bob O’Farrell? I have no idea.

1934 Butterfinger O'Farrell front251

These premiums really aren’t even cards. Large, 7 ¾” X 9 ¾”, paper thin (though there are cardboard backed displays with red ad copy letting a bunch of Dead End Kids and Little Rascals of the decade know they could get their very own Lew Fonseca with the purchase of a nickel candy bar),


and fragile, they’re more like posters (which often make it into the Standard Catalog anyway). The checklist is a nice representation of the player pool, from Ruth, Gehrig and Foxx (spelled both “Fox” and “Foxx”) to Al Spohrer and Ralph Boyle.

The cardboard displays are rarer, selling, according to one Standard Catalog, at four times the paper. There’s even a Canadian version, smaller in size, at 6 ½” X 8 ½”, and checklist, less than 60. (These are given a different designation, V94).

They’re nice items, perfect for team and type collectors, and not very expensive, depending, of course, on condition. A lot of them have suffered paper loss from various tuckings and gluings into albums. You can even get a low grade Al Spohrer for $10!

But the biggest mystery to me is why anyone needs a premium to buy a Butterfinger. They’re delicious and worth each of those five pennies.

A Little Treasure Chest

Brace, Conlon, McWilliams, McCarthy. McCarthy? Most card collectors and hardcore baseball fans have heard of, or encountered, the photography of George Brace, Charles Conlon and Doug McWilliams. For some reason, J.D. McCarthy has slipped through the cracks.

He shouldn’t have. McCarthy, from near Detroit, was a top level photographer, clicking away product that players used as postcards to answer fan mail or promote their bowling alleys and pizza parlors (McCarthy entries are scattered throughout the Standard Catalog), and that Topps used on a freelance basis. McCarthy archives had made it through various hands, and the bottom of the collection ended up with Bob Lemke, formerly of Krause Publications and one-time editor of the Standard Catalog. He wrote about it here.

Bob makes the point that the collection went through multiple owners, and, by the time it got to him, had been picked over, the Hall of Famers and big stars had disappeared. Which leads me to this post.

Back in 1986, I was visiting Cooperstown and, of course, Baseball Nostalgia. The shop, co-owned by inaugural Burdick Award Winner Mike Aronstein, was in its old location, at what is now the batting range. I picked up my usual odds and ends, like the current San Francisco Giants yearbook, and this little gem. (I’d always been under the impression that Sports Design Products was an Aronstein company, but Andrew Aronstein assured me it was not.)



I had never heard of McCarthy, and had no idea of what would be contained within this plastic box, but, man, what’s inside was a marvel then, and still is now. It’s a 24-card set, matte-finish (if not matte, non-glossy), with brilliant photos and a simple, 1969 Topps design. SDP clearly had some big plans for the superstar portraits of McCarthy, hoping to get on board the card boom. Seemingly those dreams were never realized.

Here’s the entirety of the set:


An up close look at these two beauts:

(The backs have little to offer, but I know you “card back” guys care.)



While still cheap in price, the McCarthy set is high in aesthetic value. Track one down.

Little Boxes

One of the underappreciated, yet voluminous, touchstones of the 1980’s – early 1990’s card boom (I try to resist “Junk Wax Era,” because there are a ton of wonderful cards that, though small in value, are high in aesthetics, i.e., not junk) was the mini-boxed set. If you had a chain store, you likely had a self-branded set, 33, maybe 44, cards in size. Ames had 20 Home Runs/20 Stolen Bases, Revco had Hottest Stars, KMart had AL and NL MVPs and many other titles. If I were so inclined to research how many of these sets there were, I’d be wading my way through stacks and stacks of them. I am not so inclined.


I can say, with some assurance, that Woolworth put out sets from 1985 – 1991, all made by Topps, all called Baseball Highlights (except the first two years, All-Time Record Holders and Super Stars, respectively), all 33 cards (except ATRH, which has 44).

I picked up the 1990 set (sans gum) for a buck at Yastrzemski Sports in Cooperstown, and it’s a glossy beaut.


The checklist is made up of players you’d expect to find circa 1990 – MVPs, Cy Young winners, ROYs and post-season heroes, but also MLBers who hit some milestones. It’s always swell to see a new Dewey Evans card.


As you’d expect, the set is overloaded with A’s and Giants, and that’s fine, but the highlights, for me, are in the Fisk, Murray, and Ryan cards. Especially that Murray card!


The tail end of the set is a run of World Series cards. Not a lot in the way of highlights, unless you’re an A’s fan, but excellent cards. Check out that Kevin Mitchell one. (I still believe that if there hadn’t been an earthquake, the Giants would have put up a better fight. That the A’s could go Stewart and Moore, then Stewart and Moore again after a long layoff, helped Oakland. The Giants may have had a hard time with Bob Welch, but I liked their chances against Storm Davis.)


The backs are simple, clear and uncluttered.

Granted, these boxes tend to blend into each other in checklist and shine. They’re not made of ticky tacky, but they do kinda all look the same. Still, I’m up to find more, but only at a dollar a piece. I do have my limits.