Young Kids, Old Men and Gum

I’ve never been a collector of Bazooka cards. They’re nice though; it’s not an aesthetic choice. So I’m not sure how I stumbled across the 1963 All-Time Greats set, a set that is not nearly as pretty as all other Bazooka sets of the era.

I’d been aware of the cards, the same size (1 9/16” X 2 ½”) as regular Bazooka cards, but what I didn’t know was that they were inserted five per box, avoiding the risk of being hand cut. At 41 cards, it’s a set that’s in my current wheelhouse, small enough, and inexpensive enough, to pursue. After nailing down 10 cards for $20, and adding another seven pretty quickly (some in trade), I’m almost half way to completion. (I got two graded in that lot, which I’ll eventually bust out of their cases.)

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Though I knew of these cards, I wasn’t prepared for how they looked (and felt) in hand. The lot I got was described in detail – corner condition, centering, etc. – but it in no way prepared me for how beautiful they are. The gold (and there’s a lot of gold) shimmers like a 19th century vase. (There are also pricier silver variations).  It’s impossible to capture in a scan. The stock is sturdy. I was bowled over by them, my decision to go after this set instantly reaffirmed .

Weirdly, Bazooka went with old man pictures of formerly young heroes. Fleer did the same for many of their 1960 and 1961 cards. It’s an odd choice. Bazooka was hoping (and expecting) a ten-year-old in 1963 to relish getting a Honus Wagner card, but why make it that much harder to attain by picturing Hans at 70! (Just guessing on that.) The Ruth card has the Babe near the end, probably from the morning he died. What kid doesn’t want that!

The backs cram a lot of information in and put me back to when I was learning about baseball history and the guys who make up this set. I was still reading about them all a decade later, in books, yearbooks, magazines, wherever I could find those stories.

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How do kids today, if interested, get this information, not only about now ancient superstars, but also more recent ones? In 1963, Ruth was retired for about as long as Reggie Jackson has been retired right now. Not via cards, I surmise; I doubt via books. The kind of books written about older players tend to be University press kinds of works, unless you’re lucky enough to be the subject for Jane Leavy (Koufax, Mantle, Ruth). I’m assuming Wikipedia and YouTube are prime sources, SABR Bio Project is also invaluable but SABR has its problems with an aging membership base. There are not a lot of teenagers among us.

It’s an ageist notion to scream about how kids today don’t care about what we did at their age. “I can’t believe the average 12-year-old baseball fan doesn’t know about Chief Bender!” I hate that. Baseball, and baseball cards, are there to be enjoyed and taken in however one wants to access them. I’d rather be a kid today, watching highlights on my phone as they occur, then be me in 1975, waiting three days to see a West Coast box score in Newsday. Try as you may, you won’t convince me that that was a better world.

I’m thoroughly enjoying these 1963 Bazooka ATGs, a nice surprise that puts me back to a time when getting a Harry Heilmann card was expected to be an exciting thing. It still is for me.

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Super Topps, My Super Fave

I’m not a huge fan of Topps Heritage. For me, it doesn’t quite make the emotional connection I need. Like most of you, seeing the old designs is nice, but the repetitive nature of the pics (this year’s Red Sox cards are BORING! and it look like they’re repeating the background for next year) and the weird modernity of the photos is off-putting.

I am intrigued about the 2019 set. I saw that there will be Topps Supers as box loaders; after all these years I still don’t know what that means. For me it means nothing. The originals are irreplaceable.

The 1970 Topps Super set, sold separately, three cards for a dime, were a thrill to find at my local Canarsie candy store (Paulino’s, I think it was called, on Glenwood Ave.).  Paulino’s was on the walk to school and a frequent, if not daily, stop on the way home.

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As beautiful as the 1964 Topps Giants are, I like the Supers more. An obvious reason is that I was a sentient baseball fan by 1970. I wasn’t yet two years old when the ‘64’s came out. The 1970 Supers represent a coming of age year for me. Plus, there’s the heft of these cards.

The 1970 Supers are thick, so thick, certainly the thickest cards I’ve ever encountered. They’re thicker than even Post Cereal boxes, and that cardboard is protecting food! The weight, the rounded corners, make for idiot-proof great condition. It would take a lot of force and evil intent to crease these placards or bend their corners.

The photos are marvelous, with colors that pop, and are different from the base cards. At a time when there wasn’t much choice in the card world, this was very welcome. Backs are the same (though I haven’t read them closely. There may be differences in the text to denote trades, I don’t know.)

(Topps also made Football Supers that year).

Though the 1970 Supers proved to be less than popular, Topps returned with a baseball only version in 1971. Take this as my small sample size, but the 1971s seem to have many more miscuts, with hints of adjacent cards on the sheet visible. Who cares? They’re awesome.

They’re also not too expensive. Complete sets of all three (for you football fans) seem attainable in the $200-300 range. The checklists are crammed with Hall of Famers and, if you get some of these, you don’t have to be so dainty handling them. They’re tough, super tough.

Joining Team Flake

I’ve been looking to get a set of 1983 Topps Foldouts, five oversized mini-sets (leaders in pitching, batting, home runs, stolen bases and relief). It’s easily gettable for under $10, but I’m holding out to save every dollar. (It’s actually kind of silly how single dollar sensitive I can be).

I was wondering whether the cards, unfolded, would fit in 4-pocket sheets, so I went to the pdf of my always at hand 2009 Standard Catalog to check the size. The first comparable set I thought of, that I had in sheets, was a late-‘70’s Minnesota Twins team issued postcard set. Alas, the foldouts are bigger.

Knowledge attained, I aimlessly scrolled down, looking for nothing in particular, past Montreal Expos player pins and matchbook covers, when I ended up at “N.” First entry – 1969 Nabisco Team Flakes.

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Usually I’m not a big fan of sets that are nearly only found hand cut, but now that I am committed to completing the 1975 Hostess set (the only year that I cut out the cards), I’m changing my tune a little. Reasonably well hand cut cards have started to appeal to me.  And, if you’re a frequent reader, you know I’ve been looking for new sets to pursue. A 24-card, hand cut set is right in my sweet spot.

I’d heard about these cards, but never paid them any mind. I had a vague picture in my mind of dark, unattractive, crooked cards, but NO!, the cards are mini-replicas of late 1960’s Sports Illustrated posters and, as I looked at each card online, I was, like Proust via madeleine, taken back to my room in Canarsie, and then in Lake Grove, Long Island. Much of my posters of that time are gone – Aaron, Yaz, Ken Harrelson – but one has survived, travelling with me through college, Chicago and Cooperstown.

Seeing a mini – Mays seems to be enough to make me go for this set. I’ve seen uncut boxes, but I prefer hand cut. Unlike Hostess, which provided space between the dotted-lined cards, there’s no separation between the Team Flakes cards, which makes nice copies hard to find, helpful in pricing. But what I really want to know is who the hell ever ate Team Flakes?

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So now I have another target, one that seems easily attainable. We’ll see if that pans out, but I’m sure it’s easier to buy these cards than try to buy back my old posters. I don’t have the room or wall space for those.

Little Black Rectangles (Or, In the Eye of the Beholder)

In my quest for sets to complete, manageable sets, not too expensive for a one-time purchase, I’ve begun to look, in earnest, at old Topps inserts. I’ve got my share – 1969 Deckle and Decals (see last post), a random assortment of others – but there’s always room for more.

I’d like to grab some 1968 and 1972 posters.

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I don’t have any of them and they’re pretty nice, much nicer than the 1970 posters I do have

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(though not as nice as the 1967 pinups). But, since I have none, will I really put together a set? I’m pretty doubtful. Still, I’ll occasionally look for a lot and, if I do end up snatching some, we’ll see what happens.

What’s been grabbing me are the 1970 and 1971 Topps Scratch-Offs. Why? Not because of looks. These are the most unattractive inserts that Topps ever produced. Ugly little head shots on the front, a centerfold of black rectangles and a back that clearly didn’t take too long to design, all housed on rough cardboard (that’s how I remember them).

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It’s in the remembering that the scratch offs live.  They’re inserts I had, unlike the posters which I never did, so don’t have any feelings about one way or the other. I have a connection to these scratch offs that is real and, though they repulse me in most ways, they attract me in others.

Interestingly, I don’t recall them in 1971 packs, only in 1970. Turns out there is a distinguishing mark to tell the two apart – 1970’s are white inside, 1971’s red.

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Both sets are 24 cards, both should be pretty reasonable to buy unscratched (though a NM 1970 set recently sold for $117.50, way more than I’d consider.)  I’m thinking $65 for 1970, $75-80 for 1971, harder to come by, which is why I don’t remember them.

I’ve also been slightly obsessed with the 1970 Topps Football Glossy inserts, but that’s for another blog.

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The Making (Actually, Building) of a Complete Set

It’s a daunting task to start collecting a full vintage set from zero. I only did it once, about 25 years ago or so, an old set of over 200 cards. In those pre-eBay days, it wasn’t quite clear what a complete set really went for in the open market. All you could go on was price guide prices and, since they were usually higher than actual, going for a set from scratch wasn’t necessarily an economic mistake.

It would be now. There’s no way you can put together a vintage set for a better price than buying it straight out, unless you either have a good critical mass of cards to start from or you can trade. Or, and herein lies this post, it’s a small enough set that prices won’t get out of hand.

Until a few months ago, I didn’t have a single 1969 Topps Decal in my collection. Why? Who knows. Never interested me, my 1969s weren’t my original cards from packs so I didn’t have the inserts, and so on. They’re interesting items, small and glossy with plain white paper backgrounds, the photos almost the same as the regular issue cards. They ain’t no Deckle Edges, I can tell you! (By the way, can anyone tell me which series the Deckles were inserted in, and which series had the Decals? I’d like to know that.)

Earlier this year, Mark Armour and I, hot off a huge trade of 1970’s basketball for 1968 and 1969 baseball, bandied about what we may still have to swap. It came down to Hostess, Kellogg’s, Fleer Cloth patches (from me) and other oddballs for some Post Cereal and, when I saw them calling out to me, 1969 Decals.

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I was on my way. From zero to 10, in one swoop, 20% of the way to the end. All I needed was a good, cheap lot, ideally with a bunch of stars. That came my way soon after.

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The nice thing about this lot was that now I had doubles to sell, which I did. Oddly, I couldn’t buy commons for less than $2-2.50 and couldn’t sell them for more than about $1.75. Still, selling extras helped me whittle down my cost (I still have a nice Hoyt Wilhelm, if anyone is interested).  I even sold the backless Pete Rose for over $4 and bought a super nice one for $10.

With Joey Foy now in hand, I’m down to one, Reggie Jackson. I want to pay $10-15, EX or better, but it’s likely to run me $15-20. Weird, because there’s no way there are more of these out there than Reggie’s rookie card, which goes for way more. The Decals are definitely a lowish supply, lower demand kind of issue.

As to the price? I’ll have ended up spending around $150 for the complete set in overall EX (some VGEX, some EXMT, hard to know with Decals) and sold listings show most sets in this condition going for $200-300. Not that I’m selling, but it’s nice to know that, after the dust settles, I ended up with a bargain.

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The Price is Right?

I’m in the home stretch for my 1956 Topps set – 330 down, 10 to go. My tendency is to back into the most expensive card in any set I’m working on, because that puts me in a corner. “Are you really not going to buy that last card, regardless of price?” says the collector voice in my head. Of course I’m going to buy that card, hopefully at the price/condition equilibrium that’ll make me happy. So, yeah, I’m going to end up buying a 1956 Mantle.

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I’ve noticed a good amount of collectors approach the pricey card predicament in different ways. Some go lower condition to get a manageable price; some accept that they’ll simply never be able to afford that high dollar card. Some I’ve come across make do with reprints as a way to fill a sheet and look complete. I have thoughts.

How does one embark on set collecting? For me, from the onset, the overall cost has to be attainable. We all have different budgets, sure (though it seems clear to me that some of you spend far too much!), but putting one’s self on a completion path that you’ll never see the end of seems like bad planning and hugely frustrating. Snipe hunting sucks.

I’ll gulp when I buy that ’56 Mantle, but I knew it was hovering on the horizon when I decided to work on the set. For that reason, I’ll never even begin a 1952 Topps set, and didn’t even in the ‘70’s, when the prices were still relatively high to my income, which was non-existent. I could, back then, work on late ‘60’s sets which, at the time, were closer to my grasp.

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But, if you’re determined to finish most of a set, what’s the best option? It’s got to be the worse condition rather than the reprint. I know even low grade high end cards (oxymoronic?) can get up there dollar-wise, but a genuine card by default is preferable. Want to use a reprint as a placeholder? Sure, I guess. As an end in itself? You’re better off selling all the cards you have and redirecting towards a more attainable year to pursue.

All of that certainly makes it more difficult to pick a set. I’ve been inching my way along a 1970-71 Topps Hockey set, because I had a critical mass of cards to start with (around 25%) and the priciest cards I still need won’t run more than $30-40, and there’s only two of those (Orr and a checklist).  It’s definitely the last old hockey set I’ll tackle, because I know from the get-go that I’m unwilling to pony up the dough for certain cards.

I’m definitely running out of sets that I can reasonable hunt down.  I know I’ve written about that before, but it really bothers me.  I’ll figure something out. Until then, I’ll be on the lookout for a VGEX or EX 1956 Mantle that won’t keep me up at night.

Fork in the Road – Take It?

For the last two years or so, I’ve been on a tear, buying cards, completing sets, having a ball. Usually the road to set completion has taken two forms – 1) I had enough of a critical mass of cards that a push to the finish made sense, in number and in dollars, and 2) I had a good amount of the high priced cards that, even if I needed a lot of cards to get to the end, the cost was right. Add to this a healthy amount of eBay (and other) selling of doubles, triples, crap I don’t even want, and I was (and am) happy. I still can’t believe some of the sets I’ve gotten done.

I see the horizon though. I’m working on five sets right now – 1933 Tattoo Orbit, 1936 Goudey Wide Pens Type 1, 1956 Topps, 1969 Topps Decals and 1972 Fleer Famous Feats. The Tattoo Orbit is a pipe dream; I don’t know that I’ll ever finish. The rest are within my grasp. So what to do when I close the books on these? I don’t want to lose the enthusiasm and fun I’ve been having.

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I’m torn though. I really don’t know what to do. Part of me says I should start buying complete Topps sets I don’t have and sell the Hall of Famers, stars and commons that I do have for those years to offset the price. That might work for me, but it would also be less fun. A full set, in one swoop? Appealing, in a way.

Or, maybe, I approach it scattershot, picking up cards here and there, some cheap lots, small sets, type cards. The ideal me is cool with that – buy what grabs you. The real me has a hard time with goalless purchasing of random cards. I’m too focused to be comfortable with that.

I’ve always liked non-sports cards too and have some good old sets. Try those? No way I’d put a set like that together from scratch. I imagine it would be impossible to find individual Mod Squad cards at a pace that worked for me. A complete set would be the way to go.

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Or the other sports? There are sets I could definitely fill in, but I don’t like most older football sets, the older basketball sets are out of reach, and hockey, well, I could find a set that didn’t have some super-pricey early Bobby Orr card.

So, I ask all of you for advice. What is this committee, and this blog, if not an open Group Therapy session for the cardboard addicted?

A Pitching Evolution, Of Sorts

I’ve always loved getting mail. When I was seven-years old (that would’ve been in the summer of 1970, for those keeping score at home), I sent letters to baseball teams asking for a slew of autographs from each. I didn’t get any autographs back, but I did get an assortment of pictures, decals, schedules, etc. Two years later I honed my letter writing skills, pinpointing individual players. Mail started pouring in, and some disasters were averted. My mother almost threw out a letter for me that had this on the envelope:

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She thought it was from a circus. Inside was a Hank Aaron autographed picture. (And why would she want to throw out any letter that was addressed to me anyway? It’s a question I still ponder.)

 

So I still get jazzed when the mail comes, and, lately, there are a lot of good card mail days. Most deliveries are fairly routine – a few cards of the same year – but sometimes there’s a combination of cards that is exquisite in its randomness.

 

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Nothing connects these three other than they are pitchers and they’re all part of sets I’m working on.

 

Ivy Andrews

Finishing the 1933 Tattoo Orbit set is a pipe dream (for now). I’ve never spent as much money on a card as I’ll need to for Jimmy Foxx and Dizzy Dean, but I’ll worry about that towards the end. Right now I have 24 of the 60.

 

Andrews is a short print, books high, but I got this for less than 20% of the VG price (if you’re a frequent reader you know I use the 2009 Standard Catalog). Who was Ivy Andrews and why did he deserve any print run, short or other?

 

When this card came out, Andrews had already been traded from the Yankees to the Red Sox along with Hank Johnson and $50,000 for Danny MacFayden. Andrews performed well for the BoSox from his mid-season arrival in 1932. He was fine in 1933, nothing special, and was traded with Smead Jolley and cash to the Browns in December 1933. Beleaguered by arm problems for much of his eight year career, Andrews is a member of the Hall of Fame – the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.

 

Andrews was hardly needed in a 60 card set, but, as I’ve written about regarding the 1936 Goudey Wide Pens, the selection of players in these sets is odd. The Andrews transaction register is a Who’s Who of long forgotten players that pepper 1930’s sets – MacFayden, Jolley, Lyn Lary, Orel Hildebrand and so on.

 

Of course, Ivy’s nickname was “Poison.”

 

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Jim Brady

 

I don’t spend a lot of time on card backs, to the chagrin of SABR Baseball Cards Committee HQ, but I have been reading the backs of 1956s. The three cartoons grab me.

 

The back of Brady card got me interested because there’s no statistical information. That was for the best. A Notre Dame alum, he caught the eye of Tigers’ farm director John McHale, another ex-Fightin’ Irishman. Brady was a bonus baby, netting $37,500 from Detroit and, as the rules required, had to spend two years on the big league roster, whether he was ready to pitch or not. He wasn’t. He did pitch for the Tigers in 1956 – 6 1/3 IP, 28.42 ERA.

 

Brady’s success came off the field. He garnered three degrees from Notre Dame, was chair of the economics department at Old Dominion, a member of the eco faculty at ND and Jacksonville U. president from 1989-1996. Solid career, just not in baseball.

 

Tug McGraw

 

I don’t have anything to say about Tugger that hasn’t already been said and isn’t already known. There are few players that always bring a smile, and Tug is one of those. As a still-Mets fan in 1973, “Ya Gotta Believe” is permanently stamped in my heart, and McGraw getting dumped in exchange for Mac Friggin’ Scarce is second only to the Seaver trade in abominably anti-fan front office work for a team that specializes in that trade.

 

And now Tug has a place in my card history – the final one for my 1969 set. It’s a high number (evidenced by the same season info on the card back) and was a bit pricier than I hoped, but for McGraw, it’s worth it. I wouldn’t have felt the same about Bill Voss.

 

 

I think of myself as a well-above average baseball scholar. I’m not top of the heap by any means but I’m pretty high up. At the core of the hobby is finding out about players who I’ve never heard of and lives I knew nothing about. At least that’s a big part of the appeal for me (and probably you too.)

Card Shows — Who Needs ‘Em?

On February 9, 2017, I declared eBay the clear winner over card shows. The hassles, unfriendliness and time spent (as well as back pain) that come with card shows was, for me, a thing of the past. Didn’t miss ‘em, didn’t care.

Then I went with my friend Greg to the East Coast National in White Plains and, as to be expected, had a lot of success, whittling away at my 1960 Topps, 1964 Coins and 1971 Kellogg’s want lists. It was, I’ll admit, kind of great.

More surprising was a local show in Albany that I went to earlier this year. A fine show – manageable, with binders of commons. Right up my alley. I made huge headway with my 1968 and 1969 lists. Yesterday there was another Albany show put on by the same promoter. I had high hopes. Why wouldn’t I?

Sheets of paper in hand, I had already played out in my mind that I’d get the last cards I needed to wrap up a few sets and, once I did that, I could really focus on the remaining commons and semi-stars I need for my 1956 Topps set. My son Joey, his interest in cards recently revived, came along. Everything seemed the same to me; Joey pointed out it was a new hotel and, when we walked in, it was a new cast of dealers. A cursory walk around showed that this was going to be a colossal disappointment. It was.

It took a ton of work to find 2 1969s and 3 1956s that I needed, at good prices. Best find – a ’69 Ed Charles, which goes for $4 or so on eBay, was mine for a buck. (I’m now down to one – Tug McGraw. I feel I should pay a buck for it; I’ll end up paying $5. It’s the premium of the last card which we all have paid.).

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All of my show gripes from Feb ’17 came roaring back. I went through a small stack of 1956s and pulled out a Billy Martin, Ted Kluszewski and Giants team, all in EX (maybe EXMT) to me, all unpriced.

“How much for these three?” I asked.

The dealer opened his book (not sure what it was) and said “They book for $245.”

“Not in this condition,” I said.

“I can give you 40% off.”

“No thanks.” He was shocked I walked away from such a deal.

But it wasn’t a deal, never is. He took NM book prices, slashed a big percentage off, but the result was a specious bargain. The price was still too high. I know I can get all three for $75 tops, with some patience, but why even play this game. It made no sense to offer him $60; he was already a self-proclaimed martyr because of the price drop he deemed enormous.

Joey, freed from my world of lists and completion needs, found a dealer with a solid assortment of old non-sports. He picked up some Horrors of War and Red Menace cards. Very nice.

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I left the show pretty down, trying to come to some conclusion on how I feel about shows. I still don’t miss them that much, but a good one is worth it. Once I got home I headed to eBay to see if I could work on what I’d hope to accomplish at the show. I immediately nabbed a couple of cards, bid on some more that I think I’ll get and knocked another 5 1969 Topps decals off my list. By the end of the day the bad vibes of the show had gone.

Tattoo Me

On one of my frequent trips to Baseball Nostalgia, my favorite go-to card shop in Cooperstown, I was telling long-time collector, owner and friend Pete Henrici that I was going to try and complete the 1933 Tattoo Orbit set.

“Oh, you like ugly cards,” he said.

I kinda get it. Unlike, say, the 1933 DeLongs or, going further back, T205s, the Tattoo Orbits look a bit amateurish, a tad half-assed. They’re not particularly artful. Still, there’s something I like about the slightly colorized photos superimposed on the bright, generic backgrounds.

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But let’s be real, aesthetics aside, it’s a set I can complete because there are only 60 of them, I already have 23 and commons can be had relatively cheaply. I’m looking for VG cards, though most of the cards I have are more EX. Actually, I’m looking for VG prices. For commons, I can usually nab a nice example for 1/3 to ½ of book. I’ve been pretty nimble at picking off stray bargains.

I’ve got a bunch of stars, though I still need Jimmie Foxx, Dizzy Dean, a few short printed cards and a handful of middle of the road Hall of Famers of the Chick Hafey variety. This one will take a while to finish, due to both availability and price. There’s no way I can get eBay type deals at card shows, so it’s going to take some time.

Making it even harder is my desire for raw cards. That cuts two ways, both badly. Cards of this vintage are almost always graded, regardless of condition, which sucks and limits the supply. However, I am a “price first” person, so if the graded card is attainable at the level I’m willing to pay, so be it. I have a few sets that are all in albums, save one or two graded cards. I don’t like it, but having is better than not having.

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Raw cards carry their own risks. Trimming, miscuts, and other problems, come with the territory and scans alone don’t reveal all the flaws. I recently got a beautiful Smead Jolley card, but, though it had all the characteristics of a regular Tattoo Orbit – shiny feel, thin paper stock – something felt off. I compared it to all of the other cards I had and it’s either trimmed or miscut. The seller was very understanding and we arranged a suitable solution, but the uncertainty I fell around that card tapped into some fears I have about old raw cards.

 

Over the last two years I’ve been pretty quick on finishing sets. Either I was working on Topps or other hugely available cards or I was lucky enough to have such a head start on harder sets that what I needed I could grab. This Tattoo Orbit set is definitely going to be an exercise in patience (and, to my memory, I’ve never spent as much on a single card as I’ll need to spend on Foxx and Dean). It took me 18 years to finish the 2000-01 Topps Heritage Basketball set with all its short prints. The 1933 Tattoo Orbit set may take as long, but it’s bound to be much more rewarding to have.