Baseball Photographer Trading Cards

Mandel_Baseball

This summer when I was in San Francisco I visited SFMOMA and was able to see an exhibition of Mike Mandel’s work. I’ve already blogged about the show in general but his Baseball Photographer Trading Cards are worth their own post here too.

This project sits at the intersection of photography and baseball cards which I love to think about. It’s relevant in terms of our consumption of images and in how we conceive of photographic products. It provokes a lot of questions about value—this is a set of 134 cards which runs $2000–$3000 on Ebay because it’s Art™ rather than a collectible and as such, is worth a lot more to certain people.

We’ve got star photographers who everyone knows, photographers’ photographers who aren’t appreciated as much as they should be, and “common” photographers who’ve kind of been forgotten now. It’s very much a proper baseball card set in this way.

Like I can’t find an Ansel Adams card at all on eBay. Other middle-range important photographers are listed for up to a couple hundred bucks. Commons meanwhile are like twenty dollars. As with baseball card sets the range of desirableness is what makes collecting fun. Without the common cards none of the stars are as exciting to find, chase, or trade for. And among the commons there will always names that someone specifically wants.

That these are mass-produced offset lithography is also cool. Where photography is almost always obsessed with process and image quality, these recognize how the photography that most people consume on a daily basis isn’t in the form of quadtones, fancy-shmancy superfine linescreens, silver-gelatin prints, or archival inkjets. Even as baseball cards have gotten more expensive, they’re still produced at a scale which dwarfs art production. Mandel’s cards, while still produced at a much smaller scale, have the same production characteristics. They don’t feel like art objects. They’re the same cheap cardstock, dodgy printing, and slapdash trimming we’ve come to know and love about mid-1970s Topps production.

They were even packaged with gum.

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This project says a lot about the degree to which baseball and baseball cards are part of the American vernacular. That SFMOMA displayed Mandel’s cards with 1958 Topps cards is especially noteworthy. I’ve not liked that set much* but I now see it in a very different light after this. The 1958 designs when paired with Mandel’s cards serve as a way of highlighting posing tropes. How bats are held. Which pitching motions get photographed. What angle a player tends to look off into the distance.

*I’m not a fan of cards where the backgrounds have been painted out whether with colors like the 1958 design or with crazy graphics like so many special parallel cards are today. And yes, I know that the 1958 design is also a direct connection to the early Crackerjack cards which I do like but I guess I feel like this particular design concept is best left to the pre-WW2 days.

The colored backgrounds work as a way of silhouetting the pose to the point where we recognize the shape and posture as baseball card. These are poses we’ve grown up with and seen since the 19th century. They’re the poses my kids make as soon as they try on their Little League jerseys.

And yes they’re the poses we’re all missing when we look at and complain about the current photography in the Topps Flagship set.

Looking at Mandel’s contact sheets shows how quickly people eased into mimicking those poses. That he’s using a medium format camera helps a lot too. Where by the mid 1970s we were seeing Topps increasingly use 35mm cameras to take more and more unposed photos, these medium format shots require working in the same manner as the posed photography of the 1950s and 1960s—the era which Topps Heritage is trying to evoke and which many of us still treat as the golden age of the hobby.

The card backs meanwhile are really interesting. First, of course they’re numbered (yes there’s also a checklist card so you can keep track of your collection). And of course we’ve got the usual height/weight and where they were born information.

But instead of statistics we have Favorite Camera, Favorite Developer, Favorite Paper, Favorite Film, and Favorite Photographer. I love that Mandel realized that one of the chief purposes of baseball cards is comparing the back of one card to the back of another card. That he created a completely-appropriate set of standard information with which we can compare photographers is wonderful.

But he also left half the card blank for and allowed the subject of the card to write anything—or nothing—in the space. Some of the statements are serious. Others are jokes. Others play with the form itself. This is something that I’ve not seen in baseball cards and makes me wonder what would happen if players were allowed to include something of their own creation on the back.

Maybe it could be a statement to their fans. Maybe a selfie they took on their phone. Maybe a shout out to a personal cause. Lots of possibilities (and possibilities for awfulness whatwith every player having endorsement contracts now) that I’ve been enjoying thinking about. But I suspect the most we’ll ever get in this department are Twitter and Instagram handles since wrangling all that personal information is a logistic headache in terms of acquisition and copyright.

SABR47 Gets Its Own Baseball Card

When I returned to collecting a decade ago I quickly learned that there are several different types of card collectors. To the outside world I guess we are all Just Baseball Card Collectors, but within the community there are several sub-types.

I think of myself as a Team Collector (Phillies), Set Builder (1959T, 1954T, 1971T maybe 1964T Jumbo), a bit of a Player Collector (Utley, Rollins, Thome, Garry Maddox, Ozzie, Matt Adams, Jamie Moyer, Mike Mussina, and many Others), and a Type Card Collector.

Mrs Phungo has another word for the type of hybrid-collector I am: “Hoarder”.

There is one other collection I have that is a purely narcissistic pursuit. I collect cards that represent games that I have been lucky enough to attend. The easiest to find are those cards which are related to noteworthy games: Opening Day, Postseason, or All-Star games. Sometimes it involves trying to find the photo on the card within Getty Images and tying that to a game. The collection includes cards that reference games on the back, perhaps a milestone home run or superlative pitching performance.

Thanks to #SABR47 in New York I was able to add a new card to the Phungo Games Checklist.

2017 ToppsNow #331 Jacob deGrom

Topps issued a card dedicated to the game that SABR members attended during this years convention. Jacob deGrom had a great night no-hitting the Phillies for the first several innings. The Mets won the contest 2-1, illustrating a point mentioned in a Dave Smith’s SABR presentation: the one run margin is the most common outcome in baseball.

Topps Now is basically a line of instant cards produced the day after a game and sold for just 24 hours. SABR Weekend was so busy that I never checked for the card the day after the game. However on Sunday I was checking Twitter while on the train back home from NYC and a Mets fan in my feed mentioned the card. The Topps Sale was over, but I was able to find the card on the secondary market.

The 24 hour window for Topps Now means the cards have a limited print run which Topps is happy to publicize. For deGrom the Print Run was 342 cards.

The photo on the card can be found in Getty Images. According to the information accompanying the photo it was taken in the first inning by Mike Stobe who is the team photographer for the New York Islanders.

42 over 92

2017 ToppsNow #331 Jacob deGrom (b-side)

The back of the card summarizes deGrom’s start followed by noting an accomplishment that revolves around some not so round numbers. In deGrom’s first 92 starts he gave up 1 run or less 42 times. The 42 successful starts matched a record held byDwight Gooden, a Met pitching star from the 1980s.

I took a deeper look at the 92 starts of the two pitchers and as you can imagine there were some big differences, much of which has to do with the changes in the game.

The big differences are in the Complete Game and Shutout categories. These differences are further reflected in the fact that Gooden averaged 1+ inning more per start than deGrom.

 

Sources and Links
ToppsNow

SABR47 David Smith

Retrosheet David Smith

SABR47 Game
Phungo Game Dated Cards Index
Baseball-Ref
Getty Images
LinkedIn

 

Thoughts on National Baseball Card Day: Phillies Wall of Fame #16 Mike Lieberthal

The give away item for the Phillies final game of Alumni Weekend was a special pack of Wall of Fame baseball cards.

2017 Topps National Baseball Card Day Phillies #16 Mike Lieberthal

Counter to the tired storyline that card collecting is dying I did see some signs of life for the Hobby on Sunday.

First off as I entered the game I saw a guy holding a sign that said “Baseball Cards WANTED Please & Thanks”. I didn’t see the guy get any cards but I hope he did after putting together the sign.

I also witnessed different groups of folks of varying ages opening packs and discussing contents – I even saw a guy in Mets gear that appeared pretty happy to be getting a pack.

Finally when I left the game I overheard someone asking an usher if there were any leftover packs, alas there were none.

 Ok back to the card. The Wall of Fame set is 20 cards, packs contained 15 cards each. While you don’t get a full set, I figure most folks attend games in groups of two or more. If one of the folks isn’t interested in the cards then building a complete set should be pretty simple.

The Design is pretty generic – something that allows for Topps Reuse in Football Hoop Hockey or even TV and Movies. Note that Toyota sponsors the Wall of Fame weekend and made sure to get their brand splashed on the cards.

I did a Getty images search and found the photograph on the card was from a game the Phillies lost 7-2 to the Mets. Unfortunately it was not a memorable game for Lieberthal who went 1-4.  He was the final out of the inning in the three ABs in which he didn’t record a hit.

Oddly the game in which the Phillies celebrated baseball card day was also a bad loss to the Mets this time by a similar 6-2 score. The only player common to both boxes which are separated by over a decade was Jose Reyes.

The picture was taken by Robert Leiter who is based in Santa Clara California.

2017 Topps National Baseball Card Day Phillies #16 Mike Lieberthal (b-side)

The backs do not contains stat lines but do have a nice summary of each players career.

On The Road

2017 Topps National Baseball Card Day Rockies Andres Galarraga

The Team Phungo Baseball Road trip for this year was to Denver to see the Rockies who happened to be having their trading card day when they hosted the Phillies on August 5. As you see, same design, however in the top right along with the Topps logo there is a “National Baseball Card Day 2017” flair.

I hope National Baseball Card Day works out well for Topps. It is a good hobby and hobbies are good to us.

Sources and Links

Robert Leiter Photography

Getty Images

A short list of Game Dated Cards

Baseball-Ref

 

2017 Topps #287 Aaron Judge (catch or no catch?)

I am Paul Ember and this is my first post for SABR Baseball Cards. I am out of SABR’s Connie Mack Chapter and typically concentrate on Phillies and Vintage cards.

However for my initial SABR column I would like to turn my attention to a new card that is creating a buzz in the collecting community.

2017 Topps Aaron Judge

2017 Topps #287 Aaron Judge (rc)

The 25 year old Judge is getting significant accolades for his 2017 batting outburst which has included AL Rookie of the Month honors for April.

Consequently his Topps “Rookie” card is also getting noticed. With the many different Bowman and minor league issues one could debate the validity of this as a RC, but that isn’t what I want to discuss here. I will just mentions this is Aaron Judge’s first card in Topps Flagship and leave the Rookie-ness of the card up for others to argue.

I like the card. It is a solid photo selection on Topps part, although I suppose one could quibble with selecting a defensive shot for a player projected to be an offensive threat. I think the 2017T design is ok, it does work well for a player jumping vertically so it is a plus for this particular card.

However one could argue for better cropping…

Did Judge Make the Catch?

Getty Aaron Judge

2016 09 07 Aaron Judge (Photo by Rich Shultz. Picture swiped from Getty Images)

If I was putting this card together I would have included the Baseball in the shot. Not sure why Topps elected not to, perhaps they wanted to avoid some apparel branding among the fans.

The shot was taken by New Jersey based Photographer Rich Schultz . His work has been featured in a number of Magazines and on several New York Post Covers. Over the last few years I have also found his photographs used on a few Topps Phillies cards including the 2015 Topps Chase Utley Team Issue card.

September 07 2016

The nice thing about Getty Images is that the photos are date stamped, which tells us that the Aaron Judge Photo was taken on September 7th of last year, a 2-0 Yankees victory over Toronto. Judge did not start the game, he entered the game as a defensive replacement in the 7th inning.

As to the question of Judge’s play on the ball, I am happy to report for him that yes he made the catch. The detailed description on the Getty Image not only tells us that Aaron Judge made the play but that the batter was Edwin Encarnacion. The play was the final out of the eighth and was one of two putouts that Judge recorded during three innings in the field.

As a batter Judge came to the plate once in the game facing Roberto Osuna. He flew out to Left Field.

Aaron Judge Rookie Card

There you have it, if Aaron Judge becomes the star that the Yankees hope he will become we now know that his Topps Rookie Card features a photo taken on September 7 2016 while making a catch of a fly ball off the bat of Edwin Incarnation. As a defensive replacement in the game Judge only batted once and did not get a hit. It was the 22nd game of Aaron Judge’s rookie season, at the time he had recorded a grand total of three career home runs.

Flip

2017 Topps Aaron Judge B-Side

2017 Topps #287 Aaron Judge (b-side)

Not sure why Aaron Judge goes with the handle @theJudge44 as his number is 99. Perhaps it is a tribute to Hank Aaron. Also wanted to note that his height is 6’7″. Don’t see that on the back of many baseball cards.

To further illustrate Judge’s size, here is a photo of him standing next to Ryan Howard at a Spring Training game in 2015.

Aaron Judge Ryan Howard

Can’t recall many times I saw Ryan Howard standing next to a player bigger than himself.

Sources and Links

the Phillies Room

Rich Schultz

Getty Images

MLB

Baseball-Ref

Twitter

Momma Took Topps’ Kodachrome Away

Clemente

Anyone who collected cards in 1969 remembers opening a pack and finding a glossy, black and white card that resembled a photograph. Topps “Deckle Edge” inserts were designed to mimic the photo print style of snapshots. This type of print goes back as far as 1930 but was most popular for a 20 year period starting in the ‘40s and concluding in the late ‘60s.*

I distinctly remember a shoe box full of decal edge photos that my grandma kept in cupboard. My brother won a camera as a prize in ’67. The first set of blurry photos it produced were printed on decal edge paper. I mention this background information to demonstrate that most kids in 1969 would have been familiar with this type of photo print.

 

This subset contains 33 cards with two variations and measures 2 ¼” x 2 ¼”. The backs are white with a rectangular box containing the name and card number in blue ink. The cards are ordered alphabetically starting with the American League. The set features 11 future Hall-of-Famers and players representing the ’69 expansion teams. The two variations are result of trades. Card 11b, Jim, “The Toy Cannon” Wynn, was added because the Houston card featured Rusty Staub, who was dealt to Montreal. Joy Foy is card number 22b and was included to represent the Royals after Hoyt Wilhelm was sent to the Angels.

The deckle edge is unique and we should give Topps kudos for originality, but the photos are mostly retreads. As Mark Armour recently detailed, the player boycott of Topps resulted in old photos being used in ’68 and ‘69. Several cards simply had shots from previous regular issue cards. For example, the Juan Marichal picture was used on his ’65, while Rod Carew and Maury Wills are reprised from ‘68.

The insert set depicts several players wearing their previous team’s uniform with the current club’s cap insignia airbrushed on.  Ken “Hawk” Harrelson has a Boston “B” drawn on his cap though he is clearly wearing a KC A’s vest uniform. Tom Haller’s Giants lettering is airbrushed off his chest and an “LA” added to his lid. Frank Howard has the Senators curly cue “W” on a Dodgers helmet. Also Topps put “Sox” on Luis Aparicio’s two-toned Orioles helmet. Since Luis was with the White Sox originally, why not use an early ‘60s photo?

There are a few interesting poses. The Bill Freehan card shows him in a classic catchers crouch with coach, Wally Moses, hitting “fungos” in the background. The Boog Powell shot has bunting in the background indicating opening day or an All-Star game. The hat style precludes it from being the ’66 World Series.

Black and white photography can be used artistically to great effect, but there is very little artistry demonstrated in these inserts. Dull as they are, the cards are memorable. The images have been etched in my mind for close to 50 years. Then again, I’ve been told I’m not playing with a full deck(le).

1974 Allen front Jackson Back

Topps resurrected the deckle edge design with a “test issue” in 1974. The 72 cards are 2 7/8” X 5.” The set had limited distribution and featured 21 Hall-of-Famers to be. On the back, in script intended to imitate hand lettering on old photos, is the date and location of the photo session. Here is a link to Rich Mueller’s post on “Sports Collector’s Daily” that provides all the particulars of this rare set.

*Krentz, Anna (2014). A Study of the Deckle Edge in the North American Snapshot (master’s thesis).   www.digital.library.ryerson.ca

1970 Topps: Chillin’

I had planned on writing a full blown story about one of my favorite sets–1970 Topps–but I decided instead to just write about a single aspect of those cards: their “candid” (kinda, sorta) photography.

You are likely aware that Topps first used action photography on their base players cards in 1971. Some were great, others less so. Before that year, other than special subsets–World Series cards, record breakers–all player cards were posed.

What were these poses? Nearly all of them were either (a) head shots, or (b) photos showing the player pitching, batting or fielding. If you were an odd kid like me you could sort your cards by “pose type”. One of my personal favorites were catchers in their crouch getting ready to receive a pitch–usually squatting in some random spot, perhaps facing the stands with the field behind them. Sometimes the catcher had shin guards, though usually not.
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In 1970 Topps took their first step toward the candid photography that would soon dominate its set. Candid photos might occur when a photographer wanders around and finds players hanging out and snaps away. For example, to get this shot of Henry Aaron the shutterbug likely walked past the dugout and said, “Hey Hank!” Aaron looks up, “click.”
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Is this actually how it went down? No way to know, but its hard to imagine the camera guy, or Aaron, deciding on this pose. Either way, it was a breath of fresh air at the time.
Lou Brock is looking rather casual here, performing an Ichiro like back stretch using his bat. Hey Lou, ‘sup?
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The most candid shot in the set was a card that would look at home a decade later, showing Bud Harrelson signing for the hometown fans. For kids of 1970, Harrelson might as well have been streaking across the infield for the shock of it all. Where is a his glove? His bat?
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A related, though less risque, example is this gorgeous card of Harmon Killebrew, standing near the bat rack, picking out a bat, looking askance. Perhaps not totally candid, but one can imagine the lensman saying, “just act natural, Killer. Sure, keep the towel.”
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By itself, this card is interesting. What makes it more interesting that Topps had no fewer than nine (9) cards that year of guys standing near the bat rack, a structure that had barely ever shown up a card before.
Interesting exceptions: the 1961 and 1962 Wes Covington cards.
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In the first series in 1970 (cards 1-132) there were two such cards — one of Gerry Moses, and this one below of Juan Rios. When I first laid eyes on the Rios I had likely never seen a real bat rack before–I was playing Little League by this time, but we just tossed our bats in a pile. The Royals were obviously a pretty high class organization.
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Incidentally, Juan might have chosen his bats a little more carefully–he hit .224 as a rookie in 1969 and never played in the majors again.
Here is a pretty sweet card of Coco Laboy looking for some lumber. In his case, the impact of the high-class bright red bat rack is somewhat mitigated by the chain link fence. Where is this place?
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But for the true low-rent district, look no further than Del Unser, who looks undecided on his bat choice.
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The Senators only had a couple of seasons left before heading for Texas. Perhaps we should have seen their financial troubles coming, given that they were storing their bats in what looks like a grocery store shopping cart.

Are CDVs and Cabinet Cards Baseball Cards? Yes, No and Maybe

This post contains assorted topics on CDVs and Cabinet Cards, baseball card proofs, a curious Honus Wagner fake,  essential tips for beginning collectors, and a common misdating caused by collector psychology.

Are CDVs and Cabinet Cards Baseball Cards? The Answer is Yes, No and Maybe

Though personal definitions may change in detail from collector to collector, the general definition of a baseball card (short for baseball trading card) is a card (look up the dictionary definition) with a baseball theme that was commercially issued, or at least intended to be commercially issued, as a collectible for the general public.  The commercial part means they were sold as a product in and of itself (such as with today’s cards), with a product (Topps and gum, T206s in packs of cigarettes) or otherwise in relationship to a product, service or similar (premiums, advertising trade cards, etc).

As you see, a baseball card is not defined just by its physical makeup, but its useage nature and intent. Even though it fits any dictionary’s definition of a physical card, no one I know considers a baseball player’s business card to be a baseball trading card. 

All this leads to baseball cartes de visite (often referred to by the acronym CDVs), cabinet cards and similar early photo cards.  These 1800s to early 1900s photo cards (a paper photograph affixed to a cardboard backing) fit the physical definition of card.   Baseball CDVs in particular look very much look like baseball cards.

The second question of the trading card equation is if CDVs and cabinet cards fit the commercial issue for general public collecting definition of a trading card.  The answer here is some do, some don’t and for many the answer is unknown and unknowable.

CDVs and cabinet cards were just standard photograph formats and were made for different purposes. Some were indeed used by tobacco and other companies as premiums or advertisements, and some were sold directly to the public as collectibles.  For these, there is the advertising right on the cards and/or we know how their distribution history.  Collecting commercially issued CDVs of celebrities, from Abraham Lincoln to Prince Albert, was a popular hobby in the Victorian era.

Old Judge Cigarettes cabinet card with advertising on front
Old Judge Cigarettes cabinet card with advertising on front

Most of the baseball CDVs and cabinet cards, however, were family or personal photos not issued to the general public.  If you find a CDV or cabinet card of a high school or college baseball player or town ball team, it was more than probably a family photo or similar.  Even many card photos of star Major League players were made for personal, private use of the player or teams.  By the trading card definition, these are not baseball cards.  Collectible and often valuable, sure, but not trading cards.

A problem for those who like things to be well defined and to fit into air tight categorizes is that for some of the

Family photo cabinet card of a young player
Family photo cabinet card of a young player

old baseball photo cards it is not know how they were issued.  They may be of a famous early team or player and made by a well known photography studio, but it is unknown if it was made for the player or team’s personal use, or as a collectible sold to the public.  Baseball card collectors tend to like clear cut answers, but, in the area of early baseball photographs and ephemera, things are often ambiguous and murky.  

This in part explains why determining what card is the first card is impossible and a never ending debate.  Beyond the debates over a card’s exact date of origin, whether or not it really depicts baseball and the fact that there are likely early photo cards yet to be uncovered, it is often impossible to know if the card was a commercially issued item for the general public or a photo made as a personal memento for the player or team.  We can make intelligent guesses, but the are still guesses.  I half-jokingly call this area of eternal debate ‘baseball card theory.’  

1869 Peck & Snider Cincinnati Reds card
1869 Peck & Snider Cincinnati Reds card

This also explains why, even though there are earlier baseball CDVs and card photographs, the Peck & Snyders are still considered by many to the first known baseball cards (emphasis on the word known, as in known to be).   Unlike earlier photo cards, it is known that the Peck & Snider Reds were used for commercial purposes and issued as general public collectibles.  Some have advertising on back and we know that some were sold through Peck & Snyder’s mail order catalog.

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Authentic Colors?

Uncolored 1874 Harper's Woodcut of the Philadelphia A's including a young Cap Anson (bottom right)
Uncolored 1874 Harper’s Woodcut of the Philadelphia A’s including a young Cap Anson (bottom right)

1800s Harper’s Woodcuts, or woodcut prints from the popular New York magazine Harper’s Weekly, are popularly collected today. The images show nineteenth century life, including sports, US Presidents and other celebrities, war, high society, nature and street life.  The woodcuts of baseball are popular with vintage baseball card and memorabilia collectors due to the images of famous early players and teams, including Cap Anson, King Kelly, Billy Sunday and the 1869 Cincinnati Reds.  

Though issued in black and white, some of the prints have been hand colored over the years by the owners. As age is important to collectors, prints that were colored in the 1800s are more valuable than those colored recently.

The problem is that modern ideas lead collectors to misdate the coloring. Due to their notions about the old fashioned Victorian era, most people automatically assume that vintage 1800s coloring will be subtle, soft, pallid and conservative. However, 1800s coloring was typically bright, gaudy, bold and even tacky to modern taste. As Victorian people did not have color televisions, motion pictures or video games, and were restricted in their travel (and paint choices), they liked their images of exotic places and faraway celebrities to be colored bold and exciting. A learned forger might knowingly use historically incorrect colors, as he knows the average person today would consider authentic 1800s coloring to be fake.

The subtle, soft colors on this 1874 Harper's Woodcut are modern
The subtle, soft colors on this 1874 Harper’s Woodcut are modern

My work and research as an art and artifact scholar is in two areas: authentication and theory (psychology and philosophy of perception and interpretation, etc).  They are usually two distinctly separate areas, but this is a case where they overlap.  The misdating of the colors on these collectibles is a matter of cognitive biases.  I have used the above woodcut colors example in both collector’s guides and cognitive psychology texts.

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A Fake Honus Wagner card with an interesting history

freeman

From time to time one sees offered for sale this Freeman Cigar Co. Card depicting Honus (Hans) Wagner. Though usually sold as vintage, it is a modern fantasy card.

There are authentic early 1900s Hans Wagner cigar tobacco labels designed to be affixed to cigar boxes. The labels are rare, and come in various designs. The most expensive examples are usually offered by major auction houses or dealers.  In similar fashion to the T206 Wagner, this brand of tobacco was apparently never issued to the public. All the labels known to exist were not used.  One of the labels has a close design to this fake card.

About 1993, a manufacture of collectible tin signs (all those Ted Williams Moxie and Joe Jackson H & B reprints) made a sign based on the design of the just mentioned tobacco label. This man was selling the signs as modern collectibles, not representing themselves as vintage. The sign was not an exact copy of the label. He added the ‘5 Cent Cigar’ text at the bottom for artistic balance. He also he used a different text font in parts because he could not find a modern duplicate of the original.

A numbers of years later a man used a computer printer to reprint the tin signs as the tobacco cards, roughing and scuffing the cards to make them appear old. He sold them at flea markets to unsuspecting collectors who knew the legend of Honus Wagner and thought they had struck gold.

When shown a picture of one of the cards, the tin sign maker himself said it could not be genuine as it had his 1993 design.

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Essential Tips for Beginning Collectors of Most Anything

Pick a card, any card. They're all cheap reprints.
Pick a card, any card. They’re all cheap reprints.

While experienced collectors may already know most of the following tips, I get many inquiries from total beginners, including many who have gotten burned by buying fakes. Considering this, I think it’s a good thing to periodically bring out my age old “Essential Tips for Beginning Collectors of Most Anything.”  I’ve used this list, and variations of it, in numerous of my collecting and authentication books:

Whether it involves trading cards, celebrity autographs, movie posters, fine art prints, postcards or antique figurines, collecting can be good clean fun for boys and girls of all ages. However, all areas of collecting have problems.  The following is a brief but important list of tips that the beginner should read before jumping into a hobby with open pocketbook.

1) Start by knowing that there are reprints, counterfeits, fakes and scams out there. If you start by knowing you should be doing your homework, having healthy skepticism of sellers’ grand claims and getting second opinions, you will be infinitely better off than the beginner who assumes everything is authentic and all sellers are honest.

2) Learn all you can about material you wish to collect and the hobby in general. The more you learn and more experience you have, the better off you are. Most forgers and scammers aren’t trying to fool the knowledgeable. They’re trying to make a quick buck from the ignorant. Besides, half the fun of collecting is learning about the material and its history.

3) Realize that novices in any area of collecting are more likely to overestimate, rather than underestimate the value of items they own or are about to buy.

4) Get second opinions and seek advice when needed. This can range from a formal opinion from a top expert to input from a collecting friend. Collectors, including experienced collectors, who seek advice and input are almost always better off than those who are too proud or embarrassed to ask questions.

5) Start by buying inexpensive items. Put off the thousands dollar Babe Ruth baseball cards and Elvis Presley autographs for another day.

Without exception, all beginners make mistakes, as that is a natural part of learning. From paying too much to misjudging rarity to buying fakes or reprints. It only makes sense that a collector should want to make the inevitable beginner’s mistakes on $10 rather that $5,000 purchases.

6) Gather a list of good sellers. A good seller is someone who is knowledgeable and honest. A good seller fixes a legitimate problem when it arises and has a good authenticity guarantee and return policy.

It is fine to perfectly fine to purchase a $9 trading card or piece of memorabilia from an eBay stranger, but it is best to buy expensive and rare items online from good sellers, including those you have dealt with or those who otherwise have strong reputations.

Ask other collectors who they like.  Discover good sellers on your own by buying a few inexpensive items from an eBay seller and seeing how good are the transactions.  The seller you bought that $9 item from may be added to your list of good sellers.

7) If a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.

 

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When in doubt assume a baseball card is not a proof

The trading card hobby puts a premium on proof cards. Proofs are pre-production test cards the card printers use to check graphics and text before the final print run. Antique card proofs are often blank backed, sometimes on different stock than the final cards, often with hand cut borders and little pencil written crosses on the borders. Proofs sell for good money as they are rare and offer a look at the creation of the cards.

The collector should be aware that many cards resembling that proofs are not proofs. The manufacturers sometimes accidentally printed cards with blank backs and inserted them into the packs of gum or tobacco. As a kid I pulled a blank backed card from a Topps pack. These are not proofs, but printing errors.

There are also ‘cards’ that were long ago scissors cut from vintage advertising posters, tobacco albums and kids’ notebooks. As these cutouts have hand cut borders, blank backs and different than normal stocks, they are often mistakenly called proofs.

Collectors will also come across printer’s scraps, often of T206 baseball cards. These scraps came from a printer’s rejected sheet, often with

T206 scrap with printing error and handcut
T206 scrap with printing error and handcut

poorly printed images, bad color registration and other graphics problems– which is why it was rejected, or scrapped, by the printer. These rejected sheets were rescued from the trash bin by workers, often to be taken home for the kids. The individual scrap cards that we see today were hand cut from the sheets. As the cards are hand cut, often oversized and usually with printing defects, they are often mistaken for proofs. As with the above mentioned blank backed cards, scraps are simply factory mistakes.

As you can see there are lots of non-proof cards that resemble proofs. When in doubt it is best to bid on an unusual card assuming it is not a proof, because it likely is not. Scraps and other printing mistakes are collectible, but are much more plentiful and inexpensive than genuine proofs.