1991 Topps Cracker Jack 4-in-1 panel decoder ring

DR K. Ten Most Wanted

One of the coolest cards on my Dr. K “Ten Most Wanted” list as of last week was his 1991 Topps Cracker Jack 4-in-1 panel. (And please get in touch if you can help with any of the others!)

As a student of the master, I try hard not to pay more than a buck or two for any of the cards in my Gooden collection, but I finally bit the bullet and threw real money at this Cracker Jack panel.

I was particularly swayed by Doc’s co-stars, three of my favorite players of the era: Tony Gwynn, Eric Davis, and Ken Griffey, Jr.

Variations

As is the case with many panel-based sets there were in fact multiple panel variations featuring different player combinations.

It didn’t seem to take co-chair Nick more than a minute to figure out that there was something very not random about these player combinations. And sure enough, they all point to a larger sheet with exactly this neighborhood around Gooden.

Before going too much further into sheets or panels I should pause and provide more background on the individual cards themselves.

Like the regular cards but smaller

The 1991 Topps flagship set had the era-typical 792 cards and nearly as many spin-offs as Happy Days. Think Topps Desert Shield for example. Two of them featured tiny cards: the 792-card Micro set and the 72-card Cracker Jack set that itself was divided into a Series One and Series Two, each numbered 1-36. The Cracker Jacks are occasionally referred to as Micro cards with different backs, but this isn’t quite correct since card size differs as well.

Speaking of backs, here is what the Cracker Jack card backs look like. Series One is on the left, and Series two is on the right.

Apart from the different colors used, you’ll notice the second card also has “2nd Series” in the top left corner whereas the first card does not indicate any series at all. This suggests Cracker Jack (or Borden for you corporate types) originally planned only a single series of 36 cards and then added another due to the popularity of the initial offering. The star power of the first series checklist vs the second also seems to point in this direction.

Population report

The popularity of the promotion is borne out by a highly informative (if occasionally inaccurate) business article on the Borden-Topps partnership that even includes sales figures for each series:

  • Series One: 75 million boxes
  • Series Two: 60 million boxes

Based on the size of the set, this translates into about 2.1 million of each first series card and 1.7 million of each second series card. Back in 1991 we would regard this as “limited edition” with the second serious “extra scarce.”

SOURCE OF 4-in-1 PANELS

Though I’m sure the truth is out there, I can find no definitive documentation on the source of the 4-in-1 panels. Theories I’ve run across include–

  • Distributed to dealers or show attendees as promos
  • “Handmade” from full sheets of 1991 Topps Cracker Jack
  • Part of a mail-in offer

I’ll regard the first two as most viable at the moment. Mail-in seems less likely since Cracker Jack already had an offer in place for mini-binders.

I’ll offer one other very weak clue that works against both the mail-in and promo theories: the size of the borders.

On the left is an actual 4-in-1 panel. You’ll notice the interior borders are about twice the thickness of the outside borders. The card really doesn’t look bad, but I would think if you were designing the card intentionally as a 4-in-1 you might even out the borders to achieve a cleaner look. (And yes, I did say “very weak” clue.)

Regardless, the most fun option is to assume the four-in-one panels were produced on the secondary market from uncut sheets. Of course when I say “fun,” I don’t mean “normal people fun.” I mean mathematically fun!

Anyway you slice it

For the moment let’s assume that uncut sheets simply cycle through the 36 cards in the set over and over again in the same order until the end of the sheet is reached. Let’s also assume that our sheet cutter doesn’t just cut any old 2 x 2 array from the sheet but proceeds methodically from the beginning of the sheet and works his way left to right, up to down. Finally, let’s assume cards are sequenced in numerical order.

Here is what this might look like for a sheet that is 18 cards across and 10 cards down the side. What you’ll notice, as in the highlighted blocks of 5-6-23-24 panels, is that there are no variations produced by the method. If card 5 were Dwight Gooden for example, he would always have the same three co-stars.

Without breaking out any fancy number theory, you might correctly surmise that the rather ho-hum result has something to do with the sheet repeating every two rows, which only happens because we conveniently matched the number of columns to exactly half the set length.

Now let’s run the same cut against a sheet that’s only 16 cards across. It stands to reason that at least something more interesting should happen here. Sure enough, the new configuration produces two Gooden panels: 5-6-21-22 and 25-26-5-6.

While two variations is nice, it’s not four. If you think about it, one of the things limiting our variations here is that we always see 6 paired with 5, which is another way of saying we never see 4 paired with 5. (Alternatively, we can say that 5 is always on the left and never on the right.)

So long as we have an even number of columns, this sort of thing will always be true. Therefore, our only hope at hitting four variations would seem to be having an odd number of columns. The example below uses 15 and sure enough pairs 4 with 5 some of the time. Unfortunately, we still failed to reach the theoretical maximum of four variations.

Is it possible we just got unlucky with our odd number? Maybe so. Let’s try this one more time and go with lucky 13.

Alas, we remain stuck at only two variations. Is it possible that there’s simply no solution involving methodical cuts and that achieving more variations will require something more like this?

The good news is we have our four variations. The bad news is we end up with a lot more waste.

Is there a Methodical solution?

Let’s take one more quick look at the actual Gooden panels that started this post. In case you missed it the first time, notice that Doc finds himself in a different quadrant on each of the panels. For example, he’s in the upper left position on the Gooden-Boggs-Griffey-McGwire panel, and he’s in the upper right position on the Gwynn-Gooden-Davis-Griffey panel.

Under our assumptions about how uncut sheets should be constructed, the problem of a methodical cut yielding four variations is equivalent to the problem of a methodical cut putting Doc in each of the four panel quadrants.

Looking back at our earlier examples, we can see that our first time through Doc was only in the upper left, which is why we had only a single variation. The next time, Doc was upper left and lower left only. Finally, in our last two methodical efforts, Doc was only upper left or lower right.

What would our sheet need to look like for Doc to end up in all four panel quadrants? We can attempt to solve the problem by examining one quadrant at a time, starting with the upper left quadrant.

For card 5 to end up in an upper left position, we need two things to happen.

  • 5 needs to be in an odd numbered row since these rows correspond to upper halves of panels.
  • 5 needs to be in an odd numbered column since these columns correspond to left sides of panels.

It was an otherwise boring example, but you can check these properties against the first table we looked at.

What we need then is a formula or rule that helps us determine which rows and columns 5 will end up in based on the number of columns in the sheet. WARNING: This part will get a little complicated and mathy. Feel free to skip to the section titled “DARN IT!” if the math gets too distasteful for you.

Let’s assume our sheet is N cards across and has M rows of cards. Then somewhat generally our sheet looks like this. Almost.

I say almost because we haven’t yet accounted for our numbering restarting every time we reach 36. For example, when N = 18 and M = 10, we don’t want to see our sheet numbered 1-180. Exactly as in our first example, we want to see our sheet numbered 1-36 five times in a row.

A mathematical trick that will get us what we need is called modulus (or sometimes “clock arithmetic”). In this case, we just need to replace each sheet entry with its equivalent, modulo 36. (Technically, this still isn’t quite right since it would replace 36 with 0, but we can simply keep that oddity in our back pocket for now.)

Therefore, our new generalized sheet looks like this:

Now that doesn’t look awful, does it? Okay fine, don’t answer that! And of course, I’m about to make things even a little more complicated since I can’t do a heckuva lot with all those dot-dot-dots taking up most of the sheet. I’d rather have variables, even if it means going from two letters (M and N) to four.

For example, if I am in row j and column k, I want to be able to say the number in that spot is [(j – 1)*N + k] mod 36. That way, if I want to know if the card is of Dr. K, I just need to check to see if [(j – 1)*N + k] mod 36 = 5! Simple, right?

Now let’s go back to the two conditions necessary for Dr. K to occupy an upper left panel position: odd row and odd column, which algebraically just means j and k are odd.

Of course (!) when j and k are odd, then [(j – 1)*N + k] is also odd regardless of the value on N, so there is at least hope we will have solutions for correctly chosen values of j and k no matter the width of the sheet.

What about if we want Doc to appear in the upper right, which I’ll note we have not yet seen in any of our examples? The conditions for this are–

  • 5 needs to be in an odd numbered row since these rows correspond to upper halves of panels.
  • 5 needs to be in an even numbered column since these columns correspond to right sides of panels.

Algebraically then, we know j is odd but k is now even. Going back to our complicated looking expression, that makes [(j – 1)*N + k] even no matter what value of N we choose, and this guarantees we will never have [(j – 1)*N + k] mod 36 = 5.

In case your eyes are glazing over, this means Doc will never end up in the desired position, which in turn means we will never get our four variations no matter what size sheet we go with. We could still look at the two lower quadrants but after suffering such a fatal setback one might justly wonder what the point would be.

Darn it!

Well imagine that! No matter what size we make our sheet, there’s no way to arrive at four Doc variations following a methodical cutting strategy. Two is as good as it gets. And yet, I started this article by showing you four actual examples. So what gives?

There are really only two options, assuming we’re still in the “panels produced from uncut sheets” camp.

  1. The cutters didn’t follow a methodical approach, instead just cutting up sheets willy-nilly to achieve desired results.
  2. The sheets didn’t follow the same rules we did.

The first option is hard for me to swallow, but the second one is equally baffling. Yes, one could imagine laying out the sheets so that we didn’t simply have the complete set repeated over and over. For example, we might imagine the insertion of a double-prints within the set.

The problem is that even the insertion of a double print doesn’t generate new solutions unless it were only sometimes inserted. (For example, imagine the first instance of the set on the sheet included two card 10s, but none of the other instances did. Possible but weird, right?)

Cheating, PArt ONE

Okay, what the heck. Let’s just look at an uncut sheet, shall we? Perfect, let me just get out my microscope!

Kidding aside, the sheet has everything we needed to know. First off, it’s 20 cards across and 22 rows down for a total of 440 cards, which is enough to hold 12 complete sets with 8 cards left over. We can also (barely) see that the sheet doesn’t even come close to following the logical layout originally assumed and later dismissed. I’ll highlight this by placing a thick red border around every Nolan Ryan card since his card is both easy to spot and card #1 in the set.

Sure enough, there are 12 Ryans, but their appearances on the sheet become more and more irregular as we progress down the sheet. Life gets more sane once we add nine more rectangles.

Each of these 6 x 6 blocks is itself a complete set, always following a consistent sequence. For what it’s worth, that sequence is:

32-21-08-30-33-04
10-07-25-19-22-02
05-34-26-28-29-13
17-06-16-36-27-12
23-35-09-18-20-24
01-14-31-03-11-15

We can further simplify the sheet by making three more rectangles. The upper orange rectangle houses the first two columns of a set, the middle orange rectangle houses the middle two columns, and the bottom orange rectangle houses the last two columns. Collectively they add up to the tenth complete set in the diagram.

All that remains then is to understand the last four rows of the sheet.

Each of the green blocks at the bottom represents the upper four rows of a complete set, which the two yellow rectangles then complete perfectly. Finally, the pink rectangle gives us our eight leftover cards, which match up with what we might call the upper left corner of the set.

That’s all well and good, but of course what we really want to see is whether this sheet layout produces all four Dr. K variations. At least that’s what I’m here for!

One thing we can say without a doubt is that the actual sheet layout is nothing like our original assumptions. With all the cockamamie patchwork we might justifiably exclaim, “Aha! THAT’s the crazy kind of layout you need to get all those variations!”

But guess what?

Cutting the sheet methodically into 2 x 2 panels, we find only all twelve Dr. K panels yield only a single variation (see yellow stars), the exact one I bought.

Go figure!

Cheating, part two

The only thing for me to do was ask the seller, who specializes in oddball cards and has always been a great guy to do business with. While his answer may not hold for all 4-in-1 panels like mine, he let me know, sure enough, that the particular panels in his own inventory came from uncut sheets.

I then asked if he did the cutting personally since I’m still surprised someone would resort to the unorthodox method it would require to produce all variations. He let me know he was not the cutter and had received his rather extensive lot as part of a larger purchase he made.

Perhaps one of my two readers who’s made it this far has direct knowledge in this area, in which case I hope they share that knowledge in the comments. In the meantime, I’m left believing that somebody somewhere wanted variations so badly that they were willing to live with a little waste.

Either that or…

what really happened

So I was thinking about the easiest way to produce all variations for all players with a minimum of waste. Taking Doc as an example, we know he only appears in the upper right quadrant when methodical cutting is applied. However, moving him from top to bottom just requires skipping a row. Similarly, moving him from right to left just requires skipping a column.

Treating the blacked out portion of the sheet below as throwaway, a methodical cutting of the remaining sheet portions will generate a complete master set of all 36 x 4 = 144 panels. I’ve highlighted one of each Gooden panel to illustrated this. (Note also that my black lines could have been just about anywhere and still done the trick. They only requirement is that each quadrant remain large enough to generate a panel of the desired player.)

So yes, I do believe that’s what happened, and the only question that remains for me is whether the cutter planned all this or just stumbled upon it by accident. As for that I’ll offer that many uncut sheets end up with a bad row or two due to creasing. I’ll also offer that bad cuts here and there are possible when chopping up an entire sheet. What this suggests to me is there are at least two ways the original cutter may have unwittingly generated a master set all my math told me was impossible!

Six days in September

I unexpectedly added this 1974 Topps Deckle Edge card of Hank Aaron to my collection last week.

Before getting into my main story I’ll answer a couple quick questions about the card itself.

What is it?

Many collectors are familiar with a Topps Deckle Edge issue from five years earlier, either through the original 1969 set or through more recent Topps Archives reboots.

The 1974 cards, however, are ones that many collectors have never seen, original or otherwise. They were part of a “test issue” limited to the New England area and considerably more scarce than their 1969 predecessors. For example, PSA has graded only 46 Hank Aaron cards from the 1974 set, and even this number is probably inflated by all the “crack and resub” collectors out there.

Where are the deckles?

As the Yaz and Ichiro pics show, a key feature–sorry, THE key feature–of the Deckle Edge cards is…well…deckled edges. Meanwhile, the Aaron pic I showed appears to be perfectly straight. This is the case with the even more scarce proof cards from the set. PSA populations for these proofs range between 1 and 4 per card, and no numerical grades have been issued. As such, were I ever forced to sell my “PSA Authentic” Aaron, I could legitimately do one of those eBay listings that says, “NONE GRADED HIGHER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” right down to the dozens of exclamation marks.

The setting

Unlike the 1969 Deckle Edge cards, which have barely more than the player’s name on the back, these 1974 cards really go the extra mile.

From the information on the back we see Aaron was at Candlestick on September 1 to play the Giants. A bit of quick research also tells us Aaron had 706 career home runs at the time, just eight fewer than the Babe. Having averaged a home run every three games thus far (33 HR in the 100 games he’d played), Aaron was on pace to break the record by season’s end, but only on one condition: he play in every one of Atlanta’s 26 remaining games.

The pursuit of Ruth had been excruciating for the Hammer: death threats, sleepless nights, and constant media attention were so great that Aaron simply wanted to be done. He was less after a crown on his head than a weight off his shoulders. When he finally did break the record, the feeling was not elation but relief.

The decision

Here is the box score from that night’s game.

Plenty of familiar names in the line up but no Hammer, not even when the Braves, down by a single run in the ninth, looked to pinch-hit for Niekro. Five more times in that final month the box score would be similar: no Hammer.

Six days in September

In taking the six days off, the die was cast. The record would wait until 1974. With his team 18 games behind the first place Dodgers, I sometimes wonder why Aaron didn’t just push through and play these games. I have to imagine his fans and teammates would have forgiven a little less hustle in the field and on the bases if it meant another 25-30 trips to the plate.

I don’t know the actual circumstances and decision making behind these six missed games, just that they followed a pattern of off days throughout the season. I can only imagine that Aaron didn’t see himself as able to give 100%.

Were you to scan the Braves roster you might quickly conclude that 80% from Hank Aaron would still be better than 110% from anyone on the Atlanta bench, particularly knowing the best manager Eddie Mathews could put out there in his place would be these two players.

So yeah, these numbers might surprise you.

  • .455 batting average
  • .520 on-base percentage
  • .727 slugging percentage
  • 1.247 OPS

Babe who??

King Henry

The photograph on the Deckle Edge card shows a man who had a choice. What he would do that day and in all for six fateful days in September would determine whether he would enter a much needed offseason with the crown or let the strain and anguish of the chase drag on him another six months.

That would be an easy choice for most of us, and perhaps it was an easy one for the Hammer as well. Carrying his own burdens, that he could live with. Placing burden on his teammates, that just wasn’t in his DNA.

Though he finished the season with “only” 713 home runs, Topps provided Aaron with an early cardboard coronation. His was a royalty that needed no crown. All hail the Home Run King!

Ten quirks of the 1934-36 Diamond Stars set

The 1934-36 Diamond Stars set from National Chicle is a personal favorite thanks to its bright colors, its creative backgrounds, and the overall personality of its artwork. It’s also a set that makes for interesting study due to a variety of quirks and even a possible mystery.

10. NO Ruth or Gehrig

Though the Diamond Stars checklist is stacked with Hall of Fame talent, the set does not include the era’s two biggest stars, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Other notable absences include Dizzy Dean and Chuck Klein. While the omissions detract from the set in the eyes of many collectors, they may prove a blessing in disguise to set collectors on more modest budgets.

The standard theory, which I subscribe to, on why these players are missing is that they were locked into contracts with Goudey and/or mega-agent Christy Walsh. However, Ron Rembert offers an alternate explanation in his article, “Idols and the 1934-36 Diamond Stars Set.”

9. AUSTEN LAKE BIOS

The back of each Diamond Stars card features a novel biographical format that doubles as a baseball instruction manual and scouting report tailored to the featured player. The byline on this content is Austen Lake of the Boston American.

1934-36 Diamond Stars Lefty Grove with Austen Lake bio

Lake himself has an interesting bio, having at one time tried out as a catcher with the Yankees, played football professionally, and rose to prominence as a war correspondent during World War II. Of course, some vintage collectors might know the name (and even most of the bio!) from another set of 1930s trading cards.

1933 DeLong Lefty Grove with Austen Lake bio

8. what year are the cards?

As the name suggests, the 1934-36 Diamond Stars were indeed released over a three year period. However, that is not to say that each of the cards was available all three years. More detail is provided in an excellent article Kevin Glew wrote for PSA, but a basic summary of the 108-card release is as follows.

  • 1934: Cards 1-24
  • 1935: Cards 1-84
  • 1936: Cards 2, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 12, 16, 22, 26, 30, 31, and 73-108

For example, this Luke Appling card (#95) would have only been available to collectors in 1936 whereas the Lefty Grove card (#1) shown earlier would have been available in 1934 or 1935. (As you’ll see in the next section, this isn’t 100% true, but we’ll call it “true for now.”)

7. what year are the cards…really?

For cards spanning more than one year, such as the Lefty Grove, a different version of the card was issued each year. The most telltale feature for distinguishing the variations is the line of stats at the bottom of each card back. If you scroll up a bit, you’ll see the Grove card that led off this article featured stats for 1933, hence was part of the 1934 series, whereas this Grove card features stats for 1934, hence was part of the 1935 series.

6. color change

Card backs featured green ink in 1934, blue ink in 1936, and a mix of the tw0—at least for cards 73-86—in 1935. As such, a set collector hoping to collect all possible variations would need three of each card from 73-86: a green 1935, a blue 1935, and a blue 1936.

5. other variations

Two well front variations in the set are the Hank Greenberg and Ernie Lombardi cards, originally misspelled as Hank Greenburg and Earnie Lombardi. Less known are five cards in the set where the player uniform changes due to a transaction between one series and another. I have a more comprehensive article on this subject here, but here are images of the five.

In other cases, such as with Johnny Vergez, card fronts stay the same but card backs note team changes.

4. more ambitious set planned?

Similar to the 1933 Goudey set, the bottom of each card back advertised a set of “240 major league players.” Despite that, the set included only 108 cards and only 96 different players.

One explanation for the smaller set is that player contracts with Goudey greatly reduced the number of players available. Another explanation is the 1937 bankruptcy of National Chicle. That said, at the established pace of only 32 new players (or 36 new cards) per year, it would have taken a good 7+ years to make it to 240.

3. DOUBLED dozen

While the first 96 cards in the checklist represent 96 distinct players, the final 12 cards in the set are all repeats. For example, Bill Dickey has card 11 (1934, 1935) and card 103 (1936) in the set. A possible explanation for the repeated twelve cards will come at the end of this article.

2. mystery uncut sheet

An uncut sheet of Diamond Stars was discovered in the 1980s by the family member of a former National Chicle printer. While other uncut Diamond Stars sheets are known to exist, what made this one particularly unique was that none of its 12 cards appear anywhere on the Diamond Stars checklist! (See Ryan Cracknell article for more info.)

In addition to blank-backed cards of Hall of Famers Goose Goslin and Lefty Gomez, the sheet also includes a particularly noteworthy card pairing Browns teammates Jim Bottomley and Rogers Hornsby.

Original artwork for the Bottomley/Hornsby card sold at auction in 2012, and good news…the owner is evidently actively entertaining offers!

In addition, the press photo, taken at 1936 Spring Training, that the artwork and card were based on has also made the rounds.

1. connection between uncut sheet and doubled dozen?

I have seen some speculation that the twelve repeated cards (97-108) on the Diamond Stars checklist might have taken the place of the twelve cards on this uncut and unreleased sheet. I have also seen the Bottomley/Hornsby card at its neighbors proposed as part of an unrealized 1937 extension to the original set.

As with most 80+ year old mysteries, any definitive answer is likely lost to history. At least some clues that suggest the sheet was produced along with the rest of the 1936 series are the cards for Jim Bottomley, Roger Cramer, and Gene Moore, all of which show teams they joined in early 1936, and Benny Frey, Rip Collins, Linus Frey, and Lon Warneke, still shown on teams they were no longer with in 1937.

When I first saw this unreleased sheet, what jumped out at me were the zanier more geometric backgrounds versus the more traditional (but still colorful) stadium and cityscape backgrounds of the original 108 cards. Perhaps this mismatch prompted a National Chicle exec to kill the sheet and a panicking product manager to replace it with the fastest thing he could throw together: repeats of earlier cards.

BONUS KAWhi leonard tie-in

As Kawhi Leonard contemplates whether to remain in Toronto or join forces with LeBron and A.D. to form the greatest Big Three in NBA history, I thought I’d call out my favorite Cardboard Big Three ever. I defy you to top it, even if I spot you a Ruth and a Gehrig!

You want even more?

Still can’t get enough Diamond Stars? See our next Diamond Stars article, “Diamond Stars Fails Its Background Check.”

The Babe Ruth trade of 1933

I know the historians among you are already protesting. “But the Bambino was never traded!” Details, details. You’re thinking of the real world, but I’m talking about the cardboard world.

An extremely rare 1/0 Babe Ruth traded card

The year was 1933, and a fourteen-year-old chewing gum company, having tucked its poisoning scandals safely in the past, was making its first foray into the baseball card world. The effort would be an ambitious one, promising young chewers a 240-card series of baseball stars.

Reverse of 1933 Goudey card #1, Benny Bengough

This set, known as R319 or 1933 Goudey, was destined to become one of the most popular and iconic trading card sets of all time, to this day sharing headroom with 1909-11 T206, 1952 Topps, and (depending on your age) 1989 Upper Deck on our hobby’s Mt Rushmore of classic baseball card sets.

Artist’s representation of fictitious Baseball Card Mt Rushmore. Beware of slippery slopes!

Before we can get to the Babe Ruth trade, it’s necessary to understand that the Goudey set was produced as ten sheets of 24 cards each. An uncut example of the fifth sheet is shown below. It includes card 53, the first of four Babe Ruth cards that would appear in the set.

Sheet 5 of 1933 Goudey set, the first release to include a Babe Ruth card

Probably not, but perhaps you’ve just done the math and wondered how card 53 would have ended up on the fifth sheet, which ostensibly should have featured cards 97-120. In fact, the Goudey set used extensive skip numbering, instead filling the fifth sheet with card numbers 53-57, 68-74, and 80-91. (I also believe a second factor was at play and that this particular sheet was originally designed as the fourth sheet.)

Here is the state of the Goudey checklist following the release of the fifth sheet. Note the gaps from 97-99, 106-114, 121-129, and perhaps 142-144.

But now let’s talk about that sixth sheet in greater depth. In particular, we’ll focus on five cards from it for which early proof versions exist.

When you think of card 106 in the 1933 Goudey set, you most likely think of the famous Napoleon Lajoie card. What you may not know is that an early proof card of Leo Durocher first bore this card number before ultimately receiving card 147 in the set.

1933 Goudey #106, Napoleon Lajoie, issued in late 1934 to appease the completists

Likewise, four other cards from the sixth sheet have proof cards that are “misnumbered.”

  • Eddie Farrell #107 (released as 148)
  • Luke Sewell #123 (released as 163)
  • Al Spohrer #124 (released as 161)
  • Rube Walberg #128 (released as 145)

Returning to the set’s checklist, the proof (incorrect) numbers of each are shown in pink and the final (correct) numbers of each are shown in blue.

In all five cases, the numbers of the proof cards land within the checklist’s gaps whereas the final numbers assigned avoid the gaps entirely. Though it would require the discovery of many more proof cards to be certain, the numbering of the known proofs at least suggests that an early draft version of the sixth sheet might have filled all 24 gaps prior to renumbering.

Ir reality, the sixth sheet filled only two of the gaps, 143 and 144, while adding the next 21 consecutive numbers to 165.

If you’ve done the math again, you may be pondering how it is that a sheet of 24 cards might only check off 23 numbers. The answer is that the sixth sheet contains the only double-print of the set, Babe Ruth’s card 144, which can be found twice in the second row of the sheet. The sheet also includes Ruth’s red 149 card and the renumbered Farrell (148), Durocher (147), Walberg (145), Sewell (163), and Spohrer (161) cards.

Sheet 6 from 1933 Goudey set (numbering added) featuring double-printed Ruth 144

To the extent the five proof cards identified thus far hint at a draft version of this sheet with different numbers, a second even more intriguing question is natural: did the draft version include both Ruth 144 cards, or was a second one added in some later stage of production?

Thickening the plot and potentially answering that question is the existence of a sixth proof card.

Proof card of Jack Russell

Like the other five proofs, its number 121 fits perfectly within the theorized numbering of the original sixth sheet.

However, this particular card did not end up on the set’s sixth sheet. It was bumped to the next one and assigned card number 167.

Sheet 7 from 1933 Goudey set featuring Jack Russell’s card 167

What this suggests to me is that there were at least two significant changes made to the 1933 Goudey set’s sixth sheet prior to final production.

  • Cards were renumbered to continue the set’s skip counting scheme.
  • Jack Russell was bumped to make room for a second Ruth 144 card.

So while I may never own the 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth card I’ve coveted since I was nine, I may well own the player he was traded for, and isn’t that almost as good?! 😀 (Spoiler alert: No.)

The author with his 1933 Goudey consolation prize

So that’s the story I intended to tell when I began work on this article. Unfortunately, facts have a way of ruining a good story, and that’s exactly what happened as I chased down some last-minute research on the topic.

While I am unable to find a photo of the reverse, I trust the Robert Edwards Action catalog enough to add this Al Thomas card to the list of numbering variations. While the true Thomas card (pictured at right) carries number 169 in the Goudey set, the proof card (pictured at left) is numbered 127.

Proof card and standard card for Al Thomas. Note various minor differences in typesetting of name.

On one hand, a proof card numbered 127 fits squarely within the numbering range of the other proof cards.

On the other hand, like the Russell, it bounced to the seventh sheet of the set.

Had Thomas remained on the sixth sheet along with Durocher, Walberg, et. al., his proof card would have fit my original thesis to a tee. However, with that not being the case, we are left with two possible conclusions.

  • The whole theory was rubbish to begin with
  • The theory was mostly right except that TWO Ruth cards were added at the end!

I find this second alternative the more attractive one, largely for self-serving reasons, but also because it begs the question: Which two?

I’ll close with a few quick notes on the proof cards discussed in this article.

  • While the most evident differences between the proofs and their standard issues are the card numbers on the back, there are also differences on the fronts of the cards. The typesetting of the player name is a frequent difference. For example, the proof version of Al Thomas almost looks like ALTHOMAS (one word) while the standard version separates his first and last name with a period (AL. THOMAS) and crashes into his hat.
  • While there is some mystery surrounding the precise timing of these proofs, a strong clue comes from the Durocher card. Because his proof has him with the Cardinals, a trade that occurred May 7, 1933, it is clear his proof card was produced after that date.
  • Thus far each of the proof cards identified with the possible exception of the Durocher is a 1/1, at least as far as known copies are concerned.
  • According to hobby lore, most or all of the proofs came from a single partial sheet obtained by hobby pioneer Woody Gelman directly from a source at Goudey. (An alternative explanation has been put forth with respect to the Durocher, claiming it was instead created by hobbyists post-1933 as a means of helping collectors complete their sets.)

Author’s note: If you are aware of other 1933 Goudey proofs with numbers that differed from their final printing, please let me know. Following the line of thought in this article, I imagine there might have been 20+ originally.

On Deck(le) in 2018 Heritage

Judge

Last year, I posted a piece on the 1969 Topps Deckle Edge inserts-which I’m sure everyone committed to memory. In case you flushed my masterpiece from your brain pan, I focused on the dated and poorly airbrushed photos, expansion team players, variations and the idea that kids would have been familiar with deckle edged prints from family photos. This post will compare the ’69 originals with the 2018 Topps Heritage Deckle Edge set.

The obvious difference between the two sets is size. The ’69 cards are 2-1/4 X 3-1/4, while Heritage is standard card size. Topps did the same thing last year when they produced the ’68 game card insert in the standard format. The decision to not use the same size as the originals is interesting considering there is a mini variation set in 2018 Heritage. Plus, Topps did produce deckle cards in the correct size in the 2012 Archive. Standard size does work better for 9-pocket pages, but authenticity should have been the driver.

Betts

Topps veered away from the original set as well by not including a least one player from each team. The 30 card set features players from only 18 different teams. Of course, the Yankees and Red Sox have three players each. This east coast bias results in no Mariners being “deckled.” I’m sure lack of winning seasons and a small national following had nothing to do with the decision.

Trout

The Heritage deckle edge cards are one of the most plentiful of the subsets with 1 included in every 10 packs. This makes collecting the 30 cards doable from packs. In ’69, every wax pack of 3rd and 4th series cards had a deckle edge insert. Obviously, the odds were better 50 years ago of collecting all 33 cards from packs. The two variations (Joe Foy and Jimmy Wynn) were short-prints, thus more difficult to obtain.

The 2018 Heritage and the 1969 deckles share the same back format as well: white with a blue, rectangular box containing the players’ names card number and the total number in the set at the bottom. The Topps trademark information appears beneath the box on both. The 2018 version contains the players team name in the box, while ’69 does not.

 

Topps Heritage mimics a unique aspect of the ’69 set: blue ink facsimile autographs. The blue ink was supposed to give the cards the look of an authentic autograph written with a pen. I discovered that Topps did a test run for deckle edge in ’68 that was never distributed. There are uncut proof pages and singles with blank backs that have blue, black and red autographs. Apparently, Topps wanted to see which color looked the most realistic. By the way, the O-Pee-Chee deckle cards used black ink for autographs.

 

Interestingly, the proof sheets contain nine images, only one of which was used in ‘69: Carl Yastrzemski. The rest of the players (Dave Adlesh, Hank Aguire, Sandy Alomar, Bob Johnson, Claude Osteen, Juan Pizzaro, Hal Woodeschick and Sonny Jackson–who is depicted on the Colt ‘45s–appear to have been randomly selected. Only Osteen could have reasonable been considered a star in 1968.

The Heritage base set does include players without caps and headshots that harken back to ’69. Why not include at least one deckle edge card that has badly airbrushed cap and uniform? Giancarlo Stanton is a prime candidate for this treatment.

I’m pleased that Topps included deckle edge cards, but disappointed in the sizing decision. As I’ve been telling my wife for 28 years, small is better.

 

Sources

“2018 Topps Heritage Baseball Checklist, Set Info, Variations, Boxes, Date.” The Cardboard Connection, 5 Mar. 2018, www.cardboardconnection.com/2018-topps-heritage-baseball-cards.

Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards

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.

* * * *

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.

* * * *

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.

* * * *

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.

 

* * * *

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.