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.