Dream a Little Dream: the Day I Became a Baseball Card Manufacturer

Baseball cards weren’t just a part of my childhood, they were the defining object of my childhood, along with superhero comic books from Marvel and DC. But the cards were more important to me than anything else: they were my passport to baseball.

In the 1968 Mel Brooks film, The Producers, one of the characters, Franz Leibkind, expresses his joy at the realization of one of his life’s goals, “Oh, day of days! Oh, dream of dreams!…” Last week I repeated that incantation when I put my hand on a rock a decided I would produce a set of my own baseball cards.

Why? I thought it would be a fun way to promote my latest baseball documentary project, The Sweet Spot: A Treasury of Baseball Stories. The Sweet Spot is the first streaming TV channel dedicated to baseball to launch on multiple streaming outlets (you can find it on Roku, Vimeo on Demand, and, very soon, on Amazon Prime); it features our signature original documentary series, which features people from across the baseball spectrum to take the pulse of the national pastime in the 21st century. Players, coaches, bat boys, artists, fans, actors, authors, umpires, etc. share their baseball stories…it’s kind of a cross between The Glory of Their Times Meets Studs Terkel’s’ Working.

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The conceit was to feature some of the subjects I’d interviewed on cards with sexy graphic design on the front and a mini-bio on the back. I had some interesting subjects to choose from: Mudcat Grant, Dodgers superfan Emma Amaya, Topps photographer Doug McWilliams, pioneer Justine Siegal, umpire Perry Barber, and official scorekeeper Ed Munson (the “Iron Man” of scorers, who went 2,003 games without missing a game).

I’ve been collecting cards since 1965 and enjoy keeping many cards from the 1950s up until today. I have some strong opinions on my favorite Topps designs (1959, 1965, 1972), as well as many horrible designs (the 1981 set comes to mind) that resemble a dog’s breakfast. This card’s design had to reflect a vintage, nostalgic feeling, promote our brand, and feature The Sweet Spot logo.

As a producer who’s worked with world-class graphic designers and artists much of my career, I knew exactly how to get this job done, but there was a wrinkle. The designer I like to work with is not built for speed, and I needed to get the card designed and printed in 7-8 days in time for a presentation I was making about the project on SABR Day. I turned to Upwork.com to hire a freelance designer. I hire freelancers all the time, but this was a new and different method. I posted the scope of work, noting “being a baseball fan is helpful”, and got ten quick replies. A couple designers were fans, and the one I hired had been designing for over 20 years and had his own card collection.

unnamed-1I prepared reference/inspiration images of some of my favorite Topps designs from my youth: the woodies of ’62, the dual image fronts of ’63, and the wondrous Peter Max-infused ‘72s. We met daily to hammer out thumbnail designs for the front and back, starting with the front. I wanted to make sure we tied in the colors of the logo into the design, and how can you go wrong with the good ol’ red, white and blue? I love bunting seen in the post-season, so we integrated that notion into the design via a banner atop the card.

I allowed a couple of days of design iteration in thumbnail form until I arrived at a direction I liked and then we could dial in the rest. We arrived at the “archway” design inspired by the 1972 Topps set and the text bounding box at the bottom from the 1963 set. I wanted a banner at the top to make the card seem special, sort of like those MVP cards Topps would issue in the sets of the 60s. The card front would proclaim our featured “players” as “Heroes of the Sweet Spot”. There was always something heroic about the presentation of those players in those cards of the 50s and 60s, so that concept seemed a good fit.

A key component to the front of the card was a good photograph of the individual. I felt we had good photos for most of them, and the rest would work well enough. One of our interviewees was Doug McWilliams, with whom I’ve become friends, and Doug was kind enough to allow me to use a fantastic photo he’d taken of Mudcat Grant in 1957 when Mud was on the PCL San Diego Padres. Doug is also in this set of cards, #14 of 15.

I was very pleased with the final design of the front, so we moved on to the back of the card.

unnamed-2Again, we referenced the backs of cards from the 1960s, and I liked the idea of rounded boxes to display the text. While producing a major attraction about the life of Walt Disney for Walt Disney Imagineering, one of Walt’s designers, John Hench (whose first gig was Fantasia) told me the reason Mickey Mouse succeeded over another character of the day, Felix the Cat, was that Mickey had round features, while Felix had points. We went with a red, white, and blue color scheme to make the text pop and tie to the design scheme, tell a story, and sell our brand. The artist, Brian Kruse, came up with the smashing idea of balancing the baseball with the card # with a sphere on the right side of the top featuring a black and white image of our hero. I decided to keep it black and white to simplify the integration of that asset into the overall design.

unnamed-6We had thirteen cards designed, and it was now time to meet with my printer, who has done all manner of work for me over the years–promotional postcards, DVD covers, movie posters, and my business card, which is, of course, a baseball card. Key was finding paper stock that was stiff enough, as I did not have time to do special order cardboard (which likely would have been pricier). I settled on 14 point white paper, and, a couple of days later, voila!

Once the cards were done, I realized that the haste of taking on the task produced the inevitable errors:

  • there were supposed to be 15 cards in the series, but I omitted two of them. I did not adjust the numerical order of the cards, and the set was produced as if cards #6 and #9 are missing.

Official scorer Ed Munson’s “position” on the card from and rear is stated as “scorer” when it should be “official scorer”.

  • There’s a grammar punctuation error on the rear of artist Mark Ulriksen’s card.

I’ll be fixing the Munson and Ulriksen card for the second series, which is due to come out end of March.

Here’s our first series:

#1 – Umpire Perry Barber

#2 – Baseball Pioneer Justine Siegal

#3 – Artist Mark Ulriksen

#4 – Superfan Emma Amaya

#5 – Jim “Mudcat” Grant

#7 –Author Jennifer Ring

#8 – Author and former catcher Jim Campanis, Jr.

#10 – Catcher Jimmy Campanis, Sr.

#11 – Team USA player Lilly Jacobson

#12 – Actor Norm Coleman

#13 – Official Scorer Ed Munson

#14 – Photographer Doug McWilliams

#15 – Producer-Director Jon Leonoudakis

One of my favorite cards features octogenarian thespian Norm Coleman. Norm caught the acting bug late in life after a stellar career as a studio photographer. A life-long baseball fan, he took to Ty Cobb, feeling the Georgia Peach was a complex, misunderstood man, who was being subjected to a mythology that wasn’t accurate in Norm’s eyes. He decided to write a one-man show with Norm portraying Cobb. Years later, Norm has performed the show around the country, including shows at Tigertown, the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum, and the Ty Cobb Museum. When I interviewed Norm, I took his picture inside his home. I thought it would be fun to find an image of a Tiger game or practice circa 1908 and matte that in behind Norm. I found the right image, the artist popped it in, and suddenly Norm is back in 1908! If you look closely, over his right shoulder is a player leaning against a bat, looking a bit like Cobb himself.

unnamed-9Another fave is the card featuring Lilly Jacobson, who was said to have a swing like Will Clark. There she is on the front of her card, drilling a double down the line, adorned in a glorious Team USA uniform. When I met Lilly, she was a polite, bright, unassuming young woman who had traveled the globe playing the game she loved. It was pretty shocking to hear all the guff she had to put up with just to play on teams with boys and men.

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The last card in the set features yours truly. I figured the guy driving the sled should get a card, and I decided to use an action photo taken during the 2016 San Francisco Giants Fantasy Camp at the team’s spring training facility in Scottsdale. It was captured by photographer Andy Kuno during my first relief appearance: 1 IP, 2 Ks, 2 hits, no runs allowed. We won’t mention the other two outings that were grease fires.

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I started sharing the cards on my facebook page and got requests from people to purchase them (you can get one, too, for $20, includes tax and shipping). There are many other folks I’ve interviewed for the project, so there’s going to be a few more series of cards produced at the end of the day.

One of the key pieces that makes this set unique is the number of women featured: out of thirteen cards, almost half are women. A couple of card fiends who like to collect women in baseball cards told me how excited they were to find them. Another fun note is that the set not only features a father and a son (Jim Campanis Sr. and Jr.), it has a mother-daughter connection (author Jennifer Ring and daughter Lilly Jacobson).

I have joined the ranks of those specialty sets that saw the light of day and people are adding them to their personal collections. We sold out the first printing of the first series, and are printing more as demand has increased. The second set will go into production in a few weeks for a release just prior to the start of the 2017 season. It will have fixes to the error cards and introduce a couple of “In Action” cards showing the crew shooting a story for the series. We’re in the midst of adding a product store to our web page at www.thesweetspot.tv, but you can contact me directly if you’d like a set @ jbgreeksf24@gmail.com.

“Chico” means little boy, not ballplayer!

Several days ago I received, much to my surprise, a package in the mail from a good friend and fellow baseball aficionado, a number of Topps baseball cards.  They were all Latino players – my favorites – ranging from 1957 to 1967.  Of the 39 cards, I made note of one specific thing that always bothered me about Latino players of the era.  Or rather, something about them.

A number of the ballplayers sported the nickname “Chico.”   I always hated that.  Not that anyone ever called me “Chico.”  Maybe pain-in-the-ass, but never Chico.  When I was a kid, NBC’s “Chico and the Man” was pretty popular.  Freddie Prinze’s character, “Chico,” was a grown man.  He was a New York Puerto Rican portraying a Chicano in East LA, and that bothered me, too.

At any rate, the set I was so generously gifted, here’s what I found (real name and country of birth is included):

1957 Chico Carrasquel           Alfonso (Venezuela)

1959 Chico Fernández            Humberto (Cuba)

1967 Chico Salmon                 Ruthford (Panama)

1967 Chico Ruiz                      Giraldo (Cuba)

In doing a quick search, I found that of all the ballplayers, there were 10 with the name, “Chico.”  Aside from the four listed above, there was Chico Walker, who played a number of years with the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs, in the 1980s and 1990s as an outfielder and third baseman.  Curiously, he was born in Mississippi as Cleotha Walker.  Somewhere along the way, he picked up “Chico” as a nickname.  I’m sure there’s a story there.

Chico Escarrega, born Ernesto, in Mexico, played a solo year with the Chicago White Sox as pitcher, going 1-3 and one save with an ERA of 3.67 over 38 games.  Cuban Chico Hernández, who was born as Salvador, played a couple of seasons with the Cubs during World War II, as a catcher playing 90 games over the 1942 and 1943 seasons.  His career in organized baseball was pretty unremarkable.

Chico García, a Mexican born Vinicio, played for only 39 games as a second baseman for the Baltimore Orioles during the 1954 season.  He had been drafted by the Orioles from Shreveport, in the 1953 rule 5 draft, according to baseball-reference.com.  By the end of that season, he was traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers, but appears to have left organized baseball.

 

Another Chico Fernández played during the 1968 season for the Orioles.  Cuban Lorenzo Fernandez was an infielder, playing both shortstop and second base for a measly 11 games. He appears to have spotty record, being signed by the Detroit Tigers in 1958, then sent to the Milwaukee Braves in 1962, then back to the Tigers in 1963, and then the White Sox several months later.  Prior to the start of the 1968 season, Fernandez was sent from the Southsiders to the Orioles.  The Atlanta Braves fielded another Chico Ruiz, this one born, Manuel Ruiz, was born in Puerto Rico, and played a couple of seasons (1978 and 1980) playing second base, shortstop and third base for a total of 43 games with a .292 batting average.

For whatever reason, these players allowed themselves to be denigrated by the term, “Chico.”  From my perspective, this rings as a means to keep Latino ballplayers in their place, by calling them “boy,” it minimizes their contributions and takes away from their given name, mocking their ethnicity along the way.

Speaking of which, you can’t utter “Chico” without thinking about the character, “Chico Escuela” played by Garrett Morris in NBC’s ‘Saturday Night Live’ in the mid-1970s.  While this is a parody of the perception of Latino players of the era, the character, as Adrian Burgos, Jr. points out in Playing America’s Game: Baseball, Latinos and the Color Line (2007), “made comedic fodder of Latinos in the midst of as new wave of Latino players breaking into the major leagues.” Escuela’s catchphrase: “baysbol has been bery, bery good to me” has endured over the decades.  Even repeated by Dominican Chicago Cubs slugger, Sammy Sosa during his hey-day.

I’m glad that there are no Latino players going by the name of “Chico.”  Though, the era of baseball nicknames has seemed to have gone by the wayside, anyway.  And, for the past few days I’ve sorted through my new stack of baseball cards, looking at the photos, flipping through the tidbits of information on back, thinking about the friend who was kind enough to send these things my way.  ¡Mil gracias!

The Heroes of Battle Creek

The filthy, vacuous, spiritually empty 1970’s was equally barren for collectors. If America is going to be great again, let’s hope that the ‘70’s aren’t the reference point. Yet, out of this wasteland emerged a hero, riding in from the unlikeliest of places – Battle Creek, Michigan.

kelloggs-1970-maysKellogg’s began their 3-D cards in 1970 with a stunning 75 card set.  It’s a fantastic checklist of players, star filled, simply lovely design. The 3-D effect, only recently surpassed in Avatar, worked, especially in small gaps – between a player’s arm and his head, between his bat and body. In these little glimpses of the background, magic happened.

I had a few cards from 1970-1972, but it was only in 1973 that I noticed the mail-in form on the box and sent in for a full set. Getting that brick of 3-card panels in the mail was a joy, and it only cost $1.25 and two Raisin Bran box tops. Having that set put me at the ready for upcoming issues, and sent me back to get 1970 and 1972. That damned ’71 set was the only one not available through the mail and, as a result, was much harder to come by, either complete or individually. It still is.

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Even back then, collectors knew there were two problems with cards – they’d curl and, in time, they’d crack. I was on the problem early. I’d get a set and immediately bind them like a Chinese woman’s feet, but with less pain. My ingenious process was to put two pieces of cardboard on both the front and back of the set and strap the cards in tightly with rubber bands. The cardboard prevented rubber band marks on the first and last cards. It was a pretty good system and held the cards solidly in place for decades. Over time, some bands would get flabby, some would break, but it worked. What curl I had was manageable. Maybe one or two cards in all of my sets have cracks, and I think they arrived that way.

That was what held them until a few years ago. My friend Jimmy, as a thank you for another great Cooperstown Induction weekend, sent me a box of hard top loaders and inner sleeves (is that what they’re called? I may be confusing the term with records). It was a complete surprise and the perfect gift; I would never buy that kind of stuff myself. I was consumed for weeks with placing old 3-D cards in their new holders. I hadn’t looked at all of these cards in years. Thankfully, 1970’s me did a solid job on keeping the cards flat and it was an easy transition. Now, all my Kellogg’s sets (save 1973) are flat and stay flat in their new homes.

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I’ve been thinking of finishing off the run. I don’t have 1982 and 1983, easy enough to come by and cheap, but in looking at 1971, that damned 1971 set, I don’t have enough critical mass of single cards to pursue the full set. I don’t want to go cheap on that one and start down a cracked path. We all know the bad luck that surrounds cracks, whether in mirrors, concrete or 1971 Clarence Gaston cards.

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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.

Assorted Authenticity Notes, Thoughts and Tips

As well known to my friends and family, I am a non-linear thinker and talker, and this article follows the pattern. Offered here are aleatory notes, thoughts and tips on authentication related topics.

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A concern I often hear from collectors is that computer and digital printing technology is getting so advanced that some day they will be able to make a counterfeit T206 Honus Wagner completely indistinguishable from the original.

The answer is no, this is not correct.

Modern digital printing indeed looks better and better and is more and more detailed at the naked eye, holding-the-card-in-your-hand level. However, it looks less and less like the original 1909 T206 lithography at the microscopic level. And it is at the microscopic level that printing is identified and dated and such cards are ultimately authenticated.

The paradox with printing technology and the duplication of old prints is that the more closely it looks like the original at the naked eye level, the less it looks like the original at the microscopic level. Today’s computer printers use a fine pattern of tiny dots to reproduce graphics, with the finer the dot pattern the more detailed and realistic the reproduced graphics at the naked eye level. However, this fine dots maze looks very different under the microscope from the original, antiquated T206 printing–and the finer the dot pattern gets, the less it looks like the original printing at the microscopic level.

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If the identifying, dating and microscopic inspection of old printing is something that interest you, I wrote the following guide book. Well illustrated in color, it covers the major forms of antique and commercial printing and was written for collectors and dealers of antique trading cards, posters, ads, signs, premiums and even fine art. It is in pdf format and you can download it for free.

Identifying Antique Commercial Printing Processes

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Fake detection tip
If a seller is selling online a rare and expensive baseball card with obviously scissors clipped corners that he describes as “natural corner wear,” there is a more than probable chance you’re looking at a fake.

With homemade fakes, one of the harder things to do is to mimic natural corner rounding due to wear. The forger often clips the corners at straight angles then roughs them up a bit. In many cases, the corners remain obviously hand cut.

Of course genuine cards can have clipped corners, but anyone experienced with cards can tell the difference between clipping and natural wear. Even if the there is the odd chance the card for sale is real, why would you choose to make expensive purchases from a seller who can’t identify obvious trimming? Shouldn’t you be buying from the seller who knows what he is doing?

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Identifying Common Cracker Jack Reprints
The 1914-15 Cracker Jacks cards used no white ink and this helps in identifying many reprints.

The white (actually off white) on the card is created by the absence of ink on the white (actually off white) color of the cardstock. In other words, the white borders and any white in the player picture is the color of the cardstock.

If the Cracker Jack player picture has a large white section of his uniform that directly touches the border, there should be little or no difference in tone between the border white and the white of the uniform. They should seamlessly blend one into the other.

On the common reprints, a giveaway is that the border is distinctly different than the white in the player image. You can clearly see this when the border ends and the touching white in the player picture starts.

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Original 1915 Cracker Jack
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Reprint Cracker Jack with brighter border



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Scams regularly involve greed from both sides

As has been noted by numerous experienced collectors, baseball card scams often involve greed on both sides of the equation–from the buyer and the seller, not just the seller.

Since the dawn of scamming, it is a common scammer’s technique to appear ignorant about what he is selling (often a forgery he made himself!), and have the buyer believe he is getting a steal from a dim bulb of a seller. The scammer will say something on the order of: “This card looks real to me. But as I’m not an expert, I am calling it a reprint to be safe and offer it at a deep discount” or “I found this Sweet Caporal Honus Wagner card. A local card shop says it looks like the real deal and is worth lots of money. But I don’t know for sure so I’m offering it for $5,000.”

The purchaser in these sales correctly believes there is a rube involved in the sale, but incorrectly believes it is the seller. The purchaser also thinks he is getting a steal of a deal from a rube. This is why some collectors feel little pity for such buyers. The buyers are trying to get a steal and think they are taking advantage of the ignorant.

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For science geeks, this is an old article I wrote on the advanced science used in authentication and forgery detection of art, artifacts and collectibles, including baseball memorabilia. It covers carbon dating, infrared radiation, x-rays and even dendrology (the study of trees rings). Technically, baseball cards can be radiometrically dated (carbon dating is the best known form of radiometric dating), but it is cost prohibitive. The article also shows how there are limits to science in authentication.

The Science of Forgery Derection

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A simple technique for dating a pinback as antique

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Corroded pinback back

If you are at an antique store or garage sale and see a cool antique looking pinback, a simple way to identify it as genuinely antique, and not a modern reproduction or fantasy item, is to check the back. If the back and needle is corroded and rusted brown, you can be confident it is antique.

Similarly, rusty staples on antique items are signs of authenticity. Many antique booklets, magazines, calendars and tickets were stapled. Antique staples have rusted dark, with the rust sometimes spreading to the paper. If the staples are bright and shiny, that is evidence the item is a modern reproduction or at least has been re-stapled. I’ve seen many modern reproductions offered online that are given away in part by the shiny staples.

 

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Authenticating playing and game cards
Many playing and game cards, such as the 1913 National Game and Polo Ground issues, have factory cut round corners that make identifying reprints and counterfeits easy, even in online pictures. The corners on the originals were die cut a consistent size and curve. Known official reprints will have a noticeably different corner size, while homemade versions will be obviously scissors cut and usually of different size. If someone is offering one of these playing cards online it is easy to check the authenticity by comparing the corners to a picture of a known authentic card, say one in a PSA or SGC holder.

Die cut shaped cards in general are harder to deceptively forge, because it is hard to cut the shapes to perfectly mimic the original machine cut–especially if the forger is doing it by hand.

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Original 1913 National Game card
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National Game reprints with different corners

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The Issue of Restoring baseball cards
The restoration of baseball cards is a regular hot topic of debate with collectors, and it seems the restoration of high end cards is becoming more common. Some collectors are adamantly against any alterations, some have no issue with it and some say it depends on the situation. I am not here to give the ‘final ethical word’ on the topic, but to look at various aspects of the issue.

The common strong and often visceral reaction against restoration and any form of alteration is based in two reasons. First, the hobby has a long history of deceptive (undisclosed) alterations as part of scamming: trimming, bleaching and other alterations without disclosure at sale. Many collectors consider this equivalent to counterfeiting and forgery. This problem is still ongoing, with unethical resellers who only care about money, altering and trying to sneak cards past profession graders. This is one of the scummy parts of the hobby. For some people, it is anything for a dollar.

The second reason is many collectors like old cards that have honest wear and aging. These collectors think they there is nothing wrong with an old card showing its age–after all they are collecting old items not twenty first century Upper Decks inserts. To them, there is nothing wrong with ‘honest wear,’ so there is nothing to fix.

Many collectors are generally against alterations, but are not zealots about it and feel that there are times where restoration is reasonable. Many collectors say it is ethical to remove items and substances that are not original parts of the cards. They say it is fine to remove a of piece scotch tape, glue or paint on a 1952 Topps, because it is not an original part of card. There are also cases of major damage, such as a card that has a substantial tear or fungus, where conservation will not only make the card look nicer but will prevent further damage. Left to their own devices, fungus spreads and tears only get bigger over time.

One question baseball card collectors often ask is why is restoration so frowned upon in the baseball card hobby, but seemingly accepted and common practice with paintings and movie posters. It is true that restoration is more accepted in those areas, but realize that, as in the baseball hobby, opinions and sentiments vary from collector to collector. Another thing to keep in mind is that movie posters and paintings have different uses and are of different materials.

A movie poster and painting are display items, usually large and designed to be hung on the wall for everyone to see. Baseball cards are little and spend most of their lives in boxes and drawers. Few people want a 2×3 foot display item on the wall next to the dining room table or over the living room couch to be covered in coffee stains, scrapes and scotch tape marks.

Also, movie posters and paintings are often made of materials that are delicate and must be conserved to preserve them and to withstand display. Movie posters are on thin paper, and old paint and the backing on paintings often have deterioration problems that must be fixed. Old oil paintings were originally varnished, with the varnish turning brown over the years. Removing and replacing the dingy varnish not only makes the painting look as it originally did, it often reveals the real colors of the painting. A green appearing flower may turn out to be bright blue.

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Antique oil painting with half the original varnish removed

It should also be noted that as part of restoration and conservation, movie posters are usually ‘linen backed’ (backed in linen) so are easy to identify as restored.

As far as valuation of restored versus unrestored posters and paintings go, an advanced vintage movie memorabilia collector told me that a grade Vg movie poster restored to Near Mint looking condition will be valued more than the Vg grade but less than unrestored Near Mint. Painting collectors look for restoration, because it does affect value. All other things the same, a restored painting will be worth less than an unrestored one. So, while restoration is more accepted, there still is a valuation and sentimental difference between restored and unrestored.

One inescapable constant is that all alterations and restoration have to be disclosed at sale. Not only is this the ethical thing to do, it is the law. This is in all areas of collecting, including movie posters and paintings. If a seller knows a physical fact about the item will likely change the value in the minds of the buyers, that is a fact that has to be stated. It is up to the bidders, not the auctioneer, to decide what facts will affect the final bid value.

I end by noting that a veteran collector once said that collectors are temporary caretakers not owners of the items, and that is what people should keep in mind when deciding what to do with a card. Or, as I say, these are historical artifacts and serious collectors are historians. There may be legitimate reasons to restore an item–such as for preservation for future generations or to fix major damage–but a card or other item should never be altered for purely monetary reasons. When things are done strictly and only to make a buck, all forms of unethical and seedy behavior soon follow.

Finding the Right Woman (and the Right Card)

I think a lot of us went through a phase where we recognized that collecting cards wasn’t cool, that making it known at 18, 20, 22 years old that we were working on completing our 1967 Topps set was not the best pickup line. “Hey, how’s it going? I gotta tell you, finding a Near Mint Juan Pizarro high number is really tough. Can I buy you a drink?” It doesn’t work.

I gave up on cards during college, though I’d occasionally buy packs. Once graduated (and single), I made up for lost time and bought the sets I’d missed from 1981-1984 (though not the 1984 Fleer Update, dumb!). Then I got back on the trail of my 1967 set.

You know you’ve met “The One” when you can openly fess up to what you perceive as your most embarrassing traits. Karen was “The One,” and not only did she quickly know I collected cards, but she came with me to shows! That’s true love. It was at one show, I think in New Jersey (let’s just say New Jersey, it’s a good setting), that having Karen along made all the difference.

Down to my final few ‘67’s, I found a dealer with a nice supply in nice condition. I got what I could and now, with one card to go, but the one card I didn’t see, I asked – “Do you have a Red Sox team card?”

“I don’t,” I heard him say, or was it “no,” I can’t recall. Whatever it was, it was bad.

I bought the cards he did have and we walked away from the table.

“I can’t believe he didn’t have the last card I needed,” I said, moaning the words out, Eeyore style.

“No, he did have it,” Karen said. “He said ‘I have it someplace else.’”

Really? How did I miss that? We headed right back and Karen was dead right. He had the card, it was in another box behind his table. He got it and it was beautiful. Thanks to Karen, it was mine.

Sure, I would have gotten the Sox team card eventually, yet, in my mind, I never would have completed the set without Karen. It’s a better story that way and that moment is eternally connected to that set and this card:

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Latino Commons in a 1965 Topps Card Lot

The Topps 1965 series was a 598-card set, featuring the team logo within a pennant.  The 2 ½ by 3 ½ inch cards included rookies such as Joe Morgan, Steve Carlton, Jim Hunter and Tony Perez.  I would later become more interested in a group of cards that would lead to a presentation at the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR)’s 46th annual convention in Miami, Fla.

As I tell the story, I attribute the interest in the 1965 cards not only because it was the year of my birth, but also I offer thanks to fellow SABR chapter member, Mark Armour, who wrote a great series on Topps cards for a baseball blog.  At the time, I had only been collecting cards from 1970 to 1990.  As a kid, I starting collecting cards around 1973, throwing them into a box, where I was spent time sorting them first by team, in alphabetical order, then later by card number.  And then, maybe sort them once again by team.  Alas, like many a lad, my precious pieces of cardboard would fall victim to a mother’s cleaning and obtuse unawareness for her child’s treasures.  And like that, they were gone.

Later as an adult with some disposal income, I could reach back into my childhood, and begin my favorite passion, collecting the baseball cards I had lost.  I don’t know how else to explain it, but it was if I had found old friends, and enjoyed the time of catching up.  I think 1970 seemed like a good time to start my re-collecting.  But, along comes Mark and his fancy nostalgia for cards in the 1960s.  I looked again at the 1965 set, and thought they looked fun, and decided to start there.

On eBay, I found a 1965 medium grade 23-card lot for $30.  A week later, I made a pleasant discovery that out of the 23 cards, six of them were Latino players.  I am a Latino baseball enthusiast, so the find was awesome.  From there, I started wondering about these guys.  They weren’t the Latino superstars, just “common”, in the baseball card vernacular.

They were: Phil Ortega (pitcher, Washington Senators); José Santiago (pitcher, Kansas City Athletics); Juan Pizarro (pitcher, Chicago White Sox); Vic Davalillo (outfielder, Cleveland Indians); Camilo Carreón (catcher, Cleveland Indians); and Héctor Valle (catcher, Los Angeles Dodgers).  The cards were in decent shape: no bad creases, no rounded edges, and the photos still relatively sharp.  Overall, I was happy with the purchase, but still…who were these guys, and what impact did they have on their teams?

I think out of the six, I was most familiar with Davalillo and his days with the Dodgers in the 1970s.  I have his 1978 Topps card.  In researching their 1965 contributions, the most remarkable thing you can say is that their year was pretty unremarkable.  Save for Davalillo, that is, who had an All-Star year with a batting average of .301 over 142 games, collecting 152 hits along the way.

He was also one of eight Latinos playing the 1965 All-Star Game held in Minneapolis, where San Francisco Giants pitcher Juan Marichal was the MVP.  Marichal would go on to have a more eventful summer.

In flipping through these cards, you realize that in blindly buying a lot online, the cards are not always going to be Latino superstars, and that’s okay.  I think the common Latino player is just as interesting with his own story to tell.  Those guys deserve our attention as well, and I am going to enjoy collecting their cards just as much.