2021 in review

A little late but still plenty of time to get my 2021 in review post out. Last year was a weird year. Nothing in stores. COMC not shipping (I finally got my shipment with over 2 years worth of cards right before Christmas). I even started to run out of things to post over on SABR. Usually I have close to fifteen posts. This year I needed a late flurry to get up to twelve.

In any case I’ll start off with a recap of the posts I especially liked over in SABR. First off, I wrote one of my favorite posts ever this year where I looked at the history of baseball cards as it fits into the larger history of photography and vernacular imagery. I’m too much a photo geek to not be annoyed by the way baseball card collectors ignore the larger context of the hobby and this was my attempt to provide some contex.

I also had some fun with more wiggle gifs as I scanned another set of Viewmaster discs. These aren’t as nice as my first such post but it’s always fun to do the wiggle gif thing. And I got to go down a bit of a rabbit hole into baseball at the 1912 Olympics thanks to a T218 card of a Track and Field Olympian.

Moving to specific projects of mine. I made a huge step in my Giants Retired numbers project with a couple purchases of autographs of Bill Terry, Carl Hubbell, Monte Irvin, and Willie McCovey—all players who I never really expected to have autographs of. I’ve gone ahead and put together a page to keep track of the current status of this project. I do not expect to update it very frequently. The cards/autographs I’m missing are all super tough and even updating the depicted cards to older ones is unlikely at this point.

Another project I decided to start tracking is my San Francisco Seals type collection. I went ahead and included Oaks cards from sets that don’t feature any Seals as a way of including more variety.

With that in mind I had a couple cards in my COMC pile which I’ve added. The 1930 Johnny Miljus Zeenut is the 5th Zeenut in the collection. It would be nice to get cards from other sets but Obaks aren’t cheap nor are the 1949 PCL Bowmans. Since there are no Seals in the 1933 Goudey set I grabbed the Floyd (Pete) Scott for Oakland Oaks reasons instead.

I did complete one set last year. Lanny gave me a heads up that he had a couple lower-grade copies of the last two cards I needed so I jumped on those. Yes. Lower grade for Lanny means the centering is off on an otherwise perfect-looking card. And yes I left the two big cards for last.

I know common wisdom is to hit the bigger cards first but since I like building sets to get to know the sets better, I don’t mind waiting until a deal comes up for the big cards. After all, they’re always available. The Murray is a fantastic photo and legitimate contender for both the best card in the set and the 1970s.

This leaves me one card short on two other builds—1994 Topps (Joey Cora. Totally gonna happen this year) and 2017 Stadium Club (Aaron Judge. No likely while his prices are still elevated). And for my other builds I’m ~85 cards short on 1989 Donruss and only 65% complete on 2014 Topps.

I made decent headway in my vintage Giants team sets. Being in a holding pattern of sorts where I need just Willie Mays, HoF rookies, and short prints (typically high numbers) I’m biding my time and picking things off when they hit an acceptably low price point.

I think my favorite here is the 1953 Bowman Monte Irvin but the 1961 McCovey is pretty nice too. The 1966 Mays meanwhile represents the kind of cheap low-grade card I’m waiting for now. I don’t mind the writing at all.

Which brings me to the past year in autograph hunting. Not much done in person since I only made it to like three Minor League games. I did however grab Jeff Manto and Derrick May at a Trenton Thunder Draft League game and got Casey Candeale at a Buffalo Bisons of Trenton AAA game. These were especially fun since all three are in the 1991 sets that my kids have. My eldest has been working on signed in-person 1991 Topps for a while while my youngest just started with 1991 Score.

This was a good year for TTMs. My longest return was Max Venable in 785 days. I don’t “give up” on returns but I’d be lying if I said this wasn’t a surprise. It’s always special to get a straggler back.

Meanwhile my shortest return was from Mark Leiter in only 3 days. Not sure I’m ever going to get one this quickly again. Pretty sure it’s impossible to get a faster one too.

I sent out a lot of customs this year and got most of them back. It’s been a very good year for the 1956ish design. Lots of fan favorite players. Lots of great photos. A few fun inscriptions. Impossible to pick a favorite and I had a hard enough time winnowing the samples here down to twenty.

Spring training was not nearly as good to me. Seems like Covid protocols kept a lot of guys from their mail. I did get a few Giants customs back at least. Tyler Rogers is probably the best of these—I remain confused how Topps hasn’t issued a solo card of him yet. Will be interesting to see how this year goes with the lockout but I’m not optimistic that I’ll be able to send anything right now.

A few Giants returns covering cards from across the decades. I’m kind of split between liking the George Foster or Renel Brooks-Moon best. Foster’s clearly the best player here though he barely counts as a Giant. Brooks-Moon meanwhile is a fan favorite whose whole return was probably my best of the year. Also I need to mention how great the Rick Parker photo is.

I just enjoy being able to flesh out the Giants binder in general though. Seeing it grow has been a great experience and writing the letters as a fan is also just a lot of fun.

A few other favorite returns this year. I’m not actively pursuing A’s but it turns out I got a lot of the guys from my youth. I didn’t like that team—mostly Tony LaRussa’s fault—but all those guys hit me in the feels now. Also a lot of guys here who fall into the “great players for a certain generation” category. A couple fantastic photos like Wynegar and Bordick, and an unexpected inscription from Davey Johnson which was perfect for me since the 1986 World Series was the first one I watched.

A lot of last year though was spent working duplicates from the cards from my youth. I’m not paging these by set in the binder—everything is alphabetically—but it’s fun to see a page-worth of each set that I’ve been working. I’m especially enjoying the photography on the 1986s.

1988 is a design that was underwhelming when I was a kid but which I really appreciate now. Its simple nature also works really well signed and lets the signature make the card.

1989 meanwhile is just a classic look. It’s missing the interestingness of he photos in 1986 but screams Baseball Card™ in a great way.

Not a ton of pre-war cards to mention. I have a few more that I need to scan and even more I still need to post about but I got some of my oldest cards in general,  a couple sets about polar exploration, and some more Garbatys. As the hobby has exploded, the pre-war deals I used to enjoy have started to dry up. Hopefully I’ll still find a few but we’ll see.

And that about wraps it up. A productive year despite everything. The kids have managed to stay engaged—thanks in part to the Giants having a season to remember. I haven’t been able to share the hobby as much with them as in previous years but we’re working on it.  I’m hoping that we finally turn a corner in 2022. Stay safe out there.

Addendum

As soon as this posted I realized that I had neglected to include a section about all the trades and maildays I received last year. I’m not going to recap every one since here are way too many but I do need to show the highlights.

A big thanks goes out to Donna, Mike, Scott, Jeff, Gio, Julie, Greg, John, Shane, Attic, Bob, Marc, Mark, Mark, Jason, Kerry, Shlabotnik, and everyone else who sent me stuff last year. I really love the variety and in a year when access to product was way down, being able to brighten people’s lives with trades and random gifts was fantastic.

We all tend to get caught up in tying our hobby enjoyment to what we can buy. I don’t think this is healthy either mentally or financially. It’s so much better to scratch those itches as a community and get cards that we aren’t enjoying to the right people who will enjoy them much much more.

My first T218

About a week ago there was a bit of a tweet-around where people were posting random vintage cards, the older the better. I submitted one each from the 1880s, 1890s, 1900s, and 1910s since I’m now able to do so. I’m not sure what blows my mind more. That I have more than one card from the nineteenth century or that I have dozens that are older than 100 years old.

Anyway, a bunch of people posted cards from the 1910–1912 T218 Champions set and I did my usual thing where I admired the card and mentioned how I’ve not gotten around to acquiring one yet. There are many cards in this category and I don’t say things like that to try and get free cards. But sometimes people are in a generous mood and this time it was my co-chair Jason who offered to send me a beater.

I haven’t gotten any T218s yet because I’m incapable of spending money on a card just to get an example. I need something more, like a connection to the athlete or a particularly nice pice of artwork. In the case of the T218s, aside from obvious cases like Jack Johnson,* the cards I’ve been eyeing have been either Edward Weston** or Abe Attell.*** I’ve not encountered any of those at a price I want to pay and as a result I  haven’t gotten any.

*While I already have a Johnson card, getting one from his active fighting days would indeed be cool. 

**Aside from being a fun photography joke, the Weston card is simultaneously the best-looking in the set and also features a truly distinct athlete.

***Attell was a fixer for the Black Sox.

The thing is though that I’m also incapable of getting rid of any cards once I have them and can usually find something of interest no matter how random the card is. With this in mind Jason went ahead and mailed me a T218 that was so beat up that he didn’t have to waste any materials protecting it.

Yup. It’s mighty beat up. No real paper loss though so it’s basically the perfect grade for me.  There’s also a bit of misregistration but nothing that interferes with the artwork. Some of the cards in this set are solid-colored backgrounds* but this one has some nicely detailed and colored background art which results in a card  that still shines despite al the creases.

*Sadly, the Attell is one such card.

Frank Irons is also a great card to have if I’m going to have a random card. Yes he won the Long Jump Gold Medal in 1908 but he’s also one of the only baseball players in the T218 set. In the 1912 Olympics there was a baseball exhibition against a Swedish club. The US team was made up of track and field athletes and three of them have T218 cards.

Since the Wikipedia entry about the 1912 baseball is pretty barebones,  I went poking around the internet and found a PDF of the official report of the 1912 Stockholm games. Sure enough baseball was listed in the Table of Contents. Since the PDF page numbering is messed up due to bilingual pages sharing the same page number I had to dig a bit to get to the right page. Baseball starts on page 823 but I’ve gone ahead and screenshotted them as well.

I kind of love the commentary showing baseball from the Swedish point of view. Borrowing pitchers. Marveling at the ability to throw (and hit) curveballs. And bragging about being able to play ball in Sweden until 10pm in the summer. Frank Irons is listed on the box score as a left fielder who went 1 for 2 and made one putout.

The report also has a half-dozen photos of the game. The team photo of the Swedish side is great and the other photos showing Swedish action in the game are a lot of fun too.

Sadly nothing is mentioned about the other game played at the Olympics but these five pages were a great find nonetheless. Like I said up above, I can usually find something of interest no matter how random the card is. Thanks for the sample Jason and thanks for sending me into some unexpected corners of the internet.

A Few 19th Century Cards

So it looks like my Kodak Rookie Card whet my appetite for other Arbuckle’s Coffee cards. They’re not sets I ever intend to build but it turns out that there are a number of cards that are of interest to me. I recently picked up a couple more of them which take my collection a bit further into the 19th century.

Some of the interesting cards are the State cards. There are two sets of US States, this California card is from the Arbuckle’s 1889 State and Territory Maps. There’s another more picture-based state card as well* but it was running quite a bit more than I felt like spending.

*1892 Pictorial History of US States and Territories.

In addition to being fun to more the collection into the 1890s, it’s a nice card with a bunch of neat things going on.  I don’t want to draw a lot of attention to the map but  it’s interesting to me that there’s nothing about transportation on it. Yes we’re pre-cars and highways but there are no train lines depicted. Instead it looks like everything is on a waterway and man oh man is that a lot of water draining through the Central Valley. It’s also worth pointing out that Tulare Lake is depicted albeit in green instead of blue since its demise was imminent by 1889.

The pictures are also great. I love the image of Fort Point looking North across the bridgeless Golden Gate. The wine industry image is fun as well and of course we have to have a collection of all the wonderful fruits—cherries, berries, pears, peaches, plums, and, I think, apricots—that California has to offer. Both the wine barrels and hills and water of the Golden Gate also show how well lithographic stippling enhances the images compared to a modern halftone screen.

Since Hawai‘i hadn’t been annexed by the United States yet it doesn’t show up in any of the States sets. It does however show up in the 1893 History of Sports and Pastimes of all Nations set that my Kodak/US card comes from as well as the 1891 Views From a Trip around the World set.

I don’t like the 1893 card because for some reason half of it is dedicated to crocodile hunting. Not sure what country Arbuckle’s was thinking of since no crocodiles live in Hawai‘i but yeah. The 1891 card though is actually a  Honolulu and includes it as part of a tour of 50 world cities.* Honolulu is a great choice at this time since the ‘Iolani Palace is a noteworthy building due to it being one of the first buildings in the world to be electrified.

*The only US cities are New York and Boston which makes it wonderfully international although almost half the cities are either in Europe or the Mediterranean.

So yeah I dig the artwork here. A nice image of the palace as well as the Avenue of Royal Palms at the Queen’s Medical Center. All kinds of fantastic foliage. A great sunset photo of downtown Fort Street. The two pictures of “natives” intrigue me since Hawai‘i had spent most of the 19th century trying to  become western (King David Kalakaua who died right when this card was being printed is always depicted in western dress). I know that such images would not be as interesting to Arbuckle’s customers though and in this age where cards like this were really all that you got to see of places abroad I can see why they’d choose more exotic images.

The backs of these two cards are very similar with half the card dedicated to advertising coffee and explaining why Arbuckle’s is superior (I do wonder where they got their beans from though).

The back of the California card includes the checklist where you can see that there are only 40 US States in addition to 8 territories, plus Alaska and DC. The fact that North and South Dakota seem to be states while Montana is not leaves a 6-day window (November 2–8, 1889) for the checklist to be correct. Also it’s worth pointing out that North and South Dakota only came into being as territories on February 22, 1889.

Instead of a checklist on the Hawai‘i card we’ve got a ton of text describing the front. The first paragraph about the political climate is kind of wild in how it ascribes the agreement for independence being accomplished by tricksters and focuses on how the monarchs have succumbed to western diseases. More interesting are the comments about “republican desire” which I assume to be a reference to the Bayonet Constitution and can’t help but read as predicting the coup in 1893. A bit disingenuous to call a republic the “islanders’ hope” though when it was all being engineered by the plantation owners.

The second paragraph is a nice description of the geography of Honolulu (no mention of electricity though) but man does it end with a bunch of racist colonial crap about the islanders being quick to learn, just as quick to forget, and lacking in cultured ancestry.

In addition to the Arbuckles I also picked up this 1887 Allen & Ginter Flags of All Nations card of Hawai‘i. I’ve wanted this card for a while and it’s great to have one which, while creased, has no paper loss and presents very well. As an 1887 release it’s officially the oldest card in my collection.

The birds are clearly meant to be specific to Hawai‘i but I don’t know what they are.

A package from Jason

Yesterday I found a package from Jason in my mailbox. He’d given me a heads-up last week to expect some things but he only explicitly mentioned one of them. I’ll get to that last since it’s going to be a post of its own but aside from it and a couple piles of cards for my kids, this is the rest of what was inside.

A pair of vintage Giants—or Giantsish—cards. I have both of these already but I’m pretty sure my Antonelli is nowhere near as nice shape as this one. Marichal is also still in a Giants jersey so I’ve slipped this into my binder as well. In both of these cases my duplicates will go on the “for the kids” pile and their binders will get to add some more cards that are older that their dad.

A couple oddball minor league cards of guys who would end up on the Giants. These are from a set celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Carolina League. I’m pretty sure Jason got this set for the Dwight Gooden card and has been sending everything else out to various team collectors. I definitely appreciate the opportunity to add McCovey and Bonds to the Giants album.

A couple 1970s Hostess cards. I don’t really chase these outside of my various team/alumni goals but I will never turn random samples down either. One thing I am doing is trying to fill a page of candlestick photos for each set. Neither of these helps me there but the Mayberry is a nice shot of the Oakland Coliseum (Horton appears to be a the Tigers Spring Training facility Joker Marchant Stadium).

And a couple more random cards. The “3D” Action Packed cards are one of my favorite things from when I was a kid. I don’t have much more to say about them though aside from mentioning that I checked out the patent.

The Golden Age Bobby Thomson is a fun one. For whatever reason I don’t have any cards from this set and for all the retro-styled sets this has some of the better artwork I’ve seen. Unfortunately, none of the non-sport cards on the checklist really appeal to me.

On the topic of artwork, Jason also included a Blake Jamieson 1951 Topps card. I’ve avoided getting into all the art card stuff over the past couple years. Project 2020 and Project 70 are not my thing—too expensive and I hate the distribution method—even though I’ve enjoyed watching them from an intellectual/academic point of view. It’s been fun to see artists take a crack at cards and see what works and what resonates with collectors.

Blake’s been one of the more successful artists in the venture. He has a distinct look and point of view and respects the source material (in a good way) by recognizing how keeping these as cards is what allows his art to be accessible. He’s also been more than generous with his time in terms of interacting with fans/collectors and sharing his process.

I don’t find myself drawn to his work on a personal level—this isn’t a value judgement or anything just that my own tastes lie elsewhere—but his take on the 1951 set is one that I did enjoy and between that and the way that he’s one of the best faces of the whole endeavor I’m happy to have one of those cards standing in for the whole art card thing in my binder.

And the reason Jason sent me the package is because he wanted me to take an in-depth look at this T205 card. That will post over on sabrbaseballcards.blog so the only thing I have to add here is that this card shaves off 5 years from my previous oldest baseball card. Kind of wild to realize that his is 110 years old. One thing I love about the T205s is the way they have actual back information instead of just advertisements.

Very cool Jason. Thanks!

Oldest Sports Card

A fun blog bataround idea which I first saw from NPB Card Guy. “What’s your oldest sports card” is a simple-enough prompt but, as always, once pre-war cards are involved the answers aren’t always so simple. So I’ll go through a handful of cards/sets here which can all work as answers to the question.

Since I’ve blogged about all these before I won’t go too much in depth here. In other words, definitely click on the links and read more about whatever seems interesting.

1893

We’ll start with my oldest trading card. The Arbuckle Coffee History of Sports and Pastimes of all Nations is definitely a sports card but it’s also so generic in what it depicts that it also doesn’t feel quite like a real sports card. Still, it deserves to be mentioned because it features both baseball and cycling.

1901–02

The Ogden’s Tabs set is huge and features all kinds of subject matter. The sporting subjects are definitely sports cards so the first three samples here—especially the shot put and horse racing cards—are probably the best answer to the prompt. But I also have to give a shout out to RG Knowles who, while not depicted as a baseball player, kind of is.

1909–11

I’m including this Murad College Sports card because it’s the oldest card I have from a set dedicated to sports. Of course, my sample doesn’t actually depict anything which would count as a sport nowadays.

1910–11

Moving on to oldest cards depicting specific sports, this card in the second Players’ Cigaretes Polar Exploration set counts as my oldest soccer card though it doesn’t come from a set at all dedicated to sport.

1916

My oldest baseball card which functions the way that modern cards function in how each card is dedicated to an individual, named player is this Zeenut featuring Johnny Couch. One of these days I’ll work my way into T205s or T206s and move this date back another handful of years.

1928–29

And finally, my oldest soccer cards which depict distinct players are these John Player and Sons Footballer cards. I could do other sports but the 1934 Gallaher Champions set takes care of most of them and the ones it doesn’t (namely basketball and gridiron football) don’t have very exciting examples.

Fascist cards

One of the things that’s difficult about collecting pre-war cards is that I can’t ignore the content and context behind a lot of the cards. I mentioned that my South African cards, as beautiful as they are depict a state that was in the process of implementing apartheid. Things like the Garbaty cards meanwhile were printed right after Hitler took control of Germany and almost every single actress I look up has a section in her bio which details what happened to her during World War 2.

Of the Garbatys I got in my last batch, many, maybe even the majority, feature an actress who refused to collaborate with the regime. Some detail actresses who had to grapple with their continuing to work for the Nazis. A few though feature women did more than just continue to work.

We’ll start with the worst card in my collection. Yes I own Curt Shilling and Aubrey Huff cards but neither of them are literally the First Lady of the Third Reich. Hanna Reitsch is a close number two on this list since she remained a confirmed Nazi after World War 2 and totally overshadowed all her aviation accomplishments in the process.

Part of me feels guilty for even scanning these cards and wants to burn them immediately. It’s not like I would feel comfortable selling these to anyone and as much as the Ted Cruz chain letter was funny these are a step beyond that. But another part of me wants to keep them as part of the context of the set itself and the way that everyone it depicts had to make a choice and live with the consequences of that choice regarding what they did about fascism.

I would never seek these cards out specifically but the fact they came as part of a random lot of 100 cards is part of their context in my collection as well.

Leni Riefenstahl is probably the most-complicated card I have. Like my Hindenburg card, she simultaneously represents the Nazi state but also sort of transcends it. She was also extremely skilled as a filmmaker and Olympia is worth watching today as a sports movie.

I also recently grabbed this 1936 Muratti card of the 1934 World Cup Champions, Italy from one of Anson’s Twitter sales. This is a card which is both from a fascist state and depicts a fascist state. It also features a damn good soccer team with players like Guiseppe Meazza and Giovanni Ferrari who would go on to win an Olympics gold in 1936 as well as a second World Cup in 1938.

Since I explicitly purchased this card it’s obvious I’m much more lenient on cards like it. The political background of the World Cups is part of their history and as a soccer fan I’m especially interested in cards depicting the early years of the international game.

I don’t know the histories of the individual leagues well enough and the nature of card production is vastly different in each country. But the international stuff which can center on the World Cup is something I can handle.

More Garbatys

I know, in my previous Garbaty post I mentioned that I didn’t plan on getting more of these. But I did set up ebay alerts for a few specific cards and as a result, when I get those notifications I end up poking around those sellers. This time I found a great-looking off-grade lot of ~100 cards that I would’ve been stupid to pass up on.

I’m only going to show the highlights here. The cards scan great and look perfect for my standards. They’re low-grade because they were pasted into an album and as a result the backs have some paper-loss damage. Very few of the cards though are damaged to the point where the paper loss bothers me so I’m very happy with the lot.

We’ll start off with the biggest names. Katherine Hepburn, Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich need no introductions. I already had Garbo and Dietrich cards but everyone appears multiple times in the set. I particularly love the Dietrich card where she’s wearing a suit.

A few more recognizable actresses here. Janet Gaynor and Loretta Young were legit stars when this set was released. Myrna Loy before she was a star is dressed up in one of her exotic roles. Ann Sheridan meanwhile hasn’t even changed her name from Clara-Lou. And while Brigitte Helm isn’t a household name, as the star of Metropolis she’ll always be one of my favorites.

The Garbaty set is not just actresses, there are a fair number of athletes as well. Despite the set being focused on their beauty, I think it’s cool that so many athletes are included. It’s easy to forget the long history of women’s sports because of the massive strides that women have made in the last couple decades.

The big name here is Helen Wills-Moody who was a dominant tennis player for two decades. Dorothy Poynton is a multiple gold-medal winning diver. Edith Michaelis is a figure skater (though nowhere near as good as Sonja Henie who is also in the set). Cilly Aussem is a tennis player who reached world number two behind Wills. And Eileen Bennet is also a tennis player who won a few doubles titles but lost to Wills in the two singles finals she reached.

Anny Ondra isn’t an athlete but she’s of-interest because she’s kind of most famous due to her long marriage to Max Schmeling.

And wrapping things up, a half-dozen cards that caught my interest when I was looking up their subjects on Wikipedia. Conchita Montenegro is an actress and model but the section about her involvement in setting up a meeting between Leslie Howard and Franco is kind of fascinating. Heather Angel is an actress whose husband was killed protecting her during a home invasion.

Kay Francis was a huge star when this set was released but isn’t a name that gets brought up much today when people talk about classic Hollywood stars. Madeleine Carroll was another bona-fide film star who walked away from Hollywood after her sister was killed in World War 2 and became a field nurse who helped wounded servicemen and displaced children. Plenty of Oscar winners in the batch but only one winner of both the Legion d’Honneur and the Medal of Freedom.

Pat Paterson is another actress whose career petered out after World War 2 but in her case her marriage to Charles Boyer had a lot to do with it. And Leopoldine Konstantine primarily worked in Austrian and German films but is also noteworthy for playing Claude Rains’s mother in Notorious.

I’ve got a couple dozen more cards of actresses like Konstantine who worked mainly in their home countries’ film industries but never made it to Hollywood. I feel a little guilty not scanning everything and just focusing on the names I recognize as an American. But since the pop culture aspect is the primary draw I feel to this set, I’ve got to lean in to why I’m interested.

Besides, the scans here give more than enough of a sense of how awesome the set looks all paged up with its colorful portraits and wonderfully textured gold inked borders.* I’ll leave my ebay search up and running though since I still want an Anna May Wong card but I really don’t think I’m going to be jumping on any more lots.

*I’ve also got a couple dozen duplicates (including Ann Sheridan, Helen Wills Moody, and Brigitte Helm) that I need to figure out what to do with . 

Player’s Cigarettes Polar Exploration

One of the best things about pre-war cards is how they reflect earlier ages of human knowledge and interest. Sets like the Peeps into Many Lands and  Wonders of the Past serve as a way of discovering cultures abroad in a time when the world was still big but getting smaller and more interconnected.  Others such as Romance of the Heavens capture the extent of our knowledge about the space in the 1920s.

My favorite trading cards though are the ones that reflect their age of knowledge/interest while simultaneously commemorating current events. Whether it’s a set built around how fast people can go or one summarizing the cutting edge celebrity state of airflight the idea that cards reflect what just happened is something that we still expect from the hobby.

In 1911 and 1916, Player’s Cigarettes released two sets of cards about polar exploration* which are kind of the best example I’ve seen so far for capturing he appeal of pre-war cards. The Age of Polar Exploration at the turn of the century is possibly the last age of heroes going off into the unknown** until we started sending people into space and as a result, is something that I’m not alone in still finding somewhat fascinating.

*Don’t worry I’ll get into the significance of these dates as I get to the cards.

**I’m willing to consider Mt. Everest here but part of that is really just due to the George Mallory disappearance.

The first series is split between North Pole and South Pole but treats each pole very differently. In many ways each pole feels like a distinct set. We’ll start off with the North Pole which consists of 16 out of the 25 cards in the set including a handful of cards which just describe the area.

These cards give a sense of the set. Polar regions, by being mostly ice and snow, are a challenge to illustrate—it’s not easy to keep the ice white while also giving it depth. The pictures as a result aren’t the lush saturated colors that I’m used to with other chromolithography but I find myself appreciating the control in the art and how well it uses the ink it’s allowed to use.

The backs feature some nice design details around the border and provide the usual paragraph of interesting facts. It’s interesting to me how the Aurora Borealis card references European cultures as well since they’re not just visible to the Canadian Arctic.

Aside from the colonizer term, the Inuit cards are surprisingly not too cringe. In fact, given the subject matter of the South Pole cards in the 1916 second series, the content of the Inuit cards is tragically prescient.

Most of the North Pole cards though consist of individual cards which detail the results of various polar explorers. There is a lot of tragedy in this group with Andrée’s balloon and lost Franklin expedition being two of the most prominent.

As the back of the Andrée card shows, at the time of printing no one had any idea what had happened to the three explorers aside from the fact that they had never been seen again. It was only in 1930 when their bodies, logs, and all of Nils Strindberg’s photographs were discovered that the world learned what had happened. While the balloon only flew for three days, the three men survived for three months on the ice—kind of an amazing feat all things considered.

The Franklin expedition is a similar sort of mystery. While the card suggests that the story of his fate was completed in 1850, we only found the graves of many of the explorers in the 1980s and in fact discovered the ships only in the past decade. The coolest part of the ships discovery is how Inuit oral records helped in the search and that while the expedition was considered “lost” but the West there were clearly records of it kept in Inuit culture.

The other North Pole cards consist of  Fridtjof Nansen, William Parry & Henry Hoppner, Parry & John Ross, James Ross, Robert Peary, Henry Hudson, John Cabot, and Eric the Red. That Frederick Cook is absent from this checklist suggests that even by 1911 his claim to have reached the North Pole first was sufficiently discredited.

I’ve included some of the more-striking cards for this section. Unfortunately Peary’s card is not particularly interesting. Eric the Red and John Cabot are kind of wonderful artwork and the Hudson card is probably the most tragic looking of the entire set.

I also had to include the Robert Scott card even though it’s part of the South Pole checklist. Since the second series is all about his tragic Terra Nova Expedition I felt it import to highlight his card here.

Not much to add about the backs of the North Pole explorers except to note how far back in time they go and how polar exploration and the Northwest Passage are linked. Where the South Pole is a distinct achievement in its own, the North Pole was clearly related to other goals.

The back of the Scott card confirms how this set is either a late 1910 or 1911 release since it’s written in present tense. Given what how we know that those tractors were mostly a disaster, using them to represent the entire exhibition was indeed an omen.

Aside from the one Scott card the other eight South Pole cards in the set were dedicated to Ernest Shackleton, in particular the Nimrod Exhibition. These at first appear to be similar to the generic North Pole cards but instead depict specific locations and events from the exhibition.

I enjoy the backs of these and how they both tell the story of the expedition and suggest that the images are related to the scientific mission of the expedition. Googling around suggests that these may be adaptations of George Marston’s paintings—the Aurora Australis one in particular looks very close to both his painting and the cover of his book.

There are also three non-landscape Shackleton cards. One striking portrait and a group picture at the South Magnetic Pole which is taken directly from the photograph. The diary card though is possibly my favorite of the set since it’s distinct among all the pre-war cards I’ve seen.

The back of Shackleton’s portrait contains a nice summary of his exhibition which contrasts wonderfully with the specificity of his diary entry. I also enjoy the idea that his expedition formally added Antarctica to the British Empire because they planted the flag there first.

Anyway that’s the first series. Post-Peary with Shackleton an emerging hero. Scott’s exhibition is underway and with him as the last card of the set it’s clear that Player’s was planning a triumphant second series.

That triumphant second series of course never materialized. It however feels wholly appropriate for the period to release a set which basically commemorates the heroic sacrifices that Scott and his men made. While Scott became a national hero in 1913, this set was released in the middle of World War I and yeah, I can’t imagine a more-appropriate framing for this futile sacrifice on behalf of King and Country.

The back text is clear about the framing of this set with its glowing epitaphs to four of the men who perished. This isn’t just about what they did, it’s about making them into brave, noble heroes who other military men should try and emulate.

The images of the exhibition are more tragic to me since, as with the tractor card in the first series, they show all the stuff which didn’t work. Ponies which couldn’t handle the snow. Dogs which the men got too attached to. Man-hauling sledges. It’s kind of amazing that everything that the cards show was sort of a disaster.

The artwork in the second set is a bit higher contrast than in the first set with an emphasis on the men instead of the landscape they’re in. There’s also a kind of wonderful thing going on with the borders getting a light color which allows the white portions of the image to really pop. There’s also a great sketchy quality to the portraits.

The text on these cards though doesn’t suggest anything went amiss aside from the humor in the dogs eating penguins. Even the crevasse card which shows a man falling in handwaves away the danger of the situation. This seems especially wrong to read now since we’re pretty sure Edgar Evans died as a result of a head injury sustained during such a fall.

Eighteen of the twenty five cards in this set are devoted to the Scott expedition. Compared to the Shackleton cards in the first series though the Scott cards feel like imagined scenes. As much as cards like the the soccer game are fun, they don’t look like the images that document the trip. This is a bit of a shame since Herbert Pontings’s photographs can be spectacular and would’ve made for great cards. Edward Wilson’s watercolors* are also quite nice** and would’ve similarly been nice to see on cards.

*While the idea of photographing in sub-zero polar weather seems insane to me, the idea of making watercolor paintings seems even crazier.

**It’s a shame that there doesn’t seem to be any good records, online or in print, of the exhibition of their work.

Similarly, it would’ve been nice to see some reference to the fossils that were found with Scott’s body and what evidence of Glossopteris living in Antarctica meant in terms of Antarctica’s former climate. (While we recognize those fossils now as evidence of Continental Drift, that theory had not yet been accepted when these cards were printed.)

The seven non-Scott cards consist of three cards depicting penguins and seals and four cards dedicated to the successful Amundsen expedition. Looking at the Amundsen cards reminds me of the North Pole cards in series one which describe the Inuit, their dog sleds, and use of animal hides for keeping warm. It may be that the cardmakers wanted to contrast the native technology with the tractors and other British technology but seeing how things turned out it’s clear that the Inuit methods that Amundsen’s group followed were superior.

We’ll wrap things up with two more portraits. The first is Teddy Evans who’s credited on some sites with being in charge of the artwork and writing on these cards. His portrait is the only one in the set which doesn’t have the sketch quality.

And of course I have to include a portrait of Roald Amundsen whose successful navigation of the Northwest Passage is worthy of inclusion in the first set. It seems a little wrong to dedicate more than four times as many cards to Scott than to Amundsen but there is something evocative even now about the Scott tragedy.

All in all a very fun pair of sets despite the amount of death and loss that they describe. These take me back to a different age of humanity more than any other pre war sets that I have and I love the way that looking at them and reading the backs allows me to travel back in time.

Retired Numbers

Just over a year ago before everything got shut down I visited Queens to see Ralph Carhart’s Home Base exhibition. While the show was good, as was getting to met Ralph and Mark Hoyle, one of the things that I didn’t discuss anywhere was how Ralph showed us some images of a massive collection that he had been cataloging and preparing for sale.

He’s since blogged about the collection on SABR and watching his journey down the rabbit hole of awesomeness has been a lot of fun. Earlier this month he reported on Twitter that the auction houses had picked through everything and he had a ton of index cards available for sale. So I took a look and there was a lot to covet.

Being disciplined, I remembered a goal that I had mentioned when Jason sent me a Bill Terry card for Christmas and started off looking for Giants retired numbers as a supplement to my goal of getting a playing-days card of every Giants retired number. Lo and behold, Ralph had three that I was missing and so I placed an order.

A few days later the cards arrived and I was very happy.* It’s not just autographs but the fact that I feel like I learned about them before almost anyone else and how they serve as kind of the perfect way for me to mark a year of pandemic living.

*As were my kids since one of the first things they noticed at their first Giants games was the line of retired numbers posted in the stadium.

It also means that I have enough material to put a post together of my Giants retired numbers. This isn’t a comprehensive list of what I have. For each player I’m showing the oldest playing-days card I have and his autograph.

NY—Christy Mathewson, John McGraw

No cards here and autographs are completely outside the realm of consideration (I’m not sure I’ve even seen a picture of a McGraw signature). Heck their cards are also pretty much a pipe dream. Both of their T205s and T206s are some of the nicer ones in the sets and both of them remain pretty big fish in the pool of pre-war stars.

3—Bill Terry

Both of these are total shocks. Still. The National Chicle card is a beauty and great example of a playing-days card. The index card is from the Gould collection and is a great clean version of his signature.

4—Mel Ott

Not as hard to get cards of as McGraw and Matthewson but still very much in demand. Ott is another guy whose signature I can’t recall ever seeing as well.

11—Carl Hubbell

Very happy to have his signature on an index card. Like Ott his cards are still in high demand.

20—Monte Irvin

Irvin’s cards are surprisingly not too spendy. Only his rookie cards seem to be tough. I haven’t ventured into any of his 1952s yet but I can actually see that happening.I actually have a signed card of his on my COMC pile which will show up some day once I get around to requesting it.

22—Will Clark

Still boggles my mind how expensive that 1986 card was when I was a kid in the Bay Area in the 1980s. I think I’ve encountered enough of them in the past couple years in trade packages that both of my kids have copies now. And the autograph is an in-person one which I’ve blogged about already.

24—Willie Mays

Story about the card is on the blog. The autograph is one that my mom got in spring training. The only time she took advantage of her media pass was to get this. And yeah it was worth it.

25—Barry Bonds

Is interesting that Barry is the only retired number who didn’t debut with the Giants. So I went with his oldest Giants card instead of his oldest card for this post. I honestly forgot I had this until I started witing. My complete sets aren’t something I’ve looked though as much as my team binders.

The photo meanwhile is one my mom took in 1993 and when I got it signed in 1994. I wish we had had silver sharpies back then but I really like that this is truly one of a kind.

27—Juan Marichal

Marichal is going to start a trend where my oldest card is the oldest card which is neither a rookie nor a high number card. I don’t have any of the Hall of Fame rookie cards and Marichal is a high number in 1962 and 1963. Which makes 1964 my oldest card. His autograph is one of the first TTM requests I wrote.

30—Orlando Cepeda

I’ve a decent run of Cepeda cards. I’m just missing his rookie. And I’ve blogged about his autograph before.

36—Gaylord Perry

I know, this looks like a rookie card but it’s not. His 1962 is the one that costs a lot. This floating multi-head card isn’t the prettiest card out there but many of Perry’s cards are pretty dire. Topps was not particularly kind to him until the 1970s. The story about the ball is one of my favorites on the blog.

44—Willie McCovey

And finally the last index card from the Gould collection. McCovey is like Marichal with an expensive rookie card followed by high numbers until 1964.

Looking forward, Bruce Bochy is totally going to get his number retired some day (or at least he should). I hope it’s sooner rather than later but my guess is that the Giants are waiting for the Hall of Fame to make the first move. Besides, they technically haven’t had Will Clark’s ceremony yet so once they do that this summer we’ll see what happens.

1934 Wills Cigarettes Animalloys

Picking up with my pre-war card posts with another set I got last year, the 1934 Wills Cigarettes Animalloys. This was one I got because it was just too much fun. The premise is that there are 16 animals with three cards per animal. You can put them together in complete animals or mix and match to create all kinds of interesting animals.

Besides being a fun concept, this set satisfied a bunch of my other interests. The printing is fantastic with pre-halftone stippling that results in ink screens which were designed to add texture to the image. The type is kind of a trainwreck when you put the cards together but there’s something about it which I love. Not a font but feels like one until you realize that each card is lettered individually.

And something about the animals themselves just reminds me another age. The art style reminds me of classic circus posters and the idea that many of these animals were exotic specimens from abroad. Yes it’s a bit weird for me to see a raccoon included but I can totally see how they would be exotic animals in Europe.

The opossum cards though deserve special mention. When I put the set together these three had me confused. Thankfully I had the set so I knew hat the other 15 animals made sense otherwise I would’ve thought that these didn’t in fact go together. Googling around brought me to the Australian Brushtail Possum so I’m guessing that Wills production staff was unaware that opossum was a different exotic animal from possum.

All in all a fun set to page through which looks quite a bit different than anything else in my binders. I’d love to see Topps do something like this with Allen & Ginter nowadays maybe even going with images that span five cards so they page even more nicely.