A package from Jason

Yeserday 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.

2020 in review

Yes it’s been a garbage year which feels like it stole a season of baseball from my kids and me. But it’s also been a surprisingly good one for me within the collecting hobby. I’ll start off with a round-up of some activity that’s been outside of my work at the SABR Baseball Cards Blog since I’ve been interviewed for a couple of articles this year.

The first interview was before the pandemic hit but got buried by COVID news for a few months. It did however finally post on Slate in November and is a fun piece about digital baseball cards and collectibles. Between the hobby going gangbusters and everyone increasingly living their lives online it’s been interesting to watch the digital side of things develop and see how many of the older members of the community react to the new-fangled stuff.

Along those lines I participated in a SABR discussion about the future of baseball cards where I occupied the skeptical but open-minded side of the spectrum. It’s very easy to get excited at all the possibilities in the digital side of things and there’s a ton of potential in augmented reality and other ways of combining cards with computers. At the same time, there’s the question of how technology ages and degrades to consider. One of the things that makes cards great is that ink on paper, while a pain to store, is not subject to the whims of any technological maintenance.

The second interview I took part in was a short one on Beckett about my Al Kaline debacle. I’ve gotten more joy out of that screwup and confirmation than I ever expected. I had to write a longer version of the whole ordeal over on SABR in order to tell the whole story from my point of view.

Getting to work within SABR. I assisted with the committee’s First Annual Jefferson Burdick Award, helped with the biographies, and produced the baseball card which commemorated the winner. I was honored to introduce the award at the Zoom presentation because we couldn’t do it at a convention.

I also helped produce and compile SABR’s 50 at 50 list of fifty cards for fifty years which tells the story of baseball and baseball cards over the first fifty years of SABR with one baseball card per year. That was a lot of fun to work on and I’m definitely proud of the result.

On the SABR blog itself my two favorite posts are one about Project 2020 and when cards intersect with current events and one which does a deep dive into the way card designs interact with photography. Both of these are my usual “take my niche interests and run with them to an extreme” sort of posts but I like that they both look a cards from 2020.

And finally I was lucky enough to actually meet some collectors before everything got shut down. It would’ve been nice to meet more but I’ve very glad I got to meet Mark Hoyle and Ralph Carhart before all hell broke loose.

Okay to collecting highlights. Not a lot of card acquisitions this year due to COMC shipping being broken, retail being a trashfire, and access to card shops being non-existent. As a result this year has been mainly prewar cards acquired through ebay or twitter.

The pre war category has everything but I’ve really enjoyed following my gut here. Where I have set rules to keep me on task for baseball cards, the pre war world is so all over the map that as long as I keep a high bar of what interests me and why, I find that I end up enjoying all of these because of how unique they are.

Some, like Garbatys and the United Tobacco are flat-out beautiful and appeal to me as a print geek in addition to my pop-culture interests. Others like the famous airmen and airwomen are pure pop culture. And I’ve grabbed some soccer cards, stereo photography, and all kinds of other things that strike my interest. I even added the oldest card in my collection this year.

I did also grab some prewar baseball. It’s noteworthy that three of these are San Francisco Seals card and I’ve decided that doing a Pacific Coast League type collection of one Seals card per set is a project I’m going to attempt. It’ll be a backburner attempt but the degree I enjoy each and every Zeenut card is going to make it a lot of fun.

The 1916 Johnny Couch is also my oldest official baseball card and the 1921 American Caramel Zeb Terry is my oldest Major League card. Moving both of those benchmarks further into the past is another accomplishment which I’ll look forward to making again.

The one more-recent card purchase highlight was this Lewis Baltz card from Mike Mandel’s Baseball Photographers trading cards. I don’t have more to add to the post I already wrote but this definitely deserves to be in the wrap-up since it’s not every card that I’d call a white whale.

And with that we’ll move on to trades. A decent amount of both incoming and outgoing mail this year. Before I get to card highlights I have to note that trading this year finished off a bunch of sets I was working on. I finished my 1986 Topps, 1990 Fleer, 1990 Upper Deck, 1991 Donruss, 1991 Studio, and 2019 Stadium Club builds this year, leaving me a bit at odds with what to build (if anything) next. Two of my remaining builds almost done too (I only need two 1987 Topps cards and one 1994 Topps cards) so it’s really just 1989 Donruss and 2014 Topps that are on the list now.

As for individual trade highlights, I have to highlight three Willie Mays cards from three different guys. All of these were unexpected and extremely welcome additions to the collection. Willie Mays was the one vintage card I wanted for Christmas when I was a kid and still I get the same thrill every time I add one now.

A few more highlights from trades. Lots of more-modern cards as well but those all kind of blur together (this doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy them). These though are the kinds of weird and wonderful things that stand out. Diamond Matchbooks, National Chicle, Remar Bread, Jay Publishing, and that awesome MacGregor card are particularly fantastic.

Most of my activity this year though was via TTM request. Being homebound for almost ten months meant that going though my duplicates, making customs, and writing letters was a nice way to escape and relax.

I got a few Hall of Famers this year. Yes a lot of them are on 1986 Topps. I must’ve been building that set or something. It’s always especially fun to get one of these guys in the mail and it’s always something that my kids get excited seeing as well.

Much of my TTM activity though has been with customs and related projects. This year for example I scanned all the Giants Magazine covers from my youth and printed them out at 25% so they fit into 4-pocket pages. A large part of this is because I just enjoy seeing the covers but I also had an eye toward sending out some of the more-fun photoshoots for autographs. Getting the Don Robinson and Will’s World covers signed made the whole exercise especially worth it.

I did a lot of my usual customs too. A decent number of the 1956ish design. Many more of the 1978 design I’m using for Stanford players. I love getting these back and they look great all together. It’s hard to choose highlights here as well since they’re all so different.

I sent a bunch of Giants customs out during spring training and got many of them back despite the Covid-interrupted season. Many of the returns are from guys who don’t have regular Giants cards too so it’s especially nice to add them to the Giants album.

I’ve also been sending out cards with photos I like. These make for easy letters to write too. I figure that even someone who’s become somewhat jaded about being on cardboard must like to see that their card made an impression on someone and be reminded that they had a memorable photo.

And finally a few other favorite players/cards I got in the past year. It’s been super productive on the TTM front and a good reminder that while I’m hoping that next year is completely different in terms of how I enjoy the hobby, a lot of positive things have happened this past year.

Rather than focusing on all the plans that blew up I’m choosing to remember that 2020 brought a lot of good things. Outside the hobby I’ve had a ton of time to just hang out with the kids and spend time as a family without having a calendar full of activities. I hope there was a lot of silver in everyone else’s clouds too.

Christmas cards

Catching up on a few more PWEs which accompanied holiday wishes. It’s getting to the point where I’m considering making hobby-oriented holiday cards to send out to people I’ve traded with over the past year.

The first card came from Mark Armour and contained a 1977 Willie Mays exhibit. This is a nice reprint of the 1947–1966 era exhibit photo and even feels like it has better tonality than a lot of the vintage exhibits do. The border is kind of goofy though and the less said about the apostrophe catastrophe in the bio text the better. Still this is the kind of thing I enjoy adding to the album and it’ll slide in right next to a bunch of Jeff’s bycatch.

Mark also included a custom card of himself. This is also something I’ve thought about doing but have never gotten around to. A lot of traders have their own custom cards that they toss in like business cards and I enjoy keeping those around.

A few days later I found an envelope from Tim in my mailbox. Nothing big, just an insert from 2020 Opening Day which doubled the number of 2020 Opening Day cards in my collection. This is one of those products that I buy for my kids and stay out of for myself.

This isn’t a critique of the product. If anything it’s a critique of how flagship has effectively pushed my kids away. Neither of my kids wanted a complete set of flagship this year for Christmas. They’ve both realized it’s not the set for them. Too expensive and not really any fun.

A pack of flagship costs like $5 now and that’s a lot of money to pay for a bunch or guys they’ve never heard of. Opening Day at least is mostly players they know. And yes Major League Baseball does a lousy job marketing guys, but Topps also creates checklists that are dominated by rookie cards instead of guys who are actually playing.

So they’ve gravitated toward Opening Day and Big League and I let them enjoy those products. As a result, I don’t get much Opening Day so if it comes in via trade I’m happy to slide it into the binder.

A PWE from Lanny brought me a single 2002 Kenny Lofton card. This might not look like much (though it’s one of Lofton’s few Giants cards) but it’s actually part of Topps’s trainwreck of a Traded set where someone at Topps decided that intentionally shortprinting the first 100 cards was a smart idea.

It was not. I have heard of way too many people who swore off all Traded/Update sets for years just because the 2002 set was so bad. The shortprinted cards meanwhile are impossible to find yet no one actually wants to spend serious money for them.

A perfect storm of awfulness which I would avoid completely except that I wanted the complete 2002 team set for World Series reasons. This Lofton completes the set and I no longer have to think about 2002 Topps Traded ever again.

I also got an envelope from Jason with a couple Giants first basemen. A couple retired numbers even. No it’s not just two 1991 Will Clark cards, these were the packaging surrounding the card Jason intended to send me.

The two Will Clarks were sandwiching this beauty which is not only a great example of the National Chicle Diamond Stars artwork with its solid blocks of color and industrial backgrounds* but represents the first Giants retired number from before the modern era of baseball cards to enter my collection.

*It still doesn’t compare to the South African United Tobacco cards though. Also I remain confused by the scoreboard listing visitors underneath Giants.

One of my long-term collecting goals has been to try and get a card of each Giants retired number from their playing years. I have all the obvious ones who played during the years when Topps was the card of record. Irvin, Mays, Cepeda, McCovey, Marichal, Perry, Clark, and Bonds* all have multiple Topps cards as Giants to the point where I have multiple cards of all even players like Irvin who I never expected to own any cards of.

*Interesting to me to realize that all besides Bonds of those debuted in MLB with the Giants. And yes I’m going to be distinguishing between MLB and “major leagues” from now forward.

McGraw, Mathewson, Terry, Ott, and Hubbell though were always going to be tougher. Fewer cards in general, and the affordable ones are often super ugly in terms of design* or just through being well loved. The Diamond Stars cards of Terry, Ott, and Hubbell are some of the more-desirable options out there and I’m astounded at Jason’s generosity at sending me my first one form this set.

*/me waves at M. P & Company.

Thanks a lot guys. I hope you’ve enjoyed this holiday season and I hope next year brings better tidings all around.

1936 United Tobacco Sports & Pastimes in South Africa

Pretty sure I’ve said this before one of the largest draws of pre-war cards is the actual craft that goes into the artwork and printing. They’re not all great but every once in a while I’ll see a set that takes my breath away.* Recently I became aware of the 1936 United Tobacco Sports and Pastimes of South Africa set and had a similar reaction.

*eg. the 1928 Will’s Cigarettes Romance of the Heavens set or the 1934 Garbaty Moderne Schonheitsgaleries.

Oftentimes I see such a set and when I check out the price, am able to quickly convince myself to walk away. Other times though these cards are pretty reasonable or I get lucky on ebay and find a lot that’s priced to move.

This case is the latter. As I understand things this set isn’t particularly easy to come by since it’s a South African release but I found a good partial set of 36 (out of 52) cards with domestic shipping even.

To the cards. I love the way that the artwork almost exclusively relies on solid inks in the design. The only screens show up in some of the dark browns and their use is restricted to fabrics that could very well be tweed. Everything else is solid and the resulting image just feels different than any of my other cards.

There’s a richness in having a print which is all ink and doesn’t rely on balancing the screens or even registering too tightly. The result reminds me of other 1930s work like the WPA posters and makes me want to get a silkscreen rig set up for custom cardmaking.

There’s also a richness in the amount of inks that are being used. I can’t fully tell how many are involved since I can’t quite wrap my head around how some of them interact but there’s got to be at least six. What’s awesome though is that not all colors are present on all cards. Some, like the fishing card, are super colorful while others, like wrestling, are completely missing a couple colors.

The backs are nowhere near as lush as the fronts but they manage to fit a decent amount of information in considering they’re bilingual English/Afrikaans. I also appreciate the variety of approaches. The golf card lists a series of champions and almost makes me think it depicts Lawson Little.* Rugby contains South Africa’s cumulative record against England, Australia, and New Zealand. River fishing is about how the rivers have been stocked with trout. And wrestling provides a snapshot of the current athletes in the sport.

*Not conclusive enough for me to move it to my Stanford album though.

The cards are also a mix of horizontal and vertical orientations with the horizontal cards being particularly beautiful. The Horse racing card is amazing in its sketchy detail and the way the crowd is rendered. The swimming card somehow manages to create water texture and movement without a lot of fine detail. The automobile racing has awesome speedlines which are a combination of black ink and paper left inkless. And the hurdler looks to be leaping out of the card.

I’m amazed at how different and distinct each card here is while they still manage to be graphically consistent with each other. Also it really weirds me out to see horse racing on a clockwise track.

I don’t have much more to comment on the backs except to note that I was caught by the reference to Robben island on the swimming card and how it captures the beginning of when swimming to the island became a thing and how that it’s now an event which marks the end of Apartheid.

A few more cards of note. The baseball card is neat in that it shows the worldwide spread of the game. I also like comparing it to the more dynamic batsman pose on the cricket card. I really dig the framing of the long jump card where the athlete is just hanging in the air. Cross country meanwhile is like the fishing and automobile racing cards in terms of being set in much more colorful landscapes. The red and white stripes are also a great look for the artwork.

Two comments on the backs here. first off, it appears that the cross country card features Paavo Nurmi. Second, the long jump card mentions “Jesse Owens, a young American negro.” As beautiful as these cards are, I can’t help but see them as being part of a deeply racist culture that was in the process of adopting measures which would officially become Apartheid in a dozen years.

It’s not lost on me that all the athletes depicted on the cards are white* and, from what I can tell, Jesse Owens is the only one mentioned on the backs whose race is included. I also have to point out here that these cards clearly pre-date the 1936 Berlin Olympics since none of them mention the results of those games.

*The Garbatys, while coming from Nazi Germany, are a pretty international  group though I’m not sure they feature any Black or Jewish actresses.

Definitely a fun set and I could’ve scanned all 36. I feel no desire to complete things and am perfectly content with four pages worth to enjoy. It also takes me to having trading cards from eight different countries (USA, Canada, Japan, UK, Germany, France, South Africa, and Australia) which is pretty cool too.