Love of the Blog

Communication, Commercialism, and Commentary

Grades Are Coming In

Slabs

The first round of grades from our Texas collection is beginning to arrive!

As expected, there are a fair number of 7s and 8s among the 1959, 1961 and 1962 baseball and 1967 hockey sets, with a few higher.

This collection is loaded with fresh cards with fantastic eye appeal.  Stay tuned for more details!

This is what 625 autographed 1952 Topps looks like.

One of the most amazing components of our recent Texas Find was a massive cache of autographed 1952 Topps cards.

Not enough to be a complete set (no Mantle, for instance), the collector clearly acquired many duplicates to be used as trade bait.  The result is this enormous box of cards, each one autographed.

Autos

There are some pretty amazing treats in this box.  We’re reluctant to report on any of them in particular, until they’ve been authenticated, but suffice to say that this one will be in the first batch to go to PSA:

Campos

That is, of course, an autographed Frank Campos “black star” variation – it’s got to be the only one in existence, right?

1962 Topps from the Texas find

After going through the entire 1971 Topps set card-by-card, we were emboldened and decided to dig into another extremely condition-sensitive issue: 1962 Topps.

The “woodgrain” borders of the ’62 set are prone to chipping, much like the black-bordered 1971 Topps cards.  Atrocious centering exacerbates the condition issues with this set, as do 1960s Topps print flaws like snow, fisheyes and roller lines.

In the case of this set, however, the collector appeared to take great care to find the best possible examples for his set (though centering is still an issue throughout).  Much more so than with other sets, he appears to have taken great care not to handle the cards much at all prior to mounting them in the album.  Further, the cards do not exhibit the indentations from the corner mounts that some of the others have.  The result is a truly exceptional group of cards.  Sadly, many of the Hall of Famers suffered from poor centering, and the Mantle was the only card in the group that appeared to have been handled; its edges are clearly worn.  That said, we pulled a significant number of high-grade, well-centered examples from the set that we’ll be sending off for grading.

Here are some examples, presented to you in slideshow format.

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We can’t imagine that any of the other vintage sets in this collection will be more fantastic than this one, condition-wise.  As we only pulled the best-centered examples (except the Brock in the above slide show) for grading, and rejected more than half what we pulled due to minor flaws, there’s no question that this is as gorgeous a “fresh” 1962 set as we will ever see.

Next up: 1968 Topps.

Some Black Beauties

1971 ClementeOver the past two days, I’ve been delicately removing 1971 Topps from their photo album.  Yet another stunning discovery from the Texas find, these cards were quite clearly collected in 1971, and carefully stored away in the album shortly thereafter.  The set is complete, each card in remarkably consistent condition.  The ever-present edge chipping is kept to a minimum; the primary post-production wear is related to corner dings that occurred when the cards were mounted in their photo corners, and, in some unfortunate cases, minor indentations in the cardboard resulting from the photo corners themselves.

Centering and rough cuts are another issue entirely, obviously, as Topps’ early quality control was clearly poor.  However, we have managed to pull out a significant number of gorgeous examples, each of which will be headed off to PSA for grading.  Whether they grade high or not, they are simply stunning cards, and absolutely need to be preserved in their current condition.

1971 Aaron1971 WS1971 Walton

 

 

 

 

 

1971 Johnstone1971 Monday1971 Quilici

Some 1967 Hockey from the Texas find

Over the past week or so, we’ve been culling through binders of mostly modern material from the Texas find, pulling out some of the key cards for grading.

Yesterday, we opened a binder that contained what we initially thought was a complete set of 1967 Topps hockey.  Upon further review, we discovered that the last 12 cards in the set (the all-star cards) were missing.  However, the remaining 120 were in stunning condition.

Included in the binder was a clipping from what looked like an old ad from Sports Collectors Digest for this collection, which was billed as a complete set and offered as a mail-order auction with an opening bid of $1,000.  The set was billed as GEM MINT, and judging from the condition of the cards in the binder, we won’t argue.  Though many of the cards exhibit flaws that were not considered flaws at the time (centering issues and print defects), the cards are exceptionally bright and sharp.  In this case, “pack fresh” doesn’t quite describe the cards, as they look as if they were taken right off the printing press.

That cards have survived in this condition for nearly 50 years, and have been part of the same collection since long before third-party grading had caught on, continues to amaze us.  Here are some examples of better-centered keys, along with the Gordie Howe.

All of these cards are headed off to PSA for grading.

An incredible find.

Several weeks ago, we were referred to a family in Texas that was interested in selling what was described to us as a “run of sets.”  After a few phone conversations, the family agreed to consign the collection in its entirety to Love of the Game.

During the last conversation, when we discussed how I would be retrieving the collection, I simply replied “I’ll just drive down with my SUV and pick everything up.”  My statement was met with a strange silence.

Last week, I made the journey to the deep south in a whirlwind trip that landed me in Texas late Saturday afternoon.  After a brief meeting with what turned out to be an absolutely lovely family, I was brought into the card room to receive the shock of my life.
IMG_5924

This is a cellphone photo of one corner of a room that contained what is, without doubt, the largest card collection I’ve ever seen.  “Run of sets” doesn’t quite describe this collection, and “I’ll just drive down with my SUV and pick everything up” was, in light of the collection’s size, a laughable statement.

The collection was assembled over a lifetime, by a gentleman who lived and breathed baseball, sharing it with his daughters and also with his community.  Decades of dedication to the hobby were evident in literally hundreds of binders and photo albums, each containing complete or near sets ranging from the collector’s childhood through his unfortunate passing in 2007.  During nearly sixty years of devotion to the hobby, the collector built sets from virtually every mainstream manufacturer, as well as dozens of regional and minor issues, minor league sets, and even “off brand” issues by companies like TCMA and SSPC.

It was almost overwhelming.  Around every corner was another surprise, inside each binder was another set.  In roughly eight hours that we spent rooting through and cataloguing the collection, we discovered a host of rarities, beautifully-stored vintage sets, and diligently assembled modern ones.

From 1951 through the mid 1970s, the collector (whose name we will disclose in due time) painstakingly assembled complete sets, paying closer attention to condition with each passing year, and carefully mounting the cards in numerical order in photo albums, using “photo corners” to help display the collection while still protecting the cards.  We took some photos of the earlier cards to help describe what these cards look like in their albums.

1952 Bowman 1951 Bowman A1953 Bowman

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arriving back in the home office in New Jersey, we were struck by how similar this collection was to the famed Lionel Carter collection that was sold at auction in 2007.  While the Carter collection contained a large number of prewar sets, this collection, for the post part, began in the 1950s – yet the display methods were very similar.  We were naturally bursting at the seams, dying to see the condition of the cards underneath those photo corners, and we decided to begin with one of our favorite sets – 1959 Topps.

Back at home in the kitchen, I have a broken steak knife.  The very top quarter inch of the knife has chipped off, leaving a flat top but a sharp edge.  For some ridiculous reason, I have not thrown this knife away – and it turns out that it’s the perfect tool to separate the photo corners from the album.  By sliding the flat top of the knife underneath each of the top two photo corners, we’re able to separate them from the paper without worrying about damaging the card.  Then, the card simply slides out of the bottom two corners, without the necessity of bending or twisting the cards to remove them.

What we discovered was absolutely thrilling:

1959 MantleThe cards were clearly maintained in relatively pristine condition when they were initially collected, with the consignor paying attention to centering during a time when Topps was notorious for poor quality control.  Looking through a pile of duplicate 1959s, we can see that the collector put off-center cards to the side when possible, choosing the cleanest and best-centered examples for display in his album.  It is our impression that the collector probably assembled the sets, and then mounted them in the albums once complete – the cards are ever-so-slightly handled, with a few exhibiting very minor edge wear and tiny corner touches.  While some were undoubtedly touched simply by inserting them into the photo corners, the collector was undoubtedly careful when handling them – many of the cards have retained not only their original color and gloss, but also their crisp, “new” texture.  Some even still have gum residue on the surface!

We are thrilled beyond words to be able to offer the vintage components of this collection in our upcoming auctions.  In the coming weeks, we will continue to share the journey of removing these cards, the surprises we encounter, and of course, the results of those cards we submit for grading.  And of course we are eternally grateful to the family for allowing us a window into the life of an extraordinary collector, and for choosing Love of the Game as the auction house to introduce this incredible collection to the hobby.

Buckle up; it’s going to be a fun ride.

Some words about fraud

The past several weeks have been difficult ones for our hobby, for sure.  Information has come to light which has long been the subject of speculation, but which the Federal Court has crystallized quickly and definitively this week.  Without describing the sordid details, you can read a news story about the incident here.  Part of the considerable fallout from this has been an (understandable) desire on the part of the collecting community to hear from auction houses.  After some thought, we’ve decided that the appropriate place for us to sound off is here, on our own blog.

The short answer: We do not shill our auctions, nor have we ever.  

We also do not alter cards.  We do not perform undisclosed restoration on memorabilia.  We do our best to accurately describe everything in our auction with educational and interesting copy, and if we discover an issue that materially impacts the value of a piece after the auction goes live, we publish an addendum and give each bidder an opportunity to cancel their bids if they choose.

Additionally, we do not have hidden reserves.  Occasionally, we offer an item that does have a reserve, and we identify such items clearly, and we publish the amount of the reserve one week before the auction closes.

The longer answer:

We do our absolute best to ensure that our bidders participate in an honest, ethical auction in which real people can bid and win at real prices, and in which consignors can enjoy consigning to an auction in which its bidders trust the process.

We have several safeguards in place to help our bidders feel more comfortable.

  1. Our auction software is configured so that we cannot see what your max bids are when you place them.  This is a deliberate safeguard that prevents us from ever knowing how many – if any – bid increments exist between the current bid and a max.  As we say in our rules, we don’t have a fancy name for this; we just call it “integrity.”
  2. Our auction software is configured so that we cannot see the passwords of our bidders.  This prevents us from logging into their accounts and viewing your private information.  Because of this, if you lose your password and call us, we have no way of telling you what it is – the only remedy is to send a “password reset” email.
  3. Our auction software does not permit consignors to bid on their own material.  We explicitly prohibit this in our consignor agreement, and if we feel a bid is made by a consignor under a different account, or by a consignor’s proxy, we reserve the right to cancel the bid.  There is no circumstance under which we permit a consignor to win their own item and pay us the buyer’s premium.
  4. While we can never tell why a person might be bidding on an item, or who might be friends with whom, we do look for signs of shilling between consignors and a proxy bidder.  On one occasion, we banned a bidder – and a consignor – for bidding activity that we felt was illegitimate.
  5. We do not bid in the auction.  There is no “house account.”  We understand why some auction houses feel it’s okay to bid in their own auction, but we feel that when we can see who we’re bidding against, when we know who the consignor is, and when we have a 20% advantage because we do not pay the buyer’s premium, it’s unethical for us to bid in the auction.
  6. We do not withdraw items from the auction if they do not appear to be selling well.  If an item that does not have a reserve is in our auction, and has a bid, it will sell.

Collecting sports cards and memorabilia is a fantastic hobby.  It’s the greatest hobby.  It’s the best way to see how tightly sports is woven into the fabric of American history, and each artifact is special.  Each tells a story, and each collector that preserves an artifact in his collection is saving a piece of history, and passing along stories that otherwise would be long forgotten.

When we read or hear accounts of fraud in the hobby, it disgusts us as much as it does you.  Shill bidding – even if you still win the shilled item for less money than you’re prepared to pay – is robbery.  We’re serious about this.  It’s a big part of the reason why this company was founded.  The hobby will tell us whether or not it’s possible for an auction house like ours to survive in the long-term without engaging in unethical behavior.  Maybe it will, maybe it won’t.  Our survival will depend not only on the confidence of bidders, but on the consignors who are willing to contribute material to an auction where the house will not engage in unethical practices to help inflate prices.  But one thing we can unequivocally promise our customers, our consignors, our families and our friends: you will never, ever see us deliberately engage in fraudulent behavior.

Period.

 

Some words about “Auction LOAs”

In each of our auctions, we’ve been fortunate enough to have offered a growing number of quality autographed items.  Each auction, the selection we offer has gotten larger, more varied, and certainly more interesting.

As a result, though, we’ve felt the need to clarify our position on “Auction LOAs.”

Autograph collectors have a variety of opinions about the rise in third-party authenticators in the hobby.  Our opinion is that with the large amount of fraud pervasive in the hobby, third-party authenticators have done a world of good.  Sure, they occasionally make mistakes.  Sure, they are providing opinions that are, from time to time, frustrating.  However, on balance, they have an immense amount of knowledge, enormous databases of exemplars from which to compare, and large networks of experts with whom to consult.  Most importantly, the two largest authenticators – James Spence Authentication and PSA/DNA – have simply seen an incredible number of autographs, and have a wealth of experience from which to draw.

Our primary partners for the authentication of autographed material are JSA and PSA/DNA.  We are comfortable with their expertise, and are thrilled to work with them on the authentication of the autographed items that we sell.

Occasionally, however, we receive autographed items that have been authenticated with an Auction LOA.  These LOAs have been utilized by Auction Houses as a sort of limited LOA, featuring the opinion of a third-party authenticator but not an actual LOA.  The auction houses, perhaps to save money, enlist the authenticator to review a large volume of material in a short period of time, issuing these auction LOAs as a Seal of Approval but not a final verdict on authenticity.  Upon the auction close, the winning bidder receives the item along with the Auction LOA, which is described as a “preliminary review” of the item in question.  The winning bidder is then required to resubmit the item for a “full” LOA, for an additional fee.  It is explicitly stated in the auction LOA that it is entirely possible that upon full review, the item in question could be rejected as inauthentic.

Typically, the LOA incorporates the auction house’s catalog description of the item into the LOA.  They do this for the purposes of properly identifying the item (since no photos are included in the auction LOA), but the result is misleading.

Recently, we received a consignment consisting of a Babe Ruth autographed check.  The check came with an auction LOA, and the auction house described the signature as being a “10”.  Unfortunately, the consignor was under the impression when purchasing the check that he was getting a Babe Ruth check with the signature graded 10 by the authenticator.  Unfortunately, there was no way this signature would have graded a 10, or anywhere close.  When the consignor received the item, he continued to think he had a Ruth signature graded 10, because the auction house’s hyperbolic description was written into the LOA.

When we received the check, we immediately realized that the LOA was simply an auction LOA, and the signature was by no means a 10.  After breaking the bad news to the consignor, we submitted the check to JSA and received a full LOA.  Sadly, however, we returned it to the consignor, who would surely have taken a loss on his purchase since he thought he was buying a “10” when he won it.

We do not feel the Auction LOAs are unethical.  They are what they are.  We do, however, feel that some auction house descriptions are misleading – sometimes intentionally so – and when these descriptions find their way into an LOA, they can artificially inflate the value of a signed item, and even provide bidders with a false sense of security.

As such, Love of the Game has elected not to offer items with Auction LOAs for sale in our auction.  While we will take them on consignment, we will submit them to a third-party authenticator for full LOAs or Basic Certs (depending on value).  This is, of course, more costly, but in the end, we feel that it provides our customers with a level of confidence and comfort that the Auction LOA does not provide.  Furthermore, we feel that when our customers purchase signed, authenticated items from us, they should not have to pay additional money to obtain a “full” LOA.  They’ve already purchased the item!

Going forward, any authenticated item sold by Love of the Game will have a full LOA or a basic certification, with the exception of those signed items that are authenticated and encapsulated by PSA, SGC, or JSA (those items, of course, do not require certs since they are encapsulated).

On a similar note, we are occasionally asked why we sometimes sell signed items that are not authenticated.  There are two reasons why this may happen: 1) The item was submitted too close to our auction deadline, and time did not permit us to obtain the authentication.  2) The item is simply not valuable enough to justify the investment.  In both of those cases, please know that we do not sell non-authenticated, signed items unless we are certain of their authenticity, and we guarantee that such items will pass muster with JSA or PSA/DNA.  In the event that they do not, we are happy to issue a full refund on your purchase.

We hope that this clarifies our position regarding autograph authentication.

A pre-rookie bat from “The Kid.”

Carter Barrel BrandOur Winter auction features this beautiful Gary Carter signature model K55, dating to the 1973 labeling period, prior to “The Kid” breaking into the big leagues.  Carter’s time in the minors featured a rather meteoric rise, rocketing through Rookie and A ball in 1972, a full season of AA ball in Quebec in 1973, a full season at AAA in Memphis in 1974 before breaking in with Montreal in 1975.

Carter KnobIt was during Carter’s time with the 1973 Quebec Carnavals that he first used this bat, as evidenced by his number 48 being written on the bat’s knob (along with Carter’s initials) and with the number 4 eventually obscured as Carter assumed his number 8.  The bat exhibits signs of excellent use, with a slight crack in the centerbrand, clearly visible ball marks on the left and bat barrel, as well as blue and red bat rack streaks.  At some point the crack in the centerbrand was secured with tape, but the tape has been removed.  Most notable of all the use characteristics is the application of pine tar on the upper and lower handle with a “gap” inbetween, a characteristic noted on other Carter bats.  The bat has also been signed by carter to the left of his signature brand.

All of this has resulted in a grade of GU 8 by John Taube of PSA/DNA.  This is a wonderful bat, well-preserved but with outstanding signs of use from one of the most beloved players of his era, leader of the World Champion 1986 Mets, and deserving Hall of Famer.  Full LOA from PSA/DNA.

Carter Longview

Rare and Desirable Schmelzer’s Pins Ty Cobb – Newly Graded!

1910 Schmelzers Cobb FrontThe Schmelzer’s Sporting Goods pinback button set is incredibly rare, with only a few dozen examples known of any player, and just five Ty Cobb examples known to exist.  The 1 1/4″ diameter pinback issue is among the most rare of all baseball pinback sets, the first baseball celluloid pinback issue to feature lithographic artwork juxtaposed with an actual player photo.  Produced by the Whitehead & Hoag company (manufacturer of most of the era’s pinbacks) and issued by Schmelzer’s Sporting Goods of Kansas City, MO, these pinbacks are unbelievably rare, and extremely desirable among the hobby’s most advanced collectors.

Much has been stated in the past with respect to the rarity of the Schmelzer’s pinback issue in relation to any baseball card issue of the same era.  The pins are so rare that until this past Spring, just eight different subjects were known to exist – and then two more were found (Johnny Evers and George Stallings).  Today, only one complete set is known to exist, with only one known example of the Evers and Stallings.  With just ten subjects known (one for each position plus a manager), the “team” includes four Hall of Famers (Cobb, Christy Mathewson, Rabbit Maranville, and Evers) plus Joe Jackson – quite a powerful punch.

Presented here is one of just five known examples of the issue’s unquestionable key: that of Ty Cobb.  Graded NM 7 by PSA, this example is the only Cobb on PSA’s population report.  It is likely the finest example of the Cobb pinback in existence.  The image quality is nearly perfect, with virtually no signs of age or wear to speak of.  A slight patina on the pin itself, with some very mild discoloration along the edges of the reverse are the only visible signs of wear, this is truly a spectacular example.

The finest known example of the key subject from the hobby’s most rare pinback issue.  An absolutely extraordinary rarity.

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