Pin-ups!

It is fitting that the 1945 Mutoscope “Artists Pin Up Girls” set should be the only non-sports set in our inaugural auction.  This 64-card set, published at the height of the “pin-up girl” craze, features colorful drawings of scantily-dressed women, captioned by (not always particularly) humorous double-entendres describing the situation or pose in the drawing.  Featuring works by noted pin-up artists like Earl Moran, K.O. Munson, and Zoe Mozert, the set brings the collector back to a time when pin-up art left plenty to the imagination, and the artwork was risqué but not raunchy.
 
Due to their vivid colors and the cards’ means of distribution, these cards are often found with significant wear at the corners and edges.  Even the slightest corner ding results in chipping, meaning that cards with near mint appearance at arms’ length often have a lower technical grade under close scrutiny.  Such is the case with these cards; each boasts vivid color and sharp edges, but under magnification flaws are present.  While uncirculated stashes of these cards have been found in recent years, a vintage set as attractive as this is difficult to find.  With 18% grading EX-MT or better, 75% grading VG-EX to EX (leaning heavily towards EX) and the balance grading lesser, this is an extremely attractive set that brings the owner back to a classic era. 

1963 Fleer Football

In our inaugural auction, we are proud to feature an extremely high-grade complete set of 1963 Fleer Football cards.  Graded entirely by PSA, the set has a staggering GPA of 7.72, ranking it #13 on the PSA Registry and one of the top 20 PSA-graded 1963 Fleer football sets of all time.  73% of the cards in this set have been graded 8 or better by PSA, while the remainder (just 24 cards) graded 7.

The 1963 set, Fleer’s final foray into football cards until the late 1970s, is loaded with Hall of Famers and many rookie cards.  The cards are difficult to obtain in high grades due to various quality flaws, notably centering and cutting-related.  At the same time, the set’s eye appeal is fantastic, with crisp photos superimposed over deep red backgrounds.  The set, featuring players from the AFL, contains a number of stars, three Hall of Fame rookie cards (Lance Alworth, Nick Buoniconti and Len Dawson), and two difficult short prints, along with a tough checklist.

After the 1963 season, Fleer stopped producing football-related cards until 1976, and stopped producing cards of individual football players until 1990.  Their final set was, in the opinion of many, their most attractive.  We’re happy to give you a taste here of some of the set’s key cards.  This will be one of the featured lots in our upcoming auction.

Stories

One of the greatest pleasures I’m taking out of researching and writing auction descriptions is learning about the long-lost stories they tell, and unearthing these amazing legends, seeing how they all fit together, and explaining it in the descriptions.

This is Jimmy McAleer.  He was born in 1864 in Youngstown, Ohio, and at some point in the early 1890s, he went to the Meacham & Sabine photo studio and had this picture taken.  The picture passed through however many hands, starting with someone at the studio, then onto McAleer, and likely through his family.  It survived two World Wars, paper drives, an unknown number of housecleanings and estate sales, and long after McAleer was gone, passed into the hands of someone who recognized the subject.  More than a hundred years later, it’s being featured in our auction.

In the 1890s, McAleer latched on as an outfielder with the Cleveland Spiders.  He was a speedy guy and a great defensive player – he stole 51 bases one year, and helped the Spiders win the Temple Cup in 1895 (along with some other guys you might have heard of: Cy Young, John Clarkson, and Jesse Burkett).  McAleer had a temper and was a fiery guy.

This is Arlie Latham.  This N173 Old Judge cabinet of Latham is also in our auction. Latham was one of the best third baseman ever, and also was a speedy guy.  He stole 129 bases in 1887.  In the late 1800s, teams used players as base coaches, and Latham used to coach third.  Latham was also a fiery guy – he was one of the original “bench jockeys,” yelling insults at the opposing pitchers, and running up and down the baseline while the opposing pitchers were making their delivery.  Eventually, the league established the “coaches box,” basically to keep Arlie Latham in one place, and prevent him from distracting the opposing pitcher.

Once, when the Spiders were playing the Reds in 1891, Jimmy McAleer was rounding third, and Latham reached out and tripped him.  Enraged, McAleer went after Latham with his bat.

While Latham’s coaching career was short-lived, McAleer was actually pretty good at it.  In 1900, he became player-manager of the Cleveland Lake Shores (who eventually became the Indians).  In 1901, the Lake Shores changed their name to the Blues, and joined the fledgling American League.  After the National League decided to limit player salaries, McAleer worked with his good friend, American League President Ban Johnson, to recruit dozens of NL players to come join the new American League.

McAleer went on to join the St. Louis Browns as manager in 1902, and the Washington Senators in 1909.  In 1910, he asked President William Howard Taft to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day.  Taft agreed.  Thus began the tradition of US Presidents throwing out the first pitch on Opening Day.

This is E.S. Barnard.  This Carl Horner cabinet photo of Barnard is also in our auction.  Barnard lived in Delaware, Ohio, and in 1903 was hired by the Cleveland Indians in 1903 as traveling secretary.  In 1908, he was promoted to vice president and general manager of the team.

In 1911, Jimmy McAleer resigned as manager of the Senators and announced that he had purchased half of the Boston Red Sox.  The Sox, playing in their brand-new stadium, Fenway Park, went all the way to the World Series in 1912.  The Red Sox’ manager was Jake Stahl, another close friend of AL president Ban Johnson.  Like many owners we know today, McAleer was very engaged in the management of the team, and with a 3-1 World Series lead and a Game 6 (game 2 had ended in a tie, due to darkness) in New York, McAleer began thinking about the gate revenues of having one last Series game in the brand new Fenway Park.

Stahl had decided that Boston Ace Smokey Joe Wood would start the following day’s game in New York on two days rest.  Wood had a 34-5 record that season and was already 2-0 in the series, as dominant a pitcher as there was in 1912.  McAleer intervened, and insisted that Stahl hold back Wood, and start Buck O’Brien in the game.  Of course O’Brien lost the game, setting up a Game 7 at Fenway.

Due to a ticket SNAFU that resulted in Boston’s loyal fans the “Royal Rooters” being unable to obtain tickets to the game, there was a riot before the game, while Wood was warming up.  During the mayhem, Wood took a seat, and his arm stiffened.  When the game started, Smokey Joe was ineffective, lasting just one inning.  The Sox lost the game, setting up a decisive Game 8.  The Red Sox ran into a bout of good fortune (the infamous Snodgrass error in the 10th), and managed to win the game and the Series.

The Sox struggled in 1913, and McAleer fired manager Stahl.  Watching all this from the sidelines, AL president Ban Johnson was not happy about the dismissal of his friend, and eventually forced McAleer to sell his shares and retire.

Back in Cleveland, Ernest Barnard eventually became the president of the Indians, often serving as a mediator between Johnson and others.  After the Black Sox Scandal of 1919, team owners appointed Judge Landis as Commissioner of baseball.  Landis and Johnson clashed, and finally in 1927, Ban Johnson was removed as American League president after a dust-up over Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker allegedly throwing a game.  Ernest Barnard was Ban Johnson’s replacement as AL president.

In late 1930, Barnard was re-elected to a three year term as American League president.  McAleer, having returned to Youngstown, served on the draft board during World War I, and eventually fell into poor health.  After being replaced, Johnson retired, refusing the salary he was entitled to receive until 1935.

On March 27, 1931, Ernest Barnard died suddenly while at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, waiting for an examination.  Just hours later in St. Louis, Ban Johnson died of diabetes.  One month later, Jimmy McAleer died as well.

Today, Johnson is enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame.  But Barnard and McAleer were also instrumental in the development and early success of the American League.  The three are baseball pioneers who built the American League together, became successful together, and, sadly, died within one month of each other in the spring of 1931.

Great stories, baseball.

1935 National Chicle Bronko Nagurski, PSA 7

We’re absolutely thrilled to announce the featured item in our inaugural auction, something we hinted about last week:  A high-grade 1935 National Chicle Bronko Nagurski.

Known throughout the sports collecting hobby as the most coveted and valuable football card, this Nagurski has been graded NEAR MINT by PSA.  The Nagurski achieved its notoriety because it is the first card of a well-known Hall of Famer and famous professional wrestler.  It also comes from the scarce high number series of what is arguably football collecting’s most important prewar card set.

While the Nagurski has always been an extremely valuable card, it’s profile increase dramatically in 2006 when a MINT condition example sold for $240,000 in a highly-publicized private transaction.  That same card sold five years later for $350,000, again in a private transaction.  Sale prices of other Nagurski cards followed suit, with a NM-MT copy nearly reaching $60,000 in 2006.

The 1935 National Chicle Bronko Nagurski is the most important and highly sought-after football card in existence.

With just 16 graded examples at this level and only 12 higher, we’re proud to offer this Near Mint example, with sharp corners, excellent color and centering just a touch to the top right.  A seldom-encountered near mint copy of the most important football card in the hobby, this is an outstanding way to complete a high-grade 1935 National Chicle football set or a cornerstone to a quality Hall of Fame rookies population.

I want to ride my bicycle

Here’s Bob Feller, endorsing Roadmaster “Luxury Liner” bicycles, for our friend who wiped out on his bike while cycling in Northern NJ this past weekend.  Right now, this Feller is in better condition than our friend, with MUCH less surface wear.

This photo premium was available for $0.10 from the Cleveland Welding Company, manufacturer of Roadmaster “Luxury Liner” Bikes.  Feller is one of six different players featured in the approximately 8×10″ premiums, and this is one of three available Feller pose variations.  The blank-backed photo features Feller in his home uniform, perched on a Luxury Liner bicycle, with a facsimile autograph underneath.  Based on the uniform Feller is wearing, it is estimated by hobby scholar Bob Lemke that this premium was issued between 1940 and 44 (in an article written in Mr. Lemke’s blog).

This piece is particularly well-preserved, presenting in approximately VG-EX condition due to some wrinkling in the lower-left corner, a paper clip imprint in the upper-left, and some very minor edge wear.  The photo also comes with its original envelope, which exhibits some more wear (though still not as much as our friend), and some tears, but is still in good condition.

1935 National Chicle Football

The 1935 National Chicle football set is quite possibly the most important football set ever manufactured.  Weighing in at just 36 players, the checklist features some of the game’s biggest names, first-year cards of virtually every key subject in the set, and also contains the hobby’s most valuable and treasured card – the legendary #34 Bronko Nagurski.

Featuring colorful art deco designs that were typical of the “modern” style of the day, the overall design of the 1935 football cards was in many ways identical to the National Chicle baseball set of 1934-36, and also very similar to the Sky Birds cards of 1933.  Despite being printed on heavy stock, high-grade examples are difficult to come by, particularly in the scarce high number series.

A mere glance at the grading company population reports will provide a clear illustration of the scarcity of the set’s high numbers, particularly in higher grades.  Evidence suggests that the scarcity of the high number series is due to those cards only being made available in the cities where the players featured on those cards played.  Over the years, they have become some of the most sought-after cards in the football hobby.

We are thrilled to offer an outstanding selection of high-grade National Chicles, including a run of scarce high numbers, in our inaugural auction.  Each of these cards will be offered individually, so that set collectors have a shot at filling in holes with cards that will take a long, long time for them to see again in this condition.

And now, for some eye candy.

A forgotten piece of football history?

The World Football League was an upstart league designed as an alternative to the NFL in the mid-1970s.  Debuting in 1974, the league played much like the old American Basketball Association; fast and loose, with colorful characters and incredible stories.  To generate interest in the new league, team owners offered rich contracts to existing NFL stars (who, in 1974, were the lowest-paid athletes in the four major American sports).  Several noted players jumped to the new league, including quarterbacks Daryle Lamonica, Ken Stabler and Craig Morton, running backs Calvin Hill and Larry Csonka, and end LC Greenwood.  The league began with 12 teams, some experiencing financial troubles even before their first game, and several without a location in which to play.  It seemed as if the league’s 20-game season was in jeopardy from Day One.

The WFL’s rules were structured to make it a faster-moving, more exciting game.  The PAT was eliminated in favor of an “action point” attempt, making a touchdown plus action point worth 8 total points.  Missed field goals attempted from outside the red zone would be returned to the line of scrimmage, and kickoffs would take place from the 30, to encourage more runbacks.  No fair catches were permitted on punts, and running backs were permitted to go in forward motion prior to the snap.

The 1974 season was marked with colorful stories, as players were sued by their NFL counterparts, teams short on cash were forced to pay hotel and airfare bills in advance, and the location of the league championship game needed to be moved because the host team folded after 14 weeks.  After a restructuring of the league and its leadership, a more refined WFL launched in 1975 – to weak interest among both fans and the media.  After one team folded and others found themselves on the verge of bankruptcy, the league shut down just 12 weeks into its second season.

The Memphis Southmen were one of the league’s few bright spots.  Initially intended to be based in Toronto (and called the “Northmen,”) the Canadian government rejected the idea of hosting a team from an American sports league, thus necessitating the move to Memphis prior to the inaugural season.  Informally called the “Memphis Grizzlies” because locals did not like the name “Southmen,” the team, owned by multimillionaire John F. Bassett (a movie producer who later became the co-owner of the USFL’s Tampa Bay Bandits) took their division title in 1974 with the league’s best record.  Anticipation was high for the 1975 season, as the team was joined by Miami Dolphins stars Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield.  The team’s 1975 quarterback was a young Danny White, who would go on to become the punter and future quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys.

After the league failed, the Southmen applied for membership as an expansion team in the NFL.  The application was rejected, resulting in a lawsuit against the NFL that was finally settled in 1984, by which time Memphis had been awarded a USFL team.

We’re happy to offer ten, full, unused game tickets for the Memphis Southmen 1975 season.  Representing each of the team’s 10 scheduled home games for that season, the end-zone area tickets, for Memphis Memorial Stadium, were priced at just $3 each for a “Student 18 and under.”  Each is unused and in excellent condition, with only minor wear.  The Memphis Southmen wound up playing just 7 home games in 1975, led by Danny White, Jim Kiick and receiver Ed Marshall (who played two seasons with the New York Giants after the WFL folded).

This is a cool piece of memorabilia and a memento of one of the best and most popular teams in a forgotten pro football league.