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.

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.

1916 Mino Cigarettes Tris Speaker

T216 Mino Speaker FrontThe second of the T216 Mino cards featured in this auction, the Tris Speaker card earned its way into our “Featured Items” section simply due to the head-turning responses it received at three Northeast shows where we displayed the card.  The card turned heads in unexpected ways, with just two collectors ever having seen one before.  Indeed, according to VCP, just one example has sold at public auction in the last three years, an SGC 40 that eclipsed $3,500 in 2012.

 

 

T216 Mino Speaker BackGraded GOOD 30 by SGC, this example was graded some time ago, certainly prior to SGC’s establishment of half grades at the lower levels.  With wide borders and even corner wear, the well-centered card does exhibit some minor creasing, but nothing that breaks the color of the card to any great degree, and certainly nothing to detract from the card’s excellent eye appeal.  An uncommon pose for a Speaker card, this is truly an interesting one, an extremely tough card from a seldom seen Louisiana tobacco issue.

Amazing High-Grade ’34 Goudey Gehrig

1934 Gehrig FrontThe phrase “Yellow Gehrig” is one any prewar collector will recognize; it clearly refers to the iconic 1934 Goudey card featuring the bold portrait of a smiling Yankee captain, set against a bright yellow background.  The Gehrig-endorsed 1934 Goudey issue helped cement the first baseman as the game’s biggest star in the wake of a fading Babe Ruth; his wholesome image and impossible consecutive games streak endeared him to baseball fans not only in New York but nationwide.

The 1934 Goudey issue remains one of the more popular of the gum card era, and without a Ruth, it is the issue’s two Gehrig cards that are the set’s undisputed keys.  The bright yellow background is susceptible to showing stains and scuffs, accentuating every flaw even in higher-grade examples.  Such high grade examples are rare, however, with just three specimens attaining a grade of MINT 9 by PSA, with two graded MINT 96 by SGC and one GEM 98.

There is no two ways about it: this is a monster card.  Graded MINT 9 OC by PSA, the qualifier refers only to the top-to-bottom centering issue that falls outside the range for a straight MINT grade.  The centering issue is relatively unobtrusive as far as eye appeal is concerned, however, the addition of the qualifier brings the sale price of the card down below the unquestionable six-figure range this card would fetch in a straight 9 holder.  Regardless, however, the card is as beautiful a “Yellow Gehrig” as you are likely to find, with brilliant yellow coloring and blazing corners.  The slight blemish near Gehrig’s left cheek that is visible in our high-resolution scan is strictly on the holder and not the card; it is a small blemish in the plastic that qwe were unable to remove.

With a total graded population of more than 1,000 examples, the number to achieve a MINT grade or better is just six.  One of the most beautiful “Yellow Gehrig” cards in existence, a pure mint copy with a slight centering flaw that reduces the card’s technical assessment but certainly not its aesthetic appeal.

There’s cool…and then there’s COOL.

As Hat AThere are some collectibles that are fascinating and interesting, and there are others that are just too cool to properly describe, and this qualifies as one of them.

Winning five consecutive AL West championships, the Oakland A’s of the early 1970s were one of the game’s most electrifying and dominant teams.  Their colorful nature was encouraged by owner Charles Finley, who adopted vivid green and gold uniforms, offered his players $300 bonuses to grow mustaches, nicknamed his star pitchers “Catfish” and “Blue Moon,” and introduced the flourescent orange baseball, which was tested in night games.

Legend has it that in the early 1970s, Finley had cowboy hats custom made for his players.  This particular hat was made for the coolest of all the A’s players – pitcher Vida Blue.

Blue won the Cy Young and the MVP in 1971, posting a 24-8 record with a 1.82 earned run average.  One of the greatest pitchers of his era, Blue was also one of the coolest, and is still active in promoting baseball to inner-city children.  Which is cool.

As Hat BThe hat is a quality suede hat, featuring the A’s logo patch on the front, and a gold band with black and gold feathers.  The brim is rimmed with gold.  The liner of the hat is satin, the leather sweatband stamped with the Bandera Premier logo, and the telltale stamping “Made Especially For VIDA BLUE” stamped in gold leaf along the right of the sweatband.

We have not seen anything else like this.  What could be cooler – perhaps Tito Fuentes’ sunglasses?  Dock Ellis’ curlers?  Joe Pepitone’s hair dryer?  We’re not sure, but for now, this custom-made cowboy hat, gifted by one of the era’s most colorful owners to one of its most colorful players, is the epitome of 1970s baseball cool.