Friday, February 19, 2010

Gonna Get High (Numbers)

I was sitting around my study the other day, idly surfing the web when I happened upon a question concerning distribution of the 1952 Topps baseball high numbers. I pulled out my handy-dandy Sport Americana Team Baseball Checklist Number 3 (circa 1987 and one of my most useful references) and found a neat little pattern I thought I would share with you all today.

Now, 1952 Topps is one of the three or four truly iconic baseball sets and indeed I have blogged about it previously. Others have created websites and written studious articles about it and I hope to do an exhaustive study someday. But I haven't seen too much about where it was distributed and belive I can offer some insight.

Look at a city breakdown and the answer to the distribution question may be apparent. There are 97 high numbers, of which 35 are from the three NY teams (16 Bums, 12 Giants and 7 Yanks), and 14 Boston players (9 Bosox and 5 Braves) which means over half the high numbers are from just two cities. Pittsburgh gets 10, Cincy gets 9 as does Chicago (all Cubs-there are no White Sox in the high numbers). That's 77 cards for five cities covering 8 teams.

The two Philly teams total 7 cards (4 Phils, 3 A's), St. Loo has 7 as well (4 Cardinals, 3 Browns). Cleveland and Detroit between them get 5 (3 and 2 respectively) and the Senators got 1 (a very lonely Connie Marrero). So we have 20 cards representing five cities and 7 teams on the opposite end of the spectrum.

Based on that the New York City metro area, Boston and the non-Great Lakes Midwest cities of Pitsburgh and Cincinnati must gave gotten the highs, plus I have to think Chicago did too, despite there not being a single Pale Hose to be found. Indeed, there was a big find of high numbers in Boston by Alan Rosen in 1986.

Some must have made it to Philly and I presume St. Louis was too far away for the distribution to make it there in time for any meaningful sales to develop. If there was Philly distribution then maybe cards made it to Washington DC but they probably didn't with only the one Senator. I also can't see any city west of the Mississippi getting highs in '52.

Upstate NY and Canada got the high numbers and there have been a few finds in those remote (for MLB) areas over the years, possibly because some were printed in upstate New York and with the eastern Great Lakes distribution channels in Detroit and Cleveland likely gone they had to be dumped somewhere.

Hobby lore dictates some were issued with 53's the following year or at least in '53 wrappers (making them possibly the first Topps rewraps) and I believe the remainder of the cards were either warehoused or sold to promoters of carnivals and arcades on a bulk discount basis. And we all know the story of Sy Berger riding out to sea with a garbage scow as all the leftover high numbers were disposed of off the shores of New Jersey in 1960 to clear up space in the warehouse.

This mass dumping has led to their perceived scarcity today, although they are not all that hard to locate if you have the cash. My operating theory has always been that Topps printed as many highs as they did semi highs and but for that fateful day fifty years ago, we would be rolling in high numbers today. Here is a semi-high for you, one of my favorite cards in the set:

Ol' Erv could a been a contender if that garbage scow had never left port in 1960. But would we have then have had the hyper-attentive media coverage of the '52 Mantle's upward price escalation thirty years ago that fueled the growth of the hobby?

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