Saturday, December 15, 2018

All The Proof You Need

A treat today folks, a guest column from Keith Olbermann on the three infamous 1960 Baseball "variation proofs":

By Keith Olbermann

          The posting here earlier this year of Woody Gelman’s “The Card Collector” from June 20, 1960, provided an original source document for one of the organized hobby’s greatest and oldest confusions: What the hell are the three incredibly scarce 1960 Topps variation cards of Gino Cimoli, Kent Hadley, and Faye Throneberry? Proofs? Unbelievably rare issued cards? Something else?
          Gelman wrote “Twenty-one cards of the 1960 Topps Baseball set will perhaps be the greatest rarities of modern day baseball gum cards. Three players’ cards (seven of each were issued before the error was caught) bear a different team insignia than the one appearing on the normal card.” Gelman then gives brief details on the Cimoli, Hadley, and Throneberry cards. And apparently with one dubious verb – “issued” – he set the wheels in motion for what will shortly become six full decades of confusion and debate.
          A couple of baseball facts are required. 1st Baseman Kent Hadley was dealt by the A’s to the Yankees on December 11th, 1959 (the trade also included some guy named Maris). The regular version of card 102 shows him in an A’s cap, but the team designation reads “New York Yankees” and a Yankee logo appears. The variation to which Gelman refers is otherwise identical – except that it instead has a vestigial A’s logo. Outfielder Gino Cimoli was traded by the Cardinals to the Pirates on December 21st, 1959. The regular version of card 58 shows him in a Cards’ uniform, but the team designation reads “Pittsburgh Pirates” and a Pirate logo appears. The variation to which Gelman refers is otherwise identical – except that it has both a vestigial Cards’ logo and team designation.
          To my knowledge an image of the third card, #9 Throneberry, was never publicly illustrated until the late Bob Lemke put it in his blog in 2010. Lemke’s image came from venerable collector John Rumierz who in turn explained he had gotten his copies of all three of these 1960 cards years before from the famed collector and former Topps Sports Editor Bill Haber. Lemke noted that the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards listed a 1960 Topps variation not of #9 Faye Throneberry but of his brother, #436 Marv Throneberry. That only made sense: Faye never played for the Yankees nor was he ever in their farm system or even in their organization during an off-season. Marv, like Hadley, had been part of the Maris trade. A Marv Throneberry Yankees/A’s variation made some sense. A Faye Throneberry Yankees variation made none. Yet there it was on Lemke’s blog: Faye Throneberry, Washington Senators, Outfield – with a Yankee logo.
          These twin mountains of perplexity – are they issued variations or unissued proofs, and what could possibly explain the Faye Throneberry card – have been Everests of sorts for so long that I published my first guess about them in The Trader Speaks when I was 16 years old. I helped perpetuate the Faye/Marv confusion in The Sports Collectors Bible. Without knowing of Gelman’s “issued” claim I declared they were certainly not issued cards in an opus on the history of Topps Proofs I did for Sports Collectors Digest in 2008. There are still publications that list a Marv but not a Faye. There are still some that conclude these are the rarest issued Topps cards of all time. There are others that insist they’re proofs.
          To cut to the chase, in part because of Gelman’s 1960 article, the answer is clear: Cimoli/Cardinals, Hadley/Athletics, and Faye Throneberry/Yankees are proof cards. I don’t have another document like Gelman’s nor anything from the wildly scattered files in the Topps offices on Whitehall Street to be able to state this with 100 percent certainty – but I am 100 percent certain and I’ll explain why shortly. It invokes the Sherlock Holmes plot twist about how the character had solved the mystery based on “the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.” His astonished foil pleads “The dog did nothing in the nighttime.” Holmes replies “That was the curious incident.”
          The crux: are these proof cards (exotic, expensive, different, amazing – but absolutely irrelevant to the question “do you have a complete set of 1960 Topps Baseball?”) or are they as Gelman forecast, “the greatest rarities of modern day baseball gum cards…seven of each were issued” (meaning if you don’t have them, your set is ultimately incomplete)? Clearly Gelman started this – maybe deliberately in hopes of getting readers to write in to ask if he had any of these 21 cards and then selling them, off the books. The confusion was then amplified by a production change which we now take for granted: since at least 1962 (and maybe as early as the later series of the 1960 cards, and with some exceptions in the late ‘80s) all of the proof cards and sheets that have fallen off the back of the proverbial Topps truck and into the hands of dealers and collectors, have had blank backs.
          The 1960 Cimoli, Hadley and Throneberry cards have fully printed backs.
          I have seen two Cimolis and two Hadleys as individual cards. They appear professionally cut and match the issued cards of the 1960 First Series in gloss and thickness and every other material measure. Topps Proofs began to become a very specialized collecting genre probably between the time Wholesale Cards started selling a stack of 100 1967 Roger Maris cards showing him with the Yankees instead of the Cardinals, and a decade later when the more secretive places of the hobby were flooded by all the 1977 unicorns like the Jerry Grote card and the Reggie Jackson/Orioles masterpiece. In 1985 an unbelievable hoard of 1962 Topps sheets –all sports, all blank-backed – literally fell out of a ceiling being remodeled in Connecticut (I was called in; I was between jobs and was given one baseball sheet for $200 as a thank you). And always the dividing line was clear: not all blank-backed cards were proofs, but all proofs were blank backed.
          But then evidence began to mount that sometime before 1962 everything Topps did to proof or check its cards before distribution was done in some complete fashion. Nearly all of the cards in the final series of 1957 Baseball turned up printed on bright white paper stock – fronts and backs. A 1959 high-numbered sheet appeared complete with the logo of the printer, Lord Baltimore Press. All the backs were printed. Some were without the late trade notations found on the issued cards; some had the notations but in different fonts; the backs were also didn’t have the white backs of the issued cards but the gray stock used on the earlier series.
           Finally about a decade ago I was offered what proved to be the final evidence in the 1960 Topps Cimoli/Hadley/Throneberry conundrum: a proof sheet of half of the 1st Series, featuring 55 cards printed front and back. There’s no doubt that it’s a proof sheet: it has printer’s stars and bullseyes and the other hieroglyphics of the printers’ trade. And there, on the far right, in rows two and three, are the Throneberry and Hadley cards. The Throneberry confusion immediately vanished. Kent Hadley was traded from the Athletics to the Yankees. Somebody went to change, from Athletics to Yankees, the team name (success) and logo (fail; very big fail). The Yankee logo intended to supplant the A’s job on Hadley, Column Five, Row Three, instead was placed on Throneberry, Column Five, Row Two. This stumble created not one but two cards that will each set you back five figures.

        But it’s the rest of the sheet – not the epic Hadley/Throneberry error – that confirms these are proof cards. Four other fronts have minor variations (#2 Mejias, #9 Daley, #64 Fornieles all have the players’ names printed inside light blue boxes whereas they are only known on issued cards with names inside dark blue ones). And 18 of the 55 backs have further variations on the back. 1960 was the year Topps scrapped many player biographies on the backs of many of the cards, and instead went with bullet pointed game details and a big bold “Season Highlights” above them. On the back of the proof sheet, whether what’s below are the game notes or the traditional biography, all of the cards have the “Season Highlights” header. The sharp-eyed or design-oriented collectors were always troubled why the corresponding issued cards that have bios and not highlights had a big empty space on the back. The sheet explains why: the “Season Highlights” headers were simply removed.

          And that’s the proof that they’re all proofs.
          For Gelman’s claim to be true – that seven copies each of Cimoli, Hadley, and Throneberry made it into card packs and were issued – we have to assume that one of two explanations is also true:
          A) the other variations on the sheet, on 22 different cards, for a total of 154 copies (plus whatever variations might have existed on the separate sheet containing the Cimoli), either never made it into the packs or, while a couple of Cimolis and Hadleys have changed hands in the last 20 years, none of these 154 cards has ever appeared in an auction or an article or on eBay or even in a rumor somewhere or nobody ever noticed them and they’ve been sitting in piles of commons for 58 years. Either that’s true, or:
          B) those other 22 far more subtle errors and only those 22 errors were found on the proof sheet and corrected before the issued cards were printed. But somebody at Topps decided to let Cimoli, Hadley, and Throneberry proceed with big glaring errors intact to the publication stage and only then after exactly seven sheets rolled off the presses and through the cutting machine and into the packs did somebody yell ‘stop the presses’ and fix them. More over if the cards were “issued” why would John Rumierz have had to have gotten them from Bill Haber when Haber worked at Topps in the ‘70s or ‘80s? Why would there still have been any more copies at Topps?
          In theory, “B” could have happened. But I’d say the odds against are far higher than another wild explanation: that when Woody Gelman wrote “seven of each were issued” he meant “seven of each were issued by me.”


Unknown said...

Awesome information, Keith (and Dave). I am a Cardinals collector, and will probably never see a Cimoli.

Unknown said...

Theory B is sort of true. I was a 13-year-old in 1960, and a pretty sophisticated card collector. My father was spending serious money on his stamp collection, and I already understood condition, scarcity and provenance. I subscribed to The Card Collector newsletter and corresponded with numerous collectors and sellers around the country. Sometime in late 1960 or early 1961, an ad appeared either in The Card Collector or a Card Collector price list, stating that only 7 each of the Cimoli, Throneberry and Hadley error cards had been printed, and were offered for $1.00 each. I immediately placed my order, and received one of each – which I still have now in safe deposit! These are regular cut cards, not proof sheet or hand-cut.

I even saved the two mailing envelopes these came in, with their 3-cent postage meter stamps. I also have a couple of letters (on other topics) from Woody Gelman himself, as well as a large number of The Card Collector newsletters, plus price lists and correspondence from many other collectors of the 1960s. I’ve looked through my old materials for the error cards listing, but haven’t found it so far.

I’d be most curious to have an estimate of the three error cards’ value. My guess would be whatever they’d bring at auction.

toppcat said...

If you have any scans of Woody's letters, would love to see them.

Unknown said...

Hey toppcat - I've scanned one of my Woody Gelman letters but see no way to upload it to this site. Any ideas? I'm a member of several Facebook vintage card collectors' groups.

toppcat said...

You send it to the gmail link, it should show on the top right of the page in web view.