Saturday, May 23, 2020

Problematic

A short time back I posted a canvass of eBay's supply of 1952 semi-high and high number Baseball cards. As long time readers of this blog know, I do not believe the story of Sy Berger riding a barge out to sea in 1960 and dumping what would now be several zillion dollars worth of '52 high numbers into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of New Jersey.  Too many of the cards exist today and Topps had so many alternate avenues available to dump excess stock that it just doesn't add up.

We know some high numbers were shipped off to Venezuala. We also know a bunch were sold in Canada (no link here but enough on www.net54baseball.com exists if you want to shuffle over there and take a gander). Take that information, add in a dose of the usual paranoid Topps practice of having their employees deflect any probes into the actual workings of the business and sprinkle it with some oft-repeated hoary bits of PR department blather and you get Sy Berger telling anybody who asked him how he rode two truckloads of these cards out to a barge, (or garbage scow in some tellings), without ever mentioning he set sail on the accompanying tug (there is no way a civilian would ever be allowed to ride a commercial barge proper out to sea, especially an open hold vessel that did not even allow for any type of crew -and it would have been a hopper barge BTW, not a scow) and watched who knows how many Mickey Mantles and George Shubas gently swirl down to Davy Jones' locker.  Glug, glug!

Oh, how he tried to sell the excess stock to carnivals and arcades!  Lo, he couldn't get a slot at the incinerator as the warehouses were a-burstin' at the seams!  Nobody, but nobody wanted these cards, or so the story went.

But here's the thing....Topps did have ways to burn off excess cards and had being doing so since their first card returns came back in 1949.  They sold early versions of Fun-Paks, slipped overstock into Trading Card Guild aftermarket offers and often, very quietly backdoored unsold and returned product through "unofficial" hobby dealers.  I suspect the first of these unofficial dealers was Sam Rosen-Woody Gelman's Stepfather-who probably started off managing the Trading Card Guild orders in 1955 once they started getting out of hand at Topps but eventually went to more of an arm's length agreement.  I also think Rosen could only sell licensed products after the original deal had expired but this is all educated guesswork on my part.

Back to the '52 highs.  The biggest problem I have with the dumping at sea story is the lack of highs from the Card Collectors Company's 1959 catalog after Sam Rosen had stocked them in his prior catalogs:


Look at the 1952 Topps entry.  You cannot buy a card above #310.  A year later, the highs are  available, right around the time Sy Berger purportedly went out to sea:


A dime for anything below #311, 35 cents for highs.  The availability is back and the premium pricing is starting to be baked in right around the time the barge full o'highs dumped her load in the Atlantic Bight.

1961? Well, the catalog got fancier with photos and the '52 highs must have financed the snazzier look (not, really):


Yup, the highs have jumped to fifty cents a pop, an almost 43% increase.  Other dealers had high number inventory at this time and at least one, Bruce Yeko, was on good terms with Woody Gelman.  Yeko had a good inventory of '52 high numbers in 1963, although not enough to offer the full series for a single price:

(courtesy David Kathman)

Those $1 high numbers match CCC in 1962 & '63.  I'm also curious about some other series pricing in these early catalogs. There's no scarce mid-series indicated in '57 and high numbers outside of 1952 are not yet commanding a premium.



That #1-99 pricing tranche is suspect but the highs were going for 7 to 8 times the lows and semi-high's a mere eleven years after they were issued.


Woody maintained his supply of '52 highs at a dollar apiece until at least 1968, where he had enough still to offer a de facto 10% discount if you bought the whole series intact. Woody seems like he still had a gaggle of highs by the time the Year of The Pitcher kicked off:


Not among the "very rare"-Mickey Mantle!  I'm going to track the scarce and high number pricing patterns shortly and will trace the '52 Mantle pricing through the years as well.


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