Saturday, August 28, 2021

Triple Double (Slight Return)

For reasons that are, as yet, unclear to me, I recently decided to target the short prints from the uncut sheets containing the 1970-71 Topps "Tall Boy" Basketball set.  I've always liked the cards and collected them as a kid (and now, as an adult) and had scans of two of the four half sheets that make up the set.  Friend o'the Archive John Moran provided 15/18ths of the other two (Huggins & Scott also had a hand) and I can tell you it's a very strange way to print a set, at least the first series.

Mind you, the SP's are all well known so here's the straight dope:

That's the A slit of the first series.  Here's the B:

Series 2 A Slit:

Series 2 B Slit-Mr, Moran advised the three missing rows are just repeats:

First series first.  Here's a schematic I made of the A slit:

The subjects shaded in blue are double prints, the yellow subjects along the bottom are all single prints.  Note the there are two 2nd Series Checklists on this slit and it features both the front white and black letter variations indicating the 1970-71 season.  Dese are dem:

Backs are the same for both:

So each variant second series checklist is esentially a single print! The B Slit has the same array but with all different subjects:

That makes a 110 card first series, with 88 double prints (2nd series checklists be damned!) and 22 single prints.  The 1st Series Checklist is a true double print:

When we get to the second series sheets, things, as you might have surmised already, change.  Herewith the A slit:

Here's the B:

It used to be the highs (commons at least) were 50% more in price than the lows.  If that's the case, less high numbers would mean those triple prints are not quite as "triply" as they array suggest.  Maybe more like 2.5 Prints!

What I don't get is why Topps had the bizarre array for series 1. If they were seeding the first series sheet with a couple rows of second series cards and then "lagging the checklist" it would make sense.  But that didn't happen, they went with 110 (well, 109 with the 2nd Series Checklist duo) and 66.  They could have just done two 88 card series and given us 11 extra prints per slit. The only explanation I can come with is that Topps made it harder to find the 22 Single Prints on purpose.

I actually posted a proof (purportedly from the 1989 Guernsey auction) with the two SP rows ahile back-it seems Topps ultimately segregated them, one row per slit but I wonder if similar proofs for other years and sports hold this type of clue regarding short printed cards in a series?

I can't find that proof in the auction catalog but I'm told a lot of items were ultimately sold that never made the catalog.  Or the little plaque is wrong but it's a bummer as I wanted to see the hammer price.  Oh well...

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Leaf Of Absence

An interesting short article crossed my transom the other day and while I have managed to misplace the name of whoever provided it (possibly Lonnie Cummins or Keith Olbermann, sorry that I lost the handle gents!) it makes for an interesting read, despite its brevity:

I found several other sources for the article and all were dated May 4, 1949, so the suit against Leaf Brands by 272 players was filed smack dab in the midst of the baseball (and baseball card) season.

The Leaf Baseball set of 1948-49 defies easy conclusions.  98 cards were issued in skip-numbered fashion, ending at #168. 49 cards are far easier to find than the other 49, which are fiendishly difficult and could even be considered infamous for their scarcity. The biographical detials on the cards make it clear the set came out in 1949 but cards from both the easy and difficult sections can be found with a 1948 copyright or a 1949 (but not both, there's no 1948/49 variants).

Here's a card with a 1948 copyright, detailing Hermanski's 1948 season; there is a version of this card without the last letter of Hermanski's last name that is scarce and expensive and he's a perfect mataphor for this set, which had very little quality control but some really bizarre color arrays:

Here's a 1949:

There is no real cohesion between 1948 or 1949 copyrights and the various short prints scattered throughout the issue, it's a real mish-mash. The set is a riotous mess: there's print errors, color mishaps and the whole thing looks like it was designed by a fifth grader, but it's loaded with Hall of Famers and very expensive cards, including rookies of Jackie Robinson and Satchel Paige. It's an important set in the scheme of hobby things.

Getting back to the suit, the six named players are in both the 1948-49 Leaf and Bowman sets:

Leaf #        Player        Bowman#

   31           Brissie            41

   26          Chapman        112

   22            Evans            132

  128           Rosar            138

   32            Spahn             33

   29             Valo               66

The interesting plaintiff to me is Buddy Rosar, who is a short print in the Leaf set. If you need a reason for half the set to be short printed in the extreme, a lawsuit or restraining order vs. Leaf could be the reason.

Two other things that jump out at me from the article:

1) The inclusion of PCL players in the suit.  I think this indicates the Bowman PCL set had already been issued by the time the suit was filed, seemingly in early May. If not, it was certianly something that was imminent.  Was Leaf planning to include PCL players? It might explain how they planned to fill in some numbering gaps but I'm not sure of any impetus other than that Bowman was signing up Coast League players.  The "open" classification for the PCL wasn't granted until 1952 so that wasn't the key factor but the league did draw well in 1948, so maybe it was just related to natural expansion of distribution to the west coast.

2) Jack Bendon, who may have been an agent of Capital Sales on behalf of Leaf, was domiciled in Philadelphia.  There is a strong connection to that city among the three 1951 Topps Major League All Stars that are extreme short prints (and key postwar rarities) which were likely never issued in packs.) Of those three, Konstanty and Roberts were Phillies and Stanky was born in Philly. I assume Bowman, also domiciled there, was hyper-vigilant and possibly assisted the plaintiffs in the Leaf suit.

City of Brotherly Love?  Not when it came to Bowman and their competitors!

Saturday, August 14, 2021

The Numbers Game

Following last week's post, I thought I would take a stab at estimating how many 1952 Baseball high numbers Topps actually produced. It seems impossible but there's some information that can be used to give it a whirl.

Ten million leftover 1958 Basketball cards, as noted in August 7th's post, are one indicator of what could happen when a set didn't sell (we don't know the total amount of those produced though) but Topps had to give testimony and provide sales figures in the Fleer-FTC case in the early 60's and the latter totals were unearthed within by the late Bob Lemke some time back:

Here's the table:

Topps FTC Sales Figure Table Lemke.jpg 

I'm not so sure Topps just combined the gum and non-gum figures.  Topps had good reasons to keep the lines segregated and I'm taking their numbers at face value for purposes of this exercise. 

Here''s a 1952 Baseball high number wrapper, just for the sake of showing it.  The upper's part's blue area was green for the five series that came before the sixth:

Topps wholesaled their product at 60% of list price, 2% net, so it 's going to work out to be slightly less that 60 % but whatever. BB cards without gum (vending & cello), from what I have been able to determine for later years, would have totaled no more than 10% of production at any time and of course far lower than that for 1952. 

If 5% was the "no gum" figure (and remember no one cent or cello packs were issued for the highs and vending is probably non-existent as well, or close to it), they made $840,000 from Baseball card sales in 1952. Even if they did have some vending sales, 5% is a good fudge factor just due to imprecision when a press run was printed, roundig of the figures provided to the FTC, etc. I do think the N/A entries are due to Topps not having the specific breakdowns as they were tracked as part of something that encompassed an entire line, not just baseball.  Anyway...

A penny a pop puts that at 84 Million cards produced and at .60/cent per pop it's 140 Million cards if my math is right.  

Then you have to account for production of each series compared to the whole set and I'd estimate that at roughly:

20%  Series 1
25%  Series 2
20%  Series 3
20%  Series 4
10%  Semi Highs
5%    Highs

There are some comments I've read over the years that the semi's were printed at 50% of the series before, same with the highs, i.e. half the rate of the semi's. We'll never fully know of course but that seems essentially correct based upon the populations seen today, assuming more high's than semi's are submitted "organically" due to their higher valuations. Not all series had 100 cards either so it's going to be imperfect no matter how you try to figure it but the FTC figures are as as good as we'll ever see for Topps sales figures of the era.

5% of 140 Million is 7 Million Highs.  Divide by 100 and it's 70,000 per card, plus another 70,000 for the DP's: Mantle, Thomson and Jackie Robinson. So maybe 140,000 Mantle cards were printed. Put another way, a full 200 card press sheet (i.e.  two 100 card slits) with that amount of Mantle's would have a production run of 35,000 sheets.  That strikes me as being eminently possible for a single day or two's Topps baseball press run of the time.  

If, by some miracle, 40,000 Mantles got dumped by Sy Berger - like I somewhat jokingly estimated last time out - then Topps actually sold a good chunk of the highs, maybe 70% or a little more of them, which doesn't seem too bad and certainly not the disaster Sy Berger asserted. 

Feel free to run your own calculations but please check my math too!  And yes, they would have shipped cards to Venezuela by sea I'm sure. I'm highly doubtful there were tugs and barges going to South America back then, so it was likely break-bulk shipped (i.e. pallets lowered into ship's holds by crane). It's an ocean voyage, not inland to boot (or a few miles out to the Atlantic Bight), and so much more dangerous.  It's also not the way you would want to do it due to many stops being needed to refuel, even if theoretically possible.

And just revisiting last week's commentary, here's the other thing-there was a City of New York Dock a block away from Topps HQ with an internal Bush Terminal Railroad connecting to it.  City of New York Docks were/are used for many purposes, one of them being loading of garbage onto barges for disposal. Why would they have needed to use trucks to get the cards to the barge?  The schematic is here if you want to check it out.

Back to it now-the big question is whether or not the Mick's lived on after the CCC fire on March 30, 1975.  I suspect many did but check out these population totals first:

PSA: 1,771

SGC: 558

THIS IS MOSTLY ALL MAJOR CONJECTURE HEREAFTER: That's 2,329 Mantles and who knows how many "crack and re-subs" are in there, maybe 15%?  More? That brings it down to about 2,000, maybe less but let's say 2,000. If 140,000 Mantles were printed, and assuming more raw ones exist than are slabbed, then only a small fraction survived, no matter what actually happened out at sea, at the landfill or in the blazing Card Collectors Company warehouse on March 30, 1975. More Mantles get graded of course, compared to say Bobby Thomson, and I doubt my usual WAG of 3x for early 50's raw cards applies to Mickey.  It's possible, given the star power of this sucker, more are graded than not but if it's a 50-50 proposition, there's about 4,000 Mantles out there, or about three percent of the number printed.

Imagine what they would be worth if he wasn't a double print?!

Saturday, August 7, 2021

Highly Doubtful

So I was interviewed for a recent story in Sports Illustrated, along with about 40 other hobbyists I might add, for a story centered around the mystique of the 1952 Topps Mantle card.  This exercise also took the expected side trip to the story about Sy Berger and the infamous garbage scow that allegedly dumped some undefined amount of high numbers off New Jersey at some indefinite time in the middle of the last century.

I decided to gather and review what I know about the subject in the wake of the article's publication (it was in the June issue) and this effort turned up an interesting result.

Here's what I know or can reasonably guesstimate:

-The set was produced in late July/early August of 1952. Mantle signed his contract on July 14th and production probably took place around three or four weeks thereafter:

-The highs were on sale at some point in August, at least in the New York City area.

-They probably had one press run only, and given that by 1956 Sam Rosen (CCC forerunner) already had the highs at a 2.5x premium vs lower series cards, probably in a press run half the size, or even a little less, of the semi-high series, which was also printed in lesser quantities than the four series of cards preceding it.

-There were no one cent glassine packs of high numbers, nickels only. Cello's of the final series may have been sold but possibly not until the following year as a "rewrap" or the like. There's no indication one way or the other concerning vending boxes.

-Topps certainly shipped highs in to Venezuela, Canada and military PX's. Check out this excerpt, from a  Bill Mastro penned article, from the January 17, 1986 Sports Collectors Digest, which is not, by the way, the only source for the Venezuelan market information:

-The highs were still being shipped to the U.S. West Coast in early 1953.

-Canada got a good supply of them, upstate New York seems to have as well.  Some may have been included in 1953 packs but I'm not 100% sure on that.

-Sy Berger was always happy to present the official Topps "view" to the outside world regarding their operations. This was usually a fanciful mix of some truth, total BS, Shorin family hubris and a lot of PR. No stain on Sy though-he was a loyal company man.

-Berger asserted in various interviews he dumped uncut sheets of 1952 Baseball from the infamous scow, or it was hundreds of cases (but never both in one interview). So which one was it?

-Topps probably did get imaginative with selling excess inventory but this applied to all the sets they sold. Some of it could have been 52 highs and some ideas on this front could even have been thought up by Sy, who did their promotions for a few years.

-Topps emptied out at least four or five locations in Brooklyn before moving production and warehousing to Duryea in early 1966: 60 Broadway (their first commercial location from 1938), 134 Broadway, 383 3rd Ave plus Bush Terminal where, at one point they had offices and production in one building and some sort of operation in another, plus anywhere else that's never been mentioned or found after the fact.  They moved down the street from 60 Broadway to 134 in the early 40's, bought another company in 1944 that got them the 3rd Ave location and they moved to Bush Terminal in mid-1946 but each time they retained their leases on the old buildings, seemingly until 1965 or so. He mentions this in the Baseball Card Flipping, Trading & Bubblegum book that we all know and love, which was published in 1973:

-"down here" means Bush Terminal and it appears he was interviewed sometime in early 1973 based upon other details in the book.  Tellingly, there is no mention of the high numbers being buried at sea.

-I doubt Topps had a full understanding of what was in these old buildings by the time 1965 rolled around.

-I've interviewed Richard Gelman several times during the past 18 months and he said Card Collectors Company hoarded the '52 Mantles for years and also quietly bought them up in the secondary market. He estimated CCC had 90% of the known extant Mantles at one point. Hold on to this thought.

-Mantle hype in the hobby wasn't really a thing until 1968 when it was clear he was about done and even then it was quite minimal compared to the standards that would be applied later. The card didn't really transact at a premium until he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1974 and even then its value ebbed and flowed into the early 80's.  

-There is no mention of this story in the hobby press prior to the early 70's, even by people like Bill Haber, who worked for Topps for years as their Sports Editor.  
I can find nothing at all in The Trader Speaks about the dumping of the 52 highs up until it stopped publishing (essentially 1983) and I have 300-400 other old hobby pubs prior to 1975 that don't say a thing either.  Other collectors with more substantial hobby publication collections find the same lack of a story. Keith Olbermann, as in the know as anyone in the NYC hobby scene back then, advises he never heard the barge story before 1979.

-In a 1967 issue of Ballcard Collector, Haber wrote a letter about CCC: "On their printed form they have a space for alternate choices, so I threw in '1952 Topps' and '#407" as I had done similarly for the past nine years. This was in November of 1965 and at the time I needed this one card to complete this much sought after set. Well, when the order arrived and I opened it up to see the beautiful picture of Eddie Mathews I couldn't believe my eyes!" I'm thinking CCC got more inventory when the Brooklyn  warehouses got cleared out for the Duryea move, which dovetails with Sy's recollections for the Baseball Card Flipping, Trading & Bubblegum book.

-In the Sept. 1970 Ballcard Collector Haber wrote, as a newly hired Topps employee:

Haber 1.jpg 
- The Chattanooga/Tennessee connection is interesting as Topps had acquired Bennett-Hubbard's candy and syrup making operation there during World War 2 and operated their Southern Division out of the Scenic City for a spell.

-A month later Haber wrote this: 

Haber 2.jpg

-The first mention I can find of the cards being barged out to sea for disposal is is in the April 22, 1975 issue of the Baltimore Sun, when a big and quite high profile Baseball Card Convention was in town, absolutely awash in advance publicity. Ted Patterson (also name checked by the Sun) had interviewed Berger on his radio show the night before and you will see where Sy told him about the 52 highs ("96 cards"-remember this number) being dumped at sea.  Without a doubt his is the earliest example of the garbage scow story I've seen.BALTIMORE SUN APRIL 25 1975 Sy Berger Profile With 52 High Number Dump.jpg

-Shortly thereafter this article popped up in Sport Fan:

-That's a 
Feature Headline if I ever saw one.  It was news to everybody in the hobby apparently.

-The SI piece also has a short interview with Mrs. Sy Berger, who stated: “The only other card history I know is about him dumping them in the ocean."

-Also on the Sy side of the ledger, Topps employees and consultants sometimes heard him mention the escapade in passing at Bush Terminal, even into the 1990's.

The scow story got legs after the Sun piece and Berger was the one who ran with it. In a New York Times piece dated 9/29/85, with Sy riffing about two million high numbers now-sheets and cases are not even mentioned as being dumped. That would equate to 40,000 or so Mantles:

The problems I have with this statement are that the card count is now specific while the configuration is suddenly not and the idea that Topps would use two garbage trucks to bring unsalable inventory to a barge when they already had a carting service to trash this kind of stuff is ludicrous. They would never have spent the extra money once the trucks were loaded up.

My current thought is that when Topps cleared out all their old spaces in late 1965 in anticipation of the February 1966 Duryea move, they sold what found inventory they could in Fun Packs and the like and/or to CCC. The 52's highs were found, and CCC bought a bunch, selling singles and small groups of the cards to folks like Haber and some select few "outsiders".  

It's possible the remainder were lumped in with all their other remaining stale products (like ten million (!) leftover 1957-58 Basketball cards (hat tip to Keith Olbermann for that detail) and for some reason dumped at sea with Sy riding along (mebbe). My thought is CCC pulled all the Mantles at some point and had them stored at Woody's house or somewhere that wasn't their Franklin Square warehouse (big reveal coming, hold on). And don't forget those"96 cards" dumped per Sy in the Sun article.

But wait (here we go!)......three weeks before the Patterson-Berger interview in Baltimore, the Card Collectors Company warehouse on Long Island burned up wth a mess of uninsured inventory within:

The dots connected themselves at this point as I simply could not believe the barge story premiering three weeks after the CCC fire could be a coincindence. The only question is "why?"  Perhaps it was a way to explain the loss of supply to the hobby aftermarket. Maybe it was to pump up the value of the card to help Woody and CCC but the whole timing of it just amazes me.  And the end result of all this is still with us today.  Marshall Fogel has been offered $25 Million for his PSA 10 Mantle card (one of three in that grade) - and turned it down!

We are definitely not in Kansas (or the Atlantic Ocean) anymore.....