Saturday, July 4, 2020

The Dirty Dozen-ish

Here's a little bit of bang for the Fourth folks! I've been tracking down a few things during our forced pandemic pause and recently focused on the 1951 Topps Major League All Star cards, specifically the trio of unissued rarities that are among the rarest cards of the post World War 2 era.

I found a very old Collectors Universe thread from 2003 by a poster called murcerfan that stated (I have lightly paraphrased and slightly corrected spelling and grammar):

Mastro sold the big 3 from the current all-stars set in 1999.

Another loose and low grade example of Konsanty was sold by them in a big lot of Connie's and Currents in 2000 (might have been 2001). Here was Bill's write up back in '99:

In 1951 Topps produced a set of die-cut Major League All-Stars to complement their Connie Mack All-star issue. Both sets were supposedly to contain 11 cards, but the 'current" seemed impossible to complete due to three cards which never surfaced. In time, hobby pioneers were able to ascertain that these cards of Jim Konstanty, Robin Roberts and Eddie Stanky were never publicly distributed and that all known copies could be traced back to Woody Gelman, Topps' Art Director. No definitive explanation has ever been offered for their scarcity and Gelman who died in the early 1970's never offered an answer, so the mystery continues.

Few examples are known. Larry Fritsch and Barry Halper have sets of all 3. Both these "sets" have considerable glue damage from being mounted in Gelman's albums. Fritsch's on the back and Halper's on the front. Another "set" turned up several years ago with significant creasing. This group was hand cut and had no die-cutting. This leads us to believe these were not final production and were likely salvaged by a Topps employee....

John Rumierez (forgive me John) is the only fortunate collector in the history of the world to ever obtain undamaged copies. Many years ago a walk-in at a show sold John two of the three cards in high grade (Roberts and Stanky) but no explanation as to their origin was offered (or John didn't ask).

Finally Frank Nagy obtained a set of eleven from his pal Gelman back in the 50's. The die-cuts and card fragility worried Nagy so he scotch taped the backs (with two layers of tape that won't come off, I might add!). To add insult to Injury, Nagy stored his cards in a pile and the tape on the back eventually stuck to the fronts and caused some paper loss, although not severe. Mastro met Nagy in the 70's and they had a good laugh about that tape on one of Bill's visits.

So we have a grand total of 14 of the unissued current all-stars in the hobby.

OK, that's a bit messy, a key point is off  and I think the count above is actually 15 but it's instructive nonetheless. Let's unpack all that verbiage.

The conventional hobby story I've heard is Nagy got a set of 8 from Topps then wrote Woody to ask about the missing cards, which I guess he knew about, and Woody sent him a trio. All 11 at once or 8 then 3, it really doesn't matter as either way the story is he got his trio from Woody/Topps.

Then there are three confirmed examples numerically graded by PSA.  All three were sold by Legendary Auctions in 2010, with the Stanky and Konstanty going to Keith Olbermann, while Roberts ended up in another collection. I have to believe it remains there or has only transacted privately since.  It appears though that there was an intervening private sale before 1979 of these three and they ended up with Barry Halper as they were shown in various editions of the Sport-Americana Baseball Card Price Guide for several years (at least the first six).  Here is a shot of each of them from 1980's Second Edition:

Note the staining on the left border at knee height.

Stanky (a helluva player and the 1950 NL leader in WAR, retroactively determined of course) has staining mid uniform around the area of his left arm and chest and at the bottom of the card.

Note the connecting nub at the top and bottom of Konstanty (the 1950 NL MVP in case you were wondering how he ended up in this set) and there is a very hard to see fleck of cardboard missing atop his left knee.  The reproduction in the guide is pretty muddy but this was 40 (!) years ago. All three graded examples  have the nubs but these are the most pronounced. The nubs show these were all Baseball Candy production pieces.

These three were eventually slabbed by PSA (and it's how they appeared in the 2010 Legendary auction).  Thanks to Friend o'the Archive Kevin Struss for the scans:

I have a scan of Stanky's reverse in the slab (below) and without (not shown but a recently sent Keith Olbermann image of the liberated card confirms its the same one):

Note the tape (and old "sticky" photo album residue) but this wasn't likely Nagy's originally for reasons that will be apparent momentarily. Here is the PSA 2 Konstanty:

That's a lotta glue! On the obverse, the Roberts and Stanky stains match the Halper cards shown in the Sport-Americana guide and check out the missing cardboard on Konstanty's left knee, also a match.  The Konstanty is a PSA 2, as is Roberts while Stanky is a 1, I assume due to the tape being added (as opposed to glue?). Amazingly, it also was sold on eBay in 2006!

So the Halper examples are the sole residents of the PSA pop report for the trio, with the three Authentic examples not appearing anymore . Actually only the Roberts could still be in the Registry as in addition to Stanky, Mr. Olbermann has also liberated the Konstanty from its plastic tomb. I suspect the same happened to the Authentic examples after REA sold them in 2018. So other than Roberts, the Halper trio went to Keith Olbermann and the CU Forum description is therefore a little wonky on his two.

The Gelman trio of proofs are likely the ones REA auctioned in 2018 in PSA Authentic holders.  They have not resurfaced at SGC or Beckett holders so they are in their natural state presently. More on these a few paragraphs down.

A reprint trio with finished backs was offered (as such) in 2014 at Net54 Baseball.  These are seemingly from a different source than the Halper examples as there are no nubs (Stanky's "dirt" though seems similar to that on Halper's example but he has no bottom stain) and appear die cut but I think these are just cleaned up Halper examples as the missing paper from Konstanty's knee seems in place, as does the dirt on the left side of Stanky's uniform.

Now we get to a Stanky reproduction that looks like it came from yet another source (UPDATE 8/6/20-I've just confirmed the original was Fritsch's):

That's a known fake (it has raw cardboard back and is actually not die cut, that is a photo of the original) but note the extra creasing between Stanky's legs, the uniform dirt near his right shoulder (not on his left side) and lack of staining on the bottom border.  Do the other two from the trio also exist from wherever this sprang? At least one MLAS fake was found along with this one that had both red and blue printing on the reverse but I can't recall which player, even though I saw it in person. This could be that fake or its sibling but I can't tell. Maybe this was from Fritsch? (Yup, see 8/6/20 Update above).

Finally, let's get to the actual proof examples mentioned above.  In December of 1981, The Trader Speaks had a very interesting auction from Card Collectors Company:

It looks a lot like Richard Gelman was auctioning some of his late dad Woody's collection.  No matter, this is the only display ad I have ever seen for the trio in my entire stash of old hobby publications.

In the Spring of 2018 REA auctioned a trio of proofs in PSA Authentic slabs that seemingly matched the CCC auction descriptions:

As you can see these were blank backed, showing the white stock used to produce the Blue Backs and Major League All Stars in their sole press run, so clearly cut from a proof sheet.  If you see one with a non-white, raw cardboard reverse, it's a fake.

So, to recap a whole bunch of my findings over the years, the Red Backs and Connie Mack All Stars were apparently printed together along with the Team cards in two press runs.  The first was on a dingier stock, the other on what I call a brilliant white stock that remains so to this day. The Blue Backs only came on the brilliant white stock, as did the Major League All Stars.

My belief is the initial run of each as sold in the nickel packs Baseball Candy included all cards printed in red, with the dingier backs, so, assuming any packs still exist and someone would open one, you should only find Red Backs, Teams and Connie Mack All Stars together. Blue Backs and Major League All Stars should likewise co-habitate but Teams may have also been inserted with these despite their red print backs (more below on this). I'm not sure if the smaller cards were on the same sheets as the larger ones but this scrap clearly shows contemporaneous printing of both sizes tied to ink color on the cards and how the initial idea was to have panelized pairs:

The larger Connie Mack All Stars, Major League All Stars and Team cards were essentially inserts for the smaller cards and all were initially sold under the Baseball Candy brand.  I think Topps planned to market a kind of "immersive" experience with Baseball Candy, will all large components enhancing the smaller ones when the game was played with them; why else originally market them all under the same name?  I suspect the Connie Mack All Stars were intended to face the Major League All Stars when the game was played with the smaller cards but the virtually non-existent Topps marketing campaign never got this across and my take is legal problems--probably an injunction halting sales- shut down the entire shooting match just as the Blue Backs were being sold along with the second run of Red Backs.

The Team cards are a bit of a head scratcher as to why they were included, no matter the overall intent of  the Topps marketing strategy.  It would not surprise me if it was part of an out of the box legal ploy to show they had issued cards of all players but then the set got shut down.  Perhaps the missing seven Team cards would have been issued with a second press run of Blue Backs but this is all pure speculation on my part. There's enough smaller cards out there to suggest Baseball Candy sold well and the need for a second press run of Red Backs seems to confirm that too.

What's odd looking back almost 70 years now is why certain players were included. A little bit of investigation though shows the player selection wasn't really off the mark and in addition Topps may have had limited options given their player pool in 1951.  Like Stanky and Konstanty, whom I touch on above, the other two seemingly bizarre choices for inclusion in the set were Walt Dropo and Hoot Evers.

Dropo was the 1950 AL Rookie of the year and Evers had an excellent campaign in 1950, receiving some AL MVP votes (as did Dropo). Evers was also a stellar athlete and from what I can tell all these decades later he excelled in center field.  Injuries were his biggest problem, plus a late start due to military service but he was considered a good enough player to replace Ted Williams in left field for the Red Sox when the Splendid Splinter was recalled for active duty in May of 1952 during the Korean War.  In fact, he was traded for Dropo as part of a blockbuster deal in June 1952 that brought him to Boston from Detroit (and which also included another MLAS, George Kell). So three of the eight regular issued subjects in the set were in the same trade!

Circling back to the matter at hand and as noted above, I am presently unsure if the Team cards were issued with the blue backs or which version (dated 1950, or undated) came with which run of Red Backs or even if some got held back to be inserted with the Blue Backs. There could certainly have been a mixing after the first Red Back/Baseball Candy run was sold and even some legal strategy in the timing of issuing dated or undated versions.

Later, bagged "sets" of Red and (possibly)  Blue Backs were sold, but they appear to have been an aftermarket product and the large cards within may not have been representative of the original packaging. You can click through the links on the right if interested in more details, noting some information in the earlier posts has been amended. There were generic ten cent "cello" packs as well sold under the Trading Card Guild rubric; these did not come with gum and could have had some of the larger cards in them. Penny packs of Baseball Candy would only have the smaller cards within; Doubles packs were 1952 reissues without the caramel.

I decided to look at PSA and SGC pop reports to see if there were any clues in the pop reports and indeed there were.

Looking at small card panels and large cards, PSA shows a 82/18 percent Connie Mack All Stars vs Major League All Stars count and essentially the same split on Red Packs vs. Blue Backs, strongly suggesting they were marketed together by color. The Teams have an overall pop of 911 and for the dated vs undated varieties it's roughly a 50/50 split, with a little variance from team to team. The overall PSA pops for all Baseball Candy subsets as of June 27, 2020:

Red Backs: 15,117 (may include panel count)
Blue Backs: 7,356 (may include panel count)
Teams: 911
Connie Mack All Stars: 836
Major League All Stars: 183

That's very close to a  2:1 ratio for Red Backs vs Blue Backs, underscoring the extra red press run. The total of Teams vs the two All Stars sets is also quite close, roughly within 10 percent.  This could mean the Teams were packed with both colors of Baseball Candy panels. Don't forget they and the Connie Mack All Stars are also found with both dingy and brilliant white backs.

SGC has counts that mirror these results somewhat:

Red Backs: (site does not display sums) but 167 panels
Blue Backs: (site does not display sums) but 60 panels
Teams: 223
Connie Mack All Stars: 444
Major League All Stars: 67

The red vs blue panel mix is a bit off from PSA but SGC does not get nearly as many subs. The Connie Mack All Stars and Major League All Stars also match at around 87/13 while the Teams count  vs. the die cut cards is only 44/56, which doesn't track at all with PSA.  If I remember correctly, early on in the slabbing wars, SGC was able to holder more oddly sized cards at first due to their ability to create custom inserts on the fly. Beckett did not have a lot of graded examples but their overall numbers match the findings at the other two. I didn't include their Red and Blue Back counts but did count the big cards.

Combining the large card counts from both PSA, SGC and Beckett yields 2,766 examples graded like so (rounded percentages):

Teams: 1,182 (43 percent)
Connie Mack All Stars: 1,326 (50 percent)
Major League All Stars: 258 (7 percent)

Toting it all up and assuming all trios of the Super Short Prints began as just that, while not knowing what John Rumierz's two examples look like and assuming there was always a matching trio that explains the "loose" Konstanty, here's what I have come up with, detailing my best take on provenance for each.  I assume the die cuts did not survive at the same rate as the Teams but we'll never untangle that one.

1) PSA 2 die cut -Woody Gelman/??/Halper/2010 Legendary/Current Whereabouts Unknown 
2) Raw die cut- Woody Gelman/Nagy (double taped back)/Mastro 1999?/Current Whereabouts Unknown 
3) Raw die cut "nice" - Rumierz show walk in
4) Raw die cut/back glue  - Woody Gelman/Fritsch/Current Whereabouts Unknown 
5) PSA A "Good" Proof - Dec 81 TTS CCC ad/likely 2018 REA/Current Whereabouts Unknown 

1) Former PSA 1 die cut  - Woody Gelman/??/eBay/??/Halper/2010 Legendary/Olbermann
2) Raw die cut- Woody Gelman/Nagy (double taped back)/Mastro 1999?/Current Whereabouts Unknown 
3) Raw die cut "nice" - Rumierz show walk in
4) Raw die cut/back glue  - Woody Gelman/Fritsch/Current Whereabouts Unknown 
5) PSA A "Good" Proof - Dec 81 TTS CCC ad/likely 2018 REA/??/2019 Goldin/Current Whereabouts Unknown 

1) Former PSA 2 die cut  - Woody Gelman/??/Halper/2010 Legendary/Olbermann
2) Raw die cut- Woody Gelman/Nagy (double taped back)/Mastro 1999?/Current Whereabouts Unknown 
3) Possibly "in the wild" (was this separated from the Rumierz walk-ins?)-Mastro 2000 or 2001/Current Whereabouts Unknown
4) Raw die cut/back glue  - Woody Gelman/Fritsch/Current Whereabouts Unknown 
5) PSA A "Good" Proof - Dec 81 TTS CCC ad/likely 2018 REA/Current Whereabouts Unknown 

A tip of the hat to Anthony Nex and Al Richter for background on some of the Mastro auctions. Many questions remain on Baseball Candy and the "Big Three" MLAS but they helped solve a couple already.

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