Saturday, August 15, 2020

Series Opener

I've been intensely looking through a bunch of old hobby price guides, catalogs -- especially those from Woody Gelman's Card Collectors Company --  and my almost complete run (January 1969, where are you?!) of The Trader Speaks and several hundred other vintage hobby 'zines, roughly focusing on the valuation of 1952 Baseball high numbers. The 1952 High Number Executive Summary, noting further research to the following linked posts has occurred in many instances, is as follows:

1) Highs were probably printed in about half the quantity of the semi-highs,
2) Alleged dumping at sea by Topps of excess 1952 high number inventory is almost certainly a carefully constructed fiction,
3) Some were exported to Venezuela and Canada and it was subject to a loosely regionalized rollout in the U.S. when originally distributed, which extended into early 1953,
4) Reports of them being in 1953 packs is very likely incorrect, and
5) The final series was not planned at the beginning of production.

So given all this, I decided it would be interesting to track the evolution of high number (and scarce series) pricing of some Topps cards over the decades and after some reflection, hit upon exploring the following to lay out the development of scarce series pricing from the 1950's through 1990:
  • 1952 Highs (and eventually by inference, semi-highs)
  • 1957 Mid Series (#265-352)
  • 1966 High Number Common Short Prints
  • 1967 High Number Common Short Prints
  • 1972 Highs
The 52's are a no-brainer while the 1957 mid-series scarcity has always intrigued me as it hints at an unexplained production issue. However, when I looked at the fifth series of '57 cards, spanning #353-407, I began to wonder if the scarce 4th series was intended to be the last one that year. Check out this player distribution in series 5:
  • 26 Rookie Cards
  • 27 current Major Leaguers, the best of whom was probably Earl Torgeson or Walker Cooper (who was 42 years old in 1957!). It's almost 90% scrubs and journeymen in this group and if you take away Torgeson and Cooper and add up the remaining players' career WAR, it's likely negative or close to it.
  • 2 admittedly fabulous Multi-Player cards (Dodgers Sluggers and Yankees Power Hitters) that, while iconic, seem like they got thrown in to add some star power.
Also, there were no team cards in the last series, having all been exhausted by the end of series 4. It looks like Topps produced the fifth series in May as players traded in April (Faye Throneberry, Bob Lennon and Dean Stone) appear with their new teams. There were no May trades among the group of non-RC's (and I didn't check the RC's) but two June trades left Warren Hacker and Chuck Tanner with their old teams on their Topps cards. So after issuing 340 cards across four series in 1956, did Topps intend to end at 352 in 1957? The way the unnumbered checklists were issued (Series 1/2, 2/3, 3/4, 4/5) would support either a pre-planned or hastily assembled series 5.  I digress, but note the 1958 high numbers were also a slap dash affair and it's highly probable that year's set was intended to be 440 cards before it was extended, so Topps must have seen extremely good initial and sustained sales in those years to continue on with a final series. That makes three 1950's Topps sets with their high numbers decided upon quite late in the season if I'm correct.

The 1966 and 67 high number short prints have their own stories, and the 1972's are the last true highs issued by Topps (this also applies to Football in 1972 but that is a different thing entirely) and also are now thought to be the toughest of their 70's highs. In addition, these sets have cards with white borders on all four sides, eliminating any condition related premiums. The look-see at the 1966 and later issues (and even the 57's) will mostly be in later posts in this arc, covering the late-70's through mid-80's and after I dissect the mid 70's structures. There will be some ancillary pricing commentary as well along the way. as my review has yielded some obscure and fascinating tidbits. But first, lets get to the king of all postwar sets, although I warn you there will be many side trips along the way.

It's possible to go back to the 1953 American Card Catalog and start our quest there. The 1952 high numbers were still being distributed when this edition (the third) came out and obviously a publication that debuted in February 1953 would not be able to say much, if anything, about them, but it assigned the catalog reference of R725 to the 1952 Topps Baseball set (eventually changed to R414-6) and listed a price of two cents per card.  Topps had a big ad in the back of the 1953 ACC, the only one to use photographs in fact, with 1952 Baseball as the centerpiece:

Smart move by Topps and I believe 1953 was the year they started fully embracing the collector's market with the Woody Gelman adjacent Trading Card Guild. Furthermore, I suspect the founding of Sam Rosen's aftermarket concern in 1955, which was inexorably connected to the Guild, was the result of so many collectors writing to Topps for missing singles they felt they had to do something to fill the void.  As the late, great Jay Lynch once wrote to me, albeit in another context, "Woody was hip to the jive." Indeed, as Rosen was his Stepfather!

By October 1956, Sam Rosen's List #12 (presented here courtesy of Friend o'the Archive David Kathman) had assigned a hefty premium to the 1952 high numbers. Kathman advises this structure was in already place for a Rosen ad in a 1953 issue of the Card Collectors Bulletin ("The Bulletin"), so Sam was the quite trendsetter it seems:

Yup, two cents for the lows, five cents for the highs, or 2.5x, but no full sets could be bought.  Luckily for the original owner of this list, he had already competed his quest!  I also like the "11" Major League All Stars being offered (good luck on the Stanky, Roberts & Konstanty fella!).  1956 Baseball was still current and available by series.

Interestingly, the non-sports page gives us similar premium pricing for the 1953-54 World On Wheels cards, which were probably just past or in their final throes of returns to Topps. Those highs are indeed tough, especially the last ten "high-highs", whose method of distribution seems to have been unorthodox and is still unclear, but no distinction is yet made:

In 1958 there was a more structured approach to selling 1952 Baseball in the Rosen list but not even a glimmer of 1957 fourth series premium pricing was evident:

(Courtesy David Kathman)

I'm not showing it but Rosen was paying three cents apiece for the '52 highs at the time (July 1958) this list came out. Unfortunately, Sam had only months left to live and died on New Years Eve.

March 1959 brought the first Card Collector's Company (CCC) catalog (#10, which didn't follow the numbering of its predecessor company--Sam Rosen--for some reason) and the pricing for 1952 Topps ended with #1-310 at five cents a throw (ten cents for the low number black backs).  I guess Sam was on to something!

1957 Topps were 3 cents for any card in the set. You could order the latter set for $10, which was a significant discount but no '52 sets were to be had. Note the high number World On Wheels cards were now a dime vs three cents for commons, or 3.33 x! I think Woody was either out of or holding back his '52 highs at this point though, my thoughts are quite biased toward the latter scenario for reasons we shall soon see:

The December 1, 1959 issue of "The Card Collector," Gelman's small hobby publication of the time, published a 1952 Topps checklist prefaced with this gem of a paragraph:

1960 brought a new ACC (the last to be updated in book form) and while it evened out the first series red/black pricing at a dime apiece (all cards up to #310 were priced at 10 cents) the high numbers were now commanding 30 cents apiece, or three times the price of the lower numbers. 1957 Topps were all priced at five cents each.

The 1960 CCC catalog of March 1 vintage listed ten cents a card for 1952 #1-310 and 35 cents for the highs as the premium grew slightly. 1957's were a nickel across the board and neither was offered as a full set. Presumably, this was the first sale of 1952 high numbers by CCC after the "Berger barge blub"! Remember, there are no coincidences when it comes to Topps.

A major competitor to CCC, Gordon Taylor, was also issuing regular lists at this time and his April 1, 1960 number had the following pricing:

(Courtesy David Kathman)

That's a 4x premium on the '52 highs.  Other pages of his list indicate he wanted $1 for scarce cards in 1951 Ringside (#48 - the immortal Rocky Castellini) and 1950 Freedom's War (#203 - Arctic Soldier) but it's not clear to me if they were considered tough due to #48 being the last card in the first series of Ringside and #203 the last card in Freedom's War, or if he just goofed and meant Ringside #49 (Bob Murphy, recognized today as a difficult card, especially in high grade) and Freedom's War #201 (Dwight Eisenhower). It's noteworthy that the 1959 high numbers, still a-molderin' on grocery and variety store shelves I am sure, were commanding a premium as well.

In his November 1960 issue of Card Comments, Taylor made a passing comment that 1952's  #311-407 were getting "scarcer by the day" and he offered a full set in EX at $65 (discounted from the "regular" price of $79.  Meanwhile, the next month he offered a short set #1-310 at $28 in Mint Condition. I'm not sure what the spread between EX and Mint was 60 years ago or how to factor his previous month's "discount" but I think this meant his 40 cent pricing increase per 1952 high number still held.

I will point out here Woody Gelman was involved with the 1953 American Card Catalog as Associate Editor of Advertising and Publication, along with Jefferson Burdick (Managing Editor, of course) and two others: Charles Bray, who did the pricing work and was known for his indifference toward "modern" cards, and Gene DeNardo, who revised copy. While the 1960 edition made no mention of the associate editorial staff's individual responsibilities, later information from Chris Benjamin revealed Woody was the (definitely) non-publicized publisher of record. In fact, his son Richard was responsible for reprinting the ACC in the late 80's, which is the version I mostly use to this day.

Here's the 1960 ACC title page, courtesy once again of David Kathman:

As an aside, the first reprinting of the 1960 ACC occurred in 1967 and it genuinely irked the collectors of the time, who were expecting the usual, updated guide. As it turned out, nothing had been changed for its normal seven year full republication cycle, despite official updates promulgated every few months in the Card Collector's Bulletin by Buck Barker, who had joined the ACC editorial staff for the 1960 edition and was a widely known veteran collector. Barker started the Bulletin "Catalog Additions" with a date of November 21, 1960, and along with Bray permanently replaced Burdick as the keepers of the "knowledge" in The Bulletin." A good chunk of 1967 hobby enmity was directed at Woody Gelman as a consequence, so his involvement as the publisher of the reprint edition was seemingly known to the collectors of the time. Do note Woody's contact address is the one used for Card Collectors Company!

Burdick was in the midst of mounting his collections for the Metropolitan Museum of Art when the 1960 ACC was compiled and almost all of his exertions were focused thereon of course. Catalog Updates, once an annual occurrence in loose three hole punch form were relegated to The Bulletin. These collected Bulletin ACC updates were published in a pamphlet by Chris Benjamin in 1990 and he noted the 1967 ACC had, "for reasons never explained" failed to include information from any of the eight Catalog Additions published through 1966. Sixteen in total were compiled through 1972, some in multiple parts and I have to assume the sheer number of sets being issued annually at that point  precluded further updates from being meaningful.

An attempt was made to incorporate the year of issue in the catalog numbering scheme as the Sixties wore on but it never really took hold and many advanced collectors don't even know about Barker's work or Benjamin's compilation of same:

Barker, as might be surmised from his titling, mostly compiled additions (and corrections) to the ACC and didn't follow up on pricing once a new or newly discovered issue was memorialized in print. He did note in the first Catalog Addition that Woody Gelman was still sending information to him. Most of each addition looked just as static as the cursory ACC listings, but Barker often put more interesting and illustrative "Commentoes" or "Barker Barks" sections at the end of each. However they only addressed updates for old sets in terms of information (mostly checklist additions) and remained true to form by not keeping up with current pricing. So a big fat zero in my quest there!

Back to the Card Collectors Co. then-their March 1961 catalog was next issued after the ACC came out and 1952 low number pricing remained the same at ten cents while the highs were now going for a half dollar each. 1957 Topps pricing was the same as the year prior at a nickel but the complete set was offered at $18, again reflecting a nice discount.

The March 1962 CCC catalog is where things start getting interesting in respect of the 1952 cards.  #1-99 are priced at fifteen cents apiece (which makes no sense as series one quite obviously ended at #80 and series two at #130) while cards up to #250 thereafter were still a dime.  We see the semi high's get some love at fifteen cents apiece and the highs were now a whopping $1 apiece, a 10x premium!  It's amazing how Woody was able to stock these, no? Full sets of the 1952's were unavailable but the 1957 pricing was the same as the year prior all around, including the full set.

I have a catalog from a Canadian dealer named Leonard Paone dated March 1, 1962 (the start of the baseball season sure was popular for catalogs, with good reason) and the pricing structure for the various series' prior to the highs is the opposite of Woody's:

#1-99: ten cents (black backs from #1-80 were fifteen cents each though; I still do not get this tranche)
#100-250: none for sale (!), presumably an inadvertent omission or typo
#251-310: fifteen cents each
#311-407: fifty cents each

No 1952 full sets were available from Mr. Paone either, while the 57's are starting to show a bare recognition of the mid series being scarce but again, the tranches are bizarre:

#1-252: four cents each (ironically, at one later point the 1952's were thought to have their third series conclude at #252 and both are, of course 407 cards in total length)
#253-364: six cents each
#365-407: four cents each
Full set: $15

The 1963 and 1964 CCC catalogs have the same pricing 1962 had; there is no recognition of a scarce series in 1957. I'm not sure why but this was a bit of a stagnant time in the hobby, with a number of publications struggling to stay in print on a regular basis. Gordon Taylor ended up shutting down his companion Card Comments newsletter and sold out his inventory (it eventually ended up with Bruce Yeko). Woody's The Card Collector publication was also struggling and flared out for good in '64 after a couple of erratic issues came out following a "suspension" of publication the year prior. I wonder if the Space Race was diverting attention, or maybe the actual non-collector, un-crazed portion of the country had moved on?

Meanwhile, an ad in the September-October 1964 issue of The New Sports Gazette from Barry Newman noted low stock on the scarce 57's but the pricing was the same as any other card in the set at 4 cents apiece.  The same ad noted no 1952 high numbers were in stock either.  A little supply and demand disconnect there I'd say.

Here is a spread from Marshall Oreck's 1965 catalog that speaks for itself:

(Courtesy David Kathman)

That $1 price point for the '52 highs was also noted by John England in his regular column "From The Cigar Box" in the September 1965 issue of The Sports Trader ("TST"), where he wrote:

"These cards, only thirteen years old, already bring up to $1.00 each. Can you imagine what they might bring in another twenty years! Are these cards really as rare as people say?  In 1952 when I started collecting, when these cards were still on the open market, I never received one of them in my package. Later, in 1953, they were resold in celophane (sic) packages (15 for 10 cents) but again the rare cards were never among the ones you bought. As far as I now the last series was never issued in Arkansas. All of these cards that I obtained were bought or traded for through the mail with collectors on the East coast. It is again unique to find a rare series in the same year that they were issued, but as I remember back, even then these cards brought very good prices.  Oh to have a thousand of them now!"

Despite Mr. England's waxings, as noted above things stagnated for a bit in the hobby during the mid-60's. This was still very much a time when many serious collectors were pursuing cards issued prior to the Second World War while newer collectors, no doubt rekindling youthful memories of buying cards after the war ended, were accumulating and trading Topps and Bowman cards.

The January 1966 issue of The Sports Trader contained advertising from Matt Lorence offering 1957 Topps cards at 4 cents each, no series singled out, unlike some others in his ad.  So no real bump on the 1957 mids there.

I am missing the 1965 and 1966 CCC catalogs presently but based upon the 1967 version (a January release) the pause in pricing was in very much in evidence, although Woody, in addition to the imminent ACC reissue, may have been preoccupied with the pending Topps production plant move from Brooklyn to Duryea, PA. The only difference from when the 1962 catalog was issued is that full series of the 1952 highs could be bought for $90, with individual cards from it still at a dollar a pop and no change to the previous series pricing is observed.  A cynic might mention Topps had cleared out all their Brooklyn warehouses in 1965-66 as part of the move to Duryea (a lot of this old inventory, once picked over by Gelman, is what I suspect was actually dumped by Sy Berger). No 1957 price changes or availability differences occurred.

Interestingly, Bill Haber, three years prior to being hired by Topps, wrote in the August 1967 issue of The Ballcard Collector he had ordered a group of cards from Card Collectors Company that makes me wonder if the regular help was absent one day:

"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!"

Price List #20 dated January 15, 1968 from CCC (OK, catalog) is where things start to get interesting again. The 1952 highs were still $1 each essentially but an awareness of series availability, supply and demand was coming into focus:

#1-99: 20 cents apiece (still following this weird pricing tranche)
#100-250: 12 cents each
#251-310: 15 cents apiece as semi-high separation appears to begin
#311-407: $1 each, with a full series still selling for $90
"Rare" cards: Spahn, Feller, Berra and Mays were 95 cents each.

As for 1957 Topps, we get the first mention of something happening with the mid's: 20 cents each for series four cards, vs. seven cents for all others. The cards from the #265-352 were described as "extremely scarce" and I suspect this was a last minute change to the fourth series pricing as the extrapolated price of a full set, available for a modest $2 increase from the year before at $20, was less than half the value of the individually priced cards, a terrific bargain.  Again, one wonders what the clearing out of the Topps warehouses in Brooklyn had wrought.  As an aside, a near complete set of World on Wheels, lacking the ten "high, high" numbers was available for $6.

It's worth noting 1953's "rare" cards went for $1.25 and for the CCC first time singled out Mantle in this group; scattered pricing of the 1956 and subsequent Mick's was also presented. My initial thought is that his anticipated imminent retirement was being noticed and this is the start of the very long running "Mantle-mania" that persists to this day and then some in the hobby.

However, the October 1968 issue of The Sports Trader had an ad from Ed Dey showing not all dealers had caught up to the pricing trends in 1952.  Here's the skinny:

#1-80 Red Backs: 12 cents
#1-80 Black Backs: 14 cents
#81-310: 10 cents

No highs and 57's were an even 4 cents each. A later issue of TST (August 1969) had a brief survey request from John England for a count of scarce cards. The 1952 highs made the cut, along with a baker's dozen of others. Oddly, 1948 Bowman was one of the sets queried. He revealed the results in the following month's issue (3 complete series in the whole world!), to which can be applied a liberal amount of salt. TST had about 1,000 subscribers at the time and a whopping 11 responded to the survey!

I don't have any CCC catalogs (OK, price lists) covering 1969-72. However, The Trader Speaks ("TTS") since its November 1968 debut had virtually no coverage of or ads for 1952 or 1957 Topps until October of 1970, when a fellow named Edmund Pesko auctioned a set that ended at #310. I found a buy ad from Art Smith in the the December 1970 issue of Sports Advertisers Journal offering 75 cents each for the '52 highs then nuttin' until 1972, when a handful of auctions that year were asking for $4 minimum bids on them. Prices were clearly climbing as the 70's progressed. No 1957 mid-series pricing was offered during this time in TTS, nor would there be any in the 1973-74 issues.

There was, however as this Wirt Gammon article form The Ballcard Collector in September 1970 pointing out some rising prices on the 1952 highs: $3!  Note the bonus content from Bill Haber (now employed by Topps) about their limited distribution (vs. a barge event):

Haber reinforced this the following month in the BCC:

That snippet was from the "Rocks In The Head" column by Andy Rochman, who went on to state that the hobby was inaccessible to many newcomers due to lack of  a coherent price guide.  Rochman suggested paying not more than $2.50 for the 1952 high numbers (vs. 25 cents for low numbers) and 25 cents for the scarce 1957 4th series cards (vs. 15 cents for any others). As for a price guide, the February 1972 issue of BCC contained a survey form looking for pricing "estimates" on various sets.  The 1952 highs were segregated from the rest of the set in this survey as was the 1957 4th series.

This all belies the fact that there was little availability of 1952 Topps cards in the 60's and early 70's hobby press and there was a clear paucity of the high numbers when the cards were offered.  They just were not routinely available at sale or auction at the time, whereas you would see 1953's with regularity.

In November of 1972, the Ballcard Collector published the results of their pricing survey back in February.  I'll let the results speak for themselves:

1973 did bring the first Card Collectors Company ad buy in the January issue of The Trader Speak (the same month their Price Lists used to debut), selling old tobacco cards and the 1971 Topps Greatest Moments set, which was a hot topic for years in the hobby press. 1952 high number minimum bids crept to $5 this year but there were not a lot of offerings.  The first five or so years of TTS really focused more on pre-World War 2 issues and memorabilia (programs, yearbooks and guides were quite popular). The CCC ads within mostly focused on secondary and test issues from Topps (fodder for another post sometime). They debuted in the October 1973 issue (or possibly the November issue, the 'zine came out about every three weeks and the masthead was often imprecise or illegible) of the Ballcard Collector, probably the most worthy competitor to The Trader Speaks in the pre-Sports Collectors Digest era. The next issue had the same ad, which was chock full of rare Topps test issues.

Woody Gelman ("Owner of over 30,000 bubblegum cards") had recently appeared on the "To Tell The Truth" TV show, where he shared his T206 Wagner with the studio audience, panelists and viewers at home and while I can't find it on You Tube, it's show # 1184 from season 4 of the revived series. Gene Rayburn, Peggy Cass, Bill Cullen and Kitty Carlisle were the panelists. The hobby was really accelerating as a National phenomenon!

In my opinion, another factor in the hobby's rise rise to national attention (and the related rise in card values) was "The Baseball World of Joe Garagiola". Joe was very much a media precursor to Michael Strahan, almost uncannily so, and Garagiola devoted at least one segment of his show, which mostly aired before the NBC "Game of the Week" if memory serves, on how Topps made cards.  Irv Lerner, one of the more prominent dealers of the time (and still - he sets up annually at The National), was also part of the same show as he hosted the former catcher and production crew at his Pennsylvania home. Bill Haber made an appearance as well according to contemporary reports. Its unrelated but Bill James was profiled on one of Garagiola's shows, discussing Runs Created, so Joe was out in front of the birth of Sabermetrics.

August 1973 brought the next full price guide results in the Ballcard Collector.  Again, I'll let the numbers do the talking:

The November 1973 issue of Sports Scoop, which had premiered only that February, brought a rousing report by cub reporter Keith Olbermann on a New York City convention held in mid-September that noted 1952 high numbers had jumped to $10 each from $7 earlier in the year. And jumping back to BCC, Dick Miller had the 1957 mids at 30 cents each, vs. 15 cents for the other series' cards.

The fledgling and imminently mighty Sports Collectors Digest (SCD) ran a cursory price guide in their January 25, 1974 issue that had EX 1952 highs priced at $8.50 each, vs. 45 cents for anything below the high series.  1957's ran 35 cents for the tougher fourth series cards against 12 cents otherwise.

The February 1974 Sports Scoop had mid-series 1957's at 50 cents (vs. 15 cents for other commons in the easier series) with the condition advertised as "very good to mint", so a nice premium but all over the map condition-wise. I don't have a ton of Sports Scoop issues but the lack of 1952 Mantles and highs from most ads and auctions mirrored The Trader Speaks and Ballcard Collector experiences.

I think Gelman had a stroke or other serious illness at some point in 1974, which limited CCC ads in The Trader Speaks and elsewhere. Other TTS advertisers were also bereft and 1952 highs were essentially nowhere to be seen in any kind of quantity in the publication until December, when this appeared:

Minimum bids for the highs had jumped to $10, confirming the reports from the September '73 NYC Convention.  Meanwhile minimums for the lows and semi-high series capped out at 50 cents or so per card, extrapolated from the lot listings above. Prices were on the upswing and there was a noticeable increase in collector's conventions in 1974, no doubt fueling same as information started to get around on certain sets and cards. Also on the rise were rip-offs of collectors-the more things change....

SCD ran a chart by Dave Meiners - "The Sports Advocate" - that traced pricing of various sets and series from 1966 through 1973 in their June 15, 1974 issue.  The chart is not scanning well so here is the 1952 Topps summary, lows first, then highs, in what was likely Ex-Mt condition:

1966: 5 cents/75 cents
1968: 8 cents/$1
1970: 10 cents/$2.45
June 1971: 25 cents/$3.23
Dec. 1971: 28 cents/$4.95
June 1972: 35 cents/$6.75
Dec. 1972: 42 cents/$7.37
June 1973: 44 cents/$8
Dec. 1973: 48 cents/$8.75

Interestingly, the highest priced cards in the study of 40 sets and series encompassing the 20th century's most widely issued cards from the tobacco era through 1955 were from the 1951 Topps Major League All Stars, which were listed st $25.75 as of December 1973.  The next closest after that was the 1954 Wilson Franks cards at $12.10 and then the 1951 Connie Mack All Stars at $10.00. The '52 highs were a close fourth followed by 1958 Bell Brand at $8.11 then the 1951 Topps Team cards at $6.30.

This type of pricing study was slowly coming into vogue. Ray Medeiros started a series of Price Guide "inserts" in the Ballcard Collector in the Fall of 1974 and the December issue had Topps pricing as of September 15th.  1952 highs were listed at $8.75 and 1957 mid's at fifty cents each.  His innovative inserts allowed room for collectors to note prices going forward and started scratching the surface of superstar pricing, at first with no specific names attached to the premium cards.

It's worth noting here that 1952 Topps Baseball in general seemed to have been sold in quantity by only a small batch of dealers and collectors at this time. Prior to 1975 so many ads and auctions that had consecutive runs of Topps offerings in TTS started off with 1953 Topps in their parades of yearly sets and singles that it was almost jarring to see 52's in one.  But things were indeed changing as more were being offered as the year went on.

The Trader Speaks February 1975 issue saw Larry Fritsch offer some 1952 highs at auction, the first I've seen of these in the inventory of "America's First Full Time Dealer" and for auction no less. Bill Haber, former Topps employee and test set dealer extraordinaire had moved out to Wisconsin to work for Fritsch in the fall of 1974.  As noted above, when it comes to Topps, there are no coincidences.

The March TTS had a number of auctions with '52 highs but no minimums were listed. In contrast, a buy ad for L&R Card Company was offering to buy 52 Mantles at $30. The April 15, 1975 SCD had 52 highs at $10 each in a Jerry Sullivan ad that also had the Mantle offered at $36.

 By May Fritsch had stocked up a little on '52 highs, as this TTS ad attests:

An August 1975 TTS ad from Larry Loeschen, a frequent advertiser, had EX-MT common highs for sale at $10 apiece (and a tape stained Jackie Robinson for $25). This illustrates the larger point that almost no 1952 Topps Mantles were being offered for sale or at auction during 1975.

September brought news Bill Haber had moved back to New York City (specifically Brooklyn) a couple of miles from the Topps executive offices in Sunset Park, making me wonder how many candy stores were located between those two locations for test issue purposes, although the great days of such sets had already ended. 1957 "rare" series cards in VG-EX were being offered for 50 cents each by Jay Barry, who in January of '76 he had them in EX at the same price before reverting three months later to VG-EX cards for the usual half dollar, but another dealer had cards from the fourth series priced at 39 cents, condition not specified. This lack of condition clarity, which was a pretty common thing back then in a hobby that assumed the offered cards were Ex-Mt in such circumstances, was ubiquitous from what I can tell.

The earliest discrete price guide I own, from 1975 and put out by Ladd Publications, had very little to say about the 52's ($10 a pop for highs but no specific price for poor Mickey) or 57's (zero differentiation):

The Ladd guide was not well known then or now but various checklists and (non-pricing) guides issued by Larry Fritsch and even The Trader Speaks were also helping to focus attention on the Mantle and a select few other cards. However it was the publication of Burt Randolph Sugar's Sports Collectors Bible (SCB) at the tail end of 1975 that really seems to have kicked off the modern pricing wave that lasted for over two decades. The Bible only had cursory values -- and the first edition didn't even include checklists for the modern sets -- but it became the template for all that followed.

The inaugural SCB had the following pricing pertinent to my current investigation:

1952 Topps #1-310: 50 cents to $1.50
1952 Topps #311-407 $7-$11 ("limited quantity")
1957 Topps: No differential
1967 Topps #534-609: 50 cents to $1 (limited distribution noted, described as "fairly scarce")

That's it!

The April 1976 TTS gave us a 1952 Topps Mantle auction in an Uncle Ed's Sport & Collector's Corner auction, a rare sighting within the magazine. May brought another Mick, with a $100 minimum bid from John B. Kaiser. Still, even in the mid 70's a lot of ads and auctions with consecutive yearly runs of Topps offerings would continue to start at 1953.

By June 1976 more '52 Topps Mantles and High Numbers were showing up in auctions and in a related note, August 1976's TTS brought the first individual mention of the #1 Pafko card I've run across, in an auction run by the very active Steve Coerper.  September's TTS still had Jay Barry and his half dollar VG 57's and also 52 VG highs at $6 each.

The aforementioned Mr. Coerper had a buy ad in this very same issue, offering to pay $4.75 apiece for EX-MT 52 highs and 30 cents for the 57 mids (8 cents for all other series). Coerper was also paying premiums for highs in 1953 (45 cents) and 1955 (32 cents). The high number pricing structure for 1950's cards was just beginning to permeate the hobby but quite sporadically still at this key point. Some issues of the magazine would have a couple of dealers with 52 highs or a Mantle at auction, followed by others that were completely bereft.

A big blowout Card Collectors Co. ad in the November 1976 TTS ran to almost four pages in the wake of the somewhat infamous fire (on March 30, 1975) that damaged some of their inventory. It seems like everything they had in stock was being sold (all undamaged save for some 1971 Greatest Moments cards), much of it in decently sized lots, but no 52 or 57 tough series cards were advertised.

Also you may have noticed there was nothing brewing on the 1966 or '67 high number short prints through the end of the Bicentennial year.  Zip, zero, zilch, nada. But the hobby was changing in front of everybody's eyes and by 1977 the first published price guide listings from Dr. Jim Beckett were coming out. These were based upon surveys put together by Beckett, which had commenced canvassing set pricing for a large amount of baseball issues, at the end of 1976. John Stirling also issued a guide that year, with updated pricing mailers offered. More on those developments and the impact it had on the pricing of scarce series cards will follow in part two.


John Bateman said...

I had heard a rumor that a small group of dealers in the 1970s artificially inflated the price of the 1952 Mantle. There were reports of dealers selling the Mantles among themselves generating publicity for it high price. The theory went Collector A sold (Mickey) to Collector B for $100. Collector B sold (Mickey) to Collector C for $200. Collector C sold (Mickey) to Collector D for $300. Collector D sold (Mickey) back to Collector A for $400. There are now reports of the 52 Mantle going for $400. Why would Collector A pay $400 for Mickey(that he sold for $100), because Collector A had a stash of 25 1952 Mantles (and Collector B, C and D probably had stashes of). Collector A cards were now worth $400 instead of $100. It was just a rumor, though or a theory.

toppcat said...

I suspect this happened with the 1967 Brooks Robinson as well. I think Lew Lipset was on to the scam as revealed in some of his TTS columns. No involved but he clearly knew something was occurring if you read his commentary.

Unknown said...

Hi Toppcat,

Thanks for your interesting and throughly researched post. I am wonder if you'd be willing to send me a scan of the "big blowout Card Collectors Co. ad" in the November 1976 TTS? I recently received a T206 card with fire scorching. This unique damage piqued my interested into the 110+ year life history of the card. I began researching fire/smoked damaged cards and found out about the CCC fire of 1975. Accordingly, I am trying to collect additional documentary evidence of the CCC fire.

Thank you for your consideration.


toppcat said...

Zac send me your e-mail addy and I'll send the scans to you.