Saturday, September 3, 2022

The Numbers Game

As promised last time out, today we'll be looking at how Jefferson Burdick and his editorial acolytes, especially Buck Barker, shifted around the numbering system used in the American Card Catalog.  Barker (I assume it was he) eventually came up with a useful system for companies like Topps that had a number of annual issues but it was never really used by collectors.  Instead, the alphanumeric numbering used in the 1960 ACC has been "locked in" and remains the standard after 60+ years.

Using a famous example, the T206 set, was originally designated simply and numerically as "521" in the 1939 catalog, the became the alphanumeric T206 in 1946.  For the Bowman and Topps comparison, the 1946 ACC is useless as it predates card issues from both companies, although I note Bowman's predecessor was Gum Inc. and that company would certainly have had 1939 entries; alas, I do not have that catalog or access to any portion of it.

So we will start with Bowman's 1948 Baseball set. Every post needs an image, so let's go with the very underrated (in my view, at least) Stan Musial rookie card:

The 1953 ACC has the set as R701, while in 1960 it's the far more familiar R406-1 as suffixes became introduced for companies with regular issues (or varieties within their issues).  Here's the full Bowman Baseball comparison:

Year of Issue              1953                  1960
1948                           R701                 R406-1          
1949                           R708                 R406-2
1949  PCL                  R721                 R406-3
1950                           R713                 R406-4
1951                           R715                 R406-5
1952                           R724                 R406-6
1953 Color                 N/A                   R406-7
1953 B&W                 N/A                   R406-8
1954                           N/A                   R406-9
1955                           N/A                   R406-10

The 1960 Guide assigned the "400" level to Sports Issues Since 1948. These were sub-headed as follows:

R401-Leaf Gum Co., Chicago

R405-Bowman Gum Co. Basketball

R406-Bowman Gum Co., Baseball Issues

R407-Bowman Football Issues

R410-Pro Basketball


R412-Topps Hockey

R414-Topps Chewing Gum (T.C.G.), Baseball Issues

R415-Topps Football Issues

R416-Frank H. Fleer Baseball Issues

R410 was the Topps 1957-8 Basketball set in a solo listing and R411 just had Ringside obviously.  So very inconsistent entries were legion in this section.

Other Bowman issues such as Football and even those from companies like Topps and Leaf were interspersed in the somewhat chronological number assignment in the 1953 guide before being corralled by sport and year in 1960. A lot of information was packed into a single line or two as well.  For example, using 1953 and under the headings of Issues Since 1948, then Sports Issues:

R700- Sport Thrills (20) Swell gum  (Phila. Chew. gum) b&w _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ .02

R701- Baseball Players (48)  Bowman gum, medium, b&w (Play Ball 1948) _  _ .02

R702- Babe Ruth Story (28) Swell gum, medium, b&w _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _.02

R703- Touchdown Football (108) Bowman gum, medium, b&w  _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _.02

R704- Basketball Series (72) Bowman gum, medium  _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _.02
           (Portraits and diagrams)

Burdick squeezed in the ACC number, set count, gum name, issuer name, size and and b&w notation, plus a price and even some variety information as warranted!  

The editors in 1960 were no slouches with information compression either.  Here's the 1955 Bowman Baseball entry:

1955. 10-Color TV Set (320) 2 1/2 x 3 3/4 (251-310 5c).... .03
           Error and Corr. cards No. 48-101-157-205... .15        

That was under a heading that read: R406-Bowman Gum Co., Baseball Issues, all numbered. 

That's a whole mess of detail in two lines, isn't it? But in a time where reproducing photos was expensive, not to mention how much space they would have to consume, it's a simple and elegant way to describe a set, including a reference to high numbers and variations. I'm wondering though, if the typesetter went home and cried every night....

The Topps story is even more labyrinthian.  Under Issues Since 1948 we get:

Set                                            1953                  1960
Bazooka Comics                      R500                 R711-3       
It Happened to A President      R501                 R711-5
Story of the Atom Bomb          R503                R709-3 
-et al, then for some more well known sets: 

         Set                                             1953                   1960
         Wings                                        R534                   R707-4
          Look 'N' See                             R534                   R714-16
          Fighting Marines                      R533                   R709-1

Wow!  So what changed? Well, the 1960 guide started with sub-categories under the General Issues Since 1948 section.  There was, to name but a few:

R701-Bowman Gum Co, or B.G.H.L.I.

R707-Topps Chewing Gum (T.C.G.) Airplane Cards

R708-Topps Cartoon Cards

Somewhat haphazard, just like the 400's. 

Topps only had a handful of issues when the 1953 ACC was issued.  Here is the comparison to 1960:

Year        Set                                               1953                  1960
 N/A       Topps Varsity gum                       R712                 R415-1         
1951       Baseball Players Topps gum        R716                R414-5
1951       Connie Mack's                             R717                 R414-2
1951       Baseball Team Pictures                R718                 R414-4
1951       Major League All-Stars               R719                 R414-3
1951       Magic Football                            R720                  R415-2
N/A        Ringside                                       R723                  R411
1952       Baseball Players                          R725                  R414-6

I've abbreviated a bit for space but you get the idea using the 1953 guide as the basis for the set descriptions.  The 1960 Guide assigned the "400" level to Sports Issue and it was still a bit inconsistent, with years of issue not always shown, etc. There was definitely more detail in the 1960 ACC but you sometimes had to use your imagination.

You can get lost in this stuff and that's not my intention here.  Rather, I want to show how Buck Barker started assigning listings in the Updates. The January 23, 1966 seventh catalog additions that ran in Card Collectors Bulletin still followed the 1960 scheme. Then Barker had a long section on Catalog Corrections, covering both the 1960 book and the updates that had followed. At the end of these he makes some comments, such as this: "Also believe R414 Topps baseball should be broken into 3 sets. 1 -baseball cards, 2-Bazooka baseball, 3-paper baseball issues."

The updates were somewhat themed, so Barker didn't get back to the R cards until the ninth set of additions of February 1, 1968, where he still was using the 1960 system.  The latest Topps entry I can find in that update is for Who Am I?, designated R714-38 and noted as "scratch-offs, 1967." The next (and last) R card update was from the June 1, 1971 CCB. Barker has now gone to a new system that uses the suffix to designate the year of issue.  It looked like this:

R403-68    Bazooka PD. Baseball

R403-69-1 Bazooka Baseball Extra

R403-69-2 Bazooka Baseball All Time Greats

So you get the grouping for Bazooka then the year and variety within follows.  What a neat and orderly method! For some of the regular and irregular Topps Baseball issues, Barker went with:

R413-70-1 BB Scratch Off Cards 1970

R413-70-2 BB Story Booklets 1970 

R413-70-3 Baseball Stars Candy 1970

R414-68 Topps 1968 Baseball Cards

R414-69 Topps 1969 Baseball Cards

R414-70-1 Topps 1970 Baseball Cards

R414-70-2 Topps Baseball Cloth Stickers (Barker notes blank backs, test set)

R414-71 Topps 1971 Baseball (6 series)

Kinks were clearly being worked out but a more useful system had been devised.  At a guess, this was done in the wake of the 1967 ACC failing to launch and the "think tank"duties  moving on to either Barker or others along with his input.  With a little more refinement this could have been a really good way to move forward.  With grading companies no longer having a generally accepted reference to, well, refer to, at least since the Standard Catalog went poof, it seems like some method to keep the ACC alphanumeric scheme alive would be worthwhile.

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