by Rich Klein
Recently, there was a great thread on the Net 54 Message Boards about some 1948-1973 cards that were tough to obtain and believed to be undervalued by Beckett. One of the years that was touched upon was 1961 and those very difficult high numbers. When I was building my 1961 set back in the late 1970’s and early 80’s, the high numbers were real tough and all these years later those cards are still brutal to find in nice condition.
However, the fifth series has cards which are just as difficult showing that 1961 was truly a year with some wildly overproduced cards (most of the first two series) and some really difficult ones. I remember when I was working part-time work for dealer John Broggi and Al Rosen came up with a large quantity of vending quality fifth series cards. We all noticed immediately that the find included about half as many of the Bill Skowron card #371 compared to the rest. There were others that we all realized were more difficult including the Jim Maloney rookie card and the Christy Mathewson Highlight card.
A few years after that, I was attending a show at the Nassau Coliseum promoted by the late Chuck Splitanic and saw an uncut sheet of 1961’s. All the cards we had long suspected as short prints in that 1961 fifth series were all in the same row. Sometime later, I posted this in a message board thread. "A good example is the SP's in 5th series of 1961 -- I remember seeing that sheet at the Nassau Coliseum in 1993, and it confirmed what we in the hobby long suspected: that there were certain cards in that series shorter printed than ever other card. We knew from experience that the Jim Maloney RC and Bill Skowron (for example) came up at about half the average rate of the other cards. The sheet had all those cards confirmed as SP's -- it's nice when you can prove your theorem."
That is why we loved getting photos of older uncut sheets at Beckett to see if our theories about tough cards could be proved.
Here’s a little sidebar to that story about the show in New Jersey. I was on sort of a busman's holiday, as my compatriot, Grant Sandground, was covering it for Beckett. I remember going to the airport to pick him up and the first people off the plane were Mavericks guard Derek Harper and his family. Harper had not yet become a Knick and I swear he recognized me as I was waiting at the airport. And why would Derek Harper even recognize me? Well, those two previous seasons the Mavericks had put together a couple of truly awful seasons: 11 and 13 wins total. We had season tickets at Beckett and since no one usually wanted to go except the price guide people we would be offered tickets to at least 20-25 games a year during that period. The crowds were sparse enough that we could leave the office at 7 PM and make it to our seats in time for the National Anthem.
Most players would tell you that they do recognize fans they see frequently at their games. So I can understand why Mr. Harper was surprised to see a familiar face as the first one he saw in New York. I was just about as equally shocked to see him get off the plane. So that is how, with a sidebar, that Beckett got to formally identify the 1961 fifth series short prints.
By the way, at that same show, we had a very nice dinner with Doug Drotman who I'm happy to say is still involved in the hobby 20 years later doing PR for Goldin Auctions and some Panini projects.
Some of the other cards in the new thread are old hat at being considered tough (1966 #591 Grant Jackson/Bart Shirley which was the subject of a story here on Sports Collectors Daily last year) and others are new (to me) for the parade such as the 1964 Curt Flood card of which some collector is rumored to have accumulated more than 1,000.
There are always cases of weird things like that: I had heard stories of collectors who did not like these obscure players: 1966 Jack Cullen and 1971 Fred Wenz and tried to buy all the stocks of each of these cards. It just goes to show you never know about why some cards are hard to find online or at a show. Some are scarce because they are rough to locate and others are scarce because of some weird quirk. And I do believe there may be something to tough and early cards in the 1964 low series as I remember from my NY area dealing days that Ted Harkness always seemed to be hard to find while Amado Samuel seemed to be like a bad penny.
Recently, Dave Hornish has self published on the Internet (free downloads available) his exhaustive history of Topps and its cards through 1956. The book titled "The Modern Hobby Guide to Topps Baseball Cards is available through this link: https://ia601805.us.archive.org/9/items/ModernGuideToToppsChewingGumPublishedCopy2.2/Modern%20Guide%20To%20Topps%20Chewing%20Gum%20Published%20Copy%202.2.pdf and the book is a very worthwhile tome to read through. Tons of history on the Shorin family and how Topps made their way through their first 20 years.
Dave and I tend to disagree on certain hi number aspects. He writes in his review of the 1955 Topps set "Beckett alleges" that four high numbers are much easier to obtain. Well, I think on this one we agree but I'd love to see a sheet for proof. Please note, if you check dealer stocks I'd bet those four cards are much easier to obtain.
We also disagree on 1967's as certain cards which are long considered to be difficult (i.e. 1967 Don Shaw/Gary Sutherland) he says is much easier. There were, if I recall correctly, 22 cards which seemed to be in every high number collection and tons more of these cards were always in the secondary market. We'd both like to see some definitive sheets to prove that cards such as Vada Pinson are just much more common than the Mike Shannon card.
And sometimes, proof on scarcity comes with un-cut sheets. My old dealing buddy, Mike Gallela (who just recently passed away -- here is a link to his obit http://obits.pennlive.com/obituaries/pennlive/obituary.aspx?pid=165652698 ) came to a Willow Grove show with two different 1963 Fleer sheets. The first one had Joe Adcock which was replaced in the same location by the checklist. Sometimes proof of what we always suspected is handed to you. And yes those 1963 Fleer Checklist and Adcock cards are tough. I remember going to a Montclair State show and looking specifically for the checklist and there were exactly two in the room of a room of maybe 200 tables.
One of the funniest things was in 1979 I could not find al Al Fitzmorris card to finish my set and even today, for whatever reason that card is less available in any 1979 runs I get. I do not know why. It’s just a strangely tough card for me. What cards have you had trouble with finding? We'd love to hear about it and we’ll try to feature some of them.
Rich Klein can be reached at [email protected]