When many collectors think of card issues produced by the Baseball Hall of Fame, they usually envision the Hall of Fame plaque postcards that have been released for each member of the Hall going back decades. Yet vintage baseball card fanatics know the Hall's true gift to collecting was a short-lived series of uniquely designed cards that debuted--and ceased--in the 1950s. Callahan baseball cards have a big fan base among collectors despite having been issued long after the baseball careers of those featured. Once regarded as a 'souvenir' issue, the market for them has expanded.
The brainchild of B. E. Callahan, publisher of the annual Who’s Who in Baseball publications, the cards were first produced in 1950 as a 62-card boxed set sold through the Baseball Hall of Fame and some ballparks around the country. Featuring members of the Hall of Fame, they're small in size, measuring 1 ¾” by 2 ½” with the player's biography on the back of the unnumbered cards. The idea was to add more cards to the set as new players or other baseball personnel were elected and that' exactly what happened for seven years. A total of 91 cards were produced before production came to an end, nine of which are simply variations.
The first boxed set of 62 cards was succeeded by larger issues as the new enshrinees were added.
Most fascinating about the Callahan cards is how the portraits were created. Artist Mario DeMarco made them by placing thousands of tiny dots on a page. Few artists were skilled in the technique but the end result was--and is--amazing. Many fans and collectors who see the cards assume they've been sketched and wonder what all the fuss is about.
Not that many Callahan sets were purchased and fewer still survive today. Their scarcity, combined with DeMarco's remarkable work and the fact that dozens of Hall of Famers make up the checklist, have turned the cards into a highly popular and valuable issue. In addition to players like Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner and Christy Mathewson, the sets also included exterior and interior picture of the Hall of Fame and a card of Albert “Happy” Chandler, who was baseball's commissioner at the time and would eventually be inducted himself. Chandler's card was pulled after he was ousted as commissioner and thus, it's very rare.
Collectors look for complete sets, but at fewer than eight dozen cards, it's also attainable piece by piece. Many collect the set in graded form.
One of the last players produced for the Callahan set was Joe DiMaggio, who had been inducted to the Cooperstown shrine in 1955. Not many were purchased before Callahans disappeared from shelves making it very scarce. A PSA 8 graded example sold via Just Collect for $343 last week; not bad for a 'non-regular' issue.
PSA has only graded 79 DiMaggios and just a few more Chandler cards. They're not alone, though. Several other cards show up on PSA's Population Report as having fewer than 70 graded examples.
A complete set of Callahan baseball cards is valued at around $700, but that figure can be raised or lowered depending on condition. Many of the cards, even in graded form, sell for less than $100, making it perhaps one of the more undervalued sets from years ago. See them on eBay here.