An Arizona collector who enjoys Negro Leagues cards hopes a trove of rarely seen cards from Mexico that he bought is the real deal.
Andy — who asked that his last name be kept anonymous — bought 10 cards on eBay from Estrellas Del Diamonte: Coleccion de Cromos a Color, a baseball tribute set issued by the Mexican publication La Aficion in 1959.
The cost was $614, but one of the cards was of Hall of Famer Josh Gibson.
Other Hall of Famers in the eBay lot were Roy Campanella, Martin Dihigo and Monte Irvin.
The Gibson card, however, is the most intriguing part of the lot. The recognized rookie card (non-postcard) for the fabled Negro Leagues catcher was part of the 1950-51 Toleteros set. One of his cards from the set, graded PSA 7, sold for $51,600 (including buyer’s premium) on Sept. 10, 2020, in a Heritage Auctions sale. In May 2017, a PSA 8 version of the card was sold for $91,200 (including buyer’s premium) by Memory Lane.
There is also a 1931 postcard version depicting Gibson, produced by Harrison Studios of Hot Springs, Arkansas. That card, considered the Gibson “Holy Grail,” is autographed on the front and back of the postcard by Gibson. And that postcard is a tricky one; according to Ron Keurajian in his 2018 book, Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs, Second Edition, “many forged picture postcards exist.”
The La Aficion card of Gibson and the set have been the subject of some chatter on the Net54 sports card and memorabilia forum since April 2016. Many of the posters thought the card was interesting but had doubts about its authenticity.
Certainly, the card that Andy bought is different than the Toleteros offering. It’s on thinner paper and looks to be something one would paste into a scrapbook or stamp book.
“These cards were meant to be pasted into an album,” Andy said. “These cards were not ever pasted.”
The La Aficion cards were sold by an eBay dealer in Mexico who has a good feedback rating but rarely deals in cards. Some of his sales include lurid magazines — not pornographic, but certainly titillating — from Mexico.
“I took a chance on these cards,” Andy said. “I think they’re pretty significant.”
In addition to the Gibson card, the lot included Lazaro Salazar, Epitacio Torres, Leonardo Alanis, Angel Castro, Ramon Bregara and Alberto Roma.
“I saw them for sale, and the way they were advertised, I don’t know if (the seller) knew what he had,” Andy said.
Andy sent the Gibson card to Certified Sports Guaranty (CSG) on Monday to be graded.
“The main thing is, I hope they are legitimate,” Andy said. “I believe the cards to be authentic and the dealer sent a great deal of photographic evidence of the authenticity of these cards.”
CSG handles the grading of trading cards, comic books, magazines and concert posters). CCG has graded memorabilia for years, but only began grading cards last winter. The company has legitimate grading chops with former Beckett employees Andy Broome and Westin Reeves on board.
Before sending the card from Arizona to be graded, Andy said he consulted with Steven Greenes, the author of the 2020 book, Negro Leaguers and the Hall of Fame: The Case for Inducting 24 Overlooked Ballplayers. Greenes, a member of the Society of American Baseball Research and an attorney in New York City, is also the author of the article “The 1930-32 Harrison Studios Postcards and the ‘Holy Grail’ of the Negro Leagues.”
Greenes said he believed the La Aficion cards were authentic and significant, Andy said. He said the set interested him because he was “more familiar with the Negro Leagues and became intrigued by that.”
“There comes a moment when you realize that this whole thing (league) was going on in Mexico,” Andy said. “When you consider the Black players that came after these players, such as Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, well, those earlier players were really good.”
Andy said he knew the condition of the cards was not great and is hoping to hear from the grading service soon.
“Fair to good would be great,” he said. “Like a 1 to 3.”
Still, the cards are a fascinating find and open a window to collectibles that are rarely seen in the hobby. As to how much the cards might be worth, that is open to debate.
“I find Negro League and old-time Latin American players and cards to be especially interesting because I find them to be underrated and undervalued,” Andy continued. “Players like Josh Gibson, Oscar Charleston and Martin Dihigo are arguably among the greatest baseball players of all time. The cards of these players are rare and few.
“Yet they sell for much, much less than cards of the non-Negro league MLB stars. Whereas Wagner and Ruth sell for millions, Gibson, Charleston and Dihigo haven’t come near to approaching that price level.”