The store was a gritty old sundries shop in West Palm Beach, Florida, that sold sewing materials, bobby pins, clothing, cookware, books and magazines. The store was called Kings and it smelled of popcorn when you walked in; it had a black and white checkerboard linoleum floor.
In 1968, in that long-forgotten store that was torn down years ago, I found a large booklet album with 33 perforated cards of baseball Hall of Famers. The booklet sold for 99 cents, although after peeling off the price tag, I noticed that it originally sold for 29 cents. It was manna from heaven for a baseball history junkie — the 1961 Golden Press baseball set. “Golden Funtime Trading Cards” read the banner at the bottom of the album cover.
The Golden Press cards measured 2 ½ by 3 ½ inches and were full-color cards, with the bottom of the card containing white box with the player’s name in black block, capital letters. The player’s position was under the player’s name, all in lowercase letters. The design was horizontal for all 33 cards.
On the card back, the card number is enclosed in a star, and under the player’s name are the teams he played for. Fifteen lines of type then give highlights of the player’s career with eight categories of batting record (seven for pitchers) beneath that. The final line of the card notes when the player was elected to the Hall of Fame.
What is interesting about the booklet album is that cards 1-3 and 28-33 are actually part of the front and back covers. If a kid separated the card from the album, the cover would be rendered worthless and would be thrown away. So, a complete album had three cards on the front, four inside pages of six cards each, and a back cover with six cards.
I know that I tossed mine, but from a collector’s standpoint that was a big mistake. In general, the set is worth 50 percent more than what it would fetch if the cards were loose.
The cards depicted the early members elected to the Hall of Fame, with Babe Ruth, Christy Mathewson, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner and Walter Johnson leading the way. Of the non-playing managers, only John McGraw is included in the set. Curiously, Connie Mack was bypassed.
Many of the players’ records have been topped, but it’s still fun to read some of the statements. On the back of Cobb’s card, the reader is told that “his records of 96 stolen bases in 1915 and a career total of 892 stolen bases have never been approached.” Ironically, Maury Wills would break that single-season record in 1962–just a year after the Golden Press cards came out– when he swiped 104 bases.
This is an easy set to put together, and still quite affordable. Complete, ungraded sets vary depending on condition, but expect to spend around $200-400 or little more for a higher grade set.
Grading companies do authenticate the Golden Press cards. PSA alone has examined more than 11,000 with nearly half rating 8.5 or better. Singles are generally inexpensive on eBay with even some high grade examples often selling for under $20.
No PSA 10s have been registered for Ruth, Johnson, Wagner and Cy Young, and there are nine for Mel Ott, two for Grover Cleveland Alexander, six for Eddie Collins, four for Tris Speaker and eight for Nap Lajoie. Because all nine of these cards were on the front or back covers, the chances for wear and tear were much greater, making gem mint cards few and far between. Ruth commands the highest price in this set, with Cobb, Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio also coveted cards.
You can even find several original, fully intact albums.
The photography is colorful, and the backgrounds have a nice old-time feel to them. One of my favorite cards in the set was of Hank Greenberg, who is following through on a home run swing. It looks like the photograph was taken in Chicago’s Comiskey Park, and Greenberg looks like he is whistling to himself, as in “what a shot that was.”
Remembering the Golden Press cards and the store I bought it at was appropriate. To me, I had found the kings of baseball at Kings.