By Bert Lehman
What do you call a tiger that is yellow with no orange color mixed in? A group of hobbyists call it a variation of the Frank House (No. 146) card in the 1952 Topps Baseball card set.
According to Jeff Rice, a passionate vintage baseball card collector, the standard House card has a Detroit Tigers logo of a tiger on the card that is mostly orange and yellow. But the tiger on some of the House cards is more yellow than orange, or completely yellow.
“From my understanding, when Topps produced this (card) they laid down the yellow ink first and then a red ink on top to make the orange color of the tiger,” Rice said. “So a normal tiger is predominately 80 percent orange and 10-20 percent yellow. What happened was, at some point in the production run the red ink ran out. As it was running out, there were yellow tigers produced that are mostly yellow and just slightly red. So almost reversed, 80-90 percent yellow and 5-15 percent orange. As the red kept running out it kept getting more yellow until you go to the point where at least to the naked eye it looks to be pure yellow.”
Rice said the story of Topps running out of red ink while printing the cards comes from others in the Hobby. He acknowledges that there is no proof that that is what happened, and some in the Hobby dispute that claim.
Based on collaboration within the group of hobbyists, Rice said they estimate there might be as few as 100-200 yellow tiger variations, with a number of additional cards containing a tiger logo going from orange-yellow to mostly yellow to pure yellow.
“While my colleagues don’t completely agree with me, I can see that within the variation of the yellow tiger you can make two clear distinctions,” Rice said. “A mostly yellow, where to the naked eye you can see some degree of orange, but it’s clearly distinct from the normal tiger, which is predominantly orange. You could say this is clearly a variation from this.”
Rice proposes that the difference in the color of the tiger be listed as variations within the Hobby. The Hobby doesn’t currently make a distinction between the differences in color.
The first distinction Rice proposes is a “mostly yellow” tiger, which would be about 80-90 percent yellow. Under this distinction a small amount of orange on the tiger’s tongue and around the head can be seen by the naked eye.
“But it’s clearly distinct from the normal tiger which is 80-90 percent orange, red tongue with just splotches of yellow in the middle,” Rice said.
The second distinction Rice proposes is a “pure yellow” tiger. To the naked eye, no orange can be seen within this version.
“But if you were to hold this up under magnification you’ll see small red dots, but they’re only visible under magnification,” Rice said. “By that designation, you would designate it as pure yellow.
Rice said his opninion, as well as that of the the group of hobbyists’, is based on field knowledge. This includes speaking with collectors, some of which have been involved in the Hobby for 50-60 years.
“Through collaboration of people who have been in the industry a long time and have seen firsthand how many exist and pooling that knowledge and saying it looks like there are maybe 100 or 200 out there,” Rice said.
The House card is the only card from the 1952 Topps Baseball set featuring a Detroit Tigers player in which the tiger logo has different color distinctions, Rice said.
“All of the other players from the Tigers have the normal tiger colors,” Rice said. “Not one other Tiger has that.”
The fact the Hobby doesn’t recognize the distinction is causing confusion for collectors and dealers, Rice said.
When he sells House cards, Rice notes the color distinction so collectors are aware. When collectors are unfamiliar with the color differences, Rice said he explains the history of the card to them.
“The problem is we’ve not gotten to the point where the collecting world recognizes those small distinctions,” Rice said. “For example, you go onto eBay right now and there are several dealers advertising that they sell a yellow tiger, but you look up close, a couple of them are mostly yellow, a couple of them are pure yellow. There are only a handful of dealers who will say there should be a distinction between a mostly yellow with small swatches of orange showing and a pure yellow where you can’t tell there is any orange at all. That’s why a formal designation would benefit the collecting world. … That would help the dealers. That would help the graders, and that would help the collectors know, within the designation of yellow tiger there should be recognized two clear distinctions.”
1950 Bowman variations
Rice also had some thoughts about the 1950 Bowman Baseball card set. He said the Hobby does recognize two versions for cards #181-252 in the set. One version of those cards includes a Copyright line on the back of the cards, while the second version the Copyright line is missing. What he questions is that price guides indicate there is no price difference between the two versions.
“I looked at that and my jaw dropped,” Rice said.
Based on the numbers in the PSA Population Report, Rice believes the version without the Copyright line is more rare, thus should have a higher value.
“The numbers are starkly different,” Rice said.
Looking at the PSA Population Report, for every card that has two versions, the version with a Copyright line is graded 10-25 more times than the version without a Copyright line.
“The industry needs to better recognize the difference between them,” he said.
While assembling a 1950 Bowman Baseball card set without the Copyright line, Rice noticed something different about card No. 245 featuring Al Papai. On some of the cards, near the bottom of the front of the card, there is a visible curved-blue line.
“That is a variation,” Rice said. “You find this in a small number of cards. This is not a pen mark. This is a print line, but it is a variation because it exists in dozens of them.”
The Hobby doesn’t currently recognize the Papai cards with a visible curved-blue line on them as a variation, Rice said.
He added that he spoke with a prominent figure in the Hobby and was told he should purchase any Papai cards with the visible curved-blue line because they are “so scarce.”
“So I’ve been looking for them,” Rice said.
Bert Lehman is the editor of Sports Collectors Digest. He can be contacted at Bert.Lehman@fwmedia.com.