By Ron Keurajian
One of the cornerstones of the sports memorabilia hobby is the limited edition sports card.
Through the years there have been many sets from various sports. The two most popular are the Perez-Steele art postcards featuring members of the baseball Hall of Fame. The other is the Goal Line Art cards of the football genre.
In 1992 longtime dealer and hobby good guy Todd Mueller produced Golf’s Greatest card set. It is limited to 10,000 hand-numbered sets. The cards are postcard sized and feature some of the all-time greats; among them Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, and Gene Sarazen. A short biography can be found on the reverse side. The cards are printed on fine quality thick paper stock and are sealed in a protective semi-gloss coat to prevent degeneration.
I purchased one of these sets when they first hit the market in 1992 and the cards, some 25 years later, evidence no toning.
The initial issue featured 30 cards. The Byron Nelson and Ray Floyd cards were reissued with edited text. Four additional 2nd Series cards were issued that feature five-time British Open champion Pete Thomson, Joyce Wethered, Tom Morris Sr., and a boy caddie dressed in vintage 1920s attire. The total number of different cards is 36 if you include the Nelson and Floyd reissues.
The cards feature the artwork of Bart Forbes whose work spans many genres and decades. He is perhaps best known for his sports artwork. His works include countless paintings for PGA tournaments and the 1988 Korean Olympics in Seoul. Forbes also designed more than 20 postage stamps for the U.S. Postal Service, among them stamps of President Ronald Reagan, Lou Gehrig and Jesse Owens.
In the 1980s Forbes’ work was regularly featured in Sports Illustrated and gained much international exposure. In the last five to ten years Forbes has concentrated on gallery style art and his works include landscapes and still life, as well as sports. There is strong demand for his paintings which sell anywhere from a few thousand dollars to north of $25,000, depending on the complexity of the work.
The cards feature stunning art. Forbes paints in deep rich Earth tones that give the cards a nice vintage, take-you-back-in-time look. They make for a wonderful display. The best part about the artwork is the likeness of the golfers. The images are so accurate that they are almost photographic in precision.
Shortly after release, the set caught the attention of autograph collectors. Most of the golfers were receptive and many signed cards exist today, especially with the more contemporary players like Ray Floyd, Lee Trevino, Greg Norman, Nancy Lopez and Billy Casper. There is also a decent supply of Sarazen signed cards.
A signed Nelson card is scarce, as he refused to sign the initial issue. He would only sign the corrected card. Today, Nelson cards are harder to come by than that of Sarazen. Even tougher to find than Nelson are Sam Snead and Ben Hogan. Signed examples only turn up now and then; most of the time Snead would personalize the card. Given the dark background of the card, Hogan signed these cards in gold or silver sharpie marker. The vast majority of Hogan cards in the market are forgeries so caution is warranted. Signed examples of the Payne Stewart card are rare as he was killed in 1999 and signed very few specimens.
Two non-professional golfers are included in the set. Legendary entertainer Bob Hope, who died in 2002, is a tough signed card. Many Hope cards obtained in the mail were secretarially signed.
The most significant signed card is that of former President Gerald R. Ford. Titled the “Headhunter,” Ford willingly signed these cards. He liked the cards so much that he handed them out to friends as a memento of his golf skills. There is a decent supply of Ford cards in the market, but unfortunately many forged examples also exist.
The rarest signed card, by far, is that of Wethered. She died in 1997 and lived in England; her whereabouts were unknown to most collectors. A signed Wethered card is very rare. She would typically sign the card in ballpoint pen along the right or left boarder making for a marginal display item.
The great British/Jersey golfer Harry Vardon was issued in the set. The prestigious Vardon Trophy, which is awarded annually to the golfer with the lowest scoring average, was named in his honor. The first winner back in 1937 was “Lighthorse” Harry Cooper; he signed a handful of Vardon cards, though these should be considered very rare.
According to Mueller, a total of 100 uncut sheets were issued and released into the market. Fifty of these sheets were signed by Forbes, with the remaining signed by Mueller. Uncut sheets are rare and make for a stunning display. While 2nd Series cards exist in a 6-card uncut sheet only two such examples, according to Mueller, have been released, thus creating a modern rarity.
In recent years demand has increased greatly for signed cards. Most of the contemporary players like Floyd, Norman, Couples, Player, and Casper are available for $50 or less. Nelson, Hope, Snead, Sarazen, Palmer, and Nicklaus are a bit pricey at $100 to $150 each. Ford and Hogan will sell for $225 to $250. The Stewart card is on most want lists and will likely sell for $300 to $350. Value of the Wethered card is not known. I have been unable to locate a market transaction. I estimate a value of somewhere between $500 and $1,000. Unsigned cards are available on websites like eBay and can be purchased for a few bucks per card.
The original artwork on which the cards were based is rare and has an estimated value of $3,000 to $5,000 each. The Hogan painting, according to Mueller, sold for $10,000. Signed uncut sheets are likely valued at $300 to $400; with more demand for a Forbes signed sheet.
Ron Keurajian is a long time contributor to the Sports Collectors Digest and the author of the award winning Baseball Hall of Fame Autographs – A Reference Guide (McFarland Publishing 2012)