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Variations, Coan, Berger, Burdick boxers and counting cards

Sports Collectors Digest columnist George Vrechek takes a look at 1955 Topps Baseball card variations and a boxing card exhibit at The Met.

By George Vrechek

Bert Lehman’s story in the Oct. 12, 2018 issue of Sports Collectors Digest got my attention. I thought it was pretty special that collector Larry Leonard had reported a variation involving a dot and an asterisk on the 1955 Herman Wehmeier card, the subject of my article in the same issue. However, Lehman’s story involved the discovery that some of the 1955 Jackie Robinson cards had Dodgers logos cut off on the left side. Neither the Robinson nor Wehmeier variation was miscut. Both variations have been in plain view since 1955, but never before reported.

 The Wehmeier card on the right, with a missing dot over the “i” in his signature and an asterisk next to his lifetime stats on the back, also has a logo on the front that is slightly cut off on the left side.

The Wehmeier card on the right, with a missing dot over the “i” in his signature and an asterisk next to his lifetime stats on the back, also has a logo on the front that is slightly cut off on the left side.

Not to be outdone, Leonard has reported that collector Tom Billing noticed an additional variation on the scarcer Wehmeier cards. Wehmeier’s Phillies logo was also slightly cut off on the left side. It appears to me that when they corrected the Wehmeier “no dot” version, they also widened the image on the left border by 1/16” in order to restore the entire logo. Consequently, they added 1/16” to the yellow name banner since the “H” in Herman is 1/16” further from the frame edge in the corrected version.

The truncated Robinson logo was similar to the Wehmeier logo except it was more noticeable, plus it is a little off on the top of the card as well. Topps fixed the problem by widening the entire card image. The right edge of Robinson remained the same but the left edge is 1/16” wider. The black banner extends further left and the “J” in Jackie is 1/16” further away from the end of the banner.

 Like the Wehmeier card, Jackie Robinson’s corrected card (right) restores the entire logo and extends his name plate 1/16” further left.

Like the Wehmeier card, Jackie Robinson’s corrected card (right) restores the entire logo and extends his name plate 1/16” further left.

With two changes made on the Wehmeier card (the dot and the asterisk), you can understand why they also fixed the logo. Did they notice that the Robinson logo was cut off even more and corrected that at the same time? The logos on most of the cards in the set are at the edge of the frame or even extended into the white border. I guess it is time to look at the 1955 Topps a little closer. I checked several cards that were in the same column as the Robinson card on an uncut sheet, but didn’t find any others with a logo problem.

Slight cropping differences have been noted on many 1956 Topps cards, which I described as the “flat hat” versions in a July 26, 2013, SCD article. Keep in mind, variation collectors are easily excited, as evidenced by silly prices already being asked for the Robinson card.

Gil Coan, a super-senior player

 Super-seniors Gil Coan, Eddie Robinson, Wally Westlake and John Hetki appeared in the 1953 Topps set.

Super-seniors Gil Coan, Eddie Robinson, Wally Westlake and John Hetki appeared in the 1953 Topps set.

Five years ago I wrote a few SCD articles about the oldest living players who had appeared on baseball or football cards. Many of the former players have gone on to the Field of Dreams, but one former player, featured in an October 2013 article, is still on the theoretical team of super-senior major leaguers who have appeared on baseball cards. As of October 2018, 96-year-old Coan was in the top 10 of the oldest living former players. I counted only three players who had appeared on cards and who were older than Coan – Wally Westlake, Eddie Robinson and John Hetki.

I called Coan to see how he is doing. He and his wife, Dovie, still live in their home near the golf course in Brevard, North Carolina. They celebrated their 77th wedding anniversary recently. While he isn’t feeding the cattle at his farm anymore and wasn’t able to attend a recent alumni association gathering, he is still getting around and is always very cordial. As a long-time Brevard resident, he is well known. He said he was recognized at a restaurant recently by the father of one of the local players he had coached years ago.

Coan said, “Eddie Robinson, who played first base, called him not long ago and we talked. He had a strong voice.”

Robinson and Coan were Washington teammates in 1949 and 1950. Robinson is a year and a half older than Coan.

Mrs. Sy Berger, doing fine

 Sy Berger appeared on his own Topps card.

Sy Berger appeared on his own Topps card.

Thinking of super-seniors, I checked in with 95-year-old Gloria Berger, widow of the late Sy Berger of Topps. I also talked to Gloria’s daughter, Maxine. Gloria is doing fine, still living in Rockville Center, New York, where she and Sy raised their three children.

She said, “FaceTime is wonderful. With three great grandchildren in Austin, Texas, and one in Portland, Maine, we visit several times a week.”

She speaks energetically and with an upbeat attitude, not unlike that of Sy Berger who she first met in 1940 on a blind date set up by her best friend.

 Willie Mays first appeared with Topps in 1952, thanks to Sy Berger’s initiative.

Willie Mays first appeared with Topps in 1952, thanks to Sy Berger’s initiative.

She mentioned that she still gets frequent contacts from their friends in baseball, including 87-year-old Willie Mays. In my 2008 interview with Sy Berger, Berger reminisced about first meeting Mays in the Giants’ locker room in 1951. Mays had started his career going 0 for 12 on the road. Berger was a 27-year-old marketing whiz kid for Topps who talked his way into the locker room. On May 28, 1951, Mays homered in his first at bat at the Polo Grounds off Warren Spahn. Shortly thereafter, according to what Sy Berger told me, he inked his licensing contract with Topps.

Gloria said, “I am proud of what he (Sy) accomplished. I have lots of good memories.”

Counting cards

I wrote a series of SCD articles in 2015 about expanding one’s collecting horizons and collecting as much of the sport card universe as possible. I estimated that at least 160,000 sports cards were issued prior to 1981. Rather than focusing on having the highest graded sets, I suggested establishing goals based on the number of single, vintage sports collected. I felt that it would be quite an accomplishment to even collect half of the vintage cards produced. I proposed four recognition levels based on having between 35,000 and 50,000 cards, followed by levels of 50,000 to 65,000, 65,000 to 80,000, and 80,000 cards and beyond. Only pre-1981 single sports cards counted; variations didn’t count.

My own collection was about halfway through the first level and my goal was to get to level 2 – 50,000 cards. I recently achieved my goal, but it wasn’t easy. I felt that it got harder the closer you got to 50,000 cards. After you get through the popular large sets, there isn’t much in the way of low-hanging fruit. You need to expand into sets like Parkhursts, disc sets, Frostade, Nu-Cards, Canadian exhibits, Atlantic Oil and a myriad of Topps inserts. There is only one collector I know who has reported getting close to the 80,000 card level. But we all keep looking.

Burdick boxers at the Met

 N28 The World’s Champions included boxing cards displayed at The Met. (Geno Wagner photo)

N28 The World’s Champions included boxing cards displayed at The Met. (Geno Wagner photo)

The New York Metropolitan Museum of Art recently concluded the exhibit “On the Ropes: Vintage Boxing Cards from the Jefferson R. Burdick Collection.” The exhibit included Burdick cards and other old prints and paintings depicting boxing from The Met’s collections.

Collector Geno Wagner visited The Met and had the following observation: “I would say that the biggest thing is that it’s not just a display of cards, but a display of how iconic boxers were at the turn of the century. The prints and paintings make it all come together nicely. It’s about half cards, half paintings/photos.”

The Met was happy to provide SCD with images of some of the items on display.

George Vrechek is a freelance contributor to Sports Collectors Digest. He can be contacted at vrechek@ameritech.net.

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