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Incredible hobby find: 117 original paintings from 1953 Topps

We shoulda known. When you can’t find something, it usually turns up right smack where you thought it should have been all along.

For more than 20 years, I wondered where all the original artwork went from the 1953 Topps set, or I should say more precisely, where most of the original artwork went from that classic all-painted issue. Sy Berger had them. Jeeez, how come we didn’t think of that?

Rob Lifson of Robert Edward Auctions is big-time enthused about his vaunted auction company being picked to handle items from Berger, the longtime Topps executive as inextricably linked to the vintage baseball card world as any man alive.

“What an honor to have that material, just to handle the stuff,” Lifson said in an interview. “The impact he has had is so immense. He might be the most important hobby person that ever lived.”

Berger isn’t a collector by inclination, but his proximity to Topps and the hobby for more than a half-century yields a bonanza unlike anything we’ve seen for quite some time. Atop that list are the 117 original paintings from the 1953 Topps Baseball set.

Old-time hobbyists will remember that a half-dozen killers from that issue sold in the 1989 Guernsey’s Topps Archives auction in New York City, a grouping or original paintings that included Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Roy Campanella, Bob Feller, Whitey Ford and Jackie Robinson. The Mantle and Mays paintings were sold for $121,000 and $88,000 respectively, purchased by the Marriott Hotel chain.

Robinson, Ford, Feller and Campy brought, in order: $71,000, $35,000, $33,000 and $16,500. Thats $365,000 in 1989 dollars for the whole group, which was a lot of money back then. Let’s face it, that’s a lot of money even today.

It’s really exciting to think what the remaining lineup might bring. Satchel Paige is the biggie, but there are others: Pee Wee Reese, Warren Spahn, Eddie Mathews, Enos Slaugher, Monte Irvin, Ted Kluszewski, Junior Gilliam and Dick Groat. This is going to be cool (they’ll be in Lifson’s April 2009 aucgtion).

And there’s lots of other stuff from the Topps icon, as well, but I guess I’ll save some of that for tomorrow’s blog.


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