1953 Topps #207 Whitey Ford Original Artwork

I ran across the original color artwork used for Whitey Ford’s 1953 Topps baseball card while flipping through Sotheby’s February 1992 Important Baseball Cards and Sports Memorabilia Catalog. It represented a quick flip from its sale in Guernsey’s 1989 Topps Auction.

First, Sotheby’s included few details, just that it was a full-color original artwork and that the lot included an example card in near-mint to mint condition. They described the original artwork as being 3 1/2 by 5 in.

But like I said, Sotheby’s wasn’t the first auction house to offer this Topps original artwork. It was first made available to the hobby in Guernsey’s Topps Auction in 1989, along with the original full-color paintings of Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Bob Feller, Jackie Robinson, and Roy Campanella’s 1953 Topps baseball cards.

Guernseys included cropped color photos of all six art pieces in the front (page 17) of the catalog; here’s a scan of the Ford.

The specific auction lots were found later in the catalog. Ford shared page 72 with Jackie Robinson. Notice the expected $2,000-3000 price.

The Ford did a little better than that; it sold for $35,200. Interestingly, less than three years later, Sotheby’s expected the Ford to be sold for only $20,000-25,000.

To round things out, here’s the original news photograph from the early 1950s that inspired Ford’s 1953 (and 1954) Topps baseball card. Heritage sold this PSA/DNA Type 1 example for $1,920 in November 2017.

“Early” Basketball Card Prices In 1992

This advertisement from Trading Cards magazine in February 1992 is pretty darn interesting for its listing of “older” Fleer and Topps basketball sets. What item would you most like to time travel back for?

When looking at this, I had to step back from the fact that the company behind this ad is called National Sportscard “Investments” and that 1989 Fleer in 1992 was considered “older.” That is three years, but 1961 Fleer basketball would be an “older” set to me.

Anywho, here are some “nostalgic” prices that stood out:

  • 1986 Fleer basketball set w/ stickers for $799.95
  • 1986 Fleer basketball Michael Jordan Mint card for $399.95
  • 1980/81 Topps basketball wax pack for $24.95
  • 1985/86 Star basketball Michael Jordan $1,495

Happy collecting!

1990 Sportflics/Score Nolan Ryan 11th National Sports Collectors Convention Card

The 1990 National Sports Collectors Convention was held in Arlington, Texas, so Optigraphics (the owner of Score and Sprotflics) produced a special Nolan Ryan promo card that they distributed to folks who toured their manufacturing facility the week of the show.

I came across the card for the first time a few weeks ago while flipping through Christie’s East October 1993 Sports Memorabilia Catalog.

During the 1990 National Sport Collectors Convention in Arlington Texas, Score Inc., a major baseball manufacturer produced only 500 special cards of Nolan Ryan for distribution to attendees who toured their manufacturing facility. About 250 people availed themselves of the opportunity and. to their delight, were presented with one of these cards, the rarest issue of a Ryan card. Of the remaining 250 cards, 100 were given to Nolan Ryan and the rest to charities. The reverse of the card has a 3-D like motion image of Ryan pitching.

Christie’s

I noticed that Christie’s expected the card to sell for $600-800. The price seemed high to me, and when I checked eBay, I ran across the Beckett 9.5 graded example pictured above, with a Buy It Now price of $200. BaseballCardPedia’s card synopsis covers more of the card’s history and addresses the price drop.

To commemorate the 11th Annual National Sports Collectors Convention taking place in their hometown of Arlington, Texas, Optigraphics (the parent company of Score and Sportflics) produced a special Sportflics card of Nolan Ryan. The front of the card is lenticular and features a reprint of Ryan’s 1990 Sportflics card. The back is a reprint of Ryan’s 1990 Score card, with the logo of the NSCC.

Only 600 copies of the card were produced with Optigraphics giving Mr. Ryan the first 100. Approximately 300 cards were given out to those who took a tour of Optigraphics’ facilities the week of The National with the remainder given to various charities in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area.

At the NSCC itself, Score/Sportflics held a press conference where Mr. Ryan personally destroyed the press plates.

During the NSCC, this promo card was regularly selling for $1000 to $1500 with a sale of $3000 confirmed by the Chicago Sun-Times. Professionally graded copies (Gem Mint or better) regularly sell for a tenth of that now.

BaseballCardPedia

BaseballCardPedia and Christies disagree about how many Ryan promo cards Opitgraphics printed, 600 vs. 500, and how many they gave out where. Beckett’s card description appears to align with BaseballCardPedia; however, they might have just referenced each other.

This standard-size card was issued by Optigraphics (producer of Score and Sportflics) to commemorate the 11th National Sports Card Collectors Convention held in Arlington, Texas in July of 1990. This card featured a Score front similar to the Ryan 1990 Score highlight card except for the 11th National Convention Logo on the bottom right of the card. On the other side a Ryan Sportflics card was printed that stated (reflected) either Sportflics or 1990 National Sports Collectors Convention on the bottom of the card. This issue was limited to a printing of 600 cards with Ryan himself destroying the printing plates. 

Beckett

Now, it turns out REA attempted to sell (their site says unsold) a 1990 Nolan Ryan Score/Sportflics Signed Baseball Card Display in the spring of 2007. 

Given the source material in the display, I suspect REA has the best data; here’s what they had to say:

This one-of-a-kind Nolan Ryan signed item is the actual printing plate used to create the specially produced limited-edition 1990 Score/Sportflics Nolan Ryan baseball card that was issued in conjunction with the 1990 National Collectors Convention. The printing of that special card, of which only 600 were ever produced, was done by Optigraphics, a card manufacturing company located in Grand Prairie, Texas. The card was made as a special promotion and was only distributed to members of the 1990 National Collectors Convention who participated in a special tour of the company. The card featured Ryan on both the front and reverse, with the front and back displaying, respectively, the images used on that year’s Score and Sportflics baseball cards of Ryan. The typography on the card makes special note of the 1990 National Collectors convention. Barry Halper was a part-owner of Score and Sportflics at the time and was personally involved in working with Ryan and arranging for the production of this card. The plate, which was destroyed by Ryan at the plant, has been inscribed to Barry in blue Sharpie, “Sorry you can’t reproduce these. Nice job with the card. Your Friend Nolan Ryan 4/28/92.” Ryan destroyed the metal plate by cutting through the card images with large shears, thus insuring that they could never be reproduced. The sheet measures 24 x 28.5 inches and has been beautifully decorated with photos and articles commemorating the event. Attached to the sheet are five small color photos of Ryan, taken on that day, including photographs of him cutting the sheet, touring the factory with Barry Halper, and holding the specialcard. Also included in the display are two cut newspaper articles covering the event as well as two examples of the card (one showing the front, the other the reverse). The sheet, in turn, has been mounted and framed to a total dimension of 30 x 34 inches. From the Barry Halper Collection. LOA from James Spence/JSA.

REA

There are obviously a few subtle differences between the promo and base cards; here’s a regular 1990 Sportflics Nolan Ryan card:

You can see that the promo card only used the front, with the key difference being the text area under Ryan’s action shots, which highlights the “1990 National Sports Collectors Convention” on the promo.

And here’s the 1990 Score Nolan Ryan card:

The big differences are that the promo card replaced the “1989 Highlight Texas Rangers” logo with one for The National in Arlington, added MLBPA and MLB logos, and added Score’s copyright information under Nolan Ryan’s name. The copyright information implies that the Score side is the back of the promo card, and Sportflics is the front.

One last thing: if you want a PSA-graded sample, they’ve graded 54 of these Nolan Ryan promo cards, including 19 Gem Mint 10s. 

Early 90’s Card Collectors Catalogues

It’s incredible how many card collectors catalogs there were in the early 90s.

If you’re a hobby library collector, what’s funny is that despite massive distributions at the time, most of these don’t come up for sale very often (but they’re not much more expensive than a few dollars when they do). I hadn’t even heard of a few of these.

Also, things aren’t that different today. If we were to try to categorize the number of marketplaces that exist today, it would be pretty huge, too. Just think how many Facebook groups there are for sales alone.

PS, this ad is a scan from the April 1992 edition of Allan Kaye’s Sports Cards News & Price Guides.

Unopened Case And Box Sale At The National In 1990

Here’s some unopened hobby history from the 11th Annual National Sports Collectors Convention Official Program, including a photo of three 1986 Fleer basketball wax cases!

I shared the pictures on the Facebook Vintage Wax and Packs group, and one collector noted that “$160 seems cheap for a 1986 Donruss box in 1990. Canseco was still $100+ and McGriff and Fielder rookies were $20-25 each.”

And while that’s interesting, another collector highlighted the picture with the early Fleer basketball cases.

The picture isn’t very detailed, but it looks like three 1986 Fleer basketball cases are on the bottom of the stack, with three 1988 Fleer basketball cases sitting on top.

The dealer threw me off a bit at first since, just above the picture, he said they would have a limited amount of 1986-7 Fleer Basketball and 1987-8 Fleer basketball wax boxes available at the show. FYI, the 1987 Fleer basketball print run was smaller than the company’s inaugural print in 1986.

The 1987 Fleer basketball case is white with a basketball outline on it and I don’t see the distinct design in the stacks of cases.

And if you’d like to add this article to your Hobby Library, here’s the 11th NSCC Official Program cover for reference.

A Brief Discussion About 1986 and 1987 Fleer Basketball Print Runs

1986 Fleer basketball cards have become some of the hobby’s most popular collectibles, driven by Michael Jordan’s iconic card #57. 

But many people don’t realize that the 1986 Fleer basketball set was a bit of a dud on release and was treated as “junk wax” for its first few years. Because of this, many deduce, the inferred evidence supports, and some conversations lead us to conclude that Fleer printed the 1987 basketball cards in far lower numbers than the 1986 cards. In the following paragraphs, I’ll share the current thoughts in the hobby about 1986 and 1987 Fleer basketball print runs.

Let me start by saying that all I’m trying to do is piece together some hobby history; Fleer never released print run information directly. No one documented this sort of information, and the people who worked for Fleer or other card companies weren’t necessarily collectors who saved this data; it was just a job for a lot of people.

Earlier in the decade, in 1981, Topps stopped making basketball cards because they were so unpopular, and boxes of Fleer’s 1986 release didn’t sell well either, often not even going for $10 at retail locations, despite being sold directly to dealers for $9 ($108/case).

A collector on a forum noted that a shop owner offered him the 10 1986 Fleer basketball boxes collecting dust on his shelf for $5/box. And I’m told that Fleer also offered full-value refunds for unsold cases. Other collectors and dealers stated you could get them inexpensively in high supply at shows over the next few years.

Reed Kasaoka said that in the late 1990s, a Fleer executive told him that they printed 250k of each card in the 1986 Fleer set (~6400 cases), but based on really disappointing sales numbers, they cut the production rate in half for the 1987 set. And most dealers from this time believe something similar. 

1986 Fleer Basketball Wax Case

Additionally, PSA’s population report is a solid guide as there have been nearly 5x as many 1986 Fleer as 1987 Fleer cards graded. Of course, some of that disparity is based on value after grading, but that’s a huge difference. Plus, at times over the past few years, high-grade 1987 Fleer commons have commanded >$100 prices (when you could grade these cards for $6/each).

In an article about the 1987 Fleer set, Steve Taft noted that there always seemed to be more 1986 Fleer around. One of the set registry collectors agreed, saying that for every box of 1987 Fleer, he saw a lot more 1986s for sale. I also see a lot more 1986 Fleer cards and boxes for sale than 1987 Fleer. A while ago, I searched for “1986 Fleer Basketball” (with some filtering) on eBay, and it returned almost 14k items, while a search for “1987 Fleer Basketball” returned under 8k items – knowing there is some overlap based on people writing “1986/87” in the title.

I don’t think the ‘people are hoarding Fleer product’ argument holds much water here. The hobby, as a whole, was booming by 1986, and there have been a lot of times when the 1986 set was pushing higher in price that would have induced people to sell (Beckett’s first guide, the Bulls championships, Jordan’s retirements, and comebacks, etc.). If a collector had the wherewithal to hoard 1986 Fleer, they probably would have saved some 1987 Fleer, too.

1987 Fleer Basketball Wax Case

In the end, we won’t ever really know how many of each set Fleer printed or how many were returned, thrown out, or saved. However, the stories from dealers and collectors support the notion that Fleer made a lot fewer 1987 basketball cards than 1986. The print run also tells us that the popularity of the 1986 set is primarily demand-driven (no surprise, Jordan is the GOAT). We also shouldn’t be as surprised with 1987 Fleer basketball’s ascending prices over the past few years since they’re more supply-limited.

If you’ve heard stories about the 1986 or 1987 Fleer basketball print runs, please share them in the comments.

A PSA 2 Graded T206 Wagner’s History

I’ve highlighted the history of a few T206 Wagners on the blog. Here’s another, graded 2 by PSA, with an interesting history from raw to Mastro to Memory Lane.

The picture above is from Mastro’s September 2000 catalog; the card sold for $74,918. Here’s the card and full description.

Note the reference to the PSA 8 Wanger I highlighted in a post called Memorabilia Madness.

The T206Resource, which numbers this particular Wagner card as number 28, includes this photo of it in raw form (though it could be a cropped scan of the graded card), so it was likely graded around the time of the Mastro auction.

Update from the original post (based on my note in the comments) later in the day on July 19, 2024: The PSA Flip type (design) with the Collectors Universe hologram on the back didn’t come out until around 1999/2000, no more than a year before the Mastro Auction.

This Wagner was then consigned through Memory Lane, who tried to sell it for $775k via an eBay Buy-it-Now listing in January 2012 before selling it in May 2012 for $654,500 and again in May 2017 for $600,000.

PS, the other T206 Wagner that has been highlighted on the blog is Frank Nagy’s (Wagner 12 on the T206Resource).

If anyone has any more pre-graded historical information about Wagner 28, please let me know.