One type of issue commonly pursued in pre-war collecting are scrap cards. But what are they and how can you tell if you’ve got one? Typically, a card’s size, cut, and colors will be the giveaway.
What Are Scraps?
In general, scraps are cards that didn’t quite make the grade. Somewhere during the printing process, something went wrong. If the error was slight, they card may have been distributed just like any other card, whether that was in a pack of cigarettes, with a candy product, or on a strip as a strip card, for example. In that case, they were not considered scrap cards. However, if the error was significant, they were often not issued and were considered ‘printer’s scrap’ or scrap cards.
These scraps were probably mostly discarded. They were mistakes in the printing process and flawed cards so there wasn’t much reason to keep them around. A few, though, survived. Whether they were kept by the printer intentionally as sort of a memento or stored and discovered later, some of these cards have made their way into the hobby decades later.
How to Identify Scraps – Size and Cut
In general, a card’s cut and size will be a big determining factor as to if you’ve got a strip card.
Regarding the size, scraps are usually found hand cut. Now, some cards such as strip cards were all hand cut, anyway. But even non-strip cards will usually be found hand cut if they are scraps. That, of course, begs the question – how can you tell the difference between a true hand cut instead of a card that has simply been trimmed? The easiest way to tell is by checking the size of the borders.
Hand cut cards will often exhibit borders that are unusually large. You can check them against a regular hand-cut card. If you find a card that is hand cut and that measures larger in some area(s) than a standard issue from the same set (and assuming it isn’t a strip card), you’ve likely got a scrap.
The card could still be a scrap if it has smaller borders and is hand cut but it’s much more difficult to tell. And a savvy buyer will be less likely to pull the trigger if the card doesn’t measure as a larger-sized card. The argument against cards with smaller borders is that they could simply have been trimmed by a collector afterwards.
Shown here is a Frank Delehanty card from the T206 set. The card on the left is a regular card while the second is a scrap. It is not only missing red ink as easily seen in his face but is also noticeably larger than your standard T206 card and is hand cut. This is a perfect combination of a true scrap card.
How to Identify Scraps – Color
The second key way to identify scraps is in the color.
Now, this one can be tricky. The printing processes in the pre-war era weren’t perfect and you can often find small color imperfections in cards. Any card with a slight imperfection doesn’t mean it is a scrap card. But true scraps that were not distributed will generally exhibit significantly different coloring. This is often the result of a card not getting enough of a specific color of ink (or in some cases, not getting any color at all) during the printing process.
The more extreme the color variance, the more likely you’ve got a scrap. And the color variance should usually also be on a card that has been hand cut. True scraps are cards that weren’t distributed like regular cards and a regular, factory cut card means that the card likely would have been issued with the rest.
For example, look at the example shown here. These are ‘Pitcher’ cards from the W542 Sports Drawings Strip Card set. The second card pictured is the standard card of what this card should look like. The noticeable error here is that the card is clearly missing yellow ink. That is easily seen in a few places, including the player’s ball and his pants. It’s also seen in the grass, which is blue. Adding yellow would, of course, make the field green. Finally, the player’s skin tone is also much more pale in the scrap due to the missing yellow. This is another scrap card that is easy to identify given the oddball cut and, more importantly, the lack of yellow ink.
It can be kind of hard to identify scraps in strip cards because, as mentioned, they are hand cut cards anyway. In addition, there are often slight color variances in them because they were cheaply printed. But extreme variances such help identify true scraps in strip issues.
Other Common Scrap Errors
In addition to the cut and color of a card, there are other common printing errors that could indicate scraps.
Some are extreme. For example, the back of a card could be printed on the front over a picture. In some cases, maybe the back is upside down or is a different back entirely from what was intended. Other cards may have been ‘struck’ with the printing numerous times resulting in a strange image.
In general, for scrap collectors, the weirder the better. These types of errors may make a card look incredibly odd and worthless but they can also make them extremely valuable because of their rarity.
Scrap prices are all over the board and it really depends on the card. Scraps of Hall of Famers and stars are obviously going to draw a premium. But it also depends on the set from which the scrap comes.
T206 scraps are among the most widely collected because, well, T206 is the most famous pre-war card set. Even commons of T206 scraps usually sell for a few hundred dollars, depending on how extreme the printing error.
Scraps in other sets aren’t as valuable, though. While they almost always bring some sort of premium, scraps in less common sets may not fetch much more than the regular cards. It all depends on finding a willing buyer.