Pre-War Cards: The Year in Review
A look back at the crazy year of news for pre-war sports cards
Let me be pretty clear here. I don’t typically like year-end things. When I see a hokey one on television, I’m pretty quick to change the channel. Not to mention, it’s easy to miss all sorts of things. But those often involve things I couldn’t care less about. I was thinking the other day about all of the news stories that broke this year and thought a summary was appropriate.
With that said, here’s a look back at a year’s worth of news in pre-war sports cards.
Early in the year, famed collector Jefferson Burdick was named a SABR Chadwick award recipient. As I said at the time, I was surprised he had not already received that distinction. If there’s a Mount Rushmore of collectors, Burdick’s image would surely be on it. And while the award is given to all sorts of researchers and historians aside from the trading card world, Burdick’s achievements in establishing the American Card Catalog are certainly noteworthy enough to be recognized.
In March, Beckett officially checklisted a new card. New cards are still being discovered/rediscovered but this one is notable in that it was a card of the legendary Babe Ruth. A Ruth card in the 1920s Schapira Big Show Candy set had been suspected by some because of his connections with the Schapira Brothers company. But this card wasn’t known to the hobby until one surfaced and was graded by Beckett. The card sold in an REA auction for an astounding $42,000.
The following month, the all-time record of the Honus Wagner T206 card was challenged. A Wagner sold in 2016 for $3.12 million and a Mickey Mantle 1952 Topps card graded a PSA 9 nearly topped it. In the end, though, the $2.88 million it raised was just short of the Wagner, allowing the famous pre-war card to keep its title for another year.
Also in April, we learned quite a bit more about the 1924 Walter Mails game cards when I received an email from one of the family members of George Groves, the game’s founder. Through documents and images never seen by the hobby, it was learned that a second set was in the works and we learned more about how many of the cards were sold, how they were distributed, how the set was formed, and how players were targeted for inclusion. Among the family’s artifacts were signed postcards from Honus Wagner and other players consenting to being included in the proposed second set.
Finds from non-collectors were also discovered, too. Yet another Ty Cobb-backed tobacco card was also discovered around the same time. These T206-like cards are very scarce but the discovery marked the ninth one found in the past year or so. And in May, a home buyer in Pennsylvania discovered hundreds of pre-war cards in a crawl space, including 80 T206 cards and a near-set of rare T227 cards.
Checklisting pre-war cards has always been a struggle. While we have a handle on most checklists, many still have some issues. But we were able to make some strides with the E122 American Caramel checklist this year. And no greater checklisting effort was completed than one for the obscure 1930s Vancouver Peanuts set. This rare issue has not had a complete checklist known to it. However, with the help of the British Columbia Sports Hall of Fame, we have been able to assemble a checklist of more than 130 subjects.
Grading companies made waves, too. In addition to Beckett’s checklisting of the aforementioned Ruth Big Show Candy card, SGC was arguably in the news the most this year. First, they were noted for introducing new plastic slabs for their graded cards and then also for the introduction of a new sheet cutting service. Both, as was covered here, drew some praise and criticism from collectors.
Back in October, a potential new issue was discovered as a collector presented an image of a wrapper for a product called Brody Novelty Baseball Stars. Connecting the dots, these could have been photos issued by Kashin Publications, which created the R316 Kashin issue. Many more mysteries about the set abound, however.
Auction houses, as usual, had some incredibly rare items. One of the most noteworthy ones was the auctioning of the highest-graded PSA set, which was auctioned this fall by Heritage. The cards were appropriately sold one by one and all told, they sold for a staggering $8 million.
In terms of non-baseball cards, one of the most significant finds this year was a potential 1934 Schutter-Johnson Strong Man card. The card was buried in an obscure eBay listing that went unnoticed by most. A significant rarity, this would have been only the second known one to surface. Believed to be heavily shortprinted to keep collectors from cashing in on a redemption prize, the original one found previously sold for more than $20,000.
Another big piece of news is that restorations are starting to make their way into the sports card market, too. While restored cards have typically been offered under the cover of darkness, a restored Honus Wagner T206 card was auctioned by Memory Lane with full disclosure being made. The card was once a very low-grade trimmed specimen and now looks far more presentable with the addition of borders. It recently sold for $420,000.
The top story of the year, however, is probably one that came to light only recently.
In November, 15 high-dollar autographed T206 baseball cards were discovered to be forgeries on the popular Net54 site. The biggest one was a $24,000 Home Run Baker card. Since then, a handful of fake 1930s Goudey autographs were discovered as well. While things have slowed, this still could only be the tip of a rather significant iceberg when it comes to autographed pre-war cards.
The scandal rocked the industry and, as I wrote afterward, is sure to impact even legitimate cards. This was one thing we could have all done without and it put a damper on a mostly positive year.