Recently Discovered Australian GOBLIN Merrymints Mel Ott Card Could be a Rookie
In December, collector HeavyJ28 (Jason) on Twitter reached out to me, inquiring about a rather unique baseball card. Jason is the Co-Chair of SABR’s Baseball Cards Research Committee and a collector from Australia had reached out to SABR looking for information on a rare card he’d discovered.
The card in question was a card for some chap named O.H. Melville. It wouldn’t be immediately clear what it was to 99.9% of collectors but turns out the card is from a 1920s multi-sport set for a brand called Goblin Merrymints. That was a confectionery product from Australia and the cards are quite scarce. The dates for them are not known as well. While no conclusive dating has been uncovered for the set, Australian-based collector Steve Flemming, who is very familiar with it, notes that the careers of the cricketers in it seem to hint at dating sometime between 1926 and 1928.
How tough are the cards to find? There are not even ten known in the set and only one is known to have more than one copy. All of the other cards have only a single known example, quite literally making them one of a kind.
As of last year, most of the known cards were cricketers. A card for golfer Carnegie Clark is there as is a card for Tennis Hall of Famer Gerald Patterson. Both are Australians, making their inclusion quite understandable. But in December 2020, the set checklist was upgraded significantly with a card of Hall of Famer Mel Ott.
Australian collector Doug McCallum is the one with the find. McCallum found the card in an Australian auction and he didn’t even realize what it was until later.
“I picked the card up in a mixed lot of cards I purchased in a Melbourne auction (Abacus Auctions) back around August last year,” McCallum said. “I didn’t know it was there as I was bidding online from afar, as I live in rural Victoria, a fair way from Melbourne.”
The Ott card came as part of a lot of some other cards. At first, it wasn’t even clear that the card pictured Ott. That’s because the card states his name is O.H. Melville. Searching under that name brought up nothing but McCallum noticed the Giants name on his jersey. Several days later, he was able to identify him as Ott due to a photo match.
So — what’s with the O.H. Melville name?
Most would assume it’s just an error. And the O.H. part of it certainly is. But in digging, I actually found a reference to an obscure article from August 8, 1926 in the Ada Evening News (subscription required) lists Ott as “Melville Ott” (that’s a paid article with a subscription required). That could have been an error, too, but it is also possible that some early references to Ott actually call him by that name, even though he is known as Melvin. And even if that newspaper article is an error, that at least could explain why the Goblin Merrymints card used that name — it could have been seen there or, more likely, elsewhere.
A bit of irony is found in that McCallum is not even a baseball card collector.
“I’ve got thousands of cards but I’m pretty sure this is only the fourth baseball card I’ve come across in my many years of collecting,” he said. The Ott was merely a part of a lot consisting of other cards.
Obviously in Australia, baseball cards are not the draw they are here. Instead of baseball, McCallum focuses on cards for other sports, as well as non-sport cards, including militaria, natural history, and movie stars. Additionally, McCallum collects other non-card items, including autographs, books, pocket knives, vinyl, and CDs. He’s a member of the Australian Cartophilic Society, as is Flemming, who helped supply him with information about the set.
About the Card
Okay, so about the card. The Ott card measures approximately 1″ wide by 2″ tall. Like other Goblin Merrymints, the quality is not high as it is drastically miscut. Production value seems quite low in the set with others spotted wildly off center.
The card includes a low-grade image of Ott with the O.H. Melville name in large capital letters at the bottom. But it’s the back where things start to get interesting.
Ott’s card is No. 35 in the set while no other cards higher than No. 18 were previously known. Barring skip numbering of the cards, there would appear to be at least 35 cards in the set. Some that are familiar with the process of skip numbering may assume that is the case here. But I’d point to the rarity of the set and lean towards those cards simply not having been discovered yet.
Technically in lower grade, the Ott card has a crease across the lower half of the card, is miscut and has some surface damage. That, of course, is almost inconsequential given its rarity. And in general, it has a nice clear picture of the Hall of Famer along with no major significant paper loss.
Backs of the cards included a biography and if you read Ott’s, you’d think the card was issued in the 1930s. Ott is called a “big gun baller in America” and indicates that he is seemingly a star player. The back also says Ott is paid a large salary. The only problem is the set is believed to have been issued in the 1920s.
A Rookie Card?
That perceived 1926-28 dating I mentioned earlier seems to create some problems for the Ott card. The image of Ott is a very early one that coincides with that, but there is no telling when the card itself was printed. Cards were printed all the time with earlier images used in later years. Heck, I wrote about a football picture that appeared in a rare 1915 tobacco card set that was reused almost 15 years later. Using older pictures on newer cards is hardly an unbelievable concept.
Ott’s major league career did begin in 1926 so it’s possible that the card dates that early. But two things on the back make that a little difficult to believe at first glance. First, Ott is basically called a star and he didn’t really have his first breakout year in the majors until 1929 when he hit 42 home runs while batting .328 and leading the league in walks with 113.
Second, Ott is said to be ‘paid a large salary.’ While Ott was in the majors, it was some time until he was paid what would be considered a large sum. It wasn’t until 1930 that Ott made more than $8,000 according to Baseball-Reference.
So is this definitively a later card? And if so, why should we care?
Starting with the second question first, the fact is that Ott’s first cards were not distributed until 1929. If the card was printed in that year or earlier, it would be a rookie card, making it all the more desirable. The description on the back points to it being a later card but that’s not a given.
While Ott’s first really big year did not occur until 1929, he was generating a lot of buzz before that as a young star in the making. In 1926, his rookie year, he only played in 35 games. But he made quite the impression, batting .383. In 1927, he played half a season and batted .282. And in 1928, he hit 18 home runs while batting .322. Ott’s first really big year was 1929 but he was certainly a very good player before then.
And about that salary, everything’s relative. Ott was only paid $1,800 in 1926, $3,600 in 1927, $6,000 in 1928, and $8,000 in 1929. But baseball also was not the sport it was globally at the time and $3,600 to play it may have seemed like a boatload of money to play a sport that most of the world was not playing.
If the card is indeed from the 1920s, the biggest question will certainly be, why Ott? It is possible that other baseball players were included in the set but of all of them, why Ott if the set was from the 1920s when plenty of other bigger stars existed, including Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb?
Ah, who knows? I think there are cases for an Ott rookie and for a later card. Either way, though, this is an incredibly intriguing card whenever it was printed.