W516 Strip Card Fun with a Hall of Famer, Pep Young, and an Actress

Harry, Pep, and Olive Walk Into a Bar and …

I’ll admit it. I love freaks. Freak cards, that is.

What’s a freak? There are any number of accepted definitions, though the one that might fit best is just a card with a print anomaly. When it comes to more recent cards, such cards are usually viewed with derision. I suppose if a card is inexpensive and there’s some sort of print anomaly, it might be a discussion piece. But freak printing accidents on more expensive cards are usually met with something along the lines of, “Oh, that’s a shame.” Those sorts of cards typically lose value — sometimes significantly.

Freaks in the pre-war landscape? Now, that’s something different entirely. Some freaks in strip cards or other issues may have small premiums. But freaks of big name players — especially ones in very popular sets? The value for some of those can be through the roof and sell for hundreds or even thousands of dollars in extreme cases.

My first venture into the world of freaks (my first notable one, anyway) came in the form of this W516 strip card of Hall of Famer Walter Johnson. It’s legitimately one of my favorite cards and features a wild color shift that creates a major shadow-like effect.

The W516 set, by the way, is one of those that is sort of known for these types of errors. Ones like this aren’t exactly commonplace, mind you. But the set has all sorts of anomalies related to printing. This WaJo is sort of an extreme case of that and it’s sort of a perfect storm since it features such a big name player. But cards like this do exist.

I was drawn to one in a recent auction for actress Mary Pickford. Pickford’s card shown here has a similar effect with a major color shift.

This card, like the Johnson, is so far off that it is possible (even likely) that it would have never been issued and is a scrap — a card that never made it into production and was somehow salvaged over the years by the printers.

Identifying scraps in most sets is a bit easier because most cards had fairly strict measurements and were cut directly by the factories. More than that, ink levels were watched with much more scrutiny, even if not perfect, to create a colorful looking card that was ‘correct.’

But strip cards were printed in strips or sheets of uncut cards and then separated by hand or with scissors by the folks distributing them. Thus, roughly cut strip cards are very common. And ink levels seem to have been watched far less, creating all sorts of color ‘variations,’ if you will.

So anyway, I saw this Pickford card and, while I do not really collect much in the way of actors and actresses, I knew I had to have it. It was just too much of an anomaly to let go. Now, the card was actually part of a lot and — that’s where things get really interesting.

Wet Sheet Transfers and Olive Thomas

The Pickford card was the one with the biggest print anomaly on the front and, frankly, that’s the one I was after the most. But also in the lot were four other cards that had wet sheet transfers on the backs.

If you’re unfamiliar with those, essentially, you’d have these printers, running off sheet after sheet of cards. If they did their job, I suppose, they waited for sheets to properly dry before stacking them on top of each other. But sometimes, these sheets were placed on top of each other while the ink was still wet. So the backs of the sheet on top would have these ink outlines of wet card fronts beneath them.

What’s the market for these sorts of transfers? A decent one. Some transfers can be very light and some can be very pronounced. The type of set matters, too. A wet sheet transfer in a popular set like T206, for example, will typically sell for more than a wet sheet transfer of a strip card set. But the market fluctuates greatly for them because what is worth $50 to someone can be worth $500 to someone else.

At any rate, three of the five cards in this lot had wet sheet transfers — fairly strong ones, too. I figured they would be cool but didn’t notice how cool until they showed up in the mail. That’s when one card in particular really stood out — one for Olive Thomas.

So, out of curiosity, who was Thomas? She was a popular actress that tragically died in 1920 — right around the time this set was believed to have been issued. She passed away after an apparent mistake, ingesting a medication, at the young age of only 25. And just to tie things up into a neat and orderly bow, she had been married to actor Jack Pickford, brother of Mary Pickford, whose card I discussed above. Talk about a strange coincidence of facts —

Baseball, Anyone?

The others had transfers of other actor and actress cards, which were fairly easy to see. But being familiar with the baseball set (W516 sets exist for both baseball players and actresses, along with boxers, presidents, and maybe other subjects), I was pretty certain that the back of Olive’s card had a wet sheet transfer of baseball players instead of actors and actresses.

How could I tell? Mostly because of the caps they appeared to be wearing. That and the fact that the outlines looked somewhat familiar. That tends to happen when you’re just in a constant state of looking at cards all day (not that … I have a problem, or anything). This particular transfer was on the back of Thomas’ card and was upside down, adding to its appeal even more.

Now, could it be proven these were baseball players and, if so, could we tell which ones? Turns out the answer to both of those questions is yes.

I scanned images of W516 cards I’d owned at one point and realized that’s why they looked so familiar.

Here’s a closeup of the transfer and it is immediately clear that it fits with the right side of Pep Young and the left side of Hall of Famer Harry Hooper. I no longer had these cards but, thankfully, I still had the pictures and could easily connect the dots. Here is the transfer overlaid on top of the W516 cards of those players. It’s obviously a perfect fit. For clarity’s sake, I’ve drawn a red outlined box to show the transfer boundaries against my actual pictures of those cards.

And we can easily see that a wet sheet transfer of these cards next to each other makes sense. That’s because Young and Hooper are next to each other in the set — as cards numbered 27 and 28 (in the case of the W516-1 subset) and 23 and 24 (in the W516-2) subset. Everything just matches up perfectly.

That a wet sheet transfer of the baseball cards exists on this card of actors and actresses is another reason I love this card. Both sets included pictures of subjects from IFS. We know these sets are linked together by the similar timeline and the same layout. Still, seeing them in this fashion is a reminder that they were all printed together, even though they are very much recognized as different sets (as they should be, given the card numbering which is not all consecutive for both sets).

Stuff like this is just very cool. Is it the reason I collect? Eh, probably not — certainly not entirely. Really, I get the most pleasure from building sets and in acquiring some singles that I’m just enamored with. The ‘freak’ part of collecting isn’t a focus for me.

But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love this card.

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