Oh Jacki[e]

One critique of the pervading Jackie Robinson legacy narrative goes something like this: most fans and admirers already know about Jackie Robinson the symbolic hero and virtual saint, but we are sorely at a loss for historical accounts of Jackie Robinson the man, the conflicted, or even (gasp) the fallible. After 42 was released in 2013, much remains the same—at least in terms of onscreen portraits. However, books like Jules Tygiel’s Baseball’s Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy (1983) and Arnold Rampersad’s Jackie Robinson: A Biography (1997), among others, thankfully lend some dimensions and shades of complexity to a tale otherwise typically told in terms of contrasts as stark as the very racial divides that Robinson helped bridge.

However, this isn’t a book review. And in any case, there’s something else that conveys with utter realism the very ephemeral humanity of our most renowned historic figures: the curious photographic and painterly images of such popular idols printed crisp and bright at first, before they inevitably morph with age on whatever moldy or brittle scraps of cardboard. . . .

1953 Topps Jackie Robinson 1, 3rd poorest

In as much, the first time I laid eyes on this topographic spectacle of crags and rifts, a veritable ravine running prominently down the ravaged geographic center, I thought I’d found the one. Surely, this must be the poorest of all specimens of 1953 Topps Jackie Robinson #1. . . .

1953 Topps Jackie Robinson 1, 2nd poorest

Not long after, though, I discovered this poor Jackie: complete with some anonymous soul’s tortured math homework scratched out and hovering ethereally in lead-penciled glory over Robinson’s right shoulder—whereupon I knew that there could be no better paradigm for a poor 1953 Topps Jackie Robinson #1. . . .

1953 Topps Jackie Robinson 1, 1st poorestFinally, I found this. Then I marveled in awe at the surviving remains, how scant the frayed & burnt cellulose fibers barely holding things together.

Thus I close with an ill-advised and downright silly, sentimental quote (what my former 18th Century English literature professor might term bathetic). Still the words feel oddly apt. To (mis)appropriate from those gaudy pop icons of moussed hair, leather, keyboard synths, and moogs:

The noise electric never stops
And all you need is what you got
And there’s a place for everyone
Under heartbeat city’s golden sun

Oh Jacki[e]

   —The Cars, “Heartbeat City”

1962 Topps Roger Maris #1 (Doubles)

At this point in the conversation history relevant to Roger Maris, there’s probably not a whole lot to add. Suffice to say that likewise little elaboration is needed to explain the understated significance of numerical cataloging for the Roger Maris base card issued by Topps following his watershed season of 1961. Or perhaps that decision was neither understatement nor thinly veiled bias–but rather a relative, resounding declaration by those at the helm of cardboard culture. Indeed the entire 1962 Topps set with its unpretentious yet salient background & borders styled in imitation wood grain like sliced cross sections of an ash wood bat seems to be the pronouncement of an era (or at least a season) orientated towards hitter, slugger, launcher of orbs. No, there’s little else to add but nostalgic hyperbole such as this. . . . Then again, a couple of pertinent artifacts might still amuse.

1962 Topps Roger Maris 1, PSA Authentic

  1. Take a look at this curious specimen from an online auction listing titled “1962 Topps #1 Roger Maris PSA Authentic.” Consider that last term for a moment. This is not some outmoded printing format for PSA authentication slips. The designation of “Authentic” continues to appear on select PSA graded cards. Nevertheless, I remain dubious. (And the seller’s 0 reputation standing does not instill feelings of confidence, at least not the positive kind; however, it may well suggest the sense of, say, confidence scam.) Moreover, that any numbered grading system is absent from the PSA authentication slip suggests something else may be amiss. At the risk of delving into minutia’s minutia, here it is in short: PSA grading standards state that this designation indicates possible tampering (cutting or otherwise), and that “the ‘Authentic’ label means that the item, in our opinion, is real but nothing more.” In other words, this isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement—especially when it comes to condition. But I’m not an expert in these matters. For all I know the card encased here in its clear, plastic coffin is completely legitimate. . . . Still, I’m tempted to file this under F for Fake.

1962 Topps Roger Maris 1, and stamp

  1. As contrast, in terms of both condition and quality of character, allow me to present another copy of the same card. Authentication or no, this other 1962 Topps Roger Maris #1 definitely has my stamp of approval—if only for the sake of utter oddity. To add to its eccentricity: the affixed stamp doesn’t even appear to be a picture of Maris but of another, historically lesser known though vaguely familiar player (possibly a fellow Yankee teammate, though I can’t be certain because the paper peels away precisely where the team emblem would appear on his cap).

Given a choice, of course I’d take the weather-wracked, defaced Roger Maris card, sans flashy slab and authentication. It simply feels more real to me.

“Eddie Murray Baltimore Orioles Collector”

Eddie Murray Baltimore Orioles Collector

This Eddie Murray collection found in an online auction listing stands in a category all of it’s own. Look how obsessively meticulously this “Steady Eddie” stash has been laid out as a feast for nostalgia-glazed eyes. Sure, there’s the canvas of circa ’70s elderly shag carpet. Look past that—or just a millimeter above its dingy surface. Cherish the dulled but still apparent shimmer to the miniature discs (call them pogs, call them coins) accompanying whatever 7-Eleven jumbo slurpee. Regard an almost artful novelty to the can of RC Cola. Or learn trivia from some 1979 Topps wax comics, such as the fact that Eddie Murray “led the Orioles in ’78 with 85 runs and 95 RBI’s.” Any one of these should very well appeal to the restless seeker of schlock, that curator of oddball gems. Taken together, it’s pure bliss—a Murray-magic carpet ride!

*Image provided with permission of Ebay auction seller.

Poor Sick’s Stadium Baseball Card Haiku

1970 Topps, Seattle Pilots TeamPictured back row/background: Sick’s Stadium.

Sick’s Stadium, after 1969

the ballpark yawns rain
soaked lawns glazed with minor love-
sick woes at major costs

*Visit the Sick’s Stadium Wikipedia entry here. For more photos of Sick’s Stadium, go to its final resting place amidst the stadium graveyard.

Poor Frauds

[Note: this previously appeared on Sports Collectors Daily.]

Take a gander at one excessively crinkled 1909 T206 Old Mill Nap Lajoie. Or cardboard gaze upon a perhaps peculiarly scarred and creased 1909 T206 Polar Bear Cigarettes Ty Cobb (bat off shoulder variant). Scrutinize an almost inscrutable 1909 T206 Uzit Cigarettes Honus Wagner. Apart from the card type and date, what else do all of these cards have in common? Under the guise of poor condition intended to suggest authenticity, in actuality they’re all fakes, frauds, forgeries—counterfeits.

for SCD piece, 1909 t206 Old Mill Nap Lajoie with bat cut auto card

Of course the commerce of counterfeits and counterfeit cards is nothing new. It’s a shadowy recess of the pastime that collectors continue to take very seriously, as evidenced by articles and reports such as these: “eBay Buyer Of T206 Magee Cards . . . ,” “A Fake Honus Wagner Tobacco Card With An Interesting History,” “Still ‘Allowed’ on eBay,” or this section from David Cycleback’s “Judging the Authenticity of Early Baseball Cards.” Then there was the recent story by a local NBC newscast in Reno, Nevada, where a man from Sparks purchased a poor condition Honus Wagner T206 for a little under two hundred dollars—in what has been reportedly revealed as an auction of nothing more than a “reprint.” (According to trading card forum chatter, that same purchaser has himself likewise attempted to now pawn the counterfeit off as an original.)

for SCD piece, 1909 t206 American Beauty Cigarettes Eddie Plank

But how do the same online auction sellers manage to repeatedly list such items? Auction sites have at least some basic safeguards in place for this kind of duplicitous conduct in the way of banning procedures, negative feedback, and more. Then consider all of the potentially disgruntled buyers who eagerly place bids without fully deciphering the deceitfully devised auction postings—prior to surely great disappointment and many an aired grievance. So, again, how does this happen?

It begins with the card. What kind of copy is it? Perhaps it’s an acknowledged reprint intended originally for the sake of novelty and/or appreciation, whereby this purpose is clearly indicated some place on the product: as on the card back, with the appearance of the word “Reprint” or an even more salient feature such as a retrospective summary of the card and player’s history. (With the former, some rather half-hearted attempts at fraud involve merely rubbing and scuffing the card back raw to remove this identifier.) Then there’s the outright fake that gives no such stated indication that it is a reproduction.* And with advances in affordable printing technology, especially with cheaper offset printers, some of these are fairly sophisticated—the 1933 Goudey set being among the more common and higher quality counterfeits. These can be found in abundance in online auctions, and they are sometimes difficult to discern from the sample image alone.

The brazenness of many fraudulent sellers, however, is exceeded only by their laziness. As with the previously mentioned scenario where an identifying mark such as “reprint” or “replica” on the card back will be intentionally removed via eraser, fingernail, coin, or other device and perhaps further masked by additional means (see below), this usually involves relatively mass-produced reprint issues from once-legitimate publishers and card manufacturers long-since out of business. Some of the more popular reprints include the following: The Sport Hobbyist and Nostalgia Press, with some early T206 reprints; Renata Galasso, which did T206, Goudey, and more; Dover, who released a perforated assortment (originally in book form) of Allen & Ginter, T206, and Goudey; C.C.C., Hygrade, and Capital, which all did reprints in the 80s; and yet various others. (And this is not a comprehensive list by any means.) Since most of these saw fairly large print runs with wide distribution, though, there’s no shortage of resources available on the relevant collector forums for help in spotting these.

for SCD piece, Reprint auctions that sold, 1

for SCD piece, Reprint auctions that sold, 3

for SCD piece, Reprint auctions that sold, 4

Also, in the current situation of auctioned counterfeits in poor condition, some sellers devise ways to artificially age and intentionally break down a fake card to both lend the appearance of authenticity at the point of purchase and impede subsequent inspection. In fact, when asked about his aging process, one such seller explained how he will “make them look old by dipping them in tea and putting them in the oven for a bit.” Besides adding a generally weathered, or toasted, appearance to what might be a still profitable and sought after low-grade card (that 1909 T206 Wagner, one 1933 Goudey Ruth, or a 1941 Play Ball DiMaggio), this could also be efficacious for baking away the gloss and more evenly distributing wear on an otherwise more evident reproduction. The same seller further mentioned that “Sandpaper works good to round the corners off [sic].” These seem like rather crude stratagems (and they are), but they apparently work well enough and fool enough buyers to, again, turn a profit. And while some Twinings tea and a convection oven may be primitive means for an unsavory end, rest assured that there are others with more advanced methodologies that are additionally difficult to detect. Whatever the manner and mode of simulacrum, though, these finer points probably become semantic for whomever the duped, remorseful buyer after the counterfeit is listed and purchased in an auction.

for SCD piece, Babe Ruth Reprint, Item Description

As for these questionable auction listings, they seem to work like this: while an identifying term such as “reprint” ideally appears somewhere in the given auction’s standard fields for details or “Item specifics” (i.e. categories like “Condition,” “Card Attributes,” “Original/Reprint”), some postings eschew the practice of proper entries. However, many of these counterfeit “Pre-war” baseball card auctions do technically provide this info elsewhere. At the same time, they strategically obscure it by intentionally omitting such points in the auction post title and those standardized data fields. They thus (mis)place facts about the lacking authenticity further below in the auction description, thereby demonstrating their knowledge of how to negotiate whatever gray area in the online auction rules. One seller actually anticipates customer complaints and negative feedback with the following brief disclaimer: “Not the seller’s fault if the buyer doesn’t read the description.”

So what does all of this amount to? We have a fake portrayed as an original yet technically listed as a fake. The forger or seller fully comprehends their misleading methods and likewise creates an auction posting to simultaneously conceal that which is transparent.

Oh, and I neglected to mention one more important variable in this whole scheme. These auctions sell. A poor 1921 W551 Babe Ruth “Signature Strip Card” racked up 26 bids for $37. One scuffed and battered 1934 Goudey Lou Gehrig yielded 27 bids for a final price of $33. There was even a 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth #53 that sold for $123.50, plus shipping. Of course, each one of these auctions was for a fake card, by way of the above methods. The price tag may pale in comparison to the real McCoy, but repeat business guarantees profits for these poor frauds and their respective sellers.

You (almost) have to hand it to these guys: there may not be a lot of artistry to the con, but they’ve clearly found a way to work the online auction system—though hopefully their success will be short lived. The whole farcical scam reminds me of that final major film by Orson Welles, F for Fake (1973): the elaborate lie that’s *technically* not even a lie.


* Still, several basic steps of inspection may still easily prove an artless artifice: measurement of dimensions and further comparison to a known, verified original from the same issue or set; observation of card stock and finish, whether matte or more glossy; use of a jeweler’s loupe to examine and differentiate pre-war versus modern printing methods; or even employment of an ultraviolet or black light to similarly determine the general era of materials of manufacture. However, much of this is difficult to do without the card in hand, which lends further weight to the advice of collectors to refrain from buying highly valued or sought-after cards that are ungraded—or, at the very least, to obtain the highest quality image scans beforehand and purchase only from the most reputable sellers, who will also offer an explicit guarantee and refund if the card does not pass certification.


Brian-Chidester. “T206 Older Reprints.” Net54baseball.com. Net54baseball.com, 20 Jan. 2010. Web. 10 Oct. 2014.

Cycleback, David Rudd. Judging the Authenticity of Early Baseball Cards. Cycleback.com, n.d. Web. 10 Oct. 2014.

“Sparks Man Wins Online Auction for Rare Collectible.” Mynews4.com. KRNV News 4, 15 Sept. 2014. Web. 10 Oct. 2014.