November 3, 2011

Errors, variations, and other obscurities; a 1980s dealer gone wild


Articles and letters in Baseball Hobby News in the 1980s reflected significant interest in errors, variations and other mistakes made by major card manufacturers. At the time, that became apparent to me as a result of inquiries I made at dealer tables.

One dealer I approached had some very interesting material in his display case. Our conversation went something like this:

"That looks like a 1957 Ted Williams. How much are you asking for it?"

“For you, just $99.95."

I examined the card. "Say, there's a big crease through the center. This card should be VG at best, more like $20."

He took the card back and examined it. "Well, to tell you the truth, this is the very rare Topps crease variation, and the only one I've seen like it!"

"Crease variation?" That was a new one on me.

"Sure! Topps had a cutting machine that actually folded about 20 to 30 of these by mistake. Of course, Topps pulled all the defective cards before they found their way into wax packs - or at least thought they had!"

Something else in his case caught my eye. "How about that 1967 Yaz with the clipped corners?"

"Ah yes. That's the obscure 1967 Topps clipped corners variation, making the card appear to be octagonal in shape, rather than rectangular. It's yours for only $50."

"You sure someone didn't take scissors to that card?"

"Nahhh. Another Topps cutting error. You'll not see another one like it again, I'm sure!"

I picked up what appeared to be half a 1983 Topps Boggs rookie card. "Hey, what happened here?"

"Oh, that," The dealer chuckled. "Topps was fooling around with the mini set idea, but they just cut the cards in half instead of shrinking them. A real rarity, yours for just $25."

"And this?" I indicated a 1969 Rose cut diagonally in half. "A poor attempt at a doubleheader, perhaps?" I snickered.

"I see you know your cards! Excellent!" replied the dealer. "I'm sure we can work out an exceptional deal on that scarce item!"

"Well, I don't know…”

"Or perhaps you prefer to collect printing variations? Check these out. Nice, aren’t they?”

"Gee, that's a shame. There's a big pen mark on the face of that beautiful 1953 Bowman Mantle."

The dealer grinned. "Nope, that's an extremely rare printer's proof with the color tests okayed in ink. See the initials?

"Looks to me like some kid wrote on it."

"Not at all, not at all. I've several more from that sheet marked with the RK. I'll let you have them for a very good price. Now, let's see my Beckett guide…”

"Uh, look, I really don't see anything here that catches my fancy, so if you don't mind, I'll just move on, and …”

The dealer dropped his voice and leaned across the table. "Sir, I can see that you and only you can appreciate what I am about to bring out." He reached under the table and revealed what appeared to be a completely blank piece of white cardboard in a two-piece screw-down Lucite holder.

"Okay, what is it?" I asked, preparing myself for the worst.

"It's the very, very, very rare blank card variation of the 1969 Reggie Jackson rookie card. You'll never see another one like it anywhere. Look at those corners. That gloss. Gem Mint, and yours for only $100."

I examined the card. It was blank on both sides, all right. The corners were nice. If what he said were true - this would be the scarcest variation of all time. But a disturbing thought crossed my mind.

"Hey, how do I know that this is really a Jackson rookie variation, and not a common card? Huh?"

The dealer looked crafty. "I have my sources.” He refused to elaborate further.

I had had enough. "Okay, bud, you might fool some people with that, but you won't fool me. I've wasted enough time here!" I started to turn away when he grabbed my arm.

"Don't go yet!" he pleaded. "I've got the ultimate printing variation. You've got to see it - you've got to!" Well, he might have something there. I guess I could wait another minute.

He pulled out a binder full of 1961, 1962 and 1963 Post Cereal cards. Sure, they looked nice, solid Ex-Mt. But there didn't appear to be anything wrong with the printing, at least as far as I could tell.

"Okay, I give up. Where are the printing flaws?"

"Can't you tell?" he exulted. "They're all blank backs!"
• • •
Copyright ©2007 Peter H. Putman. All mechanical and electronic print rights are reserved. This story originally appeared in Baseball Hobby News. Putman wrote for BHN in the mid to late 1980s.

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