Sunday, May 30, 2010

The dark side of '71s

A little while ago, I received another package from mr. haverkamp from The Bench. All of the cards were from my want list, including some 1971 Topps, for which I am ever grateful.

The three cards he sent brings me one card short of 700 for the set, meaning I am just 53 cards away from completion or at 93 percent for those of you who work in percentiles.

One of the cards he sent was card No. 1 in the set, the Orioles' team card. Topps was in the habit of featuring the team that won the previous World Series on card No. 1. It was a nice little tradition even if it did last only three years (you probably can pin the blame on Hank Aaron for the end of that run).

Getting card No. 1 in any vintage set is a big deal and somewhat of an undertaking. That's because the first card in those sets often features a higher price tag than a similar card (say another team card) that is not card No. 1. If you've never heard this before, go dig up a price guide (I know you've got one somewhere) and turn to any set from the 1950s to mid-1970s and look at the suggested dealers' rip-off price next to card No. 1. I'll wait.

See what I mean? The '71 Orioles card "books" for 20 bucks near mint. Most other team cards in the set are around 4 dollars. The Astros and Brewers cards also feature a $20 price tag but they are high-numbered short prints. The Orioles card is plenty plentiful.

The reason that the first card in these vintage sets goes for more than a comparable card in the set is because of a "theory" that goes like this:

"Collectors from the early 1950s to the mid-1970s were clueless, dirty, urchin children who used their cards in a variety of careless, messy, disgusting ways but yet had the presence of mind and advanced organizational skills to sequence their cards by the number on the back, so that the card listed at No. 1 was always exposed to rubber bands, the elements and whatever else the world had in mind."

OK, maybe there were some orderly kids back then. But I know I was far too scatter-brained as a kid to put my cards in order by the card number on the back. And so were my friends. We would put them in order by team or by color or by players that we liked, or even by batting average, during days of low sugar consumption. But the number on the back? What was that? My appreciation for that seemingly random number didn't come until much, much later, when I began to gain some knowledge about the hobby of collecting.

So, although there might a shred of truth in it, I basically call bullshit on the theory. It's just a way for some dealers to artificially jack up the price on certain vintage cards.

All right, that wasn't even what I was going to write about here, and I think I just stole a potential blog rant from dayf. But he can do the same subject better anyway.

What I had meant to focus on was an even more sinister side of 1971s.

If you collect the set, then you have probably heard people talk about how some shady sellers doctor their 1971 cards to hide the chipping that often drives collectors of the set crazy.

I have heard about this practice for years. Sellers, I'm told, would use a simple black magic marker to color in the chipped borders and corners. I had never noticed this in any of the '71s I had bought, but I had been curious for years as to how "markered" '71s would look.

For a long time I didn't have the guts to try it myself. And by "try it" I don't mean "try to sell an altered card," I mean "try it" on one of my own cards to see how it looks.

But the cards from mr. haverkamp inspired me. I dug out one of my 1971 doubles:

Ed Herrmann was up for the task. Those back-up catchers will do anything.

I carefully -- but not expertly -- colored in the edges and borders with a Sharpie. I didn't spend a lot of time on it, so I'm sure it would look even snazzier in the hands of a hoodwinker, but here is what I produced:

I think you can tell that it's not in perfect shape, but to someone who didn't know any better, it looks in a lot better shape than the original Herrmann card.

OK, remember, for years I had read the cautionary tales about altered '71s. I always figured I would know a card with Sharpie marks if I saw one.

But here is the scary thing. Even on the card that I defaced my own self, I couldn't notice the artificial black of the marker. Unless I tilted the card in the light, then I could tell.

Now, I don't know about you other '71 collectors, but I'm not tilting every damn '71 card that I pick up at a card show before I buy it. And that does make me wonder how many '71s I have in my collection that might have been colored black. And how many of those ebay '71s, which you can't pick up and review, have the white chipping marks covered with marker?

Fortunately, I have enough '71 cards that I acquired from the older brother of my friend in 1978 that there's no chance of those being altered by anything but us kids scraping them on the wood of the front porch. But it does make you think. Especially when I'm in an upgrading frame of mind.

Anyway, to lighten the mood again, here are the other two definitely-not altered '71 cards from mr. haverkamp:

A nice card of Knucksie. I rather liked those old Braves uniforms.

He also sent a Greg Luzinski rookie card (and Scott Reid's rookie card, too).

On the non-1971 front, he sent the last three 1980 Topps Dodgers I needed for my team binder.

And six more 1976 Topps needs that gets my want list down to a mere five cards in that set. Don't let the Cosgrove card scare you as it did me for half my childhood.

Thanks again. You all have been most generous with your 1971 cards, and I still owe a few of you my card gratitude. But don't worry. I assure you I am working on it. If I spent a little less time markering up '71 cards, maybe I could get some work done.


  1. I was warned about evil card markers in '86. I have never tried it personally, but I guess it makes cards look better in a binder. I love my old cards battle scars. I would never damage a card myself (on purpose) but I appreciate cards more that have been through the wringer... I have like 15 or so '71s from your list. I hope you still need 'em. I will send them to you eventually...

  2. I'm not a fan of the '71s because they show their wear a little too easily. I don't think I'd get out a Sharpie to fix it, but I can almost understand the temptation.

  3. And to think...I've been using electrician's tape on mine all these years.