Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Upgrade? Yes or no?

I don't do a lot of upgrading.

Oh, like most collectors there are cards in my collection that are in obvious need of upgrades. And if the circumstances are right -- meaning someone sends me a new version of that card or I happen to stumble upon a different version of that card at a show -- then I will upgrade.

But I can't say that I actively seek out upgrades. If I did that, then I'd probably be one of those collectors putting cards between slabs and talking in initials while throwing numbers after it. (I never really know what they're talking about. I know "9" is very good and "10" is terrific and "2" is pretty lousy. But I just can't pay attention enough to get into the details. I'm too busy looking for a hammer in case someone comes to their senses and says "I need to TOUCH MY CARD!!!!")

There is an exception.

That's my 1975 Topps set. I completed it eight or nine years ago. But I can't help but continue to look at cards from that set with the thought of adding them to my collection. Periodically, I'll see them at a show and pick up a few and see how well they stack up against the others.

It's a pretty easy exercise because, unlike today's cards, cards from the '70s varied greatly from each other. There were all kinds of printing errors and cutting errors and the technology just wasn't as good as it is today. Not that we noticed. Unless you could see another player's card ON your card -- which sometimes happened -- the cards were perfectly fine. You think we talked about 70-30 centering when we were opening packs on our bicycles? Yeah, right.

But as an adult collector, I like my favorite set of all-time -- the first set I ever collected -- to look as nice as possible. So when grogg from Nearly Mint asked me if I had any need for some '75s, I welcomed them. This would be a perfect opportunity to upgrade.

He sent 34 cards and I knew right away that they were excellent candidates for my little "Upgrade? Yes or no?" show.

What? You don't know the show?

Well it usually only plays in my head. I'm the only one who can hear the theme music or the show host or the announcer revealing the prizes.

It's entirely too nerdy to reveal here (hey, I don't read comics, I don't get into science fiction, I'm not interested in pro wrestling -- I've got to do something nerdy). But I will reveal what I'm looking for when I'm upgrading '75s.

In order of importance:

1. Corners and edges. Corners have to be sharp and edges can't contain notches or roughness or other cutting issues. The '75s grogg sent were perfectly sharp, so this wasn't a factor at all.

2. Foreign marks. The obvious ones are pen or pencil marks or dirt of some sort. But I also include printing flaws as they were rampant on 1970s cards. They are also very easy to see on a set like '75 with colored borders.

3. Creasing. Not an issue for any of the cards, but it's obviously very important.

4. Diamond cutting. It's been a long time since I've seen a diamond-cut baseball card. But they were all over the place in the '70s. You'll see a lot of them in these scans.

5. Card feel. Is the card scuffed? Does it feel like it went through the washing machine? I'm still picking '75s out of my collection that feel like this.

6. Centering. Yup, way down at No. 6. Centering issues were so common in the '70s that nobody thought much about it. The borders were SUPPOSED to be different widths, right? I try to make sure my '75s are centered but I'm not going to boot something out of the binder for being 60-40.

7. Color registration. Color is very important to '75s. Faded color is bad. Color saturation is bad. I try to get the cards smack in the middle.

And there you have it.

I've scanned all 34 cards and put them side-by-side with the version that I have in the binder. The card on the left is my card. The card on the right is the one grogg sent me.

I'm only going to show a dozen or so cards because this could go on forever. But I have scanned all 34 cards, so if you ever want to see a comparison of the ones I didn't show (why, I don't know), I've got it on stand by for you.

Scanning also helped me make a determination on whether to upgrade. You can only see so much with the naked eye. So if you're doing upgrading yourself, I recommend scanning the cards next to each other.

OK, time for "Upgrade? Yes or no?":

As you can see, there's not a lot of difference between the cards, and that's the case for almost all of them.

The Johnstone on the left has a fuzzy right edge and the whole right side is scuffed up. The card on the right is clearer and brighter.

Upgrade? Yes or No?


Ah, Graig Nettles. Practical joker and kind of a jerk-off. Also, one of the final 50 or so cards that I needed to complete the set. And finding a nice version of the card was tough. For cards like that, I have this automatic instinct that the card is in need of an upgrade, forgetting that I've probably upgraded a couple of times already.

This is such a case.

The grogg card on the right has one of those nasty air bubbles that were everywhere in '75. It's not as centered as nicely as the left card either.

Upgrade? Yes or No?


More Yankee. I knew as soon as I saw this card that I would be upgrading it. My Dempsey features creases at top left and bottom right. Creasing is not allowed in the '75 binder (it is VERY allowed in the '75 binder of my original '75s purchased in '75).

Upgrade? Yes or No?


Oooh. A Dodger. This is always exciting.

But right away I can see the new entry isn't going to win. It has more color than the card on the left, but two printing errors deem it unworthy.

However, as with any Dodgers, I get to compare it with the version in my Dodger binder and see how it stacks up.

So, for now ...

Upgrade? Yes or No?


Everybody's favorite broadcaster. This looked like a tough matchup looking at the cards in hand. But the scan tells a different story.

The cardboard is bubbled to the left of the "R" in Royals and there is a printing flaw on Martinez's cap. Also, I swear Martinez's mustache is not as full as it is on the left card. I don't know how that's possible, but the scanner does not lie.

Upgrade? Yes or No?


Here is a card of Steve Busby, except that it's really Fran Healy. Busby/Healy is much brighter on the right than the left. But it looks like the painter let some yellow paint drip onto the red portion of the card. That is not good workmanship.

Upgrade? Yes or No?


I told you this was tough.

Time for Bad-Ass Club member Don Baylor. Here is one of those cards where a scan comes in handy. I could not see the faded streak that runs down Baylor's face on the card on the left until I viewed the scan. To me that's much more egregious than a few small air bubbles.

Upgrade? Yes or No?


The fantastic Chris Speier card. Yes, I know it's a Giant, but -- look! -- he's popping up.

My card on the left is way off center, top-to-bottom. Although both cards are as sharp as the knife they give you to at the Texas Roadhouse, the new card is much more pleasing.

Upgrade? Yes or No?


The most difficult one so far. My card was in need of an upgrade. A couple of fuzzy corners, it had to go. But the card on the right has faded color and is not centered as well. Plus there is an air bubble on his sleeve (I had a printing veteran once leave a comment on my blog saying those particular printing errors were nicknamed "assholes." Thank you, sir, for leaving that visual image in my head every time I look at one of these cards).

Upgrade? Yes or No?


There's Tony. I've had a tough time upgrading this card, so I was hopeful here. But on second look, the card on the left looks pretty good. It's a narrow call, but I'm keeping it (Oliva on the back has a gum stain, which isn't a deal killer unless I'm splitting hairs like I am here).

Upgrade? Yes or No?


Ah, yes. Carl Morton. The card I shoplifted as a youngster. This is one of the few cards that I know for certain is an upgrade candidate without even looking it up. Worn corners on the bottom. Rough left edge. I was very glad to see grogg's Morton arrive.

Upgrade? Yes or No?


I've had trouble finding a very nice '75 Fergie Jenkins. I thought this would be an upgrade opportunity. But the scan revealed a diamond-cut Fergie on the right, with some creases that I didn't even see at first glance on the bottom left.

Upgrade? Yes or No?


Coop! One of my favorite cards from the set. But you can see the problem I'm having. Lots of diamond-cutting going on in this set.

Upgrade? Yes or No?


One more. Here's Bobby Murcer airbrushed as a Giant but featuring an American League All-Star star. Always fun.

Bobby on the left has an ass ... er, air bubble on the left edge, and is off-center. Bobby on the right does not.

Upgrade? Yes or No?


Here is a rundown on the other cards:

Bob Bailey: NO
Dodgers Team Card: NO
Dave Hamilton: YES (my original feels like it fell in a puddle and then dried out)
Ron Bryant: YES
Tom Buskey: NO
Bruce Kison: NO
Tom McCraw: NO
Eric Soderholm: NO
Gene Locklear: YES
Dave Duncan: NO
Ross Grimsley: NO (I keep waiting for a version where his cap is not airbrushed)
Roy White: NO (oh, so close)
Al Downing: NO (but I'll check the Dodger binder)
Bill Plummer: YES
Alex Johnson: NO (both cards have issues)
Cy Acosta: NO
Eduardo Rodriguez: YES
Bill Sharp: NO

So, for those insane people keeping track, I upgraded 12 of the 34 cards. That's a 35 percent success rate, which believe me, is damn good.

And it also means I have 22 cards available for anyone trying to complete the 1975 set. The cards really are in super-fine shape, for anyone not as picky as I am. Any bloggers, especially, if you're in need of some of these cards for your set, let me know.

It's a heck of a lot of fun upgrading a complete set. I wouldn't do this for just any set or any cards. But for a set that you really love, it helps keep it alive long after you've completed it.

It's either do that or start putting all the cards in slabs.

(P.S.: This was just a small part of the package grogg sent me. Wait until you see some of the other stuff).


  1. I'm not so much impressed with your nerdiness than I am with the fact you had time to scan ALL THOSE CARDS!! If I was writing that post, it wouldn't come out until Easter....2014.

  2. I think you go about it the right away. It's a gradual process, and if you did it for every set it would probably drive you nuts. However, it's like you're fine-tuning it over a long period of time, without much pressure to upgrade unless you feel like it.

    Also, Nettles is a total jerk-off.

  3. What you call creases in the corner I refer to as dings. I consider corner dings less egregious than actual creases. Also, under Foreign Marks I'm surprised you didn't mention the small pin holes at the top center of the card where it had been pinned up on a bulletin board :P

  4. Nothing looks better in a nine pocket page then a uniformly straight block of colorful cards. 1975 Topps is the set where I notice card defects the most. And its really the one that bothers me… especially that eleven or one o’clock angle off centering. And I’ve noticed with my 1975 doubles and triples that the same cards are off centered in the same positions---the Bill Russell for instance. That makes upgrades tough.

  5. Unless I start with a mediocre batch, (like I did with '70 and '72), I won't even consider creased cards. But I guess the big difference with me is that the next rejection condition would probably be diamond cuts. They're just so disconcerting. I would accept dinged corners and faded color before a twisted specimen.

  6. This really strikes at the soul of every vintage set collector. I was in such a hurry to finish the '59 set that I settles for some really lousy cards from dubious eBay 'lot' auctions and BINs.

    I've since cleaned up most of the more abused cards, mainly at shows. And I did it in a manner similar to you, with a side-by-side comparison. I'd let the dealer know what I was doing and they were fine with it (I've got an honest face).

    But I'll never upgrade the Gibson rookie. It's the only one I am certain to have come through my many moves, Mom directed purges and 'flipping' sessions and remained in my possession since I was a kid.