Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Evaluating '50s vintage

I'm not interested in graded cards or grading my cards.

But I sometimes wonder whether I would be if I grew up collecting cards in the late 1980s or after that. There was a certain emphasis placed on card condition that began in the '80s and hasn't let up since then.

Before that, collectors didn't care as much about condition. We loved those cards fresh out of a pack, sure, and we tried to keep our very favorites protected however we could in that pre-binder page, pre-top loader era. But, man, rubber bands were all over the place in our hobby back then.

Still as a kid, in the back of my mind, I wanted my cards to look nice. I didn't put cards in my wheel spokes. I played "closest to the wall" (when you literally threw cards at the wall) with only commons or players I didn't like. I played with my cards, but not as vigorously as others and I wonder if that's what might've sucked me into grading if I grew up during the Investment Era.

To this day, I have an informal evaluating system for cards from post-1970. If I get a dupe of a card, I'm keeping the card in better condition. Both cards get the once-over. Are there any creases, dings, discoloration, centering issues? The card with fewer of those things (preferably none of those things) gets kept.

I think this is customary procedure among a lot of collectors.

But for me, when it comes to cards from earlier, especially the 1950s, it gets a bit more difficult.

Cards from the '50s are almost always going to contain some sort of flaw. That goes for just about anything that's 60 years old. Stumbling across a '50s card that is as flawless as a modern card is almost never going to happen to me and would probably freak me out. I don't live in that rarefied air. So during the occasional time I end up with a double of a '50s card, I am now comparing two cards with flaws. How do I make the determination?

How do I evaluate?

Now, I know some people are saying "keep them both! They're cards from the '50s!" And I get that. I do keep them both often. But you never know when someone is going to want your stray '50s card. You can't keep everything.

So, fairly recently I received a second 1953 Topps Don Hoak card from Stackhouse. (I'm linking to his 1952 Topps blog because I am drawing a blank on the name for his more recent '53 Topps blog).

The second card is on the left. The one card I owned already is on the right.

So if I'm evaluating and picking between the two, how do I do that?

Well, let's list the strengths and weaknesses of both:

Stackhouse Hoak


-- Freakishly sharp corners for a 65-year-old card
-- Relatively little wear on the black-border edges
-- Decent color for a '53 Topps card


-- Card is way off-center, so much so that the left edge is almost ragged
-- There's a printing flaw in the logo.

Original Hoak


-- This is what a 1950s card in good condition -- something that I am accustomed to seeing from 1950s cards -- looks like. Rounded corners make sense to me for '50s cards.
-- The card is well-centered
-- There is more color to this card than the Stackhouse Hoak


-- If you're comparing corner sharpness, the Original Hoak will never win.
-- There is some paper loss in the upper left area that travels into the left side of Hoak's cap.

I think you noticed that both cards have the same number of strengths and weaknesses. So how do I choose?

Well, in this case, I will go with the original, mostly because it is the original. I've grown attached to it, and that's a difficult thing to overcome for a newbie dupe. I'm comfortable with Hoak's rounded corners and even the paper loss (which isn't as easy to see in person).

So, I have a free '53 Hoak if anyone wants it.

I don't get to do that kind of evaluating often, because like I said, I don't have a lot of '50s dupes.

I received several much more modern cards from Mr. Stackhouse.

These are all 1983-themed inserts from 2018 Topps, all needs for me.

And this is some chromed-up parallel with a hieroglyphics pattern because I have no idea. But I'm happy to own it.

Needed this card, too.

None of the more modern cards will go through an evaluation process. Most modern cards look the same with relatively few appearing miscut or with dings. It's such a rarity now that collectors go into outrage if they spot a card with a flaw. It's instantly called "damaged."

This card didn't win the evaluation process. But I would never consider it "damaged."


  1. When I was a kid, other kids on my street would occasionally comment on the above-average condition of my cards... because I *didn't* flip them, carry them in my pocket or keep them bound together with rubber bands.

  2. I just adore '53 Topps. The minor paper loss is probably slightly worse than the major off-centering for me. I'm working on some of the original A&G minis and that's the main thing I try to avoid... paper loss on the front of the card... but I totally understand your 'keep the original' sentiment.

  3. I have a few cards from the past decade or two that are damaged... yet treasured. It should be noted that they're part of my Damaged Card PC though.

  4. I grew up in the late 80s and didn't care at all about condition, but even then I was a bit of an anomaly. Now that I am into vintage, I find that other than significant drawing on the photo (i.e. drawing on the face) that I really don't care about the condition - they're old cards, they should look old. So as I get dupes I actually put out the better card for trade, figuring I can get more in return.

  5. A vintage card that is too pure often looks fake. I like them to have a little personality. Having said that, I favor better centering over minor creases and corner dings every time