Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Fastest Card Bubble To Burst in History


Well, that didn't last long!

On Monday I did a post about how the above card  of Shinjo with his name as "Big Boss" from the just released Calbee Series 2 had sold on Yahoo Auctions for a whopping 33,500 Yen (about $300 US).  This didn't make much sense to me since its just a Shinjo card and, while its a "chase" card its not a particularly rare one.

Out of curiosity I started watching other auctions for the same card.  The first two ended last night (here and here).  Exact same card, exact same condition.  How much did they sell for?

Ouch.  One copy for about $40 US, the other about $30.  So in other words the card fell to 1/10th the price it went for on Monday by Wednesday of the same week.

This is really weird.  I mean, the auctions in the 30-40$ range that ended yesterday feel a lot closer to what this card should be worth than the ridiculous 300$ auction price of just a couple days before.

I'm a bit puzzled, but I'll try to throw a theory out here to see if it sticks.  There is a kind of norm in Japan, amongst those who have lots of money, that being the first to own a new thing brings a great deal of prestige to you.  Thus the market value for being the "first" owner of something is way higher than it is for being the second owner of the exact same thing.  

The most famous example of this are the prices that are paid for the first tuna to go on sale at the Tsukiji market each  year.  In 2019 for example a single tuna sold for about 3 million US$ at Tsukiji because it was the first.  There are less dramatic examples out there too.

I wonder if the $300 Big Boss card might have only achieved that price because it was the very first copy of that card to appear on Yahoo Auctions and so some rich/vain collectors bid each other up on it in order to have braggging rights for being the first to land it.  

Edited to Add: I've been having a back and forth with Prestige Collectibles on Twitter and he pointed out that the seller on that 300$ sale earlier this week has a ridiculously low feedback rate, and also that the underbidder seems to have had his account suspended.  So this raises the likelihood that the 300$ sale was a bogus one to begin with, thus rendering a lot of what I wrote in this post moot!  

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Big Boss is Commanding Big Prices


This is the first time in years that I've tried putting a Calbee set together bag by bag (or more accurately its the first time ever that my kids have done so).  One result of this is that I've been paying more attention to the shiny, glittery cards that Calbee puts in them  than usual.

In terms of "chase" cards, Calbee basically operates in an early 90s American cardmaker mindset.  In addition to "Lucky Cards" redeemable for prizes, the main cards people go after are basically just parrallel versions of cards from some subsets that have gold signatures embossed on them.  

All the other stuff that cardmakers in the US started doing after the early 90s - auto cards, memorabilia cards, buy-back cards, etc etc - none of these have ever been adopted by Calbee.

Series 2 of Calbee just came out and my kids and I are excited to start putting that one together (we are very close to finishing Series 1, which is kind of an impressive feat if I do say so myself).  The card that is getting the most hype in that one by far is.....a card of the manager of the team with the worst record in NPB by far, who as a player was a .254 career hitter.  

Tsuyoshi Shinjo became the Fighters' manager this year and on taking the job changed his name to "Big Boss".  Calbee gave him a card in their Star Cards subset with the name "Big Boss" and everyone thinks that is super neat here.  So much so that a copy of the gold parrallel version of that card just  sold for about $300 US on Yahoo Auctions over the weekend.

Yikes!  Its not hard to predict that once the hype fades away and there are a million other "Big Boss" cards out there, this card will not be worth anywhere near that much.  

In the meantime though I'm kind of wondering what I should do if my kids pull one of those out of a pack.  Thus far I haven't really been trying to get them to pay attention to the condition of the cards too much since that sort of grown-up anal retentiveness can really kill the fun of collecting for young kids.  But at the same time....300$ is 300$ so maybe I'll slip that one into a card saver if they get it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

1980s Calbee Unopened Packs

I picked up something new the other day - a lot of three unopened packs of Calbee cards from the 1980s.  I've seen auctions for these come up from time to time and had always wanted to get one (or three).

Its easy to tell that the packs are from the 1980s owing to the size of the cards - all Calbee cards from 1981 to 1989 were mini card sized.  Somewhat confusingly some series from both the 1980 and 1990 sets, but not all of them, were also the same size.  So if you get a pack of mini cards you know its from no earlier than 1980 and no later than 1990.

But what specific year in that range do you have if you get one?  That is a bit harder to determine, since the packs themselves do not state a year (except in 1989).  The easiest way of course is to just open them up and have a look, but then you won't have an unopened pack anymore.

I did a bit of looking around and discovered that a Japanese blog called the "Calbee Card Research Centre", which is great for really detailed info on some Calbee cards, recently did a series of posts on the subject of identifying 1980s Calbee packs.  

To simplify what is written there over the course of several posts, Calbee changed the color of the packs each year and also varied the design slightly. By color it breaks down like this (click on the link for each year to see his post with pictures of what the design of each looks like. Years without a link are ones which I included based on Dave's comment on this post).

Green packs: 1984, 1985 and 1987

Blue Packs: 1980, 1981, 1982, 1986 1989, and 1990

Red Packs: 1983

This isn't quite a full list since they don't have posts about the 1981, 1984, 1988 or 1990 packs (whcih I've included above based on Dave's comment below) but its a pretty useful resource so far despite that.  For some years there is a bit of variation in the design (but not the color) of the packs from series to series and the posts contain information about that too.

Looking through those, I was able to determine that the three packs I bought were from 1985, which is pretty cool . I'm very tempted to open them, but I'm going to try to resist that temptation and keep them as they are since they are one of those things where the whole is worth more than the sum of the parts.  

Monday, June 13, 2022

Major Excitement at My House Last Night

Had some major excitement at my house last night.  I brought home three bags of Calbee baseball chips from work.  The kids and I have been putting the set together bag by bag this year which has been great fun.  One thing that I have discovered  in the process is that putting a set of Calbee cards together that way is made massively easier if you have three mouths to eat the chips rather than just one.   I've tried putting sets together on my own a few times in the past and it always ended up with my house overflowing with bags of potato chips that I just couldn't eat because there were too many of them.  We've actually got about 3/4 of the base set put together now, which is pretty good.

The excitement of opening bags has been waning recently though as we inevitably are getting mostly doubles now.  But there was one thing that was keeping our enthusiasm up - the chase for a Lucky Card.

As I've written about on here before, Lucky Cards are cards that you can redeem for prizes.  This year's Lucky Card will get you a card album, which is an extremely enticing prize for a seven or four year old kid.  They've been wanting one of these ever since we opened the first bag but so far we've been out of luck.

Until last night that is.  After dinner and after my son did his homework, I gave him one of the bags to open.  He opened up the cards and immediately started bouncing off the walls screaming "I got a Lucky Card!!!!!!" in excitement.  Seeing a kid get a card he really wanted like that is an impressive thing to behold.  It reminded me of my own childhood when I'd get a Don Mattingly in a pack.  I had my camera handy so I snapped some pictures of his moment of victory.

So this morning I stopped off at the post office to buy a pre-paid postcard.  We have to cut out a tab on the Lucky Card, glue it to the postcard and mail it to Calbee, and within a month they say they'll have our card album at the door.  That is so great since it means the excitement of the chase for a Lucky Card is now replaced by the excitement of the wait for a package to arrive in the mail.  He'll be checking that mailbox every day when he comes home from school for the next few weeks until the day it arrives.

This makes me really psyched about Calbee Series 2, which should be hitting the stores later this month and will mean a whole new chance to chase the Lucky Card in that one for whatever prize they'll be giving out that time.  

Sunday, June 12, 2022

1929 Shonen Club Babe Ruth with the rest of the Set

An interesting item sold on Yahoo Auctions yesterday (not to me unfortunately!).  

It was a 1929 Shonen Club Babe Ruth. which I have written about on here before.  I was fortunate enough to pick up a copy of this card a few years ago before the recent price explosion.  I don't think I could afford to buy one now.  

What interested me in this particular auction was that it wasn't just for the Ruth, but rather for the complete set of postcards it was originally sold with, complete with the box and everything.

I had long been curious about that.  While I've seen several Shonen Club Ruth listings on Yahoo Auctions over the years, I had never seen what the complete set of cards it came with looked like until now.  

As you can see from these highlights, it was a pretty eclectic set in terms of subject matter.  There are 40 cards total and the Ruth is the only sports figure.  The rest are a mix of historical events, famous places, animals, historical figures and that sort of thing.  

This ended up selling for about ten times what my own Ruth set me back:

The cards other than Ruth aren't really worth anything more than what an old postcard is worth, but taken as a set with the box they probably add some value to it (and certainly make it more interesting).  Also that Ruth looks like it is in "fresh from the box" condition so its not surprising it sold for so much. 

Thursday, June 9, 2022

1985 Calbee Contest Badge


I discovered something really neat on a Yahoo Auction that ended yesterday and I'm racked with doubt about whether I should have stayed in the bidding (I dropped out and didn't win it).

This is a badge that was issued by Calbee in 1985.  As I've written about on here before that year Calbee had a contest in which kids could send in drawings of their favorite players and, if they were selected, they would be featured on the back of a Calbee card of that player.  As a result, about 100 cards in the 1985 Calbee set feature artwork by children on the backs of them, which makes them one of my favorite Calbee series ever.

I had never seen one of these badges before, but the "Contest 1985" that it refers to is this one (the kanji 似顔絵 that you can see on it means drawing of a face).  
These badges seem to have been sent out to kids who sent in drawings.  I'm not sure if these were sent out to everyone who entered the contest, or only those whose drawings were chosen.  This is a pretty big distinction from a collector's standpoint since if it was the former there were likely thousands of these sent out, while if it were the latter there would only have been about one hundred.
Either way, they are a neat piece of baseball card ephemera, especially for a Calbee collector like myself. That is why I have some regrets about having dropped out of the bidding.  It went for 3641 Yen (about 30$ US) and I was the second highest bidder.  I was of two minds about whether to bid more.  On the one side, this is a really neat find and not one that is likely to come along again any time soon (ten years of scouring YJA and this is the first I've ever seen).  On the other hand, its not a Calbee baseball card and I'm not a badge collector so it would have been an awkward fit with my collection.  And 30$ is a lot to pay for a badge.  The latter argument won out in the end and I let it go, but I would have liked to have added this to my collection so I'm a bit disappointed.
I really wish Calbee would do a contest like this again.  I say this as the father of a 7 year old who loves both baseball and drawing, and has even started to sketch pictures of his favorite players.  He would go absolutely bonkers with excitement at the idea of getting a drawing of his on a real baseball card.  But its 2022 and this hobby of ours is now dominated by grown ups who aren't into that sort of thing, which sucks (and yes, I realize as I say it that I too am a grown up collector.....).  

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Spurious Correlation? Japanese Potato Production and Calbee Baseball Cards


One thing that you sometimes see get mentioned in discussion about the relative scarcity of certain Calbee baseball card sets in Japan is that there was a poor potato harvest in a given year which in turn led Calbee to reduce sales of its baseball cards in that year.  This seems logical since the two are inextricably linked - all Calbee cards have for years only been sold with potato chips, so if there are fewer potatoes to make those chips its not entirely inconceivable that this would result in fewer baseball cards as well.  

This has always intrigued me since it suggests the existence of a potential correlation between two variables - potato and baseball card production - that would be unique to Japan and to the hobby.  And it would add a neat piece of hobby trivia to all the other bits floating around out there.

So I decided to try to statistically prove or disprove the existence of this correlation.

To do so I gathered data on both variables: potatoes and cards.  For data on annual potato production in Japan I consulted the Potato Pro website's Japan page which allows you to search official figures on potato production.  I hand collated the annual data from 1997 to 2013.

For data on Calbee baseball cards I could not locate official figures on annual production from Calbee, so I had to use a proxy.  Yahoo Auctions listings in its baseball card category for Calbee cards are broken down on a year by year basis and may be a useful substitute for official figures in this regard, subject to certain limitations.  Yahoo Auctions is the biggest auction site in Japan, effectively its equivalent to Ebay,  and is one where a large volume of baseball cards are bought and sold. At the time of writing there were 69,997 Calbee cards listed for sale so it represents a relatively large pool of data.  The number of Calbee cards available for sale on Yahoo Auctions in a given year category is not a perfect proxy for the number of cards produced in that year but the numbers are large enough to suggest that differences in the number of cards originally produced would show up as differences in the number available on Yahoo Auctions today.  I thus hand collated the data on the number of listings for cards available each year from 1997 to 2013.

I chose to set the year range from 1997 to 2013 for two reasons.  1997 was chosen as a cut off point since it marked the beginning of the "modern" style of Calbee card, and the availability of cards on Yahoo Auctions is likely to be a better reflection of the number of cards originally produced for cards after that year since the surviving population is less likely to have been affected by events like moms throwing them away, as cards from the 1970s to early 90s were (in Japan the collecting hobby developed a couple of decades later than its American counterpart).  2013 was selected as the upper limit simply because from 2014 onwards Yahoo Auctions stopped breaking listings down by year (for some reason).  One other oddity worth noting is that for the years 2000 and 2001 for reasons that are unclear Yahoo Auctions lumped both years into a single category, so I assigned half to each year in my data. Another limitation to note is that while most of the listings are for single cards, some are for lots, something I haven't taken the time to weed out. 

What do the data tell us?  I tried to present it in the line chart at the top of this post.  The orange line tells you the number of Calbee cards from a given year available on Yahoo Auctions, while the blue line tells you the domestic potato production that year (expressed in 10s of thousands of tons).  

On the card side you can see there is a huge spike in 1999, then a massive drop in 2002 which recovered in 2003 and 2004, since when there has been a general declining trend though marked by fluctuations from year to year.

On the potato side  there has been a decline in potato production between 1997 (3,390,000 tons) and 2013 (2,400,000 tons), though there is a fair bit of fluctuation year on year in there too (less pronounced however).  

When I run a simple linear regression analysis with the baseball cards set as the dependent variable and potato production as the independent, the results suggest there is no significant correlation between the two (R squared = 0.050602).  In other words, potato production has no effect on baseball card availability.

After running that though I realized that there was one factor which I had to adjust for.  In the years 2007 and 2009-2013 Calbee distributed their cards two per bag.  In the other years, they only distributed one per bag.  This would suggest that the "two cards per bag" years were being over-represented in the Yahoo Auctions data since every two cards would represent one bag of potato chips in those years.  To correct for this, I divided the number of Yahoo Auctions listings for those years in half.

Running the same regression using that data, the R-squared jumps to 0.328352.  That is still low - especially given the small sample size involved (just 16 years of data) - and suggests that a lot of other factors which this simple two-variable model isn't capturing are more important than potato production in determining how many Calbee cards get made. But its at least big enough that the relevance of potato production might be a bit more than background noise and could have some effect on Calbee card availability.

From a statistical point of view I haven't exactly put this question to a very rigorous analysis here, but I think it was kind of an interesting exercise.  In terms of its limitations, if you look at the data from individual years its quite easy  to see that potato production isn't always a major determinant of Calbee baseball card production in a given year. 2002 illustrates this point well - as you can see from the chart there was a huge drop in baseball card production that year, but at the same time potato production reached the second highest level in the data set (tied with 1998).  This was an outlier though - 2002 was the year Japan co-hosted the World Cup and the greater interest in soccer that year reduced demand for baseball cards.  For other years its worth noting that a lot of the correlation comes from the period between 2004 and 2013 in which both baseball card availability and potato production slowly declined in tandem.  Its entirely possible that this is pure coincidence and the two have nothing to do with each other. Or not, who knows?  We need more data on other variables to try to untangle this mess.