Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Uncut Sheet of 1963 Marusho


This is an uncut sheet of 16 cards from the 1963 Marusho Flag Back set (JRM 13c).  The complete set is 40 cards so this sheet has almost half of them.  It looks miscut in the above image but that is just because my scanner was slightly too small and cut the top and bottom edges off.

This set is one of the few vintage menko baseball sets that is easier to find in the United States than it is in Japan.  Back in the 1960s Americans Bud Ackerman and Mel Bailey imported a lot of Japanese cards to the US and this set was among them.  You can read about it more on Dave's excellent post about the history here.  

So in the US its quite a bit easier to find than other menko sets.  In Japan in contrast its not really noticeably easier or harder to find than most other sets from the same era.

This sheet never left Japan.  The ones that were imported to the US (by Buck Ackerman with this set) had numbers stamped on the backs.  This one doesn't have any numbers stamped on it which, along with the fact that I bought it in Japan, means it wasn't among those exported:

Another point of interest about the backs of this one is that it is printed in green ink.  According to Engel this set is most commonly found with brown ink backs, while green ink backs are rarer.  I'm a bit curious if all of the exported ones were brown ink backs, while the green ink backs like this were never exported, which might explain why they are rarer.

This sheet is missing the key card from this set - Sadaharu Oh - but it has two of the other big names.  Isao Harimoto, Japan's all time hits leader and all around amazing guy, is on the lower right card while Katsuya Nomura, #2 on NPB's career home run list is on the top right one.  

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Piles of 1940s Menko are so awesome


I pulled the trigger on a big lot of old menko a few days ago.  I got insanely lucky actually.  An antique dealer in Shizuoka prefecture had happened across a hoard of about 1,000 vintage menko from the late 1940s.  Most of them were non-sports but about 1/3 were baseball.  He broke them up into four lots with a mix of about 280 menko in each and put them up for auction.  The baseball ones were scattered evenly across all four lots.

I put place holder bids in on all four of them.  The bidding went up quite high on three of them, once they went over 100$ I dropped out and they ended up going for prices between 160$ and 260$ per lot.

But the fourth one for some reason didn't get the same love and I ended up winning it for about 80$, which was crazy.  Looking at the baseball menko I couldn't figure out why the one I won went so cheaply since it had some amazing stuff in it which was comparable to the ones that went for double or triple the price. Possibly there were two bidders who were so focused on the other three, which ended at about the same time, that they forgot about the fourth lot.  

Anyway, their loss, my gain!

My lot had nearly 100 baseball menko from the late 1940s in it and let me tell you - sorting through a lot of 100 1940s baseball menko featuring a solid mix of hall of famers is a collecting joy like no other.

I think the highlight of the lot were cards from the 1949 Kagome Die Cut set (catalogued as JD4 in the Engel guide), pictured above.  This set is really beautiful - the artwork features realistic images of the players done in some extremely vibrant colors.  It has some of the biggest name stars of the era like Tetsuharu Kawakami, Noburo Aota, Hiroshi Oshita and Michihiro Nishizawa.    

The set has 16 cards and I found.....15 of them in the lot!  Everybody except for Kaoru Betto, whose card has shot up to the top of my menko want list as a result.

There are quite a few cards from other sets which I'll have to organize, though this was the only "near set" in the pile.

In addition to the hundred or so baseball menko, I now also own about 180 non sports menko from the same era, which I'll have to sort through and find some way of appreciating too.  It'll be nice winter / Covid induced downtime project!

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Big News For Vintage Calbee Collectors


There was some big news in the vintage Calbee collecting world last week: Somebody bought a complete set of the 1975-76 Calbee "monster" on Yahoo Auctions.

This is the same set that I have been working on for years and devoting a lot of posts on here to. At 1472 cards, many of them extremely rare, it is easily one of the most difficult sets of baseball cards in the world to complete.  

As far as I know, only two complete sets exist.  One is in the hands of a long time collector who has been collecting Calbee cards since the 1970s who was featured in an article in the Asahi Shinbun about a decade ago which seems to have disappeared from the internet because I can no longer find it.  The other one was this one, which has been listed on Yahoo Auctions for the past three years ( I wrote about it when it was first listed here).  

The starting bid on it has been set at 880,000 Yen (about $8,500 US) and somebody finally pulled the trigger!

This sale isn't surprising. When it was first listed I thought the price might have been a bit on the high side since the price of cards from the set was still pretty reasonable and I figured I could put the whole thing together for less than that.  In the intervening 3 yeas I have been disabused of that quaint idea.  The price of cards from this set has increased significantly and the cards from the rarer series in particular have become much harder to find (not that they were ever easy).  

It got to the point that for the past year or so I'd gone from thinking it was a bit overpriced to thinking it was one of the best bargains out there and was wondering why nobody was pouncing on it.  Of course my baseball card collecting budget isn't anywhere near big enough for me to be dropping that kind of money on cards, but if I was rich I would have bought this thing ages ago.

Anyway, now it is gone, in the hands of some lucky collector who with the click of a button has accomplished something that I have been slaving away at for 7 years and am still only about 70% of the way to finishing!  Probably the next time the world will see one of these available for sale will be 40 years from now when my kids inherit my estate and start dumping all the crap I collect that they aren't interested in, assuming I live that long and that 40 years is enough time for me to finish this monster!

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Brooks Robinson will save us all


I have this card from the 1975 NST set which I kind of like.  That is Brooks Robinson on the right and I think Earl Weaver on the left.  Shigeo Nagashima is the Giant and I don't know who the suit is.  

I like Brooks Robinson a lot.  Everybody does.  He's just a great all round guy that everyone can agree on.  Looking at the US from the outside these days it looks so violently divided along political, racial and economic lines I often wonder why Americans don't talk about Brooks Robinson more, because EVERY conversation I've ever had about him always ends up with me and the people I'm talking to smiling and feeling much more friendly towards each other, even if we didn't like each other much before we started talking about Brooks.  It seems to me Americans could use a lot more Brooks Robinson related chats. 

Such is the power of Brooks.  Watching the violence in Washington DC yesterday I wondered if they shouldn't have just flashed a big picture of Brooks Robinson where everybody could see it, then all the rampaging idiots would have been "Oh hey Brooks Robinson, he was so nice to me that time I asked him for an autograph" then they'd all drop their crap and leave.  Kind of like that scene at the end of the Naked Gun where Frank Dreben's speech has the same effect on the brawling Seattle Mariners and California Angels:

I met Brooks Robinson back in 1992 during my awkward teenage phase (which is to say during the entirety of my teenage years) at a card show in Toronto.  

He was just so damn nice.  He signed a photo of mine and a ball that my best friend Mike (on the right) had brought, both with personal inscriptions.  Then since the line wasn't long he chatted  with us, invited us behind the table to pose for pictures.  I'm pretty sure that if we had said we were hungry he would have said "Oh I make the best Rueben sandwiches.  You guys like Rueben sandwiches?  Wait here, I'll be right back, you are going to love these."  Then he would have gone off, somehow found the ingredients necessary to make Rueben sandwiches in the middle of a card show and a kitchen to make them in, made them for us, brought them back and then had lunch with us right there.  And his Rueben sandwiches would have been out of this world.  

Anyway, I'm glad that Brooks appears on Japanese cards too!

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Train Menko are so Awesome


Its a bit off the baseball theme of this blog, but I scored a really cool uncut sheet of train menko the other day and I feel obliged to post about them because they are so awesome.

The sheet, which doesn't quite fully fit into my scanner, has 25 cards, though 3 are duplicated.  All but one of them feature real passenger trains which were in service in the 1950s and 1960s (the other one featuring a JAL airliner).  It has an 0 Series Shinkansen which entered service in 1964, so it probably came out no earlier than that, while also having a number of steam engines which were removed from service around the same time so it probably came out pretty close to that year.  
Each of them has the name of the train (trains all have names here) in the rectangular box text, while the circular boxes all have the kanji for "Tokkyu", which means "express" in them.  That seems to be the unifying feature of this set, the trains are all high speed express ones rather than local commuter ones.  
This is a really beautiful set, the cards are vibrantly colored and the images jump out at you, which is what caught my eye when I found them while browsing Yahoo Auctions.  
The backs feature old school Yen notes and rock/paper/scissors symbols:

While all of the engines featured on these cards are retired, a lot of the train lines (and thus the names) still exist.  Several of the ones featuring what look like regular passenger trains are now Shinkansen lines running the same routes and using the same names (like the Kodama, top row, centre column on the sheet). 

I think I might get this thing framed and put on a wall, I like trains:) 

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Modern Menko: Daiei Hawks Style


Happy New Year everyone.

I've often wished that somebody would put out some modern menko sets done old school style.  My wish came true the other day when I discovered this set on Yahoo Auctions. Its a set of 10 round menko featuring players from the Daiei Hawks (who became the Softbank Hawks in 2005).  

These were issued to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Nishi Nihon Sports, a sports newspaper published in Fukuoka.  The company was founded in 1955 which would suggest that these came out in 2005, but the backs contain the player's statistics from the 2003 season so I suspect these were released sometime in late 2003 or early 2004.  

The Hawks were a fairly dominant team then (as now) so this set features a lot of star players.  This is the complete checklist :

Tsuyoshi Wada

Kazumi Saitou

Hiroshi Shibahara

Kouji Mise

Takahiro Mahara

Nobuhiko Matsunaka

Munenori Kawasaki

Kenji Jojima

Tadahito Iguchi

Four of those guys (Wada, Kawasaki, Jojima and Iguchi) would later play in MLB while a fifth, Matsunaka, would win a Pacific League triple crown and probably could have played in the majors.  

The lot I bought actually had a couple of loose sets and also one still in its original packaging:

The top line of text on the pack says it is to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Nishi Nihon Sports, while the second line says it is a pack of menko to support the "Wakataka Yakyu Dan", which is a nickname for the Hawks.  The nickname, which is mentioned in the Hawks song, applies to the Hawks regardless of their corporate owner, so the current Softbank Hawks also use it. 

 I am a bit of a Hawks fan, which also motivated this purchase, though its kind of awkward.  I've spent a significant amount of my life in three different regions of Japan, each of which has a baseball team that I've supported basically on the principle of rooting for the home team wherever I live.  I spent four years living in Fukuoka and became a big Hawks fan during that time, and a lot of the players on these cards were still with them when I was there (from 2008 to 2012).  While I now root more for the Dragons simply because I live in Nagoya, I've never been able to get behind them as much as I did the Hawks (or the Tigers, who I rooted for in my five years in the Kansai area).  

In addition to liking the Hawks I really like the fact that these cards look very much like "true" menko despite being quite modern.  The artwork is very reminiscent of old school menko, and the cardboard itself also looks like the old stuff. No shiny gloss or anything.  I love these.  It would be awesome if a maker did a whole proper NPB set of cards just like these.  For now though I'm satisfied with these 10, my first additions to the collection for 2021.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Early Christmas Present to Me


I picked up the above lot of baseball menko off of Yahoo Auctions last week.  Its an early Christmas present for myself.  I haven't been posting much lately since work has been extremely busy, but thought I'd do at least one last post for 2020 before it finally comes to an end.

Most of these cards are from the 1947 JRM 22 set.  There are 16 cards in that set and this lot I bought contains 13 of them.  Adding those to the ones I already have, I now have that set completed!  Its the first hard to find 1940s menko set I've completed by hand so its a cool accomplishment (if I do say so myself).

One of the other three cards is this one, featuring Masumi Isegawa of the Kinsei Stars who had a long (1940 to 1957) if unspectacular career as a catcher for several teams.

The card is interesting because I think it is from an uncatalogued set and thus constitutes another new discovery.  I haven't seen any other sets with the number in blocks as it is on the left side of this card before, or with the team name written in Romaji in that style.  The Stars only went by the name "Kinsei" (which means "gold star") for two years, so this card was likely released in either 1947 or 1948.  

In case this does end up being my last post of the year, hope you all have a Merry Christmas and happy new year.  May 2021 be a better year than 2020!