Thursday, March 23, 2017

An Amazing Treasure Trove from the 1940s

I had one of the most satisfying moments of my Japanese card collecting career the other day.  I came across a seller on Yahoo Auctions who had listed some cards from the early post-war era which were pasted onto black album pages.  The cards were fantastic - many with beautiful action photos of big name hall of famers, ranging in size from small Calbee sized cards (roughly the same size as 1950 Bowmans for American collector reference) to large postcard sized ones.  The album pages had been removed and were being auctioned one by one, each with between 4 and 6 cards on them.

They had a low starting bid and with one day left on the auctions when I found them, each already had one bid.  I put a bid on all of them for the minimum increment (10 yen) above the existing bid and immediately became the number one bidder.  I anticipated a bidding war would break out during the last hour or so of the auctions as they usually do for stuff like this and carefully calculated my max bid on each, depending on which cards they had and how they looked.  I then upped my max bids on all of them, hoping that the other person bidding on them wouldn't drive them up too much.

Then the weirdest and most magnificent thing ever happened.  The other bidder must have forgotten about them and nobody else noticed them, because they received no further bids and I won all of them for just 10 Yen (about 10 cents US) over the lowball starting bids. Hooray!

They came in the mail the other day and I was not disappointed with them actually in hand.  Check out these beautifes:

Victor Starffin, Japan's first 300 Game winner (with the Stars, which would date this at between 1948 and 1953):
Hall of Famer Kaoru Betto taking a swing with the Hanshin Tigers (which would date this between 1948 and 1949):

Hankyu Braves pitcher Rentaro Imanishi (not a Hall of Famer but I like the picture on this card):

 Takahiro Besho, another 300 game winner and Hall of Famer. This pictures him with Nankai, which would date it to no later than 1948:

 The "God of Batting" Testuharu Kawakami, who appears on several cards in the lot:

 And here are some more highlights, many of these are also hall of famers. I LOVE the photography on these, the in action shots are just as good as the ones you see on my beloved Calbee cards from the 1970s, but with these you have the added interest of seeing very early postwar stadiums in the background.
 This is what they look like altogether, the cards were pasted onto the backs and fronts of each album page:

The cards obviously come from different sets, but judging from the player team affiliations these probably date from the immediate postwar years, no later than about 1948.  From what I have been able to see from peeling them away from the album pages a bit, the backs are blank, though they are all printed on standard baseball card-thick cardstock.  I am guessing these have been catalogued, and they now provide me with yet another excuse to finally buy a catalogue.  I think I will keep them on the album pages for now, they actually seem to display better like that.

This is yet another thing I am starting to love about collecting cards here - if you are a budget conscious collector (ie not rich) you will never find something this neat, this rare, from this era featuring so many big name hall of famers selling for a reasonable price (total cost to me including shipping was less than 50$ US) in the United States.  In Japan though its still possible.  This is the type of find that makes collecting so worthwhile. 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Finding Cards in the Most Unexpected of Places

 Last weekend my wife and I took our son out to the above Book Off Bazaar way out in the southern suburbs of Nagoya.  It is by no means an attractive location to spend a Saturday afternoon, but Book Off Bazaars are a very good place to go if you have kids since some of them, including this one, sell a lot of used toys, children's books and clothing for very reasonable prices. 

My son walked away from this with a new shirt (boring!), a book about dinosaurs (better) and a toy race car (awesome!). 

Unexpectedly I also walked away with something: a big pile of 1991 and 1992 Calbee cards!

This was a really cool find for me.  I was looking through racks of toys with my son when I discovered a bunch of lots of baseball cards, wrapped and put into little baggies containing 10 cards for 100 Yen.  Most of them were stuff I wasn't interested in and likely not worth 100 Yen for 10 cards (beat up BBM commons from recent years, etc), but I was quite excited to find that six of them were full of Calbee cards from the early 1990s (which are worth way more than 100 Yen for 10 cards), so all of them went into the shopping basket.

It was kind of cool opening them since except for the top and bottom card the contents were a mystery.  I wasn't disappointed with what I got, there were quite a few stars in there, including a 1992 Hideo Nomo that alone was probably worth more than I paid for everything.

It was kind of fortunate that these happened to be cards from the early 1990s when Calbee sets had round instead of sharp corners as these would likely all have had dinged corners from being thrown into baggies and tossed haphazardly onto a rack subject to the ravages of bargain hunting suburban children and their parents (the most destructive force on the planet incidentally).  So all the cards were in very nice shape.

If I had bought these anywhere else I probably wouldn't have been so excited about them, but there is something very thrilling about finding somewhat hard to find vintage cards in a totally unexpected place for an extremely cheap price!

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Greatest Baseball Card of all Time?

One card that I have been hunting for a while is #416 from the 1974 Calbee set.  It first caught my eye when I saw it in an auction a few months ago.  I put a bid on it that was a lot higher than what the then current bid was, and then went to bed.  And woke up in the morning to discover someone had sniped me on it.  I've never felt so much regret about losing a card in an auction (admittedly this is not a major thing in life to feel regret about, but it was still noticable).

In the months since I have been regularly checking to see if one came up, but I had to wait until last week for another one to appear.  When one finally did, with a 1000 Yen start bid, I put a much higher bid on it this time...and won!

I think one can make the argument that this is the most beautiful baseball card ever made.  The photograph is perfect.  Shigeo Nagashima crouching in the on-deck circle while Sadaharu Oh takes a mighty swing against a Dragons pitcher.  Korakuen Stadium is packed because this was taken on Nagashima's last game.  The crowded bleachers, the lights and the billboards make the perfect backdrop.  The color of the card is perfectly balanced too, the top half blue sky, the bottom half green walls, grass and dirt infield.  I have never been so taken with the photograph in a card before.  In some ways it is similar to #404 in the same set, which was taken during the same game and shows Nagashima walking off the same field.  I love that card too, but like this one better - its got both Nagashima and Oh in the same picture and is a bit more exciting to look at. 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

1967 Kabaya Leaf Minagawa Mutsuo

 I finally picked up my first card from the 1967 Kabaya Leaf set.  NPB Card Guy did a pretty good write up about the set a few years ago here, it seems that many of them were exported to the US and thus they are actually pretty hard to find here in Japan and they are quite expensive when they do turn up (hence it taking me so long to get my first).  I won't go into the details of the set much since you can read NPB Card Guy's post, but suffice it to say this is probably the first American style Japanese baseball card set, with a design similar to the 1959 Topps (though there are two design templates, the other looking a bit more like the 1963 Fleer set). 

I absolutely love the design of these cards and this one of Hawks pitcher Mutsuo Minagawa drew me in quickly - I love that photo with all the advertising billboards in the background.  It really looks like something out of 1960s Japanese baseball (which it is) in a way that most posed shots fail to capture.

I picked this one up extremely cheap.  Despite looking about EM on the front, the back looks like this:

 Ouch - the double whammy of glue AND writing in pen.  Thanks to some kid though (perhaps an American, given that they wrote his name in Romaji) I paid about 1/10th what a non-defaced version would have cost me.  And I just wanted it for the front anyway, so its a nice addition to the collection.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Getting oh so Close....My 1987 Calbee Set Saga Continues

 The 1987 Calbee set is getting closer and closer to completion.....yet despite years of effort the finish line remains frustratingly elusive..

I picked up two more cards on my want list last week, #254 (Rick Lancelotti, known as "Lance" in Japan) and #299 (Eiji Kanamori).

According to my trusty hand-made checklist here:
That leaves me 31 cards short of the full set, or 91.9% of the way there.  Except for my complete 1990 low number set, which at 55 cards is a relatively easy one, this is by far the vintage Calbee set I am closest to completing.

This is what the same checklist looked like 3 years ago when I made my last post about putting the 87 set together:

I was about 100 cards short of the set then, which means I have only added about 70 cards in three years.  The closer you get on these sets, the harder it is to find the few that you need.  There are usually 300-400 or so 1987 Calbee singles available on Yahoo Auctions at any given moment,though there is heavy duplication of some of them so you can probably find less than half of the individual cards and not one of my 31 out there.  When the cards I need pop up, I have to swoop down fast since a lot of the remaining ones are pretty hard to find.

10 of the cards that remain on my want list (82, 83, 84, 86, 88, 89, 92, 97, 98 and 99) fall between 75 and 100, which supports the statements I have seen suggesting that run was short-printed.  Its extremely hard to find cards from that series on Yahoo Auctions (and needless to say impossible to find them on Ebay).  So if you have any cards from that series, hold onto them!

I am hoping that this year will finally be the year that I complete this thing and shift attention to some other sets (1975-76 is another major Calbee project underway, but its nowhere near completion.  1984 and 1986 are also works in progress).  The 1987 set is a great one - cool photography and player selection throughout.  And it will be a major mark of pride to have put one together, there are probably only a handful of collectors out there who have done it so this is one of those little niches in the hobby where you can brag about stuff like that (in part because so few even bother trying, though this is legitimately a very hard set to piece together regardless).