Sunday, May 27, 2018

Sadaharu Oh's Mirror

One of the more interesting cards from the 1974 Calbee set is this one (#405) which shows Sadaharu Oh practicing his swing before a game in front of a mirror.

According to the back of the card, when Oh switched to using his famous one legged batting stance on July 1, 1962, Shigeo Nagashima expressed doubt as to whether he could hit using it.  But it notes that Oh persevered and (of course) developed it well (it uses a metaphor about blooming flowers that sounds pretty hackneyed when translated into English so I'll just leave it at that).

Anyway, its one of those cool cards that shows an element of Oh's legendary attention to detail in his swing.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Sachio Kinugasa Rarities: 1975-76 Calbee Hiroshima Regional Issue

As I mentioned last week I am seriously pursuing the monster 1975-76 Calbee set as an active collecting project.  To prove my determination I present my latest pickups: Sachio Kinugasa cards #146 and 180 from the set.

These only get me 2 cards closer to the 1472 in the set, but these are important ones as they are both from the rare series that runs from card #145-180 which were only distributed in Hiroshima and (along with the other Hiroshima and Nagoya only regional issues) are the hardest to find and most expensive in the set.
The card designs are the same as the rest of the set.  Each card features a scene from a specific game in which the Carp defended their lead in the Central League (which is the theme of the series).  Card 146 features a game played on August 26, 1975 in which Hiroshima defeated Yakult 3-2, interestingly played at Okayama Kyujo, which is home to neither team.  Japanese teams often play a few games each year in local stadiums in their region which don't have their own teams and Okayama is right next to Hiroshima so this must have been one of Hiroshima's local series (hence Kinugasa in home uniform).  The image itself was taken during pre-game fielding practice.

Card 180 features a game played on September 13, 1975 in which the Carp defeated the Giants 7-1 at Hiroshima.  The card back also tells us that Kinugasa is one of the Carp's sluggers along with Kouji Yamamoto and that his dynamic running style is impressive to spectators.

This is the sort of hyper-detailed card - commemorating individual games - that goes along with a 1472 card set!

Monday, May 14, 2018

Interesting Thing: How Calbee cards were distributed in the 80s

 There is an interesting thing up for auction on Yahoo Auctions right now.  A pile of about 25 unopened Calbee packs from a 1980s set (which year is unclear) sealed in a little plastic bag.

I had put a bid in on it when it went up a few days ago, but with bidding having exceeded 15,000 Yen it has long since gone over my max so I am resigned to not winning it.  I wanted to do a post about it though because it is quite interesting.

I wasn't here in the 80s so I never saw how Calbee cards were distributed back then.  My first time seeing a Calbee bag of chips was in 2000 and the cards packs were attached to the outsides of the chips bags (as they are today) and I had just assumed they had always come like that.

This item however proves that assumption wrong.  The interesting thing about it is not the packs of cards, but that little piece of paper that comes with it, which says:

"Dear Store owners, we are afraid to trouble you but please distribute one of these per bag to customers who wish to purchase the product."

So in other words, in the 80s Calbee cards were given out by store clerks who (presumably) kept a little pile of them behind the counter. Attaching them to the chip bags presumably came later.
 I though that was kind of an interesting piece of trivia to put out there so I took a few photos of the listing (hence the grainy image quality, I can't save images from Yahoo Auctions listings for some reason).  It looks like about 25 or so packs (or possibly 24 which I think is how many chips bags come per case).

I'm not sure how much this will go for but its extremely rare to find the packs still in an unopened bag like this!

Sunday, May 13, 2018

1995 Calbee Choco Snack Ichiro Suzuki

 I mentioned in an earlier post that I have been collecting 1995 Tokyo Snack which is kind of Calbee's flagship set of that year.  The other set that Calbee released was its Choco Snack set (which as the name implies, came with a product called Choco Snack).  The Choco Snack set was only released in Tokyo and Saitama, though despite being a limited regional issue they seem to be only slightly rarer than the Tokyo Snack (though it is worth mentioning that Tokyo Snack is pretty hard to find).

My Tokyo Snack set is coming along nicely but I only have one card from the Choco Snack set; Ichiro Suzuki (C-32).
Ichiro appears on two cards in the set (this one and C-4).  The cards have two versions, one with the player name on the front in black lettering and another in gold, which is the more valuable of the two (as you can see, my Ichiro is the black lettered version).

Also as you can see my Ichiro card is still in the original baggie it came in.  This is something that sets the Choco Snack set a bit apart, it is probably the only Calbee set to have been issued in clear packs so you could see who you got.  I'm guessing these were distributed inside the packages of Choco Snacks so as to prevent cherry picking back in 1995, though I'm not certain of that.  Anyway, due to this its actually not uncommon to find cards from this set on Yahoo Auctions still in their packs - I guess people figured they might as well keep them in there!

Anyway, with Ichiro retiring I've decided its high time I started tracking down some of his harder to find Calbee cards from the 1990s and this is one of them (the 1994s will cost me way more).  I like seeing the awkward looking young Ichiro in his Blue Wave uniform, it really brings me back to my first year in Japan when I lived just outside of Kobe and went to see him play at Green Stadium.  

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Monster: My 1975-76 Calbee Baseball Set

 Last week was the Golden Week holiday and I set about doing something I have been meaning to do for years: Sorting out all the 1975-76 Calbee cards that I have.  Finding time for this is no small task for someone with two very small children, but in the wee hours of the night after they had gone to sleep I was able to sneak into the extra room and do some serious sorting.

I have been collecting the 1975-76 Calbee set for about five years now.  It is a 1472 card monster, probably one of the most difficult baseball card sets in the world to put together (more on that below), though at the same time not so expensive that it would destroy your bank account like some pre-war American tobacco card sets that are also difficult to put together.

I had never really gotten these cards organized until last week. I would just buy them, look at them, and put each purchase in some random box somewhere (a by-product of the above mentioned having two young children).  This wasn't a problem at first since when a set has 1472 cards and you are just buying them in lots of 5-10 cards each  its very unlikely you will get many doubles.  But over time they do accumulate and I was shocked to discover after pulling out all those disparate blocks of cards I had scattered around that I had accumulated more than a thousand of them!  It was time to organize.  So I got myself a huge pile of ultra-pro pages, two binders (there isn't a binder out there big enough to hold this set) and the May, 2010 issue of Sports Card Magazine which has a checklist of most of the set (more on that below too) and got to work.  And voila:
There is something very satisfying about having a partial set in pages organized numerically with empty pockets for the cards you are missing.  Its just so motivating.  With every card that goes into a pocket from now on I will feel a great sense of accomplishment, which will just spur me on to the next.  Set building is addictive.

I was also very surprised to discover just how close I am to the set.  I had roughly estimated I probably had 500-600 different cards, meaning I was less than half-way there, but actually I am already over the halfway point at 843 different cards!  This actually seems like it might be a do-able thing rather than just a pipe dream.  Wow!

Anyway, I thought I would do a little write up about the set here, highlighting some of the basics, why it is one of the most difficult sets in the world to collect and why it is also one of the greatest.

1975-76 Calbee: The Basics

The set is numbered #1 to #1436.  Cards #1 to #324 were issued in 1975 while from #325 up they were issued in 1976, hence the confusing "1975-76" moniker. This confusion is compounded by Sports Card Magazine, which lists the 1975 and 1976 cards separately despite obviously being part of the same set, a convention I reject since it makes zero sense.

The set is basically broken down into series, each of which has some sort of topical theme.  The first series for example features scenes from the all star game.  For this reason there aren't really any regular player cards in the set, though most cards do feature a single player on them.  Some players are featured on numerous cards - Sadaharu Oh even has an entire series (#789 - 824) devoted just to himself (in honor of his 700th home run), and additional cards in most of the other series as well.

There are four series within the set that are more difficult to find than the rest.  They are:

#37-#72 - These cards, featuring Dragons players, were only distributed in Nagoya and are extremely rare.  Three of these cards feature Hall of Famer Senichi Hoshino (45, 57 and 69) which are among the highest value cards in the set.

#145-180 - These cards, featuring Hiroshima Carp players, were only distributed in Hiroshima and are also extremely rare. Hall of Famers Sachio Kinugasa and Koji Yamamoto have cards in this series, but the most expensive (for some reason) are #157 and 174 which feature....(drumroll)....Hiroshima Municipal Stadium!

#609- 644 - These cards also feature Hiroshima Carp players and were also only distributed in Hiroshima and are also extremely rare..  They are the "red helmet" series (named after the Carp red batting helmets), but not to be mistaken for another similarly titled "red helmet" series (#289-324) which is not rare.

#1329-1436 - these are the high number final series and they are a bit of a mystery to me.  For some reason Sports Card Magazine doesn't list them (its checklist ends at 1328) and Calbee collector's write up about the set also ends at #1328. They definitely exist, however - I have several of them and some are available on Yahoo Auctions right now (usually with descriptions like "High series" or something in the title).  I'm not sure why they aren't in the SCM checklist but they seem to command a bit of a premium over the common cards based on Yahoo Auctions prices, but are quite a bit less expensive than the Nagoya and Hiroshima regional issues.

In addition to these it is worth mentioning that there are two versions of all the cards from #289-324.  One version is a Hiroshima red helmet subset while the other is a Star he no Ayumi (Path to stardom) subset featuring childhood photos of the stars next to a current image.  These cards explain why this is a 1472 card set despite the numbers only going to 1432.  Both versions of these cards are about equally common and neither commands a premium.

The card designs are the same almost throughout the set: full bleed photo with a little text at the bottom telling you which series the card is in and the player name.  The big exception to this is 325-396 which have a vivid pink border that looks very similar to the 1975 Topps set. Also there are a few oddball ones like a subset dedicated to artificial turf and some team leaders cards with their own design, though these are few and far between.

Another point of confusion comes from the backs.  The 1975-76 is distinguishable from other 1970s Calbee sets from the back design (the fronts on all Calbee sets from the 70s are basically the same). The backs are white with a border of stars and baseballs in the corner like the above card #580.  There is a confusing exception to this though.  The first series (#1-36) featuring the all star game don't have that star border.  And very confusingly Calbee used that star border on the first series of its 1977 set, so there are low number cards that look like 1975-76 Calbees on the back but aren't.  These are from the famous scenes series and have this on them: 名場面特集.  

Why it is one of the hardest sets in the world to collect

The sheer size is of course a big factor, 1472 cards is a lot.  Mind you, completing the 1989 and 1990 Topps baseball sets would require you to acquire more cards between them so obviously size isn't the only factor at work here. Scarcity is the big one.

The biggest initial hurdle for the set collector is the lack of starter sets out there.  I have a few vintage American sets that I am casually collecting (lower grade, cheap1960s-70s stuff) which I started by buying big starter sets that usually got me halfway or more of the way there.  Basically anyone looking to buy a vintage Topps set, even the 1952 Topps set, has this option since they always pop up on Ebay (with a 52 starter lot money will likely be an object of course, but they at least are available).

This doesn't really happen with the 1975-76 Calbee set.  The biggest lots that ever pop up are usually 50-100 cards and that is barely going to get you 5% of the way to the total IF you can find them.  At the moment the only thing available is this lot of 80 cards which seems to have heavy duplication and may contain some from other 70s sets.  There is also this one of 450 cards, but has cards from several different years...and it costs more than $3,000 (it has some key cards though so not necessarily overpriced).

Needless to say the pickings on Ebay are a lot slimmer.

Ironically while starter sets are next to non-existent, there is a complete set that came up for sale recently and is available.  Its worth looking at if for no other reason than to drool.  The starting bid is 1.28 million Yen (about $11,000 US) so its not cheap, but its there.

If you don't have that kind of cash lying around though, collecting this set means extreme patience, and doing what I have done (only perhaps with a bit more initial organization): pouring over Yahoo Auctions listings, snapping them up in small lots as they appear and over time accumulating enough that you have put a dent into them.  Its a bit more like the way one would collect the harder to find pre-war baseball cards in the US.

A second reason this set is so hard is those Hiroshima and Nagoya regional issues.  Those are really hard to find and they never show up in lots - I have zero of them.

Its a bit funy to read collectors complain about how hard it is to find the high series cards from the 60s and 70s Topps sets because they were printed in smaller quantities.  Oh yeah?  Imagine how hard those cards would be to find if they were only distributed in about 1/100th those quantities and some of them only in Cincinnati and some of them only in Dallas.  If that had been the case, then you could trade war stories with a 1975-76 Calbee collector!

And I'm not even getting into condition here because I'm not that kind of collector.  But if you are, forget about it.  Finding these cards in top grade is very difficult.  Partly this is just due to wear like American cards of the era, but these have an additional problem.  Japan is extremely humid and the white backs on most of my cards exhibit discoloration from that.  I don't care, but if you are a PSA guy, this set is pretty much impossible as even cards that look perfect on the front usually have some discoloration on the back which they'll probably ding you for.

While the regional issues are difficult to find, they aren't impossible as there are some of them available on Yahoo Auctions (for a significant premium of course).  The downside though is that most of them are not - if I bought up all the regional issues available on Yahoo Auctions right now I would only be about 20% of the way to completing them.  Most card shops don't have piles of these available either.

Why the Set is Among the Greatest of All

Right off the bat one of the best things about collecting this set is that despite how difficult it is to find, the prices are still relatively down to earth on most cards.  The commons can be found for 100 Yen or so if you are patient and don't mind mid-grade and even the most expensive cards in the set from the rare regional issues are in the 3 figure range (in dollars) rather than the 5-6 figure range more typical of US sets.  Heck if you are OK with cards in lower grade even the most expensive card in the set could probably be had in the 2 figure range if you use a little patience.

So its not super expensive and the fact that it can take years to put together allows you to spread the amount you spend on it out over time.  Its like a built in self-financing system.  I'm more than half way to completing the set but I've probably only  spent an average of about 1,000 Yen (about $9) per week on it since I started collecting them.

More than that though, the cards are awesome!  You've got:

Full bleed photos - yes!

Amazing photography - tons of action shots, very few posed shots or hatless wonders.

Pictures taken in actual stadiums during actual games - no spring training pictures (except, perhaps not coincidentally, for the cards that look like 1975 Topps ones some of which have a spring training theme)!  I love my 1970s Topps Expos cards but it just infuriates me every time I see a palm tree in the background of a card of a Canadian team.  Calbee shows you what the Japanese stadiums of the 70s look like and they are awesome.

Player selection - I've written about this before, the selection of key hall of famers is pretty deep in this set.

Another thing to like is the challenge.  You have the difficulty level of extremely hard to find pre-war tobacco cards like the T-206 but its still a challenge you can take up (if you live in Japan at least) without having to worry about impossible cards (Wagner, etc) or the fact that beat up commons are expensive.  I love that.

Other Oddball Stuff about the set

One other thing to like about 70s  Calbee sets is the lack of rookie cards.  From a set collector's point of view, the concept of a rookie card serves no purpose other than to arbitrarily make one or two cards in the set much more expensive than the rest.  Since Calbee sets from this era usually had dozens of cards of the same player, its pretty much impossible to assign a rookie card to anyone.  Those didn't really appear in Japan until the mid 1980s.

That said, there is a bit of a premium in this set places on some players who were early in their careers. Cards of Masayuki Kakefu, who debuted in 1974, are more expensive (SCM lists all of them at 3,000 Yen).  Yutaka Enatsu's cards are also listed for 3,000 Yen, though he had already been playing for a few years so I'm not sure why.

Davey Johnson who played for the Giants for a couple of seasons is featured on numerous cards and is probably the foreigner with the most (Clyde Wright is on a lot too though).  Clete Boyer despite being probably the biggest name among foreign players in the set, only appears on one card (374) which is a bit expensive.  Matty Alou is the only other big name former MLBer in the set, appearing on a couple of cards including this awesome one of him batting at Nishinomiya Stadium.

Also, as is typical with Calbee sets from the era, the Giants are way over-represented with their players appearing on a whopping 440 cards (according to this).  In contrast members of the Nippon Ham Fighters only show up on 27, and the Lotte Orions on zero (since Lotte and Calbee were snack food rivals, Calbee banished their team from cards completely, which is a real shame).

There were some albums Calbee made as redemptions for this set which look pretty cool, I put some pictures of those up on an earlier post here.

Where I go from here

So now that I am really motivated to get this thing complete my big milestones I'd like to hit are getting to the 1,000 different card threshold (just 157 to go) and getting some of those regional issues.  The regional issues are a glaring hole-of-shame in my binders now since they are hard to miss.  3-4 blank pages in a row sitting in a sea of "an average of 6 cards per page" pages is a really discouraging site.  So I'll put some money aside to get a crack at some of them, though I suspect it'll be at least a decade before I've got those pages looking more populated, by which time hopefully the other pages will be complete!

Monday, May 7, 2018

Jackpot! Unopened Box of 1980 Yamakatsu!

 As I mentioned in a post last month I have recently developed an interest in Yamakatsu cards, particularly the 1979 and 1980 sets which are a bit smaller sized.  I was browsing Yahoo a couple weeks ago for acquisitions and came across the coolest thing: an unopened box of 1980 Yamakatsu packs.

I've seen the odd unopened pack of these pop up from time to time but have never come across a whole box of them before, so I put a bid in and ended up winning by a hair.
The box is not quite complete.  As it says on the front, originally there were 60 packs for sale at 20 Yen each.  My box has only 50 packs, so whatever store this sat in back in the day must have sold the other 10.

 The packs come with 3 cards each so I now have 150 cards (in addition to ten that I already had).  There are only 64 in the set so I likely have all or most of the set already!  

The packs are made of paper and decorated with the team logos.  They are stapled shut at the top end.  This looks like it would invite cherry-pickers to try to pry open the tops and have a peak at the cards but its not possible to do this (I tried, they are in there pretty good)!
 You may have noticed in one of the above photos that there appears to be three baseballs in the box.  That is because there are three baseballs in the box.  On the cover of the box it says ライナーボール当て which means "Win a Liner Ball"!  These would have been prizes given out by shopclerks to kids who pulled "当たり" (atari) winner cards.  I am not sure if the boxes came with just three or if there were originally more and some were already given away, though it doesn't appear that you could fit any more into the box so I'm guessing three is complete.  Each Liner Ball has a picture of a player on it.  I haven't taken the time to figure out which three players I got but one from the Carp, Tigers and Giants.  The balls are made of soft rubber and are pretty neat, I've never seen them before and I assume since most of them have long since been played with they are probably considerably harder to find than the cards themselves.
 According to the seller there were also two atari winner packs of cards in the box.  I assume that those were these two packs, which being wrapped in plastic are the only ones distinguishable from the rest.  The seller said there were originally three of these but one is missing, presumably claimed by a kid back in the day.  I'm not sure how the atari winner card system worked, perhaps kids could choose between getting a liner ball or a pack of cards, or maybe the atari winner cards themselves state that?  A subject for future research (unless any of you can tell me).
 The 1980 Yamakatsu box comes with all you see here (and ten more packs):

So there you have it, probably this is the coolest vintage thing that I have in my collection now.  I have not opened any of the pack in this nor do I intend to - they've survived almost 40 years in this condition and it would be almost sacrilegious to open them, given how few probably are out there. Also the cards themselves are, while not super common, definitely obtainable for a reasonable price.

I do really want to open them though.  It just feels weird trying to leave packs unopened.  I am going to have to work hard at this.

For a great write up about all of the Yamakatsu sets of the late 70s-early 80s, see NPB Guy's article here.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

1987 Calbee: Entering the Home Stretch

 Every year for the past four year I have made a new year's resolution to finally finish my 1987 Calbee set.  This year for the first time I am actually making a serious effort to make that happen.

The above three cards (#48, 98 and 346) are recent pick ups which get me a bit closer to that goal.  I am now a mere 18 cards short of finishing the 382 card set (383 cards if you count the two versions of card 371).  That puts me about 95% of the way there!

Most of the cards I still need (11 out of 18) are in the short printed series that runs from numbers 51 to 100, which are noticably harder to find than the rest.  They sell for a bit of a premium but are not outrageously expensive like the short printed series in some other Calbee sets from the 70s and 80s, which is one of the things that makes the 1987 set do-able (though still difficult).  The middle card of Mizuno in the above picture (#98) is from that series and set me back just 400 Yen  (its in a bit lower grade though).

Of the cards outside that short printed series, some of them may also be harder to find, at least based on my experience.  Card #346 (right card in above photo) is not short printed but I hadn't seen one in years of regular searching on Yahoo Auctions until last week.  Other set collectors must also be after it because I got into a minor bidding war over it which bumped the price up to 340 Yen.  OK, that isn't exactly a lot (about $3) but the going rate for 1987 Calbee commons outside the short printed series is usually closer to 100 Yen, so there was some additional interest in that one which drove the price up a bit.  The same holds for card 222, which I bought I also bought a little while ago after finding one for the first time in years and ended up getting into a mini bidding war over.

Anyway, my set is tantalizingly close to completion.  Which has me considering how I am going to store it - a problem for all 1980s Calbee collectors owing to the small size of the cards (about the same as 1950 Bowmans).  At the moment I have them in 10 pocket pages (pictured above) that I bought at the 100 Yen shop.  These are completely inadequate since the cards are constantly falling out of the big pockets (and they don't really look good in there either).  I'm not too sure if there are any album pages out there that are the right size for these.  I have the same problem with boxes, which are all designed for standard sized American cards that are about twice the size.  Anybody out there have any tips on storing 1980s Calbees?

This is my want list for the set, if any of you have these I am VERY interested in them.


There is actually a complete set of these that is up for sale on Yahoo Auctions right now for 145,000 Yen (about 1300$ US).  That works out to roughly 350 Yen or so per card.  They look like they are in pretty good shape (in keeping with Japanese collectors lower level of concern with condition the seller is very vague about this, just noting that they are mostly in nice shape except a couple that have writing on them).  Unless I way overpay for my last 18 cards though I'll have put mine together for a lot less than that.  My set is probably what would be called "mid grade" with cards ranging from good to near mint, probably averaging in the vg/ex to ex range for most of them.