Sunday, August 25, 2019

I have the Rarest Cards in the World and they are Freaking me out.

 The title of this post is not just click bait hyperbole.  I made a splashy purchase on Yahoo Auctions last week and I'm kind of freaked out about it.

The above are four cards from the 1952 Osato Gangu Game set (catalogued by Engel as JGA 38).  The players are Mitsuo Uno (Giants), Kazuhiro Kuroda (Hawks), Yoshio Yuasa (Orions) and Shigeru Tokuami (Tigers).

These are far and away the rarest cards I have in my collection now.  In fact they are among the rarest cards that exist period.  Engel categorizes them as "R5", which means five or fewer copies of each card is known to exist.  In fact in his description of the set (of 48) he states "Many cards listed are the only examples known in the hobby."

Some of the cards from this set came up for auction at Prestige earlier this year, like this one of Jun Hirota which notes that there are only three copies of the card (and the one they were auctioning was the nicest).

Neat, eh?

This is one of the quirks with collecting older Japanese cards: some of the sets are so scarce its absolutely insane.  These aren't contrived rarities like modern 1/1 inserts - these cards are rare because for some odd reason few were made back in the day of which only a handful have survived to the present.

And yet despite being way rarer than even the hardest to find American pre-war tobacco cards these remain surprisingly affordable.  The Hirota card in the Prestige auction - of which there are just three in the world - sold for just $100, and I paid less than that for all four of mine (all of which are commons I should note, Hirota is Hawaiian and thus a bit more interesting).

Now that I have them, I'm not sure what to do with them (hence my use of the term "freaking out").  I've never owned cards before where simply possessing one meant that I was responsible for like 25% of the entire stock of the cards in existence.  But now I do.

I feel a kind of responsibility that goes beyond the way I feel about the rest of my cards.  If I put a few 2014 Calbee commons in my shirt pocket and then put that shirt in the laundry forgetting that they were there (as I have done before) its not a big deal since there are a huge number of those cards out there. If I do the same with these, I've wiped out a significant proportion of them.  Its like I've got an endangered species in my house and the survival of the population in part depends on me not accidentally destroying them even though I have an established track record of sometimes doing so.

But at least I can say that I am a slight step up from their previous owner.  The guy I bought them from isn't  a card dealer, but rather an antique dealer who mainly specializes in old books and postcards.  So he didn't exactly pack them like a card dealer sending insanely rare cards would. Like, you know, in card holders of some sort.  He just put them in a plastic baggy, taped it to a piece of cardboard and tossed them in an envelope.

This gave me a  "Yegads, man, what have ye done?" reaction, complete with 19th century English accent, when I opened them, but fortunately they survived without damage.

So I've put them into card savers now and am trying to make them comfortable in their new home, which contains two young children who are both A) curious about everything I own, and B) have fingers that almost constantly have the remnants of about six different types of sticky, sugary snacks stuck to them.

So in other words, they are currently in hiding along with the rest of my expensive cards.

I'm not sure if I'll ever go for the entire set.  I mean, I'm having enough trouble putting together even the 1987 Calbee set which are way easier to find. So I'm thinking that trying to do a set which contains some cards that only one guy in the world owns is going to be a challenge beyond what I'm capable of.  Still, its kind of cool to have a start on it if I ever decide to go down that route.

I do like these cards too, the colorful backgrounds (which are team specific) make them look really nice.  There is another version of this set, JGA 11, which was issued in 1951 and has the same design except it is in black and white.  That set according to Engel is way easier to find than these ones are.  I'm not sure, but would be interested in finding out why so few of this set were made. They seem to have been sold in sets so that you could play a game with them, though its hard to tell what that would have been (they don't have the usual hallmarks of a playing game on them, like junken symbols or "Double", etc written on them).  The backs are printed in blue and have a picture of a lion in the middle:
Anyway, I'm kind of into this set now so I think I'll try to find more, but I'm not holding out much hope!


  1. Nice lot. This is also a great reminder that rarity does not guarantee that the value is high. Though it might be if people ever catch on (I don't see that happening as Japanese collectors, at least the ones I've met, prefer to go after the newest toys on the block as opposed to the pioneers that paved the same block).

    1. Yeah, I've never understood the lack of interest among Japanese collectors for vintage stuff. They've got all these awesome and rare menkos and other stuff floating around out there, but probably only a handful of Japanese collectors go after that stuff. Total madness!

  2. Love the super rare cards! As for what to do with them, two suggestions: (1) enjoy them, (2) consign them to Prestige. Hirota isn't a hall of famer, he was a Hawaiian who was an above average catcher for a little while, but really didn't have much of a career. If that card goes for $100, you could get a nice little ROI on these.

    As for the packaging, is that unusual in Japan? I think that every card I've ever purchased from a seller in Japan came in a thin plastic sleeve, taped between two pieces of cardboard. (Granted there aren't many sellers I buy from, but all of them do this.)

    1. Good call about Hirota, got that mixed up! I think I'll keep these in my collection, if for no other reason than the chance of owning them again is almost zero.

      With Japanese sellers its typical for the cards to come in individual sleeves sandwiched between pieces of cardboard taped shut. It has the benefit of protecting the cards, but the down side of being a real pain to open (depending on how much tape they use, some overdo it).

  3. Crazy awesome cards! It is really surprising that people aren't chasing these older Japanese cards. So many out there for great prices. Nice pick ups for sure, congrats!

    1. Yeah, it is crazy, its fun to bargain hunt in a country where bargains still exist :)

  4. Congratulations! Sweet find! On top of the sheer scarcity... these cards are absolutely gorgeous too.

    I learned yesterday that antique dealers are an excellent source to buy cards... especially the ones who specialize in stuff other than cards.

    1. Thanks!

      And yes, a lot of my bets finds come from antique dealers. A lot of them still have the mindset that old cards are junk, so you can find some bargains. Also most collectors on Yahoo Auctions only focus their attention on known dealers, so looking around for stuff being sold by non-specialists can turn up some really great stuff which other people don't bid on simply because they don't notice it is there (these cards fell into that category)!