Thursday, August 31, 2023

Calbee Series 2 was here, breifly


Bags of Calbee Series 2 chips appeared in stores last week for a very short time.  I bought three bags at my local supermarket.  I went back a couple of days later and they were gone, sold out.  A trip to another supermarket yesterday turned up the same thing.  Its like what happened with Series 1 all over again it would seem.

This time though it doesn't seem to matter, at least from my perspective.  My kids had a lot more fun opening the Epoch packs that I got so when I brought these ones home, they showed no interest in opening them with me. I ended up just throwing them in the snack drawer for later.  Looks like we won't be collecting Calbee Series 2 in my house this year.

I did open one bag though, got a couple of regular cards from the miniscule 60 card base set.  While reading the bag as I did so I realized there is a major change with this Series - no Lucky Cards!

As I've written about before, Lucky Cards are a promotional thing Calbee does.  Pull one of them and you can send it in to the company for a prize of some sort.  The prizes have varied considerably over the years.  When I collected the 2004 set (the first time I tried to put one together bag by bag), they had a really fantastic Star Card set that you could get by sending in three Lucky card tabs.  More recently they have been less exciting albums, but they were a fun thing to pull nonetheless.

As far as I can tell, this is possibly the first time in its entire 50 years of making cards that it hasn't included Lucky Cards (or an equivalent, they were known as Home Run cards back in the 70s).  I've seen Lucky cards or their equivalent (ie something you could pull from packs that was redeemable for a prize) for every Calbee set going back to the 90s, and I've also seen them from most of the sets from the 70s.  The only time period I'm not certain about is the 80s. I've never seen a mini-card sized Lucky card from those years, and they didn't do Home Run Cards like they did in the 70s during that decade either.  But at the same time, I've seen albums (which are often the prizes you would get) for most of the sets from the 80s, so they likely had some way of being won similar to a Lucky Card, but I'm not sure how it worked. 

Anyway, history aside I'm not sure if this is just a temporary change related to the supply problems they've been having this year, or if its a permanent one.  If its the latter, its unfortunately just another reason for me to not buy new Calbee cards each year, which is a shame.  This is just speculation on my part, but abandoning the Lucky Cards might simply be a cost cutting measure unrelated to their current problems.  Inflation in Japan - which has been non-existent during the 20 plus years I've lived here - suddenly appeared last year and drove the prices of most things you find on supermarket shelves up.  This has led all food companies to either raise prices or engage in shrinkflation.  The price of bags of Calbee chips this year is the same as last (98 Yen), which makes me suspect the loss of the Lucky Cards is Calbee's way of keeping it that way.  Personally I would prefer to pay a bit more per bag for a decent set (more than 60 cards) and with some bells and whistles that my kids could chase, which the Lucky cards were great for (or would have been if they were a bit more generous like they were back in 2004).  I'm curious what they'll do in 2024, but not sure if I'll be collecting the set anymore by then!

Tuesday, August 15, 2023

My Sadaharu Oh Autograph


I was going through some boxes the other day and pulled out something I had almost forgotten that I had. Its card number 7 from the 1973 Calbee set featuring Sadaharu Oh. Its one of his first Calbee cards and, with him silhouetted against the blue sky, pairs up nicely with the first card in the set featuring Shigeo Nagashima.

Mine is autographed.

I didn’t get the autograph in person, rather this was something I bought on impulse several years ago. I don’t often buy autographed cards since I’m not good at detecting forgeries, but this one had a pretty decent provenance. I bought it from Biblio, a famous store in the Jinbocho neighborhood in Tokyo that is probably the leading dealer of vintage baseball memorabilia in Japan. The owner is known in Japan as one of the leading experts on baseball autographs and has appeared on a TV show that I watch every Tuesday called Nandemo Kanteidan, which is kind of a Japanese version of Antiques Roadshow. Regular people bring their antiques and experts tell them if they are valuable authentic pieces or worthless fakes. 

So if I see something from them, and it looks good to my amateur eyes, I figure its probably good. I didn’t go to the store in person (Dave has visited twice and has written about what the actual store was like, including a complaint on his last visit), but rather picked it up from their online store.

I bought it before the pandemic hit and the price of vintage stuff, and especially Sadaharu Oh vintage stuff, took off so I didn’t pay that much for it. I rather like autographed vintage cards and couldn’t resist this one in particular. It got kind of mixed up with some other stuff after I got it, something that often happens with oddball items in my collection that I don’t have a “category” in my rudimentary sorting system for. I was happy to find it.

Monday, August 14, 2023

Floor Yokohama Baystars Cards


We have developed a new tradition in my house.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I have been able to source large numbers of 2023 Epoch packs for very cheap prices. I now have a stockpile of them, and everyday my two kids and I open one pack each.

I took them to the Nagoya Dome earlier this year to watch a Baystars-Dragons game and the Baystars won 2-0. Ever since then my kids have hated the Baystars, largely because the loss robbed us of the ability to watch the post-game celebrations the Dragons and their mascots put on.

Epoch packs come with one card per team, and my kids started throwing the Baystars cards directly on the floor as a symbol of their contempt. I have joined them in doing so and we’ve now largely formalized the ritual. When we open the packs, we grab the Baystars cards, say “Ugh, bye bye Baystars” and fling them to the floor in disgust.

So we are trying to complete the set but with the Baystars cards mostly mid-grade.

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

2020s Junk Wax is Awesome

I made an interesting discovery the other day. I can buy unopened 12 card packs of this year’s Epoch baseball set for just 60 cents each.

This discovery was prompted by Calbee being MIA from store shelves for the past couple of months, which has forced me to look for other options for my contemporary baseball card collecting needs. I saw Dave’s post about the 2023 Epoch set and I thought the design looked pretty decent, as did the checklist,  so I started browsing Yahoo Auctions.

The set is sold in 24 pack boxes with 12 cards each which seem to sell for about 10,000 to 12,000 Yen each or so (70 to 90 bucks).

But there is a cheaper way, which seems to exist due to Epoch’s highly predictable  rate of seeding of the valuable autographed chase cards in boxes.

It seems they put one such card per box. So when box breakers open a pack containing one, they can deduce that the remaining packs in the box they took it from don’t have any and are thus of no interest to them. 

To get rid of these “stale” packs, they fill empty boxes with the standard 24 packs and sell them dirt cheap. I bought a box of them for just 2000 Yen, which works out to about 60 cents per pack. Other than the fact that your odds of getting a high value auto are pretty much nil, it’s indistinguishable from a regular box. Since I’m mainly interested in collecting these with my kids for fun these are just perfect.

They arrived in the mail today and I’m quite happy with them. My kids and I opened one pack each today and saved the rest for later. It was a lot of fun, opening 12 card packs provides for a more engaging experience than Calbee’s two card packs, though with the lack of chips being a notable drawback. 

We got some decent cards, including Yuki Okabayashi who is a favorite in our house. I noted with interest that the packs contain one card from each team which was neat. We also got two silver parallel cards so while we might not get any autos there is still something shiny for the kids to chase in them.

The bottom of the boxes are pretty cool too, with a 12 card panel of mini versions of the cards (though these are blank backed).

I’m not sure if this sort of thing is normal in the US and I’m just totally out of date and marveling at some hobby phenomena that’s existed for years, but being able to get these so cheap just really shocked me. This set is brand new - it was only released a few weeks ago - but I can already buy packs of it for almost nothing. It strikes me as being insanely wasteful, but I’m not complaining. 

I’ve already got another box of these ordered and on the way. Calbee better get its act together or I might switch my collecting habits altogether. Another big problem I have with Calbee - in addition to it just not being available for sale right now - is their limited checklist. This year they’ll only have 10 regular cards per team, not even enough to cover half a roster. Many of our favorite Dragons players just don’t have Calbee cards this year, but Epoch’s 36 cards per team means they get about everyone plus a lot of the 2 Gun guys.

This kind of makes me wonder who would ever buy a pack of these in stores? If the hitless packs are so easily separable, buying these in anything but full, sealed boxes can’t make much sense from the perspective of people hunting the auto cards. You’d think Epoch would be a bit more careful to avoid that happening, though I kind of hope this is a problem they don’t fix.

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Collecting 2023 Calbee is Frustrating


I made a bit of a fuss on here in April when the first Series of Calbee cards/potato chips failed to materialize on store shelves on schedule.  

They ended up appearing about a month later than the announced release date, mainly a result of increased demand due to Japan's WBC win and Calbee's apparent prioritization of Amazon over brick and mortar retailers,  

Thankfully for about two months after they finally came out - roughly late April to late June - I was able to obtain a regular supply of them at my local supermarkets and would stop to buy three bags (one for me, and one each for my kids) on the way home from work several times a week.  This ritual is by far my favorite baseball card collecting activity ever.  We were able to slowly put together most of the set, we're about 10 cards short of the base set now and still need about half of the (harder to find) Star Card and Legends card subsets.

I picked up some cheap albums from the 100 Yen shop, and we also hit a Lucky Card which we redeemed for another album, so we've been putting them in those.
Frustratingly though at the end of June all of the stores pulled Calbee baseball card chips from their shelves.

This is actually normal because late June is when Series 2 comes out and replaces Series 1 on the shelves.

Only this year Series 2 is yet to be seen.  

A few weeks ago Dave had an email back and forth with someone at Calbee who suggested that Series 2 might not come out until August 21st (or perhaps even October 9th, the message gave these two dates but was a bit cryptic about what they meant).  Series 3 might be a write-off completely.

So here we are, the middle of the season - in fact this is exactly the All Star break - when demand for baseball cards is usually at or near its peak and yet there are no baseball card chip bags on store shelves like normal.  And it seems we won't see them again until the season is nearly over and interest in collecting them is likely to be waning considerably.  

The worst part is that my kids like them so much that they are actually asking me to go and buy more because they miss opening them!  Even my daughter, who is five and not a big baseball fan, gets excited about them (she was the one who got the Lucky Card and that really got her into it.  Whenever she gets a shiny star card she proudly shows it off to her mom and then gives it to me to put in the album if we need it).  

So this is all very frustrating.  I wish Calbee would get its act together, having their baseball card chips in stores is a key part of the "being a baseball fan in Japan" experience and the season really just isn't as fun without them (especially with my Dragons in last place. Its not a coincidence that I haven't been posting as much as usual for the past few weeks....)

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

Interesting 1951 Osato Gangu Set Find


Some neat 1951 Osato Gangu set stuff recently sold on Yahoo Auctions and has sparked my curiousity.

The set (which Engel catalogues as JGA 11) contains 48 cards and was originally sold as a set that came in a very cute little box.  I bought this set a few years ago, before the pandemic boom caused prices to rise.  They used to sometimes show up on Yahoo Auctions but its been a long time since I saw one.  The box is notable for the hamfisted attempt to spell baseball cards in English on the side:

The set is somewhat rare (Engel rates it R1) and is popular for having Wally Yonanime's rookie card in it:

I had always though this set was only sold in those cute "base boll card" boxes, and Engel indicates as much in his description of the set as well.  But last week an interesting item sold (for 62,000 Yen, unfortunately too much for my budget) on Yahoo Auctions. It was a taba of 120 baseball cards.  Taba are little envelopes, each containing one card, that were bundled together with a string. Anyone wanting to buy a card could simply pull a taba off of the string.  It was a common way for cards to be sold in Japan from the 1950s until as recently as the 1990s.  

What caught my eye about this taba was that it had a card from the 1951 Osamu Gangu set on the front of it.  

As you can see the envelopes from this taba were made of discarded newspaper.  This was a common practice in the early post-war years when Japan was still poor and recovering from the war.  Later taba - such as the postcard sized Yamakatsu cards from the 1970s - were sold in taba made up of tailor made envelopes rather than scraps.

It seems that each of the taba in this one had a card from the Osato Gangu set in it, with four prize cards (redeemable for something, not sure what in the case of these) and the rest being regular cards.  

Photos of the prize cards suggest that the backs were blank except for a prize symbol, which is unusual since the Osato Gangu cards are not blank-backed (they have a blue design with a picture of a lion on them).  I'm not sure if the pictures are the back of the cards though or rather simply specially made prize cards.
Since the Osato Gangu cards were a game that was meant to be played as a set (it comes with instructions, though I have to admit I haven't read them and have no idea how to play), I suspect that these taba weren't created by the original maker of the cards but rather by a third party who might have gotten their hands on some unsold "dead stock" of them or something.  

Its a very interesting item either way, and the price works out to less than $4 per card which was a real steal (depending on how many Yonamine rookie cards are in there it could be worth quite a bit more than that).  I wish I had been able to afford it, 62,000 Yen (about 450$ US) is a pretty cheap price to pay for the equivalent of an unopened box of early 1950s cards!  

Saturday, June 10, 2023

1978 Yamakatsu Box

In addition to my giant 1977 Yamakatsu boxes, I also recently picked up a partial box of 1978 Yamakatsu cards.
I actually completed the 1978 Yamakatsu set a couple of years ago. Its one of the more popular ones owing to the fact that out of the many sets Yamakatsu made over the years its the only one whose cards are more or less normally sized. All the others are either huge , like those 1977s, or tiny like the 1979 and 1980 mini sized sets.
Until I bought this a few weeks ago I had never seen unopened packs of 1978 Yamakatsu before. The box I bought had 13 unopened packs in it, each of which seems to hold only one card.
In addition to the regular packs, the box also contained two packs with jumbo cards in them, which would have been given out as prizes to those who pulled winner cards from the regular packs. 
And it also had an envelope with two grand prizes, a card album and a giant sized card with a whole bunch of printed signatures on it. The need to accommodate these prizes explains why the box is so big despite the regular cards being standard sized. 
Since I already have the set, I’m going to keep these sealed. I’m not generally an unopened box or pack collector, but I’ve put together a pretty decent collection on unopened Yamakatsu stuff from the late 70s mostly through “that is just too good a deal to pass up” type impulse purchases (this box cost me about 40 bucks with shipping).