Sunday, November 10, 2019

Have I Somehow Screwed Myself Over (Japanese Card Collector Edition)?

Its been a few months since I did an update post on my monster 1975-76-77 Calbee set.  There are a lot of reasons for that but the main one is simple: I haven't made any progress in that time on it.  I'm stalled at a little over 70% of the way there.

The frustration at the drying up of the well of cards-that-I-need has caused me to question whether this might actually be 100% my own fault.

Basically my question boils down to this: Did just me buying up cards for this set cause the prices to explode?

Normally this wouldn't be possible, but this isn't a normal set. There aren't a lot of people out there collecting it, and there also aren't a lot of cards from this set on the market.  Low demand but also low supply.  When that type of market exists, even just having one more person enter it can have a huge effect on both supply and prices.

I went on a real tear for a year or so, roughly from mid-2018 to mid 2019, buying up as many singles for the set that I needed as I could find, particularly focusing on the scarce regional or short printed series.  I made good progress, I have more than half of the Dragons and Carp regionally issued series from 1975, and I made some progress on the Carp regional issue from 1976 (the Red Helmet Series) and also the high number series (1400-1436), but still have a lot of holes in those that I need to fill, as I outlined in a previous post.

What I noticed though is that prices on those regional issues shot up dramatically after I entered the market for them.  When I started last summer I could find singles for the two 1975 regional issues for about 1,000 Yen each, and singles for the 1976 regional issue for about 2,000-3,000 Yen each.

Now though you can't get those cards for those prices anymore.  The 1975 regional issues have starting prices about 2,000 Yen each, doubled in a year, and I can't find any of the 1976 Carp issue for under 10,000 Yen (though these are through a seller with very high starting bids.  Still, even in an auction with a low starting bid these cards go for way more than what I was paying last year for them).

With more commonly available cards it would be unlikely for a single buyer to have much effect on price.  But with cards like this, I have this feeling:

I think when sellers see a given series of cards being bought up at 1,000 Yen each, and there are only a handful of them available at any time, they take that as a sign that they are undervalued and up their prices accordingly.  I know for a fact that some of the sellers I bought from did this (and I don't blame them, I'm just observing that this is what they did).  Likewise having another determined buyer competing in auctions forces the other bidders to up their high bids if they want to win, which also has an inflationary effect.

You wouldn't see one person having this effect in the market for more readily available cards, like say US cards from the 50s or 60s, but with the extremely limited number of 1970s Calbee cards out there for auction (a large proportion simply aren't available at all at any given moment on Yahoo Auctions and the ones that are generally might only be 1-2 copies of it) the market is quite different.

So I'm pretty sure I'm personally responsible for having made these cards more expensive, which is a double edged sword.  On the one hand, it kind of validates my earlier purchases since they are selling for more than I paid for them last year.  But way worse than that, as a set collector, it means that buying the remaining cards that I need is going to be a way more expensive task than I had been planning for it to be!

Monday, November 4, 2019

My Shigeo Nagashima Rookie Card

Shigeo Nagashima has a LOT of rookie cards from his first season in 1958.  This is not surprising since unlike his team mate Sadaharu Oh, Nagashima's career caught on fire pretty much right away - he hit 29 home runs in his first season and cruised to the rookie of the year award.

The two of them do make an interesting comparison from a menko era card perspective though.  Nagashima's rookie cards were issued in the 1958 sets, while Oh's came the following year.  I haven't counted and don't know anyone who has, but each of them has several dozen cards from their respective rookie seasons which count as rookie cards.  I'm guessing Nagashima probably has more, since he had an entire 40 card set (JCM 32b) devoted to him in his rookie year, which Oh never had.  Their presence seems to make the sets from those two years a bit more popular than the ones from subsequent years which lacked debuts of players of similar stature.

Having picked up an Oh Rookie card over the summer, I also set about trying to find a cool Nagashima one.  I settled for this 1958 Doyusha card (JCM 30a) which has a pretty cool image on the front of him heading home after rounding the bases on one of those 29 long balls he hit that year.  I kind of like the borderless look of this set too.

The back is cool too, with Nagashima's name on it and basically the same design as the 1959 Doyusha set which features Oh's rookie card.

Value wise the Nagashima rookie cards are a lot more affordable than the Oh ones, despite Nagashima arguably being the more popular player (in Japan at least).  This probably reflects the purchasing power of American collectors who are way more likely to go after Oh cards than Nagashima ones.  It also probably reflects the fractured collector interest that having dozens of rookie cards creates.  Individually they are all pretty scarce, but collectively there are a lot of them out there without any one being considered a "definitive" card that collectors can focus their attention on with laser like precision.  So if you've got 10-20$ and a bit of patience you can probably score a Nagashima rookie card on Yahoo Auctions when one shows up!

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Masaichi Kaneda Menko: The Last Surviving Copy?

I've decided to get back into blogging a bit.  It really does help with the grieving process, mainly because Japanese baseball cards are one of the few areas in my life where I have no memories associated with my sister.  She didn't even know this blog existed.  Right now pretty much anything - like just listening to a song that she liked - gets me crying, everything is too new and I'm not emotionally adapted to life without her yet.  So Japanese baseball cards are kind of a mental safe haven, something I can distract myself with and not worry about that stuff.  I also really appreciated the friendly comments everyone made on my previous post, they do help!

Anyway, back to the business of this blog.  This is a menko of Masaichi Kaneda that I'd been wanting to post about for a while (even though I just posted about another one of him a few days ago).  Its from the set Engel lists as JCM 133.  They are identified by the backs, which have a picture of an animal (a mouse on Kaneda's) and a three digit number.
The set is kind of an enigma since so little is known about it.  Engel's guide identifies it as a set, but doesn't actually provide a checklist of it since "not enough of these cards have been discovered."  It was likely issued in either 1956 or 1957 and other than that there isn't much known about it.  A couple of other  sets (JCM 131c and JCM 132), which seem to have been issued by the same maker around the same time are also so hard to find that their existence is known but not enough have been found to create a checklist.

I love finding cards from sets like this where the card I have might be the only one left - its not clear if Engel or anybody else has seen a copy of this Kaneda.  They certainly might have, but the mere possibility that they haven't is kind of neat.   Its gives you that "Hey, this might actually be an important card I discovered" feeling.  And this card came in a lot of 5 cards that I only paid 1000 Yen (about 10$ US) for.  It was the only card from this set in the lot and the others aren't as rare, but I was pretty psyched at finding out what this one was.  Again demonstrating the ways in which collecting vintage Japanese baseball cards offers excitement that the US hobby hasn't been able to in about 40 years!

As a parting shot I just want to mention that I'll probably be putting the blog on hold again for a couple of weeks as I go home for the funeral and helping out my parents (and them helping me out too).  I'll probably be back towards the end of October though.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Blogging and Grief

A couple years ago I wrote a post about the baseball card store my dad and I opened back in the early 1990s.  The above photo was from opening day.  My dad is on the left, I'm in the middle behind the counter, and some guy I don't know is in the foreground wearing a red shirt and looking into our showcase.

On the right is my little sister, also looking away from the camera.  This here is a better picture of the two of us, from about 1980.
My sister wasn't too big into baseball cards at the same time I was, but she did give it a try.  I remember in 1990  she tried collecting the Fleer set, basically because it was one that I wasn't collecting.  We also went to Expos games together and she would sometimes join me at the dugout trying to get players' autographs.  She lost interest pretty quickly though and switched to collecting basketball cards for a bit but also kind of lost interest in that by the end of the year and never returned to card collecting.

She had other interests and didn't really have a "collector" personality which, if I'm honest, I always admired about her. She loved animals and swimming and hanging out with friends.  Doing actual stuff you know!

We were attached at the hip growing up, my dad being in the army and constantly moving around, so we were the only constant presence in each other's lives.  As adults we kind of moved our separate ways after my parents retired, me ending up in Japan and her in Calgary, but we kept as close as we could, she even spent almost a year living with my wife and I over here in the early 2000s.  After that she went to law school and, having watched her go through the application process while she was staying with us, I decided to give it a try too and ended up following in my own little sister's footsteps.  She was a trailblazer for us both.

Then one day a few years later, around the same time my wife became pregnant with our first child things were about to get really good in life for my little sister.  She had a successful career and was in a loving relationship with a great guy who she was about to start a family with.

And then just when it was all beginning for her my little sister was diagnosed with cancer.

She went through chemo and surgery.  And for a glorious little while we thought she had it beat and would be an inspiring story of a cancer survivor.

Then a few months later it came back.  Aggressive and spreading.  They had no cure.

My son was born, and then so was my daughter.  They loved her and she loved them.  But nobody could do anything.  Just constant streams of exhausting treatment to keep this thing from killing her and buy her a bit more life each time.

She and her husband lived the life they had to the fullest, seeing the world and never feeling sorry, or at least never showing themselves to feel sorry, about the hand they had been dealt.

Then this past weekend, they had some friends over for dinner.  She didn't feel too well, the effects of the cancer spreading to her lungs had become overwhelming in the last few weeks. She went to her room to lie down.  And she never got back up.  She was gone.

I've gotten to know a lot of other bloggers since I started this one, and I've noticed that a lot of us post stories of loss like this on our blogs.  Something about the distraction helps, and a sense that writing can be a useful part of the grieving process.  Also, of course, its a shout out for people to give you some much needed empathy.

I've been posting way more than ever before recently and part of that has I think just been driven by me knowing that this day was coming and me just needing something to do to keep my mind off of that.  Now that it is here....I just miss my sister.  

I'll try to get back to posting about cards again sometime, but might be away for a little bit. Or who knows, maybe I'll be back at it tomorrow, its kind of therapeutic.

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Masaichi Kaneda 1958 Marukami With a Weird Back

 This is Masaichi Kaneda's card from the 1958 Marukami black and white borderless set (JCM 31D).

Kaneda is Japan's winningest pitcher by far, with 400 career victories (in a league where 200 rather than 300 wins is a de facto ticket to the Hall of Fame, a standard that Kaneda himself established for entry into his own version of the Hall of Fame, the Meikyukai).  Along with Oh, Nagashima and a few others, his cards are among the keys to the tobacco era menko card sets of the late 50s and early 60s.

The card is a hand cut menko and as you can see from the scan its got a bit of the card next to it on it. The miscut carries over onto the back, which has some additional odd things of its own:

First off, the back is for the Lions, while Kaneda played for the Kokutetsu Swallows as correctly noted on the card front.  When I bought it I thought it must be a wrongback, but in his guide Engel notes that this is not unusual for this set, as the team name on the back rarely correpsonds to the player's actual team.

So its not a wrong back.  But then I looked up that number, 639712, which is how Engel lists cards in this set.  That number doesn't belong to Kaneda, whose cardback number is 333333. Rather it belongs to Yoshitaka Kosaka of the Hiroshima Carp.

So that means this is either a wrongback, or a variation, or perhaps cards from this set were issued with random backs not just in terms of team but also in terms of number. Engel lists this set as being quite rare (R3) and doesn't seem to have a complete checklist (he lists 45+ cards, indicating there are unknown ones out there) so he likely didn't have a huge number of examples to draw from when cataloging it.

Anyway, its kind of an interesting thing to find so I thought I'd put it out there!

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Complete set of 1947 JCM 75: The Film Noir of Baseball Cards

 This is my oldest complete set, an uncut sheet of JCM 75 from 1947 featuring all 8 cards.  This is kind of cheating since I obviously got the set all in one go, but it still counts!

The set has a lot of star power, more than half of these guys *5 out of 8) are hall of famers.

The artwork is quite striking.  The images are a bit crude, not unlike other menko from the late 40s, but what is really interesting is the exaggerated shadows on all the players.  It makes them look like characters from a film noir detective thriller from the same era.  Especially Takehiko Besho:

Another interesting thing about this sheet is the backs.  7 out of 8 of the cards feature a "Baseball" back with a batter and math equation.  But one card, that of Bozo Wakabayashi, features Tarzan and an elephant for some reason.  I'm curious about why his card has a different back!

Kind of a cool set that currently sits in my ultra exclusive pile of "things I want to display if I ever move into a house big enough to display stuff in and also is not full of toddlers constantly covered in blueberry jam".

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Kansas City Royals 1981 Japan Tour Chirashi

 In 1981 the Kansas City Royals went on a tour of Japan, playing games against NPB teams across the country.  The tour didn't exactly go well for Kansas City, which dropped the first five games before pulling off a 1-0 win over the Giants, though they did eventually eke out a winning record (9-7-1) in their 17 games here.  The tour is sometimes cited as evidence that the level of the NPB was catching up to that of MLB at that time. The Royals team was pretty decent (they had about an even record in the strike shortened 1981 season, but had just come off one in which they made the ALCS) yet it barely broke even in its games against Japanese teams. It stood in stark contrast to some earlier tours by MLB teams which had completely dominated their series here.

I have a chirashi of the tour in my collection.  A chirashi is basically a flyer or handbill, about the size of a standard piece of A4 paper.  Japanese chirashi since the 1960s have been pretty high quality and there is an organized hobby of chirashi collectors out there.  Mostly these focus on movie chirashi, which feature amazing artwork advertising films made only for their Japan release (I have a lot of these, they are awesome), but they also make them for other events like concerts (I have a pretty good Rolling Stones one from a 1970s tour they did) and exhibition baseball games like this!

This one is pretty cool, prominently featuring Hall of Famer George Brett front and centre.  It isn't actually a chirashi for the whole Kansas City tour, but rather from the leg of the tour which brought the Royals through the Kansai area.  The back advertises games they played against a mixed Giants/Braves squad at Nishinomiya Stadium, an all Japan all star team at Koshien Stadium, and a mixed Hawks/Buffaloes/Giants team at Osaka Stadium.

The text on the top draws particular attention to the fact that George Brett had recently come close to being the first Major Leaguer since Ted Williams in 1941 to bat .400 (he hit .390 the previous season).  Dan Quisenberry, Willie Wilson, Frank White and Willie Aikens also get name-checked in it, but the vast majority is about Brett.

Kind of a neat piece of US-Japan baseball history!