(Written by Love of the Game Auctions – Al Crisafulli) If you’ve been around the hobby long enough, you’ll see different segments get “hot,” then cool off, only to heat up again at some point. Steadily gaining interest for what seems like years, however, are postcards.
Postcard collectors have long understood how the oversized nature of the cards coupled with the beauty of sports photography provide for some of the most attractive cards in the hobby. Unlike turn-of-the-century cards that were limited to the size of the packages into which they were inserted, postcards could be much more vivid, with detailed images that today allow us glimpses into the players’ era.
This PC796 postcard of Hall of Famer Walter Johnson, featured in our current auction, is a tremendous example, depicting the Big Train at the end of his classic windup, having thrown a ball to an unseen catcher. In full detail is Johnson’s flannel uniform and cap, his glove, even his shoes. Looking at the image, its no wonder that prices for this postcard routinely eclipse his more mainstream card issues, reaching into the $2,000 range even in lower grades.
Max Stein Postcards are another popular and scarce issue, produced between 1909 and 1915 and featuring 25 baseball images. This card of Giants HOF manager John McGraw is beautiful for the grade, with a clean image and minimal surface wear. While there is certainly corner wear consistent for the grade, this is a terrific example of a tough-to-find issue of one of the most popular managers ever to take the field. There is certainly no shortage of mainstream cards of McGraw, but do any of them capture his intensity the way this one does?
A later-period postcard issue is the PC786 Orcajo Postcard issue. Produced by the Orcajo photo studio of Ohio, this set featured at least 40 subjects from the Cincinnati Reds, plus (for whatever reason) Joe DiMaggio. The postcards, which are extremely scarce today, can be found in four different varieties. Due to the scarcity of this issue, new subjects are occasionally discovered, several as recently as mid 2011.
Featured in our current auction is a collection of 11 cards from the set, including 10 different subjects and two of the issue’s three Hall of Famers: Ernie Lombardi and Bill McKechine (pictured). Up until this discovery, we had never encountered more than one Orcajo in a collection (though we’re sure they’re out there). Finding one or two on eBay or at auction occasionally was a pleasant surprise, and Hall of Fame type card collectors aggressively chase the McKechnie and Lombardi cards, driving up prices.
While it’s often our inclination to break up larger collections of cards into individual lots to give collectors the ability to acquire an example for their collection (as we did with the D310 Pacific Coast Biscuits from the Rudy Strejc Collection), in this case we have elected to do the opposite: keep the group together as one lot, to give a collector an opportunity to get a head start on an extremely difficult hobby challenge: the completion of an Orcajo Postcard set. This group gives a collector an opportunity to assemble 25% of the set in one swoop.
On the scale of hobby newsworthiness, an Orcajo Postcard find certainly isn’t akin to locating a hoard of mint E98s in an attic or a group of T210 Jacksons in a private collection. However, stumbling across eleven Orcajo Postcards in a collector’s binder excites us just the same.
Another example of what makes postcards so interesting is their versatility. This postcard, issued in 1905 to commemorate the Cleveland Indians, part of an 18-card postcard set featuring portrait photographs of individual members of the team. In addition to those postcards, the manufacturer made available this composite photo, featuring 20 members of the team – the 18 players included in the set plus two addition (leading to our speculation that perhaps there are more, undiscovered cards in the set).
Several images on the postcards are identical to the portrait illustrations in the T206 set (including Joss and Lajoie) and the Colgans Chips set (including Flick). Postcards from this set are particularly rare today – just ten examples from the set have been graded, including only five examples of this postcard. It’s a very rare postcard, and it features one of the greatest players of all-time in Nap Lajoie.
Another interesting component of photo postcards is the content of the background. Here is a panoramic real photo postcard, marked 1912 and referring to Valporaiso University. The school, located in the Northwest corner of Indiana, in the city of Valporaiso, was (in 1912) a small town, with around 7,000 residents. Pictured in this postcard is a scene from what appears to be a parade with a marching band and members of a baseball team. In the background, townsfolk gather to watch; we can see a sign in front of a candy store advertising new postcards for just one cent.
Postcards also make for excellent ways to display autographs. This postcard, featuring Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg, features a beautiful photo of Hammering Hank, fielding his position, with a vivid, purple signature underneath. While certainly not a playing days postcard (it was produced after 1950), it is an excellent piece nonetheless.
Our auction features a small group of signed postcards featuring Hall of Famers from the Cleveland Indians, including this classic image of Lou Boudreau, and this RPPC of Larry Doby from roughly 1950. The Doby is our favorite, since it features a photo of Doby in the pose that graced his early Bowman cards. The illustrative Bowmans, however, don’t capture the intensity of Doby’s facial expression, though, as he stands in at the plate, awaiting a pitch, every muscle suspended and waiting to unleash another long drive.
And in contrast with Doby’s intensity is the happy-go-lucky, personable expression of Yogi Berra, posed for the camera, specifically to produce a postcard to be used by Berry for satisfying autograph requests. The JD McCarthy postcards of the 1950s were produced for just that purpose – for players to buy from the company, to respond to such requests. The example in our auction was postmarked 1956 from New York, and mailed to Highland Park, IL. The authentic signature was obviously added by Berra some time later (the black signature at the bottom is a facsimile).