1.24.2010

High numbers in the high seas: noble things.



"...it must needs be plucked at from the skies, and dived for in the deep, and featured in the unbodied air!" Moby Dick, Ch. 34


What would truly revive your interest in relic cards? We've seen seat bits, buttons, bats, gloves and of course jerseys. What's missing? The full cycle of card history contained in a single relic card insert set, that's what. How to achieve that in one issue? To answer this we must turn to the undersea myth of Sy Berger and that huge pile of baseball cards he is said to have consigned to Davy Jones' locker. Mr. Berger has claimed that he sent hundreds of cases of 1952 Topps high numbers (#311-407) to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.


For example, here's a quote from a Sports Collectors Digest article by T.S. O'Connell:

"Topps had stored those 1952 Topps for eight or nine years. According to Berger, these were all cut cards. 'They were put in boxes. It took three garbage trucks. I would say 300-500 cases. All high series of 1952 Topps. I found a friend of mine who had a garbage scow and we loaded the three trucks-worth on the barge.' It was hauled out to sea by a tugboat, with Berger on board to supervise the undertaking, such as it was. 'I was out there with it. Opposite Atlantic Highlands, a few miles out.'

The cases were stacked on the center of the barge, and a switch was thrown and those (now) precious cards were consigned to the deep. 'And that was the end of it,' said Berger. 'Whoever thought that they would have the kind of value that they would have?'
Who indeed? So, if we accept the story lock, stock, and barrel, that means there are SCADS of baseball cards at the bottom of the ocean intermingling their molecules with disintegrated wax, bubble gum, box board, fish fins, tentacles, kelp, and God knows what else.


That ocean dumping is why only a fortunate few kids came to clutch in their gnarled talons that year's Mickey Mantle rookie card.

Scarcity equals value. In the golden pre-ocean baseball card days, and in fact for a while afterward, cards were made only of paper pulp and marketed to kids and kids alone. That's evident because the packs cost one cent and included a wide stick of barely chewable bubble gum. And what did kids do with those cards? They thumbed through stacks; they wrapped 'em with rubber bands and stashed 'em in shoe boxes. Cards got lost, worn, tossed against walls, inserted into bike spokes, or even thrown away. Kids did not think about value.

The result of all this unthinking happy card activity: few of those cards survived in good condition, let alone near mint condition. THAT is what led to today's values. Scarcity of cards in decent condition. The story of the 1952 Topps high numbers submerged in the ocean accelerated this effect.

After months of exhaustive design work, largely undertaken by Mr. Berger himself, Topps produced a set that is seen by many as the ultimate post-war sportscard issue; and clocking in at 407 cards, it was the largest single-year issue ever produced. Two major design innovations: including player statistics for the previous season and career totals on the backs of the cards, and the use of color team logos on the fronts.

What does all this mean? So, let's say those cards were thrown into the deep blue sea. Then, let's say card executives gradually realized that ocean dumping of 1952 Topps cards helped increase their value. The primal, cavemanlike corporate response to this realization over time evolved into: "Unga munga, we produce many many cards and stamp with numbers and stickers and bits of cloth and wood and leather and people buy with more money and we make more money!"

That is the continuum from the depths of the ocean: scarcity is good.

So, taken to its extreme, clearly someone should hire a Cousteau and triangulate wherever those card cases ended up off the Jersey Shore. Then, using a vessel



such as the one that first eyeballed the sunken Titanic, find the little vestiges of cardboard left inside those 500 boxes.


It's been more than 50 years, so maybe there'll only be one pulpy mess, or maybe there'll only be some gunk or a sob-inducing horrifying wad. That's okay. Card technology has advanced.

Once the pulpy bits are brought to the surface, teams of Topps designers would work 'round the clock. Into graphic designs combining baseball with the seas--both heavily mythological--there would be inserted bits of pulp--numbered of course. The inserts might be called "Genuine 1952 Topps High Number Gloppular Bits." This would be better than DNA! In fact it would be baseball card DNA! Who wouldn't want one?

Here's the humbling confessional part of this fantasy essay. We'll tell you who would probably end up wanting one. Dinged Corners, that's who--apparently the Ahab of baseball card collectors, seeking the white whale of Topps history. Sy had us at "look out below."

3 comments:

G_Moses said...

That's kind of a crazy story. I mean, if you wanted to destroy...paper, let's say. Isn't it more feasible to just light a match than to pay for the expense to take them out to the middle of the ocean?

Could be pulling our leg on that one. Though I guess death by drowning is not as harsh as death by fire.

Dinged Corners said...

I rather doubt this story, but it's a top-notch narrative.

There are legends that get attached to the history of certain collectibles. With lunchboxes, the accepted lore is that a kid in Florida bashed another kid in the noggin with a steel lunchbox, the parents sued, and voila, the injection-molded plastic lunchbox was born. But I can't find any evidence of this "case" and doesn't it just make sense that plastic production was cheaper? Either way, tragically, the last 'vintage' steel lunchbox made was...Rambo.

PunkRockPaint said...

I want one! Even if I have to make it myself...