Sunday, May 2, 2010

In Between Naps - May 2010

One of Rob Dewolf's passions is collecting cards of Cleveland Hall of Famer Napoleon Lajoie. A former minor league baseball player who advanced to Triple-A in the Padres organization, Rob's current job in the newspaper field requires him to get up at 4 a.m., six days a week. Hence the name of his column, which happens to be when he finds time to write about various aspects of the hobby. Rob lives in central Ohio with his wife and daughter.

Happy to Have a Set In My Way

by Rob Dewolf

I admire set collectors, mainly because they attempt to do something that I rarely have the patience to see through until the end.

Numerous times I've set out on a journey to put together a vintage baseball card set, only to drop anchor, jump the rail and swim back to shore before the ship leaves the harbor. Leafs from 1949 and DeLongs from 1933 were the subjects of my two most recent remakes of Titanic.

The Leafs seemed like a good idea after a friend sold me a group of 50 or so that included Satchel Paige (albeit with significant back damage). But all it took to bail was a few eBay transactions in which I spent what I thought was stupid money for the likes of Eddie Stevens, Dave Philley and Alvin Dark. Yes, I know the cards are short-prints, but they still feature Eddie Stevens, Dave Philley and Alvin Dark. The raking in of Leafs quickly stopped.

The DeLong project suffered the same fate for a different reason. I thought because only 24 cards comprise a complete set and 15 of those cards picture Hall of Famers, I wouldn't fall prey to common-player sticker shock. Just the opposite happened. Only a few cards in, I decided there are too many high-dollar Hall of Famers for my taste. DeLongs for Dewolf? Derailed.

I can be a fickle collector.

Which is why I still can't figure out exactly why I've stuck with trying to complete a master set of 1933 Butter Cream cards.

In early 2007 it was announced that hobby legend Lionel Carter would be selling his collection. Many of the cards graded by SGC would have their heritages noted on the card holder. I decided that I'd keep my eyes open for something that would be a good fit, because I really wanted to add part of Mr. Carter's collection to mine.

I found a good opportunity when a small group of Butter Creams came on the auction block. Included was a card of Cleveland Indian George Uhle, so that was a plus in my eyes. The other four cards were notable, too. Three were Hall of Famers -- Mickey Cochrane, Al Simmons and Charles Klein -- and the fourth, Muddy Ruel, is among the highest-graded Butter Creams by SGC (if that's your cup of tea; it's not mine).

After the auction ended and I was high bidder on the lot, I decided to attempt to complete the 30-card set, figuring that if I became bored or frustrated, I'd sell every card except the Uhle.

Then, as I learned more about the issue, I became aware that each card can be found with two different backs: one that has the "Butter Cream Confectionary Corp." name and another without. Shortly after completing a "set" of 29 cards, I decided to try to put together a set of 58 that includes 29 players with each of the two different backs.

Now seems like a good time to explain why I'm content to live with a "complete" set that has only 29 of the 30 possible cards. The Butter Cream Babe Ruth, for those who might not know, is tougher to find than a T206 Wagner. Two have hit the auction block in recent memory, bringing nearly $112,000 (to view the auction listing, click here) and $55,000 (to view the auction listing, click here).

Enough said on the BC Babe.

As for Butter Creams in general and why they've held my interest, like I said, I'm still not entirely sure. I do know that while scarce, they become available on a fairly regular basis. That I was able to compile a complete set, minus the Ruth (man, it gets old always having to type that qualifier), in about a year attests to that.

Also appealing to me is the fact that they're a bit unusual looking. The photos are black-and-white, and the cards measure 1 1/4 by 3 1/2 inches. Not your typical 1930s baseball card. Plus, the fact that the cards themselves were used as contest entry forms -- no doubt contributing to their scarcity today -- is appealing to me.

Finally, the number of Hall of Famers to commons -- 16 to 14 -- is palatable. As a Cleveland guy, the fact that two of the commons are Uhle and Wes Ferrell and one of the Hall of Famers is Earl Averill is a bonus.

I guess all of these factors created a bit of a perfect storm that's resulted in me collecting 50 of the 58 cards needed to complete my version of a Butter Cream master set. The satisfaction and excitement I feel each time I'm able to cross off another card from my want list reinforces my decision to undertake such an endeavor.

It also helps me appreciate why set collectors do what they do. Just not enough that I want to make it a habit.

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