Category Archives: John Lobert

Collecting the 1940 Play Ball Set

Featured 1940 Play Ball Cards: #102, Chuck Klein; #217 Walter “Boom-Boom” Beck; #95, Hugh “Mul” Mulcahy; #160, John “Hans” Lobert

A few weeks back, I wrote briefly about how, out of necessity, I sold large parts of my pre-1970 collection nearly 10 years ago. As part of that sell-off, I liquidated nearly all of my collection predating World War II. As you can probably imagine, it was somewhat distressing, but I also knew that when my financial prospects improved again, that I could probably reacquire most of what I felt compelled to sell. Thankfully, for the past couple years I’ve been able to do just that, and in one notable case I am nearing my goal of once again completing the 1940 Play Ball team set I once possessed.

But first, a quick digression. As a result of the rise of the grading services, the overall complexion of my pre-World War II collection looks very different than it did 10 years ago. Admittedly, I could avoid graded cards should I wish to do so. However, as I’ve explained before, I buy the overwhelming majority of my vintage cards on eBay, and I view the graded product as a necessary evil. As a result, my nearly completed pursuit of the 1940 Play Ball Phillies resulted solely in mid-grade, PSA-graded cards. At this time, the only two cards I need to complete my set are Grover Cleveland Alexander and Joe Marty, and I have no desire to acquire them in anything other than PSA-graded form.

I made completing this team set a priority for a couple reasons. First and foremost, as I said before, I actually once possessed a complete team set 10 years ago. Secondly, it’s a relatively inexpensive team set to assemble. Yes, the Klein and Alexander cards are somewhat expensive, but obtaining mid-grade copies of their cards, even in professionally graded form, isn’t prohibitively so. And while the high numbers, cards 216-240, are also somewhat pricey, they cost less than many of the late ’40s through early ’50s Topps and Bowman cards (especially the high number cards) and are available in far greater abundance.

However, the most important reason I wanted to recompile this set is that I just absolutely love it. The primary reason is that so many of the player’s nicknames are placed in quotation marks, even though in most cases they’re unnecessary because that is how the player was known — it just feels quaint in a very cute way. And although it’s not considered a modern issue, in some ways 1940 Play Ball is incredibly similar to one. Its dimensions are fairly close to the today’s standard size, and the use of black and white photography nestled neatly in a designed border certainly presages the look of modern cards quite well.

There is actually one notable card in my 1940 Play Ball collection that is not PSA-graded, and that’s the John “Hans” Lobert Superman ad back variation. I didn’t even know about existence of this variation until Bob Lemke, former editor of SCD’s Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards, mentioned it on his blog this past October. To me, that revelation of this variation is just another example of one of the amazing thing about collecting baseball cards. There’s an archeological element to collecting in that decades after the hobby reached maturity, we still don’t know everything about all the cards that have been printed over the past 135+ years. More germane to this particular post, however, is how the variation is even in my collection today.

Back when I sold off my original team set, my copy of the Lobert card was one of the few pre-World War II cards to survive the purge. Although it was one of the first vintage cards I ever acquired as a teen, sentimentality had nothing to do with its remaining in my collection. No, the only thing that saved it was the fact that there was discoloration on the front of the card from pieces of cellophane tape that once upon the time secured the card on some sort of backing. When I was scanning cards and posting them to eBay in order to raise money, it just didn’t seem like doing so for this particular card would be worth the time and effort. So, for a few years it ended up being the only 1940 Play Ball card in my collection. After I started assembling a new team set, the very damage that allowed me to keep the card made it easy for me to purchase a graded version to replace it. Yet, I still didn’t do anything about trying to find a new home for it.

The card actually stayed in my pile of duplicates until just a few days ago. Although I read Lemke’s blog entry about the variation back when he posted it (I’ve been a regular reader of his site for some time), it wasn’t until I started planning my 1940 Play Ball checklist for the Phillies Database Project that it occurred to me to check my graded card and its tape-stained brethren to see if either of them were the variation. Given that his description of the variation stated that the Superman ad backs were much scarcer, I didn’t hold out much hope that I actually owned one. I was therefore stunned to find out that my tape stained copy — the equivalent of a bastard, red-headed step-child — was actually an uncatalogued part of my collection. It was an unexpectedly wonderful surprise.

So, I’m now faced with something of a dilemma. Although I know it would come back with deservedly low grade, I’m tempted to submit it to PSA just so that I can store/display it with the rest of its counterparts. For now, I hesitate to do so only because I’ve never submitted a card to a grading service before (or even properly researched how to about it). Regardless of whether I do or not, I find it amazing that I now consider an important part of my collection a card I held in such low esteem for most of the past 10 years.

1940 Play Ball (R335)

Set Type: Primary
Card dimensions:
2½” x 3⅛”
Manufacturer: Gum, Inc.
Rookie Cards: Joe Marty, Wally Millies, & Bill Atwood
Additional Information: The last relatively large (in number) pre-World War II set. At 15 cards base cards, it is one of the largest Phillies sets predating the Modern Era. The set is also notable for its inclusion of retired players alongside current players. TCMA recycled the design for a series of sets it printed in the mid-1980s.

In October 2011, Bob Lemke (former editor of the SCD Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards) reported on his blog that a Superman ad back variation had been confirmed for all cards in the numerical range of 123-180. The only Phillie in that range is coach John “Hans” Lobert. At this time, the Superman variation information is not yet included in either Beckett or the Standard Catalog. The difference between the different Lobert can be seen at the bottom of the following scans:

According to Lemke’s post, the Superman variation appears to be noticeably scarcer.

Gus Suhr
Hugh Mulcahy (first name shown as “Mul”)
Emmett “Heinie” Mueller
Morris Arnovich
Merrill “Pinky” May
Sylvester Johnson
Hershel Martin
Del Young
Chuck Klein
Grover Cleveland Alexander
John “Hans” Lobert (coach)
John “Hans” Lobert (coach, Superman ad back variation)
Joe Marty
Walter Beck
Walt Millies
Bill Atwood (last card in set)

My Love-Hate Relationship With PSA, SGC & BGS

Consider this a quasi-follow-up to my History-Destroying Relic Cards post from a couple weeks ago. On another website where I write more about my own personal life than here, I had a different post inspired by the same news item that inspired the HDRC post: Upper Deck’s and Marvel’s destruction of vintage comic books to create relic cards. As a result of that post, I got into a discussion with a friend of mine regarding the collecting vintage comics in the equivalent of fair condition or worse. Along the way, I brought up one of the benefits of the professional grading services when it comes to sports cards: the perma-slab that encases the card itself and how it allows you to both store and look at the card without inflicting any additional damage to the card.

I actually have a serious love-hate relationship when it comes to PSA, SGC, BGS and their lesser-known brethren. I’ve already noted what I view as the primary benefit of their service, which is especially important in the case of pre-WW II product. The fact is that there are no great storage and display options available for such material — especially when the card is in the type of condition as the 1911 T205 Gold Border John Lobert shown here (yes, this card is from my personal collection). For all I know, there is some serious layering occurring at the one or more of the corners (a safe assumption given the grade assigned to it) but all I can currently see, without cracking the case open and destroying the slab, is what looks like paper loss at a couple of them. Yet, I will never know, and better still, I can now store this card and never worry about accidentally damaging it further.

Admittedly, the other reason for purchasing this card in a professional graded slab is the very reason professional grading started: relative* piece of mind regarding the card’s condition and authenticity when buying it sight unseen. Yes, I do pay a slight premium for the privilege, and for the most part I am okay with it. But, this also happens to be where the blurry divide in my love-hate relationship begins. What’s become obvious is that many sellers and dealers on eBay are demanding an inordinately high premium for this privilege. I completely get it when a tobacco card professionally graded at NM or higher gets more than twice (sometimes way more) its book value, but when dealers start trying to apply that type of mark-up to cards in only fair, good or very good condition, I get really annoyed. I know the free market will supposedly work its magic and that if dealers don’t get what they’re asking then the price will eventually come down. On the other, I do worry that such a thing will never happen.

Yes, I know I have the option of buying non-graded cards. However, I don’t have the time to attend card shows where I’m more likely to find them, and I don’t like the hit-or-miss aspect of buying pre-WW II cards sight unseen. And, as I’ve already stated, there is the fact that I like the protective casing that they place on the older cards. It’s quite the conundrum for me, as someone who has an interest and the resources (albeit limited) to collect cards of that vintage.

There are other reasons I don’t care for graded cards, but that has mostly to do with their use for brand new or relatively recent product and I stay away from those cards. I’ll save more on those thoughts for another time.

* I say “relative” because I’ve long been aware — well before reading Dave Jamieson’s Mint Condition — that the grading companies aren’t as vigilant as they would like us to believe in regards to determining which cards have been altered, that they aren’t as consistent as they would like us to believe when grading cards, and that they face a huge conflict of interest in regards to the fact that they their primary customers are the dealers who send them large volumes of material to grade, not the collectors.