One of the biggest selling points of a set is the number of Hall of Famers in it.
So, how can you top a vintage issue that's comprised entirely of Cooperstowners?
Well, a small but passionate group of collectors thinks it is impossible, and this helps to explain why the 1950 Callahan Hall of Fame set has become increasingly popular.
"I like the fact that they (cards in the Callahan set) are all Hall of Famers and it was a size (91 cards including variations) that I felt like I could get my arms around and be challenged by, but not take me forever to complete," said Norman Oberto, who owns the No. 1 Callahan set on the PSA Set Registry.
Distributed in small, collectible boxes, the Callahan cards measure 1-3/4" by 2-1/2". The fronts showcase a black-and-white player sketch drawn by artist Mario DeMarco.
"The black-and-white artworks were created utilizing DeMarco's trademark 'dot method' of drawing," notes a 2006 Robert Edward Auction description. "Incredibly, each artwork is actually comprised not of lines, but of literally thousands of small dots. This is a painstakingly slow process attempted, let alone mastered, by very few illustration artists."
The drawings are framed by a thin black line and the card backs boast biographical information.
"Sometimes, beauty is in plainness," said Oberto. "The fact that they were just black- and-white cards attracted me."
Hans vonRekowski, proprietor of the Registry's No. 5 set, also likes the design.
"They're different and the pictures are really neat. They're quite unique," he said.
Though 1950 is widely noted as the year this set was initially released, some believe it may not have been issued until 1951.
"The original set included 58 players, all of whom were already in the Hall of Fame, plus two players, Mel Ott and Jimmie Foxx, who were included in the 1950 group, although their induction was not until 1951. This dating makes one assume that the set originated closer to 1951 than 1950, despite the 1950 copyright," explained Oberto.
In addition to being sold at the Hall of Fame, these sets may have also been offered at MLB ballparks.
"I did hear from at least one person that they were sold at some ballparks," said Bob Hicks, who has compiled an eBay guide on this set.
Reportedly manufactured from 1950 (or 1951) to 1956, these sets were re-released each year to incorporate new inductees. This process resulted in more cards being manufactured of pre-1950 and early '50s inductees than of honorees enshrined in the latter years of the set's run. Singles of the 1952 inductees (produced in 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955), for example, are four times more plentiful than those of the 1955 honorees (produced in 1955).
No one is sure, however, how many of these cards were actually manufactured.
"The Callahan set is kind of a weird set because it was put out by the Hall of Fame and I don't know of anybody who really knows how many sets are out there. It's a set that I don't think was really popular when it was put out," said vonRekowski.
A number of variations are also part of this offering. Mickey Cochrane's last name, for instance, was spelled incorrectly (Cochran) on the initial version of his card. Surprisingly, it wasn't corrected until the later editions of the set.
The bottom portion of the frames surrounding the pictures on the original Paul Waner and Harry Heilmann cards were also missing. Singles with complete frames are rarer than those without.
Alterations were also made to the text on some cards. The Chief Bender card, for example, was edited in 1955 to reflect his death in 1954. Other cards that were revised over the life of the set include Eddie Collins, Bill Dickey and George Sisler.
The most talked-about variation, however, is a Charlie Gehringer black cap card. This single is rumored to showcase the Tigers second baseman sporting a darker cap than the hat on his regular Callahan card.
"I honestly don't think they ever printed the black cap version," said Oberto.
"After awhile, you talk with enough of these guys who've seen hundreds and hundreds of these . . . (so) more than likely, they (Gehringer black cap cards) don't exist," he said.
According to Oberto, a second sketch of Gehringer does, however, exist.
"DeMarco did, in fact, draw two versions of Gehringer. The first version is widely accepted and shows the right side of Gehringer. DeMarco drew a second version where Gehringer is shown to be facing the opposite direction and his cap was darker due to the shading by DeMarco.
"I own the original artwork for this second drawing and the back of the drawing has 'second' drawing written on the canvas. The only other pictures I've seen showing this second version are in early promotional pamphlets. I've never seen a printed card with this alternate pose. So, the mystery of the black cap versus the white cap is more than the shading of the cap. The view of Gehringer is also significantly different, making the card easily distinguishable," said Oberto.
Cards of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Honus Wagner from this set tend to command the most in auctions.
"Of course, Gehrig, Ruth and Wagner are considered key cards to this set, so they carry a much higher value because they are so famous," said Oberto.
Joe DiMaggio is widely considered the most difficult single to track down. One collector told Hicks that he believed that less than 100 DiMaggios exist.
"DiMaggio went in the Hall of Fame in 1955, so he's only available really in the last year of the set," said Oberto.
Just 40 DiMaggios have been evaluated by PSA and there are four PSA 9s and 14 PSA 8s.
Another elusive card is the Albert B. Chandler.
"Chandler was originally included in the 1950 version because he was the commissioner at the time. After his departure (from the commissioner's post) shortly after this set was released (1951), Chandler was no longer included, making him a short print," said Oberto.
The sole PSA 9 Chandler fetched $3,300 on eBay in October 2007.
Cards showcasing the Hall's interior and exterior are also included. As the set evolved, the text was changed on these cards; as a result, both singles have two versions.
"The early set included a single museum exterior card," explained Oberto. "That also functioned as the top card in the box which had an opening through which you could view the card. This is probably why this card is difficult to find in a higher grade because it was exposed, whereas the other cards were more protected."
But the other singles were not totally immune from condition woes. The cards tended to shift in the boxes, resulting in corner damage. Bad centering is also prevalent.
"There are a lot of them that are way off-center, so they get downgraded of that," said Oberto.
"The centering seems to be a problem ... about five to 10% are off-center a little bit," he said.
These condition problems provide another challenge to completing this set, but this hasn't deterred collectors.
"Since I've been collecting them, the numbers of (PSA) 9s and 10s have gone up dramatically. When I first started collecting Callahans, there were only a few (PSA) 9s. As of about a year ago, there was only one (PSA) 10. Now there are more (PSA) 10s coming up and there are more (PSA) 9s coming up," said vonRekowski. "There is a lot more interest."
It appears that this set of Cooperstowners is finally becoming a Hall of Fame set amongst collectors.
Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at [email protected] if you have any additional information or comments. Norman Oberto contributed extensively to this article and also provided pictures. Please note that the Population Report figures quoted are those as of press time.
Copyright © 2014 PSA – A Division of Collectors Universe. Nasdaq: CLCT. All rights reserved.