Gold (or yellow) plaque postcards obtained through the National Baseball Hall of Fame Gift Shop, Cooperstown, NY will always be a popular collectible among hobbyists. They are the obvious successors of the former Albertype and Artvue black and white versions produced from 1947-1963. The front glossy side is a picture of the actual bronze plaque bust enshrined in the Hall of Fame, highlighting the achievements of each inductee. In addition to their full name (and sometimes nickname), the teams and career years played are often mentioned.
The reverse side shows the year of induction and which committee made their selection possible. Like all 31/2" x 51/2" picture postcards, the back of the card has a blank space for a written message, a postage stamp box, and an area to include an addressee. In their unsigned format, they can be purchased for 25¢ each, or $40 for the entire set of 244 inductees. Another reason for their perennial attractiveness is the possibility of compiling a signed collection of the majority of the inductees.
Including last year's hall of fame cards, it is feasible to have 130 autographed postcards. There are varying degrees of availability ranging from the extremely rare George Weiss (1EK469) card, to the overabundant Bob Feller (5DK714). If one was to combine both black and white and gold autographed sets, 154 different inductees would be obtainable.
Dating The Gold Hall Of Fame Plaque Postcards The Age Of Curteichcolor
Based on extensive studies, I believe that the plaques were initially offered to the public late in 1965. My theory is based upon the plaque numbers assigned by the Curteichcolor 3-D Natural Color Reproduction Company from 1965 through 1977. The exact date of issuance is unclear. It appears that during this time, the first plaques were not made available on Induction Day, which has been the case over the past two decades. Consequently, Paul Waner (5DK-772) who died on August 29, 1965 and Bill McKechnie (5DK-747) who passed on October 29, 1965 never signed their gold plaques even though they were present at the July, 1965 Induction Ceremonies.
This is my conclusion based simply on the reality that no valid example has ever surfaced in the hobby to date. We must assume the release of their set followed their deaths. Unlike their black and white predecessors, the gold plaques had a glossy front surface, which often made signing an autograph more of a challenge. Collectors, even today, rub the shiny finish with an eraser in an effort to obtain a non-skipping, non-beading signature. It has always been a personal preference by hobbyists regarding whether to use ballpoint or felt tip marker pens. The plaques appear to have been ordered on an as-needed basis; thus, numerous variations in production occurred.
The Stamp Box Publication Number
Each plaque contains a graphic box where a stamp would be affixed if it were to be posted through the mail. Within that box a plaque number appears, consisting of a sequence of numbers and letters. I was able to determine what a majority of the characters mean (the second letter in the sequence remains a mystery).
Each plaque begins with a number. I believe this first number corresponds with the year the plaque was offered. For instance, James "Pud" Galvin (5DK-1996) was inducted in 1965. His plaque begins with the number '5'. Charles "Casey" Stengel (6DK-1453) was elected in 1966. His plaque begins with a '6'. This pattern follows most of the plaques from 1965 through 1977.
The exceptions include those members elected between 1936 and 1964, Ted Williams (8DK-241), and the class of 1967. The pre-1965 members' plaques all begin with the number 5, indicating the plaques were offered in 1965. Ted Williams was elected in 1966 along with Stengel, but his plaque was not offered until 1968. His plaque's initial number is 8, because it was offered in 1968. The only explanation I have for this aberration is a licensing agreement he had with Sears during the 1960s.
Apparently, the agreement allowed Sears to use Williams' name on anything it desired, including shotgun shells. The agreement may have been exclusive, thereby preventing the Hall from printing the yellow plaque until 1968. William's original plaque showed him with heavy bags under his eyes in a side view bust. Williams balked over the unflattering depiction, so a new plaque and postcards were ordered in a subsequent print run (C36318).
The Hall, for reasons unknown, did not offer new plaques to the public for the class of 1967. Each plaque from that class bears an initial number of '8', again signifying that they were offered in 1968. The Hall resumed yearly printing of the plaques starting in 1968 and continued until 1977.
The Decade Designation
The next character in the sequence is a letter. The letter 'D' corresponds with the 1960's. Each member inducted during the 1960's has a 'D' after the publication number. The 1970's brought about a change in the lettering system. Each member inducted between 1970 and 1977 has an 'E' after the publication number.
The Player Number
Each plaque has a corresponding player number assigned to it. This is the number that appears after the second letter in the sequence. The ninety-eight plaques for the members elected between 1936 and 1964, are consecutively numbered between 677 (Alexander) and 777 (Young). In addition, the plaques are arranged alphabetically.
Based upon the numbering system, and their arrangement alphabetically, indicates they were offered as a set, as well as singles. Additional proof of this fact is the Galvin plaque (5DK-1996). He was the only member inducted in 1965, but his player number does not fall within the above-referenced sequence. Stengel was the only plaque offered in 1966. Additional support for this fact is his player number (6DK-1453), which does not correspond with any other sequence.
In 1968, it appears the Hall offered two mini sets. The first of these sets is the class of 1967 plus Williams. Each of the plaques is sequentially numbered (Lloyd Waner [8DK-238], Charles "Red" Ruffing [8DK-239], and Branch Rickey [8DK-240]). The next mini set is for the 1968 class. Each of its three plaques is consecutively numbered (KiKi Cuyler [8DK-788], Leon "Goose" Goslin [8DK-789], and Joe Medwick [8DK-790]).
From 1969 through 1977, each class appears to have had its own mini set offered on a yearly basis. This pattern of producing only mini sets of the new inductees probably occurred because the former printings yielded sufficient stock.
The Back Color Change
From its inception in 1965 until 1975, the backs of the plaques were printed in green ink. For some unknown reason, the ink color was changed to black in 1976 permanently regardless of which printing company was used. Cal Hubbard (6EK-532) was among the five 1976 inductees that have black ink (I have seen both black and green ink for 1975. I doubt the printer would have changed ink in the middle of a print run.)
The Dramatic Front Color Change By Dexter
Curteichcolor took a two-year hiatus from 1978 to 1979, when the Dexter Press of West Nyack, NY became the exclusive printer of the multi-colored sets. The plaques carried a left-hand corner number designation. (For example, Addie Joss [DT-59580-D] in 1978 for his election the same year - the front design had an orange background.). Lloyd Waner (blue front) has number 67562-D. Their number sequence is still a mystery to me. Respectively, 1978 and 1979 inductees Eddie Mathews and orange front Willie Mays (66511-D), define the two years this issue ran. The only difference between the two years was a copyright that appears on the reverse of the 1979 issue only.
With little area to fit a signature on the front side of the plaque and the interruption of conformity to the standard gold design, these postcards were somewhat unpopular and were replaced in 1980, reverting back to the traditional gold.
Back To The Gold Standard
In 1980, Curteichcolor resumed printing. They still used a plaque numbering system. The publication numbers began with a '3' and the decade letters began with a 'U'. The plaques also had sequential player numbers for the new inductees - Kaline (3US-NY3), Klein (3US-NY4), Snider (3US-NY5), and Yawkey (3US-NY6). In addition, the plaques included a "Printed in Ireland" notation. This remains true for the ones issued for new members, as well as the restocking of the previously issued plaques.
The Roberts Era
The class of 1981 honored three new inductees - Johnny Mize, Rube Foster, and Bob Gibson. Mike Roberts Color Productions of Oakland, CA received the new contract for this election year. A new set of sequential numbers was established - Foster (C34107), B. Gibson (C34108), and Mize (C34109). This number was located in the lower left corner and the stamp box contained a simple "U.S.A.". The Mike Roberts 'R' over the globe trademark was placed at the base of the address division line. Roberts would exclusively make these for the Hall of Fame for seventeen years until and including 1996.
No changes to this design appeared in 1982 through 1986, but subtle changes appeared with the 1986 election of Doerr (37004), McCovey (36998), and Lombardi (C37003). The base of the address division line added its "mirror image R" design to the "R" over the globe and the stamp box displayed a "USA" shield copyright. The only variation to the class of 1987 was the contemporary graphic "MR" replacing the other Mike Roberts logos. (Hunter [C37302], Dandridge [C37304], and B. Williams [C37303].
A curve ball was added for the class of 1989-Bench (C37974), Yastrzemski, Barlick, and Schoendienst (C37976). The left-hand corner retrieved the original "R" over globe trademark and the card number appeared solo in the stamp box The month, year, and sometimes date of printing were added to the 1989 design. Most years needed two print runs between April to October, the baseball season months. The National Baseball Hall of Fame copyright was added to plaques post-1995. During 1991-1996, they finally made it easy.
Enter Scenic Art
Mike Roberts moved operations to San Diego, CA, calling his company, Scenic Art, Inc. in 1996 continuing to use the original "R" over globe logo. The "K" plus the five-digit designation remains to this day. George S. Davis (C38309), Larry Doby (C38310), Lee MacPhail (C38311), Phil Niekro (C38312), and Don Sutton (C38313) are the most recent members of this elite group of athletes honored. In 1999, hopefully, George Brett, Nolan Ryan, Robin Yount, and Orlando Cepeda will be signing their plaque postcards on their induction day, July 25, 1999.
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