PSA/DNA Set Registry
Collecting 1964-Date Baseball Hall of Fame Yellow Plaque Postcards
A Continuous Cooperstown Autograph Quest
by Kevin Glew
In a PSA/DNA Set Registry set that requires collectors to track down autographs of baseball legends dating back to the 1920s, you'd expect the most elusive signatures to be those of the long-deceased players.
And that is the case for the 1964-Date Hall of Fame Yellow Plaque Postcards autographs set, with the exception of one recent superstar.
When Ken Griffey Jr. was inducted in 2016, he didn't participate in any signings leading up to the ceremony or in its immediate aftermath. As a result, a Yellow Plaque Postcard bearing his signature represented a glaring void in the collections of those pursuing this Registry set.
In December 2017, it was announced that Griffey Jr. had inked an exclusive autograph deal with Tristar Productions in Houston, Texas. The Seattle Mariners great then signed a limited number of Plaque Postcards that were sold for $249.95 each starting that same month.
Exactly how many were signed is not known. Jeff Rosenberg, Tristar president and CEO, said in an email that the company doesn't release the quantities of items they have signed.
The Griffey postcards were sold by Tristar and Mill Creek Sports, a well-known sports memorabilia company located near Seattle that has a distribution agreement with Tristar.
Kyle Jorgenson, who owns the No. 2 Current Finest Hall of Fame Yellow Plaque Postcards set on the PSA/DNA Set Registry, received an email on December 19, 2017, indicating that the signed postcards were available.
"I bought mine [from Mill Creek Sports] the next morning," said Jorgenson. "They sold out on the 20th."
Ron Miller, who has assembled the Registry's No. 4 Current Finest Hall of Fame Yellow Plaque Postcards set, also purchased his Griffey postcard from Mill Creek Sports,
"I know that they [Mill Creek Sports] had them posted on their website for a time, but I can tell you that within two days they were gone," said Miller.
Jorgenson, who's also the administrator of a Facebook group devoted to collecting Plaque Postcards, estimates that Griffey only signed around 100 postcards.
Another challenge for these Registry set collectors was obtaining a high-grade Griffey signature. Jorgenson was able to get a PSA/DNA GEM-MT 10 autograph, but he says the G in Griffey's last name ran off the top in the signatures on some of the postcards.
PSA/DNA authenticator Kevin Keating says that, to his knowledge, Griffey is the first recent player "that didn't do an active signing of any kind in the week or so after his induction." Keating has heard that money wasn't the issue. The legendary center fielder simply wasn't interested in signing autographs and preferred to savor his Cooperstown experience with his family.
All of this has made Griffey Jr. the toughest of recent signatures to obtain for the Yellow Hall of Fame Plaque Postcards set. That's not to say, however, that Griffey Jr. won't sign more in the future. Rosenberg acknowledges that the number of postcards Griffey Jr. signed for Tristar "was a quantity much smaller than was able to meet collector demand."
"We have not announced our next signing [with Griffey Jr.] at this time. When we do, we will be happy to let you know and if there will be any more of the HOF postcards available to collectors," wrote Rosenberg, when asked if Griffey Jr. would be signing more postcards.
But tracking down the Griffey Jr. postcard is just one of the challenges to completing this Registry set, which requires hobbyists to amass 176 different signed postcards.
These postcards have become one of the most popular items to have Hall of Famers sign. The Cooperstown-based shrine initially produced sepia colored plaque postcards (1939 to 1944) and then black-and-white postcards (1944 to approximately 1963) before switching to the yellow (some call them gold) plaque postcards which are available today.
There's some debate as to when the Yellow Plaque Postcards were first produced. Though the 1964 inductee class can only be found on the Yellow Plaque Postcards, there's convincing evidence that the Yellow Postcards did not start being printed until 1965.
In recent years, postcards of the new inductees have not been sold until after the inductee receives their official plaque on stage at the ceremony on induction weekend. Craig Muder, the Hall's director of communications, says this is because the Hall does not want anyone to see the plaque image "until the Hall of Famer does when it's unveiled on the stage."
Prior to 1980, however, there were years when the plaque postcards weren't available until well after the ceremony.
These postcards have become a staple of the Hall of Fame gift shop, and at 50 cents each, they're an affordable souvenir. Measuring 3-1/2" by 5-1/2" each, the Yellow Plaque Postcards boast a basic design that includes a photo of the plaque framed by yellow borders with the museum's name and location at the bottom. The ideal spot for the autograph is in the narrow yellow space at the top, above the plaque.
"A lot of these guys are legends that I looked up to as a kid," said Bob Patterson, who owns the No. 5 Current Finest Hall of Fame Yellow Plaque Postcards Registry set. "I like the history that's featured on their fronts. They give a brief history of their career."
Bill White, who has put together the No. 3 Current Finest Registry set, likes their simple and timeless design.
"What appeals to me about these postcards is that I believe they're going to be a consistent collectible," said White. "One hundred years from now, they'll still be making plaque postcards."
And while a signed Griffey Jr. postcard has been challenging to obtain, it's relatively common compared to some of the other autographs that collectors are required to hunt down.
"If you had four corners at the foundation for a house [to build the Hall of Fame Yellow Plaque Postcards set], it would be Jackie Robinson, Jimmie Foxx, Dave Bancroft, and Cal Hubbard for me," said White.
Hubbard, a highly respected umpire, is probably the least talked-about inductee in that foursome. He was elected in 1976 but died on October 17 the following year.
"Cal Hubbard is almost impossible on a plaque in a ballpoint pen. Almost all of the plaques that you see are signed in a flare pen," explained Keating. "Flare is a water-based ink, so I've seen very few Hubbard plaques [postcards] with high-grade signatures on them because that ink is easily rubbed off. It smears and fades over time. It doesn't have staying power on the surface."
Jim Doyle, who owns the top Hall of Fame Yellow Plaque Postcards set on the PSA/DNA Set Registry, says his Hubbard signature is one of his lowest-graded autographs. He had a PSA/DNA NM 7 Hubbard signature for a long time, but he recently upgraded to PSA/DNA NM-MT 8.
White managed to acquire Doyle's PSA/DNA 7 Hubbard signed postcard.
"I was thankful to get it as a [PSA/DNA] 7," said White.
Another difficult autograph to uncover on a Yellow Plaque Postcard is Dave Bancroft. A star National League shortstop from 1915 through the late 1920s, Bancroft was not elected to the Hall of Fame until 1971 and he died October 9 the ensuing year.
Bancroft did not attend his induction, and his obituary in the Leader Telegram (an Eau-Claire, Wisconsin, newspaper) indicates that he died after a long illness. So, a collector would have had to have been quite determined to acquire Bancroft's signature on one of these postcards. That collector would have first had to purchase a postcard at the Hall gift shop or order one by mail and then ship it to Bancroft and hope that he was willing and well enough to sign it. That was a lot to accomplish in the short period that Bancroft lived after his induction.
"It was a process [to obtain some of these autographs], and when you look at it from that perspective, it's totally understandable why some of those guys' autographs [like Bancroft's] are virtually non-existent [on Yellow Plaque Postcards]," said Keating.
The few Bancroft Yellow Plaque Postcards that have surfaced for sale have commanded significant sums.
"You don't see them very often, but the ones that I have seen haven't been good quality [signatures]," said Miller. "They seem to fall in that $2,500 to $3,500 range."
A Jimmie Foxx signed postcard is another key to this set. The Philadelphia A's slugger's autograph is more readily found on the Black-and-White Plaque Postcards because he was elected in 1951 and died in 1967 (within two years of the Yellow Plaque Postcards being introduced). Foxx also tended to sign the back of the postcard.
"To find one signed by Foxx on the front [and, moreover, at the] top is very rare. He almost always signed the back, and if he signed on the front, he tended to do so at the bottom," explained Keating.
White offers a similar assessment.
"He signed the back, and a lot of times, like Ty Cobb, he signed in green ink," noted White.
One Foxx postcard with a faded signature at the top that was authenticated by PSA/DNA commanded $1,714 in a Memory Lane Inc. auction in August 2016.
On top of being the most important historical figure to play the game, Jackie Robinson is another player who often signed the back of these postcards. He was elected to the Hall in 1962 and died in 1972.
"Most of the time when he signed, he signed the back," said Keating. "When he did sign the front, he almost always signed on the bottom, so to find a Robinson plaque signed on the front and on the top in the gold [yellow] margin is very rare."
A Yellow Plaque Postcard signed on the back by Robinson with his signature graded PSA/DNA 8 fetched $1,231 in a Mile High Card Company sale in December 2017.
Joining Griffey Jr. among the toughest modern signatures to uncover on a Yellow Plaque Postcard is Kirby Puckett. The Minnesota Twins legend was inducted in 2001, but he died from a stroke in 2006 when he was just 45.
"You don't see many signed by Puckett out there, and if you do, they're sold in a heartbeat," said Jorgenson.
Miller was fortunate to get his Puckett postcard autographed in 2003 when the Hall of Fame outfielder participated in a signing for the Triple-A Iowa Cubs. He believes the price of Puckett's signed postcards is going to climb.
"I don't think it's quite at $1,000 yet," said Miller, "but he'll be the first modern day plaque that will hit $1,000. Right now, they're selling between $500 and $800, and you're paying $800 to get the best one."
There are also three "Optional" signed postcards that are listed in this Registry set: Roy Campanella (post-accident), Goose Goslin, and George Weiss. Like Foxx and Robinson, Goslin, who was elected in 1968 and died in 1971, tended to sign the back of his cards. Keating has never seen one signed on the front.
Keating has heard a story from a long-time hobbyist in which the collector approached Goslin at a dinner in Detroit shortly after his Hall of Fame induction and asked him to sign two Yellow Plaque Postcards on the front. Goslin promptly turned the postcards over and signed the backs, telling the collector that he hated the image the Hall had used of him on the front.
But Keating adds that authentic signatures on the backs of the Goslin postcards are also extremely rare.
"Most of the ones that are signed on the back are signed by his wife," said Keating. "But there are a few - probably five or less - that are signed on the back by him."
But it's the signature of former New York Yankees general manager George Weiss that has sparked the most speculation in the hobby. Weiss was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1971 and died on August 13, 1972. He was too ill to attend his induction ceremony and was reportedly very frail between the date of his induction and the day he died. Stories have circulated in the hobby for years that anywhere from one to a few signed examples might exist.
"I've never seen one that I thought was authentic," said Keating. "I've seen some that have been passed off as authentic. ... Everything that I've ever seen plaque-wise, and I've only seen a few, were signed by somebody else as far as I'm concerned."
Keating, himself, was a kid collecting autographs when it was announced that Weiss was being inducted.
"I can tell you firsthand that I wrote a letter to him and got his autograph [not on a plaque postcard] through the mail, and then I wrote him again later in that year and received another autograph but this second one was a different signature," recalled Keating.
The second autograph that Keating received was likely signed by Weiss's wife or caregiver.
If an authentic signed Weiss postcard were to surface, it would command large sums.
"I can't imagine what kind of price tag that would entail," said Miller. "My suspicion is that multi-five figures is what that would go for."
And not only is it almost impossible for collectors to find autographs on a Plaque Postcard of certain Cooperstowners, it's even more difficult to find them in the high grade that these PSA/DNA Set Registry enthusiasts covet them in. Unfortunately, the glossy finish on the Yellow Plaque Postcards makes the signatures susceptible to smudging and skipping, and the yellow space at the top where collectors prefer the autograph is a very small area.
"The whole signature should be on the yellow," said Doyle. "If they loop [the autograph] at the top and 1/16th of their loop at the top is off the card, then your grade goes down."
Another challenge is the fact that many of the Hall of Famers that died in the late 1960s and early 1970s didn't use high-quality pens.
"You're not going to find any of the older guys with Sharpie signatures," noted Doyle.
And, of course, when you get into rare and valuable signatures, you also have to be wary of counterfeits. Patterson says this is why it's important to have the autographs authenticated by PSA/DNA.
"It's just for your own protection and peace of mind," he said. "It's always [a case of] buyer beware; if you're going to spend the money, you should have the item authenticated."
Collectors say one of the most appealing aspects of the Hall of Fame Yellow Plaque Postcards set is that they get to chase more signed postcards each year.
"With the Yellow Plaques, every year you get to go on the hunt again to try and get the new inductees and get them in a high grade, so that's one of the intriguing parts about collecting them," said Doyle. "You can't rest on your laurels or retire your set because it's going to be obsolete next year in terms of percentage of completion."
And these Set Registry enthusiasts say they are encountering more collectors pursuing signed Plaque Postcards in recent years.
"I do see more people collecting these [postcards]," said Jorgenson. "They're affordable for the most part. You can get 90% of them at a reasonable price and there are [only] a handful of them that are a lot of money. In my Facebook group, I get all kinds of requests from people asking to join the group. ... I get requests from people every day to join."
Miller has also noticed this increase in interest.
"As fun as it is for us [Set Registry collectors], there are a lot more collectors [out there]," said Miller. "There are a number of individuals that collect these, and even within that scope, it's intense. The competition for these can be very, very intense."
For more information on baseball player autographs, please visit https://www.psacard.com/AutographFacts#4baseball.
Please feel free to contact Kevin Glew at [email protected] if you have any additional information or comments. Thank you to Jim Doyle for providing the postcards featured in this article. Please note that the Population Report figures quoted and Set Registry rankings reported are those as of September 2018.
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