Vintage baseball card authenticity tips and notes

(from the guide Judging the Authenticity of Early Baseball Cards)

by David Rudd Cycleback

(c) cycleback 2003, 2005 all rights reserved





















































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































Beware of eBay sellers who use only funky photos of expensive cards. This includes photos out of focus, several photos none which show the entire card, bizarre angles and overly distracting backgrounds. There often is a reason the seller doesn't want you to have a good look at the card.


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Paper stock Cutouts
A few unscrupulous sellers on eBay sell cut out pictures from old publications and offer them as baseball cards. These cutouts have little to no long term value.

It's not hard for even the beginner to avoid these non-cards. These sellers often use private eBay auctions, and the cards are in the holders by dubious graders. A beginner who sticks to cards listed in the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards or Beckett Almanac will automatically skip these cutouts as they are not listed as cards in these books.

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Scammers sometimes offer scans of real cards that they don't own. This is often of high end high graded cards, the images stolen from a MastroNet auction or similar. When making a thousands dollar purchase, you want to be confident of the seller's reliability, not just that the card in the picture look okay.

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If a deal looks too good to be true, it usually is. You can't get a PSA9 1952 Mickey Mantle for 1/5th the normal price or a T206 Honus Wagner for $2,000.


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If a seller is offering a rare baseball card with obviously scissors clipped corners that he describes as "natural corner wear," there's a more than probable chance you're looking at a fake.

With homemade fakes, one of the harder things to do is to mimic natural corner rounding, The forger often clips the corners at a straight angle then roughs them up a bit. In many cases, the corners remain obviously hand cut.

Of course genuine cards can have clipped corners, but anyone experienced with cards can tell the difference between clipping and natural wear. Even if the there is the odd chance the card for sale is real, why would you choose to make expensive purchases from a seller who can't identify obvious trimming? Shouldn't you be buying from the seller who can tell the difference?


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1913 National Game and other cards have rounded corners that were professionally cut. Many cheap counterfeits are easy to identify in an online auction, as the corners are not cut evenly.


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1890s N300 Mayo baseball cards have black backs (the boxing versions can have legitimately have white backs). Many reprints have light colored backs. Though it is possible for a genuine Mayo baseball card to lose some of the black on back if it was removed from an album.

As the black on front and back can be damaged, the N300 Mayos are sometimes touched up in black ink. Buyers should be careful of this, as graders and potential buyers will consider the card altered and worth less.

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Unless they really know what they are doing, collectors should only purchase T206 Honus Wagner, T206 Ed Plank, and similar big time cards from top sellers and/or with the help of a trusted card expert.

Buy a T206 Wagner from a stranger at your own risk.


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Many home computer counterfeits will reproduce the dirt on the original card. Even the 'dirt' on the fake's white border will be made up of the multi-color dot pattern.


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The T5 Pinkerton cabinets have real photographs (gelatin silver prints) pasted to the cardboard backing. The related Pinkerton Postcards are photoengravings, that can have blank backs or generic scorecards printed on back. You will occasionally find one of the blank backs that has been used as a postcard, with handwritten address and note, stamp and 1910s postmark. Sometimes the T5 photographic prints can be found without the cardboard mount.

On genuine T5s, the paper photos were sometimes affixed loosely and crookedly.


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Most sport and non-sport 1800s trade cards were on a thin stock, close to paper.

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Some T206 reprints have obviously oversized borders and different font on front.


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W517s with "W517" printed on the bottom border are fakes. Some people trim the bottom to remove this text.


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Observe what genuine toning and wear looks like.

Genuine toning is even and throughout the card. It doesn't look like someone painted it on or the card was dipped in a cup of strong tea.

Many fakes were apparently cooked in the oven to make the card look toned and old. These baked cards often have an unreal darkness around the edge that does not resemble genuine toning.


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Some cards with white borders have their borders cleaned with a erasure. These cleaner borders will often have a duller gloss than unaltered borders on the same issue. This erasing is often done to the 1958 Topps cards.


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The 1914-15 Cracker Jacks cards have no white ink. The white on the cards is created by the absence of ink on the light colored cardstock. In other words, the white borders is the color of cardstock surface. If the Cracker Jack player picture has a large white section of his uniform that directly touches the boarder, there should little or no difference in tone between the border white and the white of the uniform. On many fakes, the border is distinctly different than the white in the player image.

In a similar vein, most baseball cards used no white ink. So the comparison of the whiteness of the white border to the whiteness in the image is not insignificant.

Original Cracker Jack HonusWagner. See how the white of his uniform naturally blends into the white of the border. In areas, it's impossible to pinpoint where the uniform ends and the border begins.


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There are cases where genuine T206 cards have had rare backs artificially pasted to the back.


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Most early proofs aren't proofs
The baseball hobby puts a premium in price on card proofs. Proofs were pre-production test cards used to check graphics and text before the final printing. Early proofs are often blank backed, sometimes on different stock, with hand cut borders and little crosses on the borders. The crosses where used to line up the colors during the printing.

There are vintage items on the market that resemble proofs but are not. Many blank back 'cards' were cut from vintage notebooks, posters and signs. As they are hand cut and have blank backs, they are often marketed as proofs. These cutouts are less valuable than proofs.

One occasionally finds 'printer's scraps' that are sometimes misidentified as proofs. These scraps were from a printer's rejected sheet, often with poorly printed images, bad color registration and other graphics problems (which is why it was rejected by the printer). These rejects sheets were rescued from the trash bin, and the single cards were hand cut from the sheets. The cuts are usually funky, sometimes oversized. Many of those freakish prints (ghosts prints, psychedelic color and registration problems) were printer's scraps.

If you aren't sure if that blank back card in auction is a proof, it's safest to assume it isn't. The majority of blank back cards are not.


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Since the dawn of scamming, it is a common scammer's technique to appear ignorant about what he is selling (often a fake he made himself!), and have the buyer believe he is getting a steal from this dim bulb of a seller. The scammer will say something on the order of:

"This card looks real to me. But as I'm not an expert, I am calling it a reprint to be safe and offer it at a deep discount."

"I found this Sweet Caporal Honus Wagner card. A local card shop says it looks like the real deal and is worth lots of money. But I don't know for sure so I'm offering it for $5,000."

The purchaser in these sales correctly believes there's a rube involved in the sale, but incorrectly believes it's the seller.


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Old Judge Proofs

There are both genuine and fake Old Judge Proofs on the market. The genuine proofs look just like the N173 Old Judge Cabinets (same size, shape, style mount, often with gilded edges), except the bottom panel has the name of a local studio instead of Old Judge Cigarettes. The albumen prints often have a Goodwin & Co. embossed stamp. The images for the Old Judges were shot by private studios in various cities. This explaining why the proofs have a local studio name on the bottom panel.

A series of fakes that appear from time to time in auction do not have the same shape and style as the N173 Cabinets. Some are framed behind glass, with three photographic prints on one dark mount. Others come on unusually shaped cardboard mounts. Most of the fake mounts are dark. The photographic prints have a varnish-like covering which gives them an antique and cracked appearance. These fakes are real photo and have clear images. There's a good chance that they were made from the original Old Judge negatives which are known to exist.


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Albumen prints can have some fluorescence under black light. So don't fret if your Old Judge or Newboy Cabinet has a bit of a glow.


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Fake "Freeman Hans Wagner" Card

From time to time, one sees offered for sale this Freeman Cigar Co. Card depicting Honus (Hans) Wagner. Though often sold as vintage, the card was made recently.

There are authentic early 1900s Hans Wagner tobacco labels (printed on white paper and to be stuck onto tobacco boxes). The labels are rare, and come in various designs. The most expensive examples will most likely be offered by major auction houses or top dealers. One of the labels has a close design to this card .... As a side note, in similar fashion to the T206 Wagner, this brand of tobacco was apparently never issued to the public. All the labels known to exist were not used.

About 1993, a manufacture of collectable tin signs (you those Ted Williams Moxie and Joe Jackson H & B reprints) made a sign based on the design of just mentioned tobacco label. This man was selling them as modern collectables, not representing themselves as vintage. The sign was not an exact copy of the label. He added the 5 cents sign at the bottom for artistic balance. He also he used a different text font in parts as he could not find a modern duplicate of the original.

A couple of years ago a man in Ohio used a computer printer to reprint the tin signs as the tobacco trade cards-- naturally roughing and scuffing the cards to make them appear old. He sold them at flea markets to unsuspecting non-collectors who knew the legend of Honus Wagner and thought they had struck gold.
When shown a picture of one of the trade cards, the tin sign maker himself said it could not be genuine as it had his 1993 design. secrets



(c) david rudd cycleback, all rights reserved