Topps Vault yields another gem

One of the best (at least for us old-guy card collectors) player photos to come out of the Topps Vault series of Internet auctions caught my eye and provided the inspiration for not one, but a pair of Sandy Koufax custom card creations. (The photo also caught the eye of some serious Koufax collector specialists and Brooklyn Dodgers team collectors, and it was bid up to $1,275.)

   The image was an original Topps color transparency described as dating from 1957. Indeed, the then-21-year-old Koufax is pictured at the top of his wind-up with some of Ebbets Field’s outfield signs in the background.

   I’m not going to second-guess the designers at Topps in 1957, who chose to go with a great close-up portrait for the Koufax card in their short-printed Fourth Series. But to me, the photo from the Topps vault just seemed like it would have also made a very nice card … so I made one.

   I haven’t often, in my several years of custom card making, tried to improve on an actual card from Topps, Bowman, etc. It’s my belief that the graphic artists who created those originals so many decades ago, working with what today is viewed as ancient technology – a roll of rubylith and an X-acto knife – do not deserve to have their legacy usurped by me and my computer graphics tools.

   But the image of the 1957-style card that could be created from this newly re-discovered Koufax photo was just too vivid in my mind’s eye, so I made it a reality.

   As my custom card projects go, this alternative 1957 Koufax was pretty easy. I just had to match the name/position/team typography from 1957 and lay it over the photo. On back, I just made a couple of subtle changes so that the card can’t be confused with a genuine 1957 Topps issue.

   This Koufax alternate card represents my first work in the 1957 Topps set, which is surprising since that issue remains one of my all-time favorite baseball card sets. I have several other 1957’s on my to-do list, including a Stan Musial, who didn’t appear on a Topps card until 1958.

   As I mentioned in my last posting, I found the circa 1957 photo of Sandy Koufax in action on the Ebbets Field mount so compelling that I couldn’t stop with making just one custom card from it.

   A hometown Brooklyn boy, Koufax had his “real” rookie card with the Brooklyn-based Topps Co. in 1955. He did not appear in that year’s Bowman baseball set.

   I’ve remedied that by creating a hybrid of a Topps photo and a Bowman format. Actually, I did it twice. The 1955 Bowman “Color TV” set has been one of my favorite baseball card issues of all time since the day my brother came home from the neighborhood grocery store with 50 cents worth of nickel packs and began sorting them on the living room rug, proudly announcing that he had “more than half a hundred” of the newly released cards. For some reason “half a hundred” seemd to me at the time like so much greater a quantity than “50.”

   My first 1955 Bowman-style custom card was a George Crowe piece I featured in this space some months back. That card uses the mahogany TV cabinet. When the thought of doing a 1955 Bowman Koufax popped into my head, I knew immediately I wanted to use the white oak cabinet that appeared on many of the early series in 1955 Bowman.

   Unfortunately, my meager holdings of 1955 Bowmans do not contain any of the lighter wood framed cards, so I had to go on the Internet and buy one. Before doing so, I paged through a library of images of 1955 Bowman to find an oak cabinet card that had the right photo background on which to place the Koufax photo.

   I knew I wanted to find a card that showed a lot of the Shibe Park background in which the vast majority of the players had been photographed for that set. I found the perfect “host” card in No. 15, Boston Red Sox pitcher Frank Sullivan. Not only does the Sullivan card have the oak cabinet and a lot of stadium background, but the player’s picture at center takes up very little space and could be easily airbrushed away.

   I found myself in a quandry, however, as I studied the card of Cardinals’ pitcher Brooks Lawrence. I’ve always liked the Lawrence card because the photo was taken on a nice, sunny day, and the bright blue sky is nearly unmatched through the rest of the set. While the Lawrence card has the darker wood TV cabinet, it was no great chore to remove the photo portion of the card and put it into the oak furniture of the Sullivan card.

   You’ll notice I used a more close-up version of the Koufax photo on the Lawrence-derived card, which I think helps provide some distinction between my two “new” Koufax rookies. Both cards share the same back.

   As with all of my custom cards that first saw the light of day on my blog (, readers are welcome to pick off the images (I usually present them in fairly high resolution) and paste together your own card. Or, if you prefer a card already made, I usually have a few extras available at a reasonable cost to help defray my expenses. You can e-mail me at for details.  

   Bob Lemke is the editor of The Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards. Reach him by e-mail at:;
regular mail at: P.O. Box 8, Iola, WI 54945.


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