By Bob Lemke
The Prize Frankies Cleveland Indians card set was first listed in the Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards in the mid-1980s.
Attributed to 1956, the checklist for the issue remained at one player – Vic Wertz – for nearly 30 years.
My recollection is that the set was included in the “big book” at the time that I traveled to Maryland to photograph the collection of rarities owned by Al Strumpf. The front and back photos of the Vic Wertz card that has been used in the catalog since that time has the hallmarks of a roll of film that I took that accidentally was partially exposed.
Here’s the introduction to the set that was originally presented in the Standard Catalog:
“Though the backs of the cards say 24 Indians cards were issued, only one player has been seen – and precious few of him. The 2-1/4” x 3-3/8” cards have a black-and-white photo on front with the player’s name and number in black in the white border at bottom. Backs have an Indians logo and instructions to redeem complete sets of the cards for a pair of box seats. It is unlikely this alone accounts for the scarcity of the cards. More likely this card was made as a prototype for a promotion that never materialized.”
That last sentence was supposition on my part, and was at least partially disproved at last year’s National Sports Collectors Convention in Cleveland when three more Prize Frankies players’ cards were exhibited: Al Smith, Bob Lemon and Jim Hegan.
Now, any notion that the Prize cards were not actually issued should be considered completely debunked as the result of three more players’ cards having surfaced.
Collector Jason Lange made what I consider one of the deals of the year when he purchased three Prize cards on eBay on April 26 for $77. The report of his purchase adds the following to the checklist: Bobby Avila, Mike Garcia and Don Mossi.
Given the great interest shown by Cleveland Indians collectors in recent years, I find it surprising that the trio sold for such a low price. The Standard Catalog has priced single cards at $180 in Very Good and $300 in Excellent for many years.
Jason said of his discovery, “I purchased the three cards from a seller who claimed they were part of an estate find. Looking at the seller’s other items being sold at the same time, there were numerous housewares and silverware, etc., but the only other sports-related items were a few Cleveland Browns items (including a vintage bobble head, pinback, armband and mini football) and a Cleveland Indians vintage bobble head. The seller had no other sports-related items, and especially no other cards in this ‘estate find.’ I conclude that the seller is not in the habit of selling baseball cards per se, unless they are part of a larger sale of items from an estate that he/she may have purchased together for resale.”
Lange notes that the Don Mossi Prize card shares an image from a team-issued set of player portrait postcards issued in 1955. The Avila and Garcia photos are different, he said, and he could not comment on whether the Hegan, Smith and Lemon photos were shared with the postcard set.
“I don’t know about you, but I’m excited!” Lange added. “My guess is that the full checklist of 24 will one day be known.”
That was always one of my goals as a card cataloger.
Looking back on this issue, I can’t recall why the set was cataloged as a 1956 issue. There’s no redemption date on the card back, and Wertz played for Cleveland from 1954-58. The style of cap he wears on his card was current from 1954-57. All of the currently known players in the set were teammates from 1954-57.
Perhaps if the Prize Frankies checklist continues to move toward completion, a more definitive issue-date can be pinpointed.