The SCD crew couldn’t detect his procedures on cards they sent him. He claims the grading companies can’t detect the procedures, either.
Yet Gone With the Stain owner Dick Towle still catches flack from collectors. Whether he’s taking off an ugly water stain, fountain pen ink or glue residue from a card, there are people out there who don’t believe his stain removal process is ethical. Some think it’s good for the hobby, while others consider it borderline taboo.
I recently did an interview with Towle about his controversial procedure for my Gavel Chat blog (gavelchat.sportscollectorsdigest.com), and thought readers of the publication would be as intrigued with this topic as our online readers were.
Sports Collectors Digest: Tell us about your company and how you got started.
Dick Towle: About 15 years ago, I had developed a process and took about two years of research and showed it to some prominent dealers who saw one of my processes for removing Scotch tape from a card that he (originally) said couldn’t be done. That bothered me, so I went back, knocked on his hotel room door, showed it to him and his partner and he said, “I can’t believe it.”
We developed the processes for removing Scotch tape and over the years we’ve increased that with cards that are glued into albums to remove the glue. We also do cards that have indents that shouldn’t be on there, or cards that have staining on the back of them. We’ve been doing it for 15 years, and work with many prominent dealers around the country, including some of the great people on the Network 54 Vintage Baseball Card Forum, who I have as customers.
It’s quite a process. It’s evolved. My wife now has taken over a lot of my work, and my son. It’s a family business. I guess the bottom line is taking a card without adding anything to it, which to me is very, very illegal. But removing something that should not be on a card, and increasing the value. We’re non-sports and sports cards, and we’ve done quite a few different things for customers.
SCD: Do you use a chemical process?
Towle: I’ve got various chemicals. I’ve got about 13 that I’ve developed. We’ve just finished an ink process for a very prominent dealer down in Florida where we’ve developed the process to take fountain pen ink off of cards. They were actually graded by two very reputable grading companies. They both passed grading. We were actually able to extract the ink. We’re working on ballpoint pen right now. But the fountain pen ink came out and the cards were graded, which obviously adds huge dollars to a card.
SCD: Can you smell the chemicals on the card?
Towle: No. In fact, when I first started out, one of the prominent grading companies gave me cards as a test. And I did it for them, and they looked at the card and smelled the card and they said “There’s nothing here.” And I said, “Case closed.” That was really the launch pad right there.
SCD: What will happen to the cards that you’ve treated years from now? Are there been any long-term effects?
Towle: No, because again, I’m removing something that shouldn’t be on there. Now, there are people that will use lighter fluid to remove stains from cards. Well, it will work, but only on a short term because paper has moisture in it. The lighter fluid actually takes it out. That card becomes brittle like a credit card and can snap. That’s actually happened before. We did a Roberto Clemente card just to prove the case. It snapped. After about five days the card snapped in half, very brittle.
If you send me a card with a rounded corner, with an indent, you’re going to get the card back with the rounded corner, but the indent will be gone. Cards with stains, you’re going to get the stains removed.
People have asked me, “Do you tell the customer that the stain has been removed?” Well, 99 percent of my work is done for dealers and individual customers around the country. What they do with the card after that, I have no idea. But then again, if a card is already graded from a “4” to a “7,” that really tells the story.
I just completed a Mickey Mantle rookie for another prominent dealer down in Florida. It had terrible stains on the back and we got the stains off. He said the card would probably get a “lock 8.” But it wouldn’t get it with the stains on it. He’s as happy as a bullfrog.
SCD: Do you have any stories about very valuable cards that you’ve seen in graded-card holders that would have been really low graded if you wouldn’t have done your process on them?
Towle: Oh, yes. There was a complete Cracker Jack set. These cards were all glued in a book. They commissioned my company to remove the cards, remove the cards without damaging and remove the glue. We did them all. We got it all out. They sold for well in excess of $50,000. They actually ended up selling, all of those cards in PSA sleeves, for around $180,000.
That’s because there was nothing on the cards. The cards were fine.
I once got a Clemente rookie, and the customer wanted the stain out. I put it in the solvent, and noticed the card was very hard. That bothered me. I got it out of the solvent and had two pieces of the card in my hand. What it was, someone did a very masterful job. The card was perfectly torn in half, they glued it and then they put the non-florescent paint on the card. And they brought it together. We proved that somebody had tried to defraud this customer.
When I do a lot of cards, I’ll see sometimes that a card has been painted because the solvent will actually take the paint off the cards. So somebody buys a beautiful card and asks me to take out an indent. I’ll put it in the solvent and I’ll look and see the tip of the card. And all of a sudden I’ll see the color come off. I say ‘Well I got good news and bad news. I got your stain out, but now you’re going to get a true grade on this card because now you can actually see the white from where somebody painted it.’
SCD: Knowing what you know from your experiences in the hobby over the years, and knowing what you have been told by people about your process, what do you think the grading companies will think about this interview?
Towle: It is what it is. I’m not putting anything into a card, and they can’t see anything. There are other people out there who do bits and pieces of what I do. Overall, I probably have the market as far as overall. But there are people that are as good as I am in sections of the card repairing field. But the grading companies know it’s out there and they know me. I can’t fear what somebody else may think or do. All I know is, for 15 years I’ve been satisfying hundreds of people around the country.
SCD: How much does it cost?
Towle: Generally, $25 or $30 on a card. Now there’s going to be rare exception where it will be higher. For instance, ink takes up to three or four day to remove. It’s a very slow, methodical process. But you can figure an average of maybe $25 or $30 is about the worst one would have to pay. That’s not a lot of money to have a card maybe go up a grade or grade and a half. If somebody sends me bulk, I will give them a deal.
SCD: What’s the average turnaround time?
Towle: Less than two weeks.
SCD: Have you ever had anybody who was able to detect that you did a removal on a card?
Towle: No, not a one.
SCD: How many cards have you treated in your life?
Towle: Without exaggerating, probably 15,000-18,000 cards.
SCD: And not one person could detect anything being done to one of them?
Towle: No, because there’s nothing there. There’s nothing that they can see.
SCD: What are some of the more valuable cards that you’ve worked on?
Towle: Lots of tobacco cards. I had a Babe Ruth rookie I worked on, a lot of Old Judges. I’ve probably done about 500 Old Judges that we got those looking really nice and they all graded. I’ve done so many Mickey Mantle rookies it’s ridiculous.
SCD: What’s the hardest substance to remove from a card?
Towle: Possibly the ballpoint ink, but that’s getting closer. The ink, you’ve got to be careful, because you don’t want it to bleed.
Probably the hardest are the cards that are glued into something. About nine months ago, a woman sent me an actual chest, like a pirates chest. She sent me the top. I got this monster thing from UPS. And there were 28 tobacco cards glued into the top of the chest, and eight of them were Ty Cobbs. We actually had to get a jigsaw and cut out the cards. And then I had to work from a piece of wood in my solvent. And we got them all out. Now true, there was some staining on the back. I couldn’t help it. It was wood. But the cards were absolutely gorgeous. I sent them back, and she was ecstatic. Whatever happened to them (after that), I have no clue.
SCD: Do you have any clients that are auction houses.
SCD: If somebody wants to contact you about submitting cards to your company, how should they go about it?
Towle: My e-mail address is: email@example.com or they can call my home: (315) 375-8542.
Check out Chris Nerat’s blog, Gavel Chat at: gavelchat.sportscollectorsdigest.com. Readers may reach him at Chris.Nerat@fwpubs.com or call him at (800) 726-9966, ext. 13452.