While Latin and Negro League cards have their following, it’s unusual that a big lot pops up anywhere and commands the eBay stage for its 15 minutes of fame.
But that’s just what happened recently when some well-graded 1949-50 and 1950-51 Toleteros Puerto Rica Winter League cards popped up on the site, with and auction closings rivaling those from vintage Topps, Leaf, and Bowman sets from the era:
l 1950-51 Josh Gibson, SGC 50, $21,200 (reserve not met) l 1949-50 Hilton Smith, SGC 50, $6,388 l 1949-50 Leon Day, SGC 50, $4,272 l 1949-50 Willard Brown, SGC 80, $920 l 1950-51 Willard Brown, SGC 84, $867 l 1949-50 Chester Brewer, SGC 60, $481 l 1950-51 Rogers Hornsby, SGC 60, $405 l 1949-50 Quincy Trouppe, SGC 60, $355 l 1949-50 Francisco Coimbre, SGC 84, $292 l 1950-51 George Scales, SGC 40, $189
A group of 1949-51 Toleteros blowing 1951 Bowman and 1952 Topps off the eBay map?
Where did these come from? The answer is the Leland’s.com connection.
The story behind the cards actually began earlier this year when Leland’s.com rocked the live auction world in June with the sale of the 1950-51 Toleteros Josh Gibson card (SGC 88/NM-MT) when the specimen referred to as “the Black Honus Wagner” sold for almost $70,000, factoring in the buyer’s premium.
Turns out that wasn’t the only Toleteros Leland’s.com had. They gave more of them to employee Jonathan Perry, a dealer in his own right, who graded them through SGC and put them up on eBay under his own user ID.
Perry figured his Toleteros would do well on the auction site. While he knows Leland’s.com reaches a good base of traditional collectors, he had a hunch that eBay auction listings might reach them and a lot more collectors interested in Latin baseball cards that aren’t on Leland’s.com mailing list, be they in the United States, Caribbean, or other locales where interest in those leagues is high.
“I think because the cards have an international flavor, I think there were people bidding on the Toleteros from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, some of the other Caribbean countries,” he said. “There are a lot of people in the Miami area, south Florida, southern parts of California who do collect these types of things who might not be familiar with a Leland’s.com, eBay is another way of advertising and getting out to some new people.”
In addition, eBay does something Leland’s.com can’t: It stays open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, fresh and ready to go for customers in all time zones, whatever their work schedule may be.
Perry says the prices he realized on the eBay auctions reflect those a dealer would expect when referencing guides such as the SCD’s Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards for the condition they had been graded. He’s one of the few experts interviewed for this column who doesn’t think the set-registry phenomenon drove the closing bids higher.
He believes it’s because collector appreciation of Latin and Negro League players is on the rise.
The one disappointment was the Josh Gibson card not hitting the $25,000 reserve Perry had assigned it. He says he’ll likely put it back up on eBay in the future with no reserve, satisfied that it will come close enough the second time around. After all, fewer than a dozen Gibson cards are know to exist, and it was the only card ever issued featuring the slugger.
While these cards might not have the large following their major league counterparts from the era do, their scarcity makes up for it, hence the similar bids. The cards are rare in general because not many were printed in the first place and beyond that, they’re very difficult to find in good condition because they were designed to be mounted in albums.
“Either the albums got destroyed, or with the humid Puerto Rican climate with the rainy season and things like that, I’m thinking it’s not very good for preserving very thin cardboard,” Perry said. “So after 20-30-40 years, I’m sure a lot of them began to show age and people just tossed them.”
Gibson, like a handful of other stars who are famous in the United States, played winter ball in Puerto Rico. Assuming, as Leland’s.com does in its auction description, Toleteros didn’t maintain a large product-development team for its cards like Topps does today, it’s plausible that a tribute to a player such as Gibson who had retired 10 years earlier could pop up in the 1950-51 set.
Some in the hobby speculate the card actually featured his less famous son, who is also named Josh, but historians think the player’s build in the Toleteros card clearly is that of the elder Gibson, who died in 1947. It’s the only baseball card to feature the Negro Leagues legend.
Rogers Hornsby managed a Puerto Rico-based team in the early 1950s before he took the St. Louis Browns job for part of the 1952 season and finished up with the Reds, who he also managed in 1953. He’s got a card in the 1950-51 Toleteros set, too. A young Moose Skowron played for Hornsby on the island, before going on to become a star with the Yankees. The 1949-50 set features duotone pictures almost of a sepia tone hue, and the 1950-51 set’s in color. Smith, Day, Gibson, and Hornsby are all enshrined in Cooperstown.
“Those are the Hall of Famers in the set,” Perry says. “Those cards kind of have a cult following with Negro League and Puerto Rican League collectors. Other collectors collect one of every Hall of Famer’s cards. If you’re the type of collector who does that, those are the only cards you can get of Smith, Day, and Gibson.”
A few other popular players among Negro League collectors such as Willard Brown, George Scales and Chester Brewer also drew interest. Perry emphasized that Leland’s.com is actively looking to acquire Puerto Rican League and Negro League items and encourages people who have cards and memorabilia to get in touch with the auction house.