It’s probably no secret that I am intrigued by the inclusion of original artwork from the 1953 Topps set in the May 1 Robert Edward Auction. I have been ever since a couple of years ago when I talked with Sy Berger, who consigned the artwork, and he explained about how he had rescued the paintings from a less-than-glorious fate more than 50 years ago.
“The Sy Berger Collection” by its uniqueness and historical significance ends up on the cover of the REA catalog, which weighs in at more than 700 pages and has supplanted my once periodic trips to the health center as a means of getting some actual exercise.
At nearly 1,700 lots, the auction is startling in all the monster stuff offered, and it hardly eases the pain all that much to know that virtually all of it is out of my league. But I had held out some hope – probably naive – that I might be able to take a flyer on one of the 1953 originals, but even that’s starting to seem like a long shot.
Except for most of the Hall of Famers, which opened at $1,000 each, most everybody else had openers at $500, and past tense is the correct usage here, since virtually all of them have opened – with more than two weeks left in the auction.
And my colleague, Bob Lemke, found his way into Rob Lifson’s catalog as part of this unique collection. One of the lots is the original art for a Richie Ashburn 1953 Topps that was never issued (shown here). So the uber-creative Lemke produced one of his famous “Cards That Never Were” of a 1953 Topps Ashburn card and promptly sent it to Lifson as a gift.
Though it isn’t clear if this maneuver precisely fits within the re-gifting guidelines, Lifson will include Lemke’s card as part of the lot for the winning bidder.
It will be fun to see what the Satchel Paige art ends up at (currently past $11,000 as I write this). It’s one of the most important cards in the hobby: the sole mainstream career-contemporary Topps card of a player whose HOF bona fides came from his play in the Negro leagues. It’s also a neat card because it was the leading cause of the misspelling of “Satchel” in connection with Paige for many decades.
In a tepid defense of the Topps proof readers, they were probably going by the 1949 Bowman card which presumably started the “Satchell” mistake. But in terms of card popularity and widespread dissemination, there’s no contest between the two issues.
And speaking of Negro leaguers, one of the original paintings I’m going to keep my eye on is Billy Bruton, the Braves and Tigers center fielder whose father-in-law was Hall of Famer Judy Johnson. I interviewed Bruton at his home in Wilmington, Del., nearly 20 years ago, and I’d just love to have that artwork to mat and frame with a real 1953 Topps card.
See, for a died-in-the-wool cynic, I am still capable of a rich fantasy life. I also wanted the Junior Gilliam, but I’d really be surprised if that one ended up even close to my piddling budget.