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Fleer Does Reprints of Initial 1959 Set

by Paul Angilly
July 27, 2004

Paying homage to its first-ever baseball card set, Fleer has reprinted all 80 cards from its 1959 Ted Williams set as inserts in its new 2004 America’s National Pastime set.

With Topps entrenched as the sole producer of full-scale Major League Baseball card sets in the late ’50s and early ’60s, Fleer attempted to carve out a niche for itself by signing Ted Williams to an exclusive contract and devoting an entire set to his career highlights. In 1960 and 1961, Fleer went on to issue sets of "Baseball Greats," featuring mostly retired players but also including cards of Williams (who retired after the 1960 season and did not appear in any Topps sets as an active player after 1958).

The reprint inserts are limited to 406 copies each (Williams hit .406 in 1941, the last time any player meeting batting title qualification has hit over .400 in a season). Despite the limited quantities, the cards have seen limited demand so far on eBay. Many recent auctions for individual cards from the set failed to draw $1 minimum bids.

Larger lots of the cards have drawn more interest as some people try to complete sets. In selected recent auctions, a lot of 20 sold for $68.50, a lot of 28 sold for $78, a lot of 15 sold for $53.09, a lot of 14 sold for $53, a lot of 17 sold for $34.33 and -- at the low end -- a lot of four sold for $2.02.

Considering their unique nature, a pair of "Masterpiece" parallels, limited to just one copy made, sold for a surprisingly low $51 each.

Half of the 80 Ted Williams reprint cards also have game-used bat parallels limited to just nine copies made. Again, despite the extremely limited nature of the cards and the piece of an authentic game-used Williams bat on each one, the game-used parallels have been selling at affordable prices. Some winning bids from recent eBay auctions: $109.09, $63.25, $81.80, $76, $73, $66.65, $63.25, $60.09, $58.99, $56 and $49.

Original versions of the Ted Williams cards continue to generate much more interest, especially top-graded copies.

An original card #14 ("Outstanding Rookie of 1939") graded PSA 10 sold recently for $1,427.02; a PSA 8 graded copy of the short-printed card #68 ("Ted Signs for 1959") sold for $845; an ungraded copy of card #68 sold for $360.99; A PSA 8 graded copy of card #1 ("The Early Years") sold for $380; and an original 1959 Fleer Ted Williams wrapper sold for $65.77.

The Ted Williams set was hardly a hobby first, however. Card sets featuring individual players date back at least 75 years.

In 1928 -- the year after he hit a record 60 home runs while leading the New York Yankees to a World Series title -- Babe Ruth was featured in a six-card set issued by Fro Joy ice cream. A similar six-card set, with different photos and a slightly smaller size, was issued by a candy company that same year.

While single-player sets were not very common in the decades before the 1980s, there were scattered issues made, usually as a promotional item. For instance, a 20-card Ty Cobb set was produced in 1975 to help promote a biographical book on the player written by John McCallum.

Single-player baseball sets really hit their stride with the emergence of the Star company in 1983. Best known as the exclusive producer of NBA trading card sets from the 1983-84 through 1985-86 seasons, and also as a prominent maker of minor league baseball cards from 1988 to 1990, Star released literally hundreds of different small, single-player sets from 1983 through 1995.

The first of those sets was a 15-card tribute to Phillies slugger Mike Schmidt in 1983. Like all of the Star single-player issues, the Schmidt release was sold as a complete set through card dealers.

In 1984, Star issued sets for George Brett (24 cards), Steve Carlton (24 cards), Steve Garvey (36 cards), Darryl Strawberry (12 cards) and Carl Yastrzemski (24 cards). The Yastrzemski set is especially notable because it is the only set issued by Star to feature a then-retired player. For Yaz and/or Red Sox fans, the set provides a very nice summary of the Hall-of-Famer’s career highlights.

Other highlights from Star: 1985 -- a 36-card Reggie Jackson set; 1986 -- Wade Boggs (24 cards), Rod Carew (24 cards), Jim Rice (20 cards) and Nolan Ryan (24 cards) sets; 1987 -- Roger Clemens (12 cards) and Don Mattingly (24 cards) sets; 1988 -- several different Boggs sets, a Boggs/Tony Gwynn set, a Clemens/Dwight Gooden set, a Bo Jackson set that includes four cards picturing him in his college football uniform and a Mattingly/Schmidt set.

Many of the Star sets from 1984 through 1987 were issued as perforated strips of three or four cards. Some sticker sets were also released.

Beginning in 1988, many of the sets came in different versions, such as glossy, Gold and Platinum. Many of those premium sets were limited to 1,000 copies or less. The company also began focusing on young stars, such as Boston’s Sam Horn in 1988, Ken Griffey in 1989 and the Yankees’ Kevin Maas in 1990.

In 1991, the "Rookie Guild" series was introduced, including 11-card sets of Albert Belle, Chuck Knoblauch, Mark Lewis, Frank Thomas, Juan Gonzalez and Jeff Bagwell. A series called "The Future" included a set of Mo Vaughn limited to 1,000 copies.

Star mostly stopped making cards after 1992, but in 1995 the company issued an 80-card set of Cal Ripken Jr. after he passed Lou Gehrig’s record for consecutive games played.

Probably the most extensive single-player card set ever made was the 1992 Megacards Babe Ruth set. The 165-card set chronicles every phase of Ruth’s career, with photos and narrative from his first year in pro ball with the 1914 minor league Baltimore Orioles through his last season as a player with the 1935 Boston Braves. One card even pictures him as a coach during the 1938 season with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Several cards also picture him during his retirement years.

About the author
Paul Angilly is a sports reporter for The Bristol Press in Connecticut, and has been collecting sports cards and memorabilia for 30 years. He is not a dealer, nor does he make a profit from buying and selling cards. His weekly sports card and memorabilia collecting column appears each week in The Bristol Press and several other daily newspapers in Connecticut.

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