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Collect call: Panini Golden Age

Posted Jan 2, 2013 by Bob D'Angelo

Updated Mar 27, 2013 at 10:26 PM

I was excited when I found out about Panini America’s Golden Age baseball set. This is the kind of retro card set I love, a collection that includes baseball players mixed with players from other sports — plus actors, politicians, poets, industrialists.

Topps began this trend in 2006 with its groundbreaking Allen & Ginter set, and Goodwin Champions by Upper Deck continued that trend. So it was with great anticipation that I opened a hobby box of Golden Age.

I was not disappointed.

This set has an eclectic mix of subjects, excellent, descriptive writing on the card backs, on-card autographs and relics that include everything from sports figures to Hollywood stars.

A hobby box contains 24 packs, with six cards to a pack. Price for a hobby box is in the $75 range, and the one I opened yielded a big dividend right off the bat. It was a 5-by-7 inch Movie Poster memorabilia card of “A Streetcar Named Desire,” featuring a romantic clinch between stars Marlon Brando and Vivien Leigh. The card is numbered to 99 and there are two swatches of material on the card, but in a curious oversight, their identities are never revealed. So I am not sure what the swatches are from. Perhaps from Brando’s torn shirt and a piece of Leigh’s clothing? There’s no way to know for sure.

The Golden Age base set consists of 146 cards, and the box I opened yielded 109 singles and a disappointing four doubles. Fifty-nine of those singles were of baseball players. Panini is limited in how it displays its photos of major-leaguers, as only Topps has the license to display team logos and names. Read the backs of the cards and you won’t see an MLB team named — except for the 1919 Black Sox. The photos on the card fronts are oval-shaped and the team logos are nowhere to be found. In some cases that makes for some awkward-looking photos, but overall I believe Panini handled it well. The cards are attractive despite the restrictions.

There are also 25 short-print variations, which will fall on an average of two per case.

In addition to baseball, other sports represented in the hobby box I opened were golf (four cards), auto racing (three), pro basketball (four), pro football (one), track and field (two), boxing (two), horse racing (eight), swimming (one) and pro hockey (one).

Packs I opened also contained four presidents (Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S Truman, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard Nixon) three Stooges (Moe, Larry and Curly, plus a card of the three of them together), two Dukes (Ellington and Snider) and one chess master (Bobby Fischer). Plus two comedians — Buster Keaton and an out-of-costume Charlie Chaplin.

I was very excited when Panini negotiated a deal to include the Three Stooges, and even happier when I pulled all four cards. One pack I opened contained Curly and Moe, back to back.

There was a quite a description on the back of Moe’s card: “Long before Marilyn Manson or Beavis and Butthead, Howard was the ultimate source of parental consternation” because of his eye-gouging and head-bonking of his fellow Stooges.

Panini shows a sharp eye for detail with baseball players, too. For example, the back of Cleon Jones’ card notes (as every Mets fan should know), that the left fielder caught the final out of the 1969 World Series, giving New York an improbable series victory against the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles.

Read those card backs. There are quite a few treasures in those words.

The diversity in this set is breathtaking. There are cards for movie actresses Grace Kelly and Jayne Mansfield, and for television stars Dawn Wells, Barbara Eden, Elizabeth Montgomery and Maureen McCormick. Two journalists are represented — Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein — and so is one man who was a key player in the Watergate scandal that the newspaper reporters broke during their days at the Washington Post (John Dean).

Some of the photographs are head-scratchers, though. Jimmie Foxx wearing a catcher’s mask? I know Double-X began his career as a catcher, but he mainly played first or third base during much of his career. And how about Richard Petty without his mustache? Strange.

Horse racing gets good treatment in this set, as Panini pays tribute to Triple Crown winners and the jockeys who rode the horses to victory. There are autographs sprinkled in the set from the three surviving jockeys who rode Triple Crown winners (Ron Turcotte, Jean Cruguet and Steve Cauthen).

Another seldom-seen group of players are members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox. Panini has included eight members of that Black Sox squad in this set, including Shoeless Joe Jackson, Ed Cicotte and Swede Risberg. I managed to pull seven of them — I didn’t get Eddie Collins, who was the clean Sox member of that crew that conspired to throw the 1919 World Series.

There are some nice sizzle cards in this set, too. A 50-card Historic Signatures set features on-card autographs from baseball players like Ralph Branca, Denny McLain, Vida Blue, Don Larsen, Maury Wills and Ron Blomberg; plus swimmer Mark Spitz, Harlem Globetrotters immortal Meadowlark Lemon and “Gilligan’s Island” professor Russell Johnson.

The autograph card I pulled was of four-time National League batting champion Bill Madlock.

There is one Newark Evening World supplement card per box. The card I pulled featured Ron Turcotte aboard Secretariat, one of 25 cards in the subset.

Tobacco cards are also prevalent in this set, as there is one inserted per pack. The box I sampled produced 19 minis with tobacco card-style backs that read “Broad Leaf Cigarettes.” Parallels included a blue-lettered back (there is also a brown parallel), three red-lettered Candy Crofts cards (there are also blue parallels) and a Ty Cobb tobacco back (King of the Smoking Tobacco World,” the back reads).

One of the Golden Age inserts is called Headlines, and on average a hobby box will yield two of these cards. The box I sampled featured the 1969 Miracle Mets and FDR’s 1933 inaugural address.

The Batter Up insert set is an intriguing group of cards. It’s actually a subset containing 25 pop-up cards, and there are two per hobby box. The cards I pulled were Triple Crown horse champions: Seattle Slew and Man O’ War. Others in the subset include Curly Howard, Red Grange, Ava Gardner and Jayne Mansfield. I really like the old-time photographic look of these cards. They look like they’ve stepped right out of the 1920s.

This is a card set that is not overly flashy from a hot card standpoint—there are some nice relics and autographs, to be sure. But what bowls me over about Golden Age is the variety of subjects and the crisp writing on the card backs (that’s a lost art, and it’s good to see some attention paid to making those backs more than just window dressing).

It might be Panini’s best effort in the last 12 months. I say “might” because I am biased toward history and vintage stuff. But I believe on an overall level, Panini did very well with this product.

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