See the difference? I mean, besides the fact that the second card is printed in a vibrant red and the first one is distinctly orange.
It’s in the biography. The first card mentions Mantle’s (then) 15 World Series homers, “breaking a mark set by Babe Ruth.” The second one stops at the reference to the homers. No Ruth. I discovered this literally Sunday afternoon – and I’ve never heard any mention of it before. But if you’re a Mantle collector don’t go nuts and decide you have to go and find this suddenly priceless variation card.
Because it not only isn’t a variation, it’s not even a real card. From 1952 through 1967, Topps produced “Salesman’s Samples” with which to excite candy jobbers and retailers about the upcoming year’s baseball cards.
The one shown here on the left is from 1964, and on the front there are three cards from Topps’ 1964 1st Series (Carl Willey and Bob Friend are the “big” names). On the back, this blood-red pitch for the ’64 set and the special “bonus” – the first set of baseball “coins” Topps ever made.
And then there at the bottom is the variant Mantle card, without the reference to Babe Ruth. Trust me, if two different versions of the ’64 Mantle had been included in the actual set, the scarcer one would cost a fortune.
These Salesman’s Samples are very scarce, too, but it wasn’t until the Mantle biography change jumped out at me did I decide to inspect the others to see if the Mantle change was unique.
It wasn’t. While it doesn’t look like any of the card fronts have been changed, not so for the backs.
As shown above, by 1964 Topps had long since realized that you needed some star power, even on the Salesman’s Samples and even just on the back.
After his 61-homer season in ’61, a version of Roger Maris’s card number one is on the back of the 1962 Sample. There’s Mantle in ’64, and the ’66 has a picture of a Sandy Koufax insert on the back.
But in ’57 that message hadn’t gotten through yet, so there he is: that great New York Yankees starting pitcher…Tom Sturdivant?
As the bio suggests, he had a big year in ’56, 16-8, and a complete game six-hit shutout over the Dodgers in the World Series, which kinda got upstaged when Don Larsen went out and threw his perfect game the next day. But the point here is not the bio but the card number.
Tom Sturdivant is not card #25 in the 1957 Topps set. His teammate Whitey
Ford is. Sturdivant is #34, as the shown version of his issued card suggests. You’ll notice also that the cartoon quiz at the right side of the card has been changed from something about home runs in one inning, to a question about playing outfield with your boots on.
Again, not a true variation – the obverse of the Sturdivant back shows the Billy Martin front. I suppose somebody could have cut the cards apart and come up with a weird Martin/Sturdivant #25. If one ever turns up, now you know what it is.
There are two other “Sample” variations that jumped off (once it had occurred to me to start looking for them). I’ll spare you the full 1959 Salesman’s Sample back, but here is the detail on the one card back shown.
It was a pretty good guess on the part of Topps: Nellie Fox would be American League MVP as his White Sox won the pennant for the first time in 40 years.
But the original design for the backs of the 1959 cards (or at least Fox’s) was decidedly different than what Topps wound up publishing.
The green “name box” has gone red, the black type in the bio has gone green, and the cartoon is now not just green and black, but red, green, with a salmon pink background.
Still, the other details of the card seem identical both in the preliminary and issued versions.
Not so for 1960. This might be my favorite of the bunch. There was a rationale, even for the changed number of the 1957 Sturdivant, for the inclusion of all the other cards shown here on the Salesman’s Samples. Through 1972, Topps cards were sold in numbered “series,” spaced out over the course of the spring and summer.
All the Sample cards were drawn from the first series – except in 1960. See that nice unspectacular version of #66, Bobby Gene Smith?
He would not be in the first “series” of 1960 Topps cards. Even though they had already mocked up a back for his card, and evidently made no changes in it other than the by-now traditional color re-thinking, Smith was for some reason bumped from #66 to #194.
In the actual card set #66 is an obscure pitcher named Bob Trowbridge – it was not like there was some urgent need to drop somebody to make room for him. Sadly there are no files hanging around a back room at Topps annotating the arcane decisions about card numbers (though I know one later editor liked to give card number 666 to players who had hurt his favorite team). So we’re on our own figuring this all out.