Thursday, October 30, 2014

Collecting 1984 Calbee

 As I mentioned in my previous post, 1984 Calbee has recently officially entered my list of vintage sets that I am trying to complete.

This was spurred by a Yahoo Auction purchase I made last week of a lot of 59 cards from the set.  I added these to the 60 cards I already had (in a piece of incredible luck the new cards were almost all ones I needed), meaning that I now have over 100 different cards.
 This is the third vintage Calbee set that I am actively trying to complete, with the 1987 Calbee (about 3/4 complete now) and the 1990 Calbee low numbers (about 1/2 complete) being the others.

The big difference between the 1984 set and the 1987 and 1990 ones is the difficulty of putting them together.  The latter are among the more do-able of the pre-1998 rare Calbee sets to complete, while the 1984 set is among the hardest.  The sheer size of the set - 715 cards - is daunting (the 1987 set has about half that and the 1990 low number series only 55).  Among these are a number of series which were only released regionally in limited quantities (detailed here) which account for about one quarter of the total and are incredibly expensive.  I don`t have any of those and might content myself with tracking down the easier to find ones first and, if I become independently wealthy in the future, might work on the rare block ones then.

There are some pretty cool cards in the set, which has a distinctive look to it.  I love this Reggie Smith with his hair overflowing from under that batting helmet.
 The final cards in the set are season highlights.  This one commemorates Koji Yamamoto`s 2,000th career hit.
I`ll be curious to see how far I get with this.  Where as the 1987 and 1990 sets I think I have realistic shots at completing within the next couple of years, the 1984 one might be more of a pipe dream.  Still though, I like this set quite a bit and hope I at least make the halfway mark or so.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Timely Purchase: a Couple of 1984 Calbee Randy Bass cards

With Hanshin having trounced the Giants 4 straight (yes!) and about to play in their first Japan Series in over a decade (interestingly also played against the Hawks), there has been a lot of talk about 1985, the last time they actually won it all.

I picked up a couple of cards of Randy Bass, the key player on that 1985 Tigers team, off of Yahoo Auctions that arrived today.  They are both from the 1984 Calbee set, which I am starting to make a more serious effort at putting together (more on that in another post). I kind of like these cards.  The one on the left, from the "big hat" part of the set, has a pensive looking Bass staring at the ground.  The one on the right, from the "little hat" part of the set, is kind of an awkward photo with his face mostly lost in shadow, but I love the pinstripes of the hat that the 84 Tigers wore.

I have a soft spot for the Tigers and Randy Bass is one of my all time favorite NPB players, so I am very tormented about who to root for in this series.  I have spent 4 years of my life living in Fukuoka as a Hawks fan and 5 years of my life living in Hyogo prefecture as a Tigers fan (plus 2 years living in Nagoya, my current city, as a Dragons fan).  It is very troubling because both teams have things that strongly attract me to them.  I only left Fukuoka in 2012 so this year's team still has a lot of the players I used to root for when living there - Matsuda, Uchikawa, Morifuku, Settsu, Honda and company.  On the other hand, I kind of fell in love with this Tigers team.  Going into that series everyone was saying the Giants would just walk over them easily, and seeing the Tigers turn the tables and make Kyojin look was immensely impressive. 

I will have to think long and hard about this before game time......

Monday, October 20, 2014

In the Mail this Week: 1995 Calbee Tokyo Snack Cards

 I got a small pile of 1995 Tokyo Snack cards in the mail yesterday.  These are an interesting set.  Tokyo Snack is actually a subsidiary of Calbee, which for a couple of years in the mid-90s was given the role of baseball card producer in the conglomerate.  If you want to split hairs you could make the argument that in 1995 and 1996 there weren`t any Calbee sets, since both of them came with the Tokyo Snack brand, which is the maker name printed on the back of the cards:
But since Tokyo Snack is a wholy-owned subsidiary of Calbee, I think collectors are correct to regard this as a Calbee set in all but name only.  As such it fits into an interesting period in Calbee card development.  The 1990s are actually an odd decade for Calbee.  In the 1970s all their sets (except for part of the 75-76 set with the pink borders) had a standard form - full bleed photo with the player name and team written in small letters on the front.  In the 1980s they reduced the size of the cards but, except for part of the 1984 set with the little hats on it, kept the same design pretty consistently throughout.  In the 2000s and 2010s, they have pretty much had the exact same design throughout with only minor modifications from year to year.

In other words, in each decade Calbee had one basic design philosphy and applied it almost uniformly to every set year after year. Except the 1990s.

If you look at Calbee sets from year to year in the 1990s you`ll notice that it is the only decade in which the design of the cards changed, sometimes radically, from year to year.  This gives Calbee cards from the 1990s a degree of uniqueness not found in other decades.

It is kind of interesting to speculate why this was so.  My guess would be that the introduction of serious competition from BBM from 1991 forced Calbee to respond and they experimented with a series of design changes in a trial and error process.  In 1998 they seem to have had that "Eureka!" moment since from that year on they have kept pretty much the same design.  

The 1995 set is one of the more interesting ones from this period.  The shape and size are the same as that used from the latter half of 1990 through the 1996 set, but the design, which is quite colorful and distinctive, was only used in this one set.  Though I generally prefer the full bleed design they usually use, I kind of like this set.  It looks very 1990s.

I got a half-dozen cards in this lot.  Prior to that I only had one card - one of the low number Ichiros.  I will add this to my list of "sets in progress that I will hopefully one day finish but probably not."  The high number cards in this set are notoriously hard to locate, having been sold in very limited quantities and containing a couple of quite expensive cards of Ichiro (who, incidentally, had his first regular Calbee card in this set, though he had been featured in a regional set in 1994).

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Calbee Series 3 - Rarer than Other Series?

OK, so it is now mid-October.  The regular season is over and the first two rounds of championship series are also almost over (so glad that the Tigers beat the Giants in the CL series BTW).  And you know what has finally happened?  I have finally gotten my first bag of Calbee Series 3.

It seems almost every year this happens.  When Series 1 comes out in the spring, bags are available at almost every convenience store and grocery store I go to.  And, being so happy to see them after so many months and overflowing with excitement for the months of baseball ahead, I always jump in and buy them almost everyday.  My salt intake in the early months of the baseball season rises accordingly.

Then when series 2 comes out the occasion is marked by....most of those same stores continuing to sell bags of series 1.  It seems most of them prefer to burn through their inventory of the first series before moving on to the next.  Many of them don`t even bother, it seems that by the time they do sell off all their series 1 bags they decide to just move on and use the shelf space for some completely different snack.  So the number of stores selling Series 2 is always a bit less than the number that had been selling Series 1.

By the time Series 3 is released, the number of shops stocking them has shrunk to almost nothing.  Being released late in the season undoubtedly hurts it, as does the fact that those stores which bothered to stock series 2 still have bags of those to unload.

This year I have not seen a single bag of Calbee series 3 in any convenience store (and I go to a lot of convenience stores).  This is not unusual, the same thing happened last year.  The only places that seems to stock Calbee Series 3 are large scale retailers like AEON (which is where I finally bought my first bag).

This makes me wonder if Calbee Series 3 cards are rarer than cards from earlier series.  I have noticed when buying older Calbee series from the 2000s in large lots that the breakdown of cards on average is about 50% Series 1s, 40% Series 2s and 10% Series 3s - the drop-off once you get into the higher numbers is noticeable and for most of the sets that I am working on between 2002 and 2012, the biggest number of holes in my sets are in Series 3.

There is of course a historical comparison to be made with American Topps sets from the pre-1974 era when they issued them in series.  With only a couple of exceptions, for pretty much every Topps set from 1952 to 1973 the last series are considerably harder to find than the lower number series because fewer people were interested in buying cards towards the end of the season.  When Topps and other companies re-started issuing sets in series in the 1990s by then the hobby had gotten so sensitive to real or perceived scarcities they couldn`t issue one series in lower numbers than another without affecting the price, so they didn`t.

Its interesting that Calbee seems to be doing the same thing that Topps did way back in the old days....yet another little oddball thing that I like about Calbee.  Well, actually I kind of prefer it when the bags are available in convenience stores....

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Old Calbee Albums from the 70s and 80s

 Despite my lack of posts of late I have been picking up the odd thing or two here and there.  Among other purchases have been some Calbee cards from the 70s. I have about 60 Calbee cards from that decade now, almost all from the 75-76 set.  One thing which I like about having that many is that it has allowed me to finally fill up to a respectable degree my Calbee albums from the 70s. 

I have had those albums for a couple of years, I bought them at Mandarake in Fukuoka a while ago.  I am not sure but am guessing that these albums were availabe as mail-in giveaways back then like they are now.  The 1970s albums were a lot better though, I love the photography they use on the covers, rather than the sterile, generic look current ones have.

This is the photo on the inside flap of one from 1975:

Not a Nagashima fan, but that is a sweet photo.

I like the full bleed photos on Calbee cards, and the sets from the 70s has some of the best photography out there.  For some reason, and I`d be curious to know what the story is, part of the 75-76 set has a rather thick pink border, like these babies that were among my recent acquisitions:

The similiarity with the look of the 1975 Topps set is hard to miss, they even have the baseball in the lower right corner of the photo. I suspect somebody at Calbee must have decided to copy them as a template.   Anyway, these pink bordered ones include my only Japanese Davey Johnson card:
In the 1980s the albums took a turn for the worse. They made them a bit smaller (along with the cards themselves) and started using some generic baseball illustration on the front rather than actualy photos.
Worse still, they started using the same album design year after year rather than issuing unique ones.  Note that the two albums in the above photos are actually from different years.  The top one is from the 1987 Calbee (note the `87 on the front), but the bottom one is from 1988 Calbee.  The inside flaps are also almost identical, just a list of Japan series victors.  The only reason I know the bottom one is from the 1988 Calbee set is that it lists the victors up to the 1987 Series.

Anyway, just some random thoughts about Calbee albums.  

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Najima Baseball Stadium

It has been a relatively slow couple of months on this blog.  In part this is because my beloved Dragons fell completely out of contention in August, a fact that somewhat diminished my entusiasm for baseball card collecting.

Mainly though it was because one of my other hobbies, my model railway, had been taking up most of my time.

As I mentioned in my last post, I have been building a Japanese baseball stadium made of baseball cards (and other odds and ends) for my train layout. Last week I finally finished getting the basic structure together. So I hereby introduce Najima Kyujo.

As you can see, it has a couple of train lines running around it:

 I vaguely had Koshien in mind when I started putting it together but it ended up looking nothing like that hallowed ground.  I named it after a town I used to live in which had a municipal baseball field called Najima.

There are about 50 baseball cards in there, most of the walls and the rooves are made of painted cards, mostly Score and Topps commons from the mid-90s that I had a pile of lying around.

 The exterior isn`t quite finished and there are a few details like the landscaping outside that need finishing but I`m pretty happy with how it turned out.  I also have to add more people to the stands (they are the only thing in the stadium that actually cost serious money)!  The scoreboard is a done deal though (it also features the only Japanese baseball card, the player photo is the back portrait photo from a 2013 Calbee card that I sacrificed for the project):

In the meantime I have actually picked up a few cards for non-building a model railroad stadium purposes, I will have to do a post or two about them sometime!