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Cool NEW Vintage Set Rubric

Updated: Mar 13


Which set is cooler, 1956 Topps or 1934 Goudey? 1953 Bowman Color or 1933 DeLong? Obviously, it depends who you ask. And even then, it may just depend on the day of the week! To some collectors, there’s an immediate and obvious answer. To others, you might as well ask which of their kids they like best. Couldn’t you just take a poll? Maybe, but do you really trust the randos out there with decisions this critical to collecting? I sure don’t!


This is exactly why the Hobby needs the CVSR (pronounced see-vee-ESS-urr, you know, like a pill shopper fed up with Walgreens) or Cool Vintage Set Rubric if you’re not into the whole brevity thing. How does the CVSR work? Simple. Each collector assigns a score to a set based on seven dimensions of coolness. Then, these seven scores are weighted according to the collector’s Individualized Coolness Profile, or ICP (pronounced eye-see-PEE, like the 1982 Waterlanders megahit).


Okay, so maybe this all sounds kind of complicated, but that’s where examples come in. To make things more concrete, here is how I’ve applied the CVSR to two of my favorite vintage sets, 1934-36 National Chicle Diamond Stars and 1952 Bowman.


ERA


The first dimension of the CVSR is era. Were the CVSR shooting for total objectivity, we might impose a one-size-fits-all scale that all collectors would be obliged to follow. For example, 19th century cards earn 5 points, the tobacco era earns 4, and so on. However, the last thing the Hobby needs is even more dogma and orthodoxy steam-rolling over personal taste. As with all aspects of the CVSR, the coolness of an era is entirely determined by the individual collector.


RBI King Lewis “Hack” Wilson


From my perspective, the 1930s was an absolute top-notch decade for baseball: Hubbell’s All-Star Game feat, Hack Wilson’s 191 RBI, the Gashouse Gang and Thunder Twins, Babe Ruth’s stint as a Dodger base coach,...you name it! Plus, it was a superduper long time ago. I have to rate the 1930s a full 5 out of 5.

1952 Bowman cards of Mays, Mantle, and Snider


Moving on to Bowman, the decade of Willie, Mickey, and the Duke was an absolute beast of a time to be a baseball fan, not to mention card collector. Other greats to make it onto cardboard in the 1950s included Jackie, Satch, Joe D., Stan the Man, Teddy Ballgame, Mr. Cub, Mr. Tiger, the Great One, Yogi, Campy, and the Left Arm of God. How is this even possible? On one hand, the era score is an obvious 5. On the other hand, these cards are “only” 72 years old, which has me considering a 4. I’ll go 5 but think of it as a 5-minus.


SIZE


Another important dimension of set coolness to consider is size, though again there is plenty of room for individual collectors to differ on what’s best here. Most of us grew up on sets with 600+ cards, ensuring coverage of nearly all significant players as well as a large crop of rookies and prospects. Ballpark, these sets might have included somewhere between 20 and 30 cards per team, if not more.


For some collectors, this was plenty. In fact, they would have been perfectly happy with a much smaller set that could be completed more quickly and inexpensively. For others, however, their perfect set would include even more: anyone who had even a cup of coffee in the Bigs, not to mention coaches, mascots, and batboys! 

The lone Chicago Cubs players in the Diamond Stars set


Personally, I tend toward the “less is more” side of the spectrum, but I also find Diamond Stars to be too small. With 108 cards (featuring 96 different players), the Diamond Stars set averaged only 6 players per team. (Sorry, Cubs fans, only three players for you! 😱) Though not many sets of the era offered appreciably more than this, I’ll go ahead and score Diamond Stars a 2 here. 


The Bowman set, in contrast, had 252 cards for an average of nearly 16 players per team. For the most part, this means a starting lineup, the team’s top pitchers, a super-sub, and even a manager. In my book this is just about perfect, so Bowman scores its second 5.



STAR POWER


While Diamond Stars and 1952 Bowman are absolutely loaded with stars, the sets are also well known for their omissions. Diamond Stars has Greenberg, Foxx (catching!), Grove, and 29 other Hall of Famers, but where are the game’s two biggest stars, Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig? (Answer: super-agent Christy Walsh almost certainly poo-pooed their inclusion in the set.) 

Diamond Stars top-shelf talent


Bowman, meanwhile, was headlined in 1952 by Mantle, Mays, and 25 other Cooperstown inductees but failed to extend prior contracts with Jackie Robinson, Ted Williams, and Stan Musial, among other former Bowman stars.


At the moment, this may look like a tie. However, I’ll further knock the Diamond Stars set for its lack of Black superstars. Many would consider this an unfair deduction since “organized baseball” was Whites-only at the time, but why shouldn’t the racism of the era “lower all boats?” I’ll score Bowman a 4 to Diamond Stars’ 3 while also imagining how unbelievably awesome cards of Josh Gibson, Satchel Paige, and Cool Papa Bell might have looked in the Diamond Stars style.


HOT ROOKIES


I’m probably much less excited about rookie cards than the typical collector, and this goes doubly true for sets as old as these. However, I know rookie cards can make or break a set in the eyes of many collectors, so the CVSR would be highly remiss to exclude this criterion.

1952 Bowman Minnie Minoso


As it turns out, neither Diamond Stars nor 1952 Bowman is exactly stacked. The most notable rookie card of the Bowman set is Minnie Minoso (and it’s a beauty!) while the Diamond Stars set, strictly speaking, lacks any top-shelf rookies. (Many collectors treat the Diamond STars Hank Greenberg as a rookie “tied with 1934 Goudey,” but this card didn’t hit the set until 1935.) The result is Bowman scores a 1 while Diamond Stars tallies a rare 0.


RARITIES


The 1952 Bowman set has no real rarities beyond its higher series being tougher than its lower series, as was more or less standard for the era. Certainly no card has mythical or “chase card” status. Finally, the cards overall are fairly plentiful. From a degree of difficulty standpoint, this is just your garden variety 72-year-old set of 200+ cards. Score it a 1!

“Earnie” and Ernie Lombardi cards from Diamond Stars


As for Diamond Stars, the set’s final 12 cards, 97-108) are notably tough. The error versions of the Lombardi and Greenberg cards also take some effort. Going a step further, many collectors choose to attempt the 170-card master set, which adds plenty more relatively difficult cards to the list. Obviously nothing here matches the mystique of the T206 Wagner or 1933 Goudey Lajoie, but the set definitely brings some “fun” for collectors who like challenges. I’ll score this set right in the middle with a 3.


Before moving to the next category, let me add a quick note for collectors who focus heavily on grade. Thinking of 1953 Topps and 1971 Topps as sets where high-grade examples are particularly tough, Rarities is the category where you would factor in such things. For instance, you might score 1971 Topps higher than 1972 due to its increased difficulty in finding higher grade cards.


SIGNIFICANCE


The Bowman set fell more or less smack dab in the middle of the company’s 1948-55 run and only minimally altered its look from the prior year’s set. If there is any special significance to 1952 Bowman, it is only that its opponent in the “card wars” was the formidable 1952 Topps set. (In contrast, Bowman’s 1953 set was highly significant in being the first major set to use color photography.)


The Diamond Stars set (along with Batter Up) marked the debut (and coda!) of National Chicle. As such, the set was tremendously significant to its own company’s history, but I can’t say that significance extended much further. One might suppose the top-notch competition would have forced gum card rival Goudey to up its own offering, but all it takes is a quick look at the Goudey cards of 1935 and 1936 to debunk this otherwise plausible line of thinking. In the end, how different would the story of baseball cards be had Diamond Stars never existed? Though it pains me to say it, probably not much.


Both sets score a 1 in this category.


VISUAL APPEAL


In my opinion the Diamond Stars and Bowman sets under consideration are among the two most gorgeous ever produced. 

Some of my favorite “lookers” from each set


I’ll score each set a 5 in this category without hesitation. What can I say? I’m a sucker for bright, colorful artwork. 


FINAL SCORES


Adding up all of the above, we arrive at the following preliminary totals.


  • 1934-36 Diamond Stars: 19 out of 35

  • 1952 Bowman: 23 out of 35


However, we have not yet factored in ICP, my Individualized Collector Profile, which allows me to weight the various criteria with multipliers tuned to personal preference. For example I can double or even triple the weights of the criteria I value most while zeroing out the criteria I don’t really care about. The only rule is that the ICP, which should apply to all sets (not just these two), add up to 10.


If the CVSR is to be believed, I consider 1952 Bowman a cooler set than Diamond Stars, though both scored quite well. Just for fun, I’ll list my CVSR scores for some other vintage sets below.


  • 1909-1911 T206 - 36/50

  • 1933 Goudey - 43/50

  • 1940 Play Ball - 28/50

  • 1941 Goudey - 14/50

  • 1952 Topps - 39/50


I have no doubt that other collectors–probably most other collectors–would end up with very different ratings for each of these sets. For example, who besides me considers 1952 Bowman cooler than T206?! Still, I encourage readers to try out the rubric for themselves as a means of adding some method to the madness of ranking their coolest sets of all time. As always, tag Hobby News Daily and let me know what you end up with!


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