Wednesday, 29 March 2017

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: Upper Deck 2016 - (Volume 1 Addition)

Readers of a certain vintage will (hopefully) recognize part of the soundtrack to the third installment of the Sergio Leone / Clint Eastwood Spaghetti Westerns trilogy, 1965's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

This month I am going to review the 3rd installment of the Upper Deck CFL trading card years,
2016's Issue and point out the aspects that I feel are the good, the bad and yes, a few ugly with the product.

Only one style of box and wrappers were produced this year,
instead of the two styles from the previous 2 issues. 

The Good: Continued focus on the previous season's Grey Cup Champions, with action graphics and attractive design. Elimination of the pointless "Retail" box style with a lesser number of packs.

The Bad: "2015 GRAY CUP CHAMPIONS CARD" referenced on the side panel, a typical American spelling mistake with regards to the cup, albeit a minor issue.

The Ugly: none.

This year's base set includes 163 cards with two checklists split into the standard Offensive, Defensive/Special Teams and All-Star categories with the last two being 3 times and 6 times scarcer than the Offensive cards. No Star/Rookies subset this year either.

The Good: Great photography, good player selection and a full set of the first 100 Offensive cards in every box, as has been the case every year.

The Bad: A couple of my cards were damaged out of the pack, the fact that they were the short printed cards and not the common Offensive cards was almost enough to push this into the Ugly category for me.

The Ugly: The Upper Deck website displaying card images that don't match the final designs. Hard for a collector to know that the cards pictured (presumably) do not exist, especially if somebody comes upon the pictures many years from now.

On the left are the actual Burris base card and the actual Venable OPC Subset card and on the right are the mockups from the Upper Deck website. At the present time I have no idea if this practice had also occurred for the prior two seasons.

The Good: The OPC Retro subset is one of the most popular & funky components of the product and strikes a nice balance between being slightly scarce (1:3, 8 per box) but still eminently completable. The blank backed variations are also back.

The Bad: The retro subset team logos (except for Calgary and Ottawa) look kind of strange all surrounded by a red background and the card fronts tend to pick up a certain amount of black marking from the backs of the printed subset cards, On the other hand these sorts of characteristics perhaps make them a more authentic throwback to the OPC designs and card quality issues of yore.

The Ugly: none.

Once again copious amounts of memorabilia swatch inserts and autograph inserts as well as the pretty rare Grey Cup Champion insert (1:384 packs!) are represented in the set. Oh, and each pack but the ones with the special cards still comes with it's very own blank slug...

The Good: You still get on average two jersey cards in every box, it never seems to be the players I want, but you generally get two either way. On top of that you normally score at least one of the other types of limited insert cards in a box as well.

The Bad: It's hard to checklist these subsets to know what is available as Upper Deck only has the 2014 CFL set checklisted on their website, Which is actually a slight improvement over the attention the CFL often gets on other vendor websites who sell CFL licensed products, but you wouldn't know it from the complete absence of mention on their product web portals.

The Ugly: The return of the slugs, see my post on Upper Deck Take Two - (Volume 1 Addition) for more on this topic.

This year's new feature is short-print parallel limited numbered  (# of 10) High-Gloss cards, for every base card (although the box bottom fails to mention that the All-Stars are included). There are also short-print parallel autographed cards for the base Offensive and Defensive/Special teams cards and short-print parallel autographed limited numbered (# of 25) cards for the All-Stars,
yes it's that easy...

The Good: This largely depends on your outlook on a bewildering profusion of very limited chase cards, if you like that sort of thing its good. At the very least Upper Deck is not scrimping on the details for the CFL product and it does provide me with a challenge to checklist it all properly.

The Bad: While I typically believe the more CFL collectibles produced the better, this amount of card variations seems to me to be too many, completing a team set even would be a considerable undertaking, never mind a complete master set.

The Ugly: The cost associated with the short printed cards on the secondary market (ebay) means it would take hundreds or even thousands of dollars to put a dent in a substantial want list of high-gloss and autographed cards. Or you could buy cases of product and spend the same amount that way.

The OPC short print logo patch cards are back this year, and for the first time redemption cards for rookie and veteran update sets were inserted in packs. Finally another separate All-Star limited printing small set was made available late in the season. 

The Good: Great to see redemption cards that were stated on boxes since 2014 actually appear, also I got one in one of my boxes. These have been trending on ebay for over $100 lately so there is clearly strong interest.  

The Bad: The redemption fulfillment time period is 12-16 weeks, so that puts us well into the current year and seems like a long time to wait. The logo patches look like they might be starting to get recycled which is a shame, because there are a ton of logo variations from days gone by that could potentially be rendered.

The Ugly: If I don't get my Rookie set, it will be ugly, but after 123 days (which is more than 17 weeks), the image below at least gives me some hope:

Overall I'm going to rate Upper Deck's 3rd CFL effort 3.5 "Tuco"s out of 5, (...sorry shorty).

Long time collectors may be unimpressed with the glut of special inserts but there is no denying that the potential to score a valuable insert card and then flip it on ebay for a decent return is partially responsible for the popularity that these cards enjoy. If that helps to promote the players, the league and the sport then it has to be viewed positively.

Monday, 27 February 2017

Nodding All The Way To The Bank!

When it comes to the world of vintage ceramic toy figurines, a major variety (Bobbleheads) and a minor variety (Nodders) of which have motion capability engineered into the product, the CFL landscape is an as yet unraveled labyrinth of uncertainty characterized by a dauntingly large amount of issued set and item variation complexities.

But today I am going to focus on two sub-types of this category of collectible that are distinctly straightforward to list, surprisingly unique to the CFL and command impressively high prices on the very infrequent occasions where one is available for purchase.

An Ottawa Rough Rider themed "Touchdown" Bank with built-in football Bobblehead figurine, front and back views.

Ah yes; a toy targeted at young boys, for a roughhouse sport, made to be interacted with to trigger its movement action, constructed of fragile material, with limited production and distribution for a small market and available for a relatively short time period ... a fail-safe recipe for scarcity and high value for the few surviving examples today. Add to these facts the fairly unusual situation where collectors of American versions of sports Bobbleheads and Nodders recognize the even more pronounced scarcity of Canadian issues and actively pursue their acquisition, despite their normal disinterest in most things related to Canadian football, and you have the perfect storm for this type of novelty and souvenir.

The functioning coin banks came with a rubber stopper in the ceramic base to allow access to the funds inside.

Football Bobbleheads debuted in the USA in 1961 and as usual the CFL tailed along afterwards with the first Bobblehead football figures being released north of the border in 1962. There were several different suppliers and many different sub-types of these Made in Japan figures but curiously the touchdown banks were only produced for the CFL, There are no known American football banks such as these although there are some generic (and much less desirable) football figure plus large football bank items that were also manufactured, likely for the US market. 

B.C. Lions Bank on the left and Hamilton Tiger-Cats Bank on the right.   

All nine of the classic CFL franchises were available, possibly from just one manufacturer for one set period of time. I am not aware of any particular variations that would suggest these were issued in more than one series or by different suppliers, although you can see some artistic license in the laces on top of the ball, and I have seen a Toronto Argonaut bank both with and without the 00 jersey numbers on the back (which could have just been a painting oversight).

Part of an advertisement page offering the newest rage in CFL Bobbleheads

This advertisement probably dates from 1963 which is the best guess for when these banks were made available, possibly for just the one season. The figures came with distinctive molded shoulder pads and a metal wire face mask, neither of which appear on any of the other known standalone CFL Bobbleheads. These figures were made up of a single base incorporating the figure and the ball, and a separate bobbin head attached via a spring. They understandably just about always exhibit some kind of damage if they avoided the garbage can over the last half century plus.

This advertisement is from a Winnipeg Blue Bomber specific publication indicating you could pick up the little fellows at the stadium on game days

Auction results are sporadic but a NRMT example of one of these banks would likely cost you anywhere from $500 to $750 (CAD) today, not bad for a $1.00 investment in the early sixties! The items must have come in boxes (probably generic white cardboard ones) because they were shipped from Japan, but I have never seen one complete with original box. 

Calgary Stampeder version of the ultra-rare CFL Mascot Nodder

Moving on we have the even rarer and more mysterious CFL Mascot Nodder series with a hollow football with team logo decal and a mascot head protruding from one end, balanced on a hook that allows the head to nod. Very little seems to be known about the distribution of these strange and once again exclusive to the CFL products but they date from the same period as the banks, perhaps a year or two afterwards.  

Closeup of the head piece of the Saskatchewan Roughrider Nodder showing the hook the head hangs from. Note the misspelled team nickname.

The Calgary, Saskatchewan and Ottawa Nodders all feature the horse head as it relates to their franchise identity (the Saskatchewan Roughriders had numerous horse themed novelties during certain older periods of their history, not so much these days). The Ottawa item has the white R logo on black helmet so there is no name misspelling possibility there. 

The Hamilton Mascot Nodder is as you probably expected, a snarling cat,
and so is the B.C. Lions Nodder

These Nodders are probably a half grade rarer than the banks, but both are extremely tough to acquire. I have seen auction results where a NRMT Mascot Nodder went for up to $1,000 (CAD) but there also seem to be a number of auction "steals" out there with regard to these figures, sometimes as low as $300 (CAD).  Of course you still might stumble upon either at a garage sale for peanuts, maybe.

The Montreal Alouette Lark mascot Nodder wins the award for cutest item in the set. 

The remaining teams (Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto), lacking a natural animal mascot, all feature a generic football player with a somewhat unsettling looking helmet strap that looks like a horse bridle in the players mouth. I guess it is just as well that the Edmonton figure didn't saddle up an indigenous Eskimo for a mascot...

Somehow inherently less attractive than the non-human mascots, the football player themed figures just might be the rarest ones of all 

I am not aware of any one collector that has a complete set of either the banks or the mascots, and it may be that nobody actually does, they are just that rare. All of these items and hopefully a full exploration of the minutia associated with all of the regular CFL Bobbleheads will eventually be listed in Collecting Canadian Football Volume 3, Novelties & Souvenirs. 


Monday, 30 January 2017

Mmm, Dinner is Served... Football Style

Here's an interesting group of collectibles that could be considered to fall within a number of categorical boundaries, but most are related to either winning (or at least participating in) championship football games and all are related to a delicious meal either before or after the big event.

1948 Calgary Stampeder Grey Cup Victory Dinner Celebration Menu Card

When the Calgary Stampeders returned from Toronto having captured their first Grey Cup a celebratory dinner was held at the Palliser Hotel. A folding menu card was produced with football graphics on the outside (that's Woody Strode hauling in a long pass) and the city's rodeo theme graphics on the inside, as well as on the very rare individual player name cards that fit like a sleeve around the menu. There would only have been 30 of the player sleeves produced with perhaps a few more for team executives. 

1953 Canadian Pacific Railways Grey Cup Special Breakfast Menu 

Before the age of transcontinental air travel, teams and fans traveled to the Grey Cup by train, and there were sometimes contentious issues around which national railway a team should be using to get to the big game. Both railways would schedule special or designated trains for the exciting journey. Above is a Canadian Pacific special menu with great period graphics and below is a Canadian National special menu also with great period graphics.  

1954 Canadian National Railways Grey Cup Special Menu 

Eventually an annual official Grey Cup dinner was held in the city hosting the game as evidenced by these two very evocative fall weather and football championship themed menus below.  

1953 & 1954 Official Grey Cup Dinner Programs in the Host City

Note that the first honoree John M. Bannerman of Calgary on the above 1954 Dinner Menu is the same executive who was the driving force behind the activities detailed in my last post here from the late twenties and early thirties. This stuff is all connected... 

1955 & 1956 Edmonton Eskimo Grey Cup Victory Dinner Celebration Programs

Of course teams who won the Grey Cup also had their own celebratory dinners back in their home cities with associated programs and menus. The more cups won, the more ephemera relating to dinners that is out there to collect! 

1958 Pre-Grey Cup Dinner Menu in a City Not Involved in the Championship Game 

Why Montreal decided to have a Pre-Grey Cup dinner way before it was clear who would participate in the game (which was held in Vancouver) is unknown, perhaps just an attempt to stimulate trade and economic activity in the city. It would be a long time before Montreal would return to the Grey Cup in a participants role.

1963 Zany Cartoon Grey Cup Dinner Menu from Vancouver 

While the fifties ephemera images are superb, the sixties brought their own unique style to graphic design as evidenced by the menu above. Apparently Russ Jackson attended the dinner and signed the lucky fan's menu. 

1966 & 1981 Edmonton Eskimo Fund Raising Dinner Menu Programs 

As a community owned club Edmonton held an annual fund raising dinner featuring menu programs of varying sizes and styles, all of which make unique and very interesting collectibles with limited production.  

1966 Roughrider & 1969 Rough Rider "Double Championship" Dinner Menu Programs  

Very rarely a city might pull off the double and win both the Grey Cup and the national junior football championship although in the case of the Ottawa Sooners they made the final in both 1968 and 1969 but lost. In any case both the programs above are celebrating the professional and the junior clubs.

1966 Saskatchewan Menu Interior  

The Saskatchewan program has classic graphics and typical local area and Grey Cup themed menu items. 

1969 Ottawa Menu Interior

The Ottawa program has more modern graphics and a menu that resisted naming the items for local area and Grey Cup themes. 

1968 Saskatchewan Roughrider Fund Raising Dinner Menu & the Associated Giveaway  

The best known annual fund raising dinner is held by the Saskatchewan Roughriders and a special gift or gifts are part of the tradition every year. This dinner has been going on for over 50 years and in the first several decades the income generated was an important component of keeping the team solvent. Some Rider collectors specialize in just obtaining the items associated with this event. 

Undated (Probably Eighties) Jake Gaudaur Dinner Roast Program &
 1985 Ottawa Community Group Dinner Roast Program  

Sometimes a non game or championship reason is found to have a football themed dinner, to roast a particularly well respected person or raise money for community groups.

1984 Toronto Argonauts Toronto 150th Anniversary Dinner Menu Program 

Sometimes the history of the game intersects with the history of a city such as in the above example. 

2001 Hall of Fame Induction Dinner Program & 2002 Grey Cup Dinner Program 

Dinner Program menus have continued into the current century as the above two pieces show, the Hall of Fame Induction programs are a category of collectibles to themselves and are highly sought after for the wealth of historical information about the inductees that they contain.

1947 Hamilton City High School Football Annual Banquet Menu Cutout Standup 

Finally, while I generally don't catalogue high school items because you have to draw the line somewhere, occasionally a high school football associated item is attractive and unique enough to feature, as is the case with the above item, which is actually the oldest menu type piece of Canadian football related ephemera that I have encountered so far.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Strictly Amateur ... Or so they say

The general historical consensus is that Canadian football became "Professional" in a gradual fashion only after World War II so that by 1950 the transition had been fully made from amateur to paid players. Prior to the war we are led to believe that maintaining the amateur status of the players was paramount and that no compensation was paid for on field actions, and yet a recent bundle of ephemera I have acquired seems to indicate that there was certainly plenty of grey area when it came to attracting top talent to a team.

To set the scene, I am talking about the Calgary Tigers of 1929 and the recruiting efforts that the team's management made to scoop the Regina Roughriders (1928 Western Champions and Grey Cup contenders) Quarterback Fritz Sandstrom away to play in Calgary. The initial contact came via letter on April 25th, 1929 inquiring as to whether Sandstrom might be open to the move.

Note the explicit reference to no contravention to the amateur code in the letter, 
nonetheless best that a matter like this was kept in confidence. 

From the correspondence it would appear that John (Jack) M. Bannerman was the Tigers manager during this time period, and I believe he later went on to be the President of the Canadian Rugby Union for a season (the position rotated around the country). In fact the Bannerman Insurance company still exists and has been affiliated with Calgary football throughout the decades and still advertises on Stampeder radio broadcasts to this day.

Follow up letter from May 10th, 1929 after receiving a positive reply from Sandstrom makes it clear that the position, attendant salary and opportunity for advancement are all part of this deal.

Fritz Sandstrom played for Regina from 1921-24 and 1926-28 according to cflapedia and there is no mention of him suiting up for the Tigers but this is because records from this time are spotty at best and unless somebody makes the effort to chronicle all of the player participation for a team (as somebody has done for the early Riders) then the information is lacking. Luckily Darryl Slade of Calgary has come to the rescue with scans from his virtually impossible to obtain Calgary Tiger programs from that era that confirm the success of Bannerman's efforts. 

October 5th 1929 Calgary Tigers Game Program showing Fritz Sandstrom established at Quarterback and Captain of the Calgary club. 

 Sandstrom was likely injured two weeks later when the team again played the Eskimos at Hillhurst Park as he does not appear in the game lineup. The Tigers finished first in the Alberta Rugby Union that year ending a five year drought (and starting a five year Alberta championship run) but eventually fell to a still tough Roughriders in the Inter Union Playoffs 15-8. Sandstrom did play in that game in Regina and was bitterly derided by the local fans for "defecting" to the west, some things never change... 

Sandstrom as he appeared in the Oct. 5th Program at left and a complimentary 30 day Elks Club membership that he was conveniently awarded in 1929

Jump to the following season and it seems that Sandstrom was once again back in Regina because a new campaign to entice him back to "the big city" began that spring with a letter dated May 7, 1930.

The team was now more organized in coordinating the placement of players with important local businesses and Bannerman is confident a better off-field arrangement can be made than the one that perhaps was not particularly satisfactory for Sandstrom the previous year. 

The coach in question, Wally Sterling had taken over the University of Alberta program after the sudden resignation of the old coach, and led the team to the Western Canada Hardy Championship in 1928. He would go on to become president of Stanford University for 20 years. 

By the next letter of May 30th an agreement appears to have been arrived at and more discussion of potential employment placements takes place.  

In what was always a pressing concern during that era, funding for the team was on shaky ground, and Sandstrom's moving expenses could not be prepaid as he had requested. 

This (unsigned) contract from July 30th seems to fly directly in the face of the existing amateur rules as it is between the Calgary Tiger Rugby Club and Sandstrom and although it indicates he is under no obligation to play for the team (wink, wink), it is the team that has guaranteed his salary and bonus if he cannot be placed in a suitable position elsewhere!  

Sandstrom did play for the Tiger's again in 1930 but injuries continued to limit his ability to contribute. The Tigers would again win the Alberta Union Championship and fall 9-6 to Regina in the playoffs. 


Ocotber 4th 1930 game program and
program photo indicating why Sandstrom was not in the lineup for this game.

In 1931 the Tigers, perennially short on funds, became associated with the Altomah Athletic Association and were known as the Altomah-Tigers and eventually as just the Altomah (Indians) and Fritz Sandstrom was now the coach. This telegram from Rider manager Fred Wilson implies that perhaps the Tiger/Altomah's questionable practices had caught up with them in terms of the amateur code...  

Fred Wilson was also a former player with the Riders who had personal experience
with losing his own amateur playing status.

By 1932 it is unclear whether or not Sandstrom was still involved with the team but since team executives were still writing him with extensive details about their financial issues and fundraising plans he may well have been. In any case Sandstrom returned to play the final two years of his career with the Regina Roughriders from 1933-34.

This is the first image of the Altomah Indians Logo that I have ever come across. 

Somewhat politically incorrect ticket for Altomah Indians club fund raising event (on which they apparently lost $10.00 total) and a picture of Sandstrom back with the Riders in 1934. 

Amazingly a random ebay pickup has shone considerable light on much of the behind the scenes machinations involving teams that are almost completely forgotten today. The documents highlighted here clearly show that at the very least there was a definite aspect of semi-professionalism (defined as the receiving of some tangible benefits other than explicit payment for athletic services) that was alive and well in pre-war Canadian football.

Monday, 28 November 2016

53 Years Between Breakfast Bites! - (Volume 1 Addition)

As most CFL collectors know the 1962 and 1963 Post CFL grocery premium cereal cards are a mainstay of CFL collecting and their popularity seems to remain constant year after year. If you were a kid then, looking forward to the morning meal to see which cards you could eventually cut out of the cereal box back panel, you have had to wait a little over 19,000 days to once again be greeted by CFL players on your morning boxes of Post cereal.

These promotional boxes featured large images of two players on each box front, the players are not named but are easy to identify.

So one day last month I am checking Ebay for CFL items and I come across an auction for the two boxes shown above (with seller's thumb on the left) with these dynamic and attractive CFL players plastered all over the package fronts. Pleasantly surprised I head to the local grocery stores to see if I can locate actual copies for myself.  

There are six boxes in total in the set and the common backs advertise a Post sponsored contest for the Ultimate Grey Cup Experience. The players are only available on the Family Size versions of these popular Post brands.

The players available in the promotion are :

  • Box 1  Darian Durant & Joshus Bell
  • Box 2  Bo Levi Mitchell & Marcus Howard
  • Box 3  Drew Willy & Kyries Hebert
  • Box 4  Henry Burris & Nicolas Boulay
  • Box 5  Zach Collaros & James Yurichuk
  • Box 6  Mike Reilly & Adam Bighill

Turns out that by the time I even found out about this promotion it was already over so I was lucky to still be able to find most of the boxes at stores around my area of the city. The website image below shows that Post was promoting the products online fairly well but the CFL might have made a bigger splash on its website or via its mobile Apps because I never heard about it from those channels. 

While searching for the boxes, lo and behold I stumbled upon another Post CFL promotion relating to the Jerseys of each CFL club.   

These boxes are dressed up as the nine CFL team jerseys on different brands of Post cereals. This time the backs advertise a contest to win Official CFL team jerseys.  

Details on this promotion are available at the Post Canadian website

This contest is still active and goes until December 31, 2016 and includes discounts at as well as 250 Jerseys available to be won for each team.  

For unknown reasons some of the boxes (Winnipeg, Calgary & maybe one more) have the jersey graphics on both sides of the box bilingually. 

Co-op was the first to produce modern cereal boxes with player images from the start of this decade and these were partially catalogued in Volume II of Collecting Canadian Football. You would think that over the last five decades there would have been a lot of CFL themed material promoted on cereal boxes but other than the classic Post sixties sets, this is generally not really the case. There were a few generic football cards from multi sport sets made available in cereal boxes as well as a few generic football items as prizes in cereal boxes (those will eventually be catalogued in the upcoming Volume III of Collecting Canadian Football). 

Above left are two General Mills cereal box side panels featuring Dick Shatto that were catalogued in Collecting Canadian Football Volume II. Above right is what is thought to be a cutout of an unidentified cereal brand box back from 1967 with a Modern Day Grey Cup Records theme. 

No doubt there are more vintage unidentified CFL cereal box memorabilia items out there waiting to be discovered, and happily these days some current ones as well. With any luck Post and the CFL will expand on this collaboration in upcoming seasons.