January 20, 2010

Interview with Bob Lemke, Vintage Card Editor at Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards

For nearly 30 years, the name Bob Lemke was synonymous with the unbelievably comprehensive Krause publication The Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards, the bible of card collectors across the country. These days, he's the editor of the Vintage Card section of the Standard Catalog, creates his own custom cards, and blogs about card variations at Bob Lemke's Blog. Bob stepped aside for a few minutes this week to answer a few questions.

BBC Blog: You've been identified with the publication of the annual Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards for many years. How did you get involved with the publication in the first place?

BL: In 1979 I had been employed by Krause Publications for five years, working in the firm’s numismatic division. As I returned to active card collecting in the mid-1970s I recognized that the card hobby was at a state that the coin collecting hobby had been in 20-30 years earlier.

BBC Blog: What are the origins of the Catalog?

BL: A basic hobby publishing tenet that KP’s founder, Chet Krause, had developed since the early 1950s is that to grow and prosper, a collecting hobby needs four basic types of publication: 1) A “trader” paper, published monthly or more frequently, that can connect buyers and sellers (this was in the days before the internet), 2) A glossy national newsstand magazine that can be used to attract the general public, 3) A comprehensive reference/pricing catalog that will allow even the beginning collector to be in the same ballpark as the advanced collector and dealer in terms of basic knowledge of what is available and what it’s worth, and, 4) A periodical price guide to allow for keeping collectors and dealers current in fast-changing markets.

After unsuccessfully trying to buy one or more of the existing hobby trader publications, in the Spring of 1980 we published the premiere issue of Baseball Cards magazine, the first national newsstand magazine for the hobby and instantly the largest circulation publication (125,000) ever in that field.

An integral part of BBC was a price guide section for 1948-date Topps and Bowman cards. That became the basis for the data base that produced the first Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards in 1983. As editor, then publisher of the sports division at KP, I was responsible for developing the line of products that eventually numbered something like seven papers and magazines and more than a dozen books. By the late 1980s we had a full-time editor for the catalog, and I took over than position in the mid-1990s when I semi-retired from my corporate responsibilities.

In May, 2006, I left Krause Publications and the catalog. I returned to the book on a part-time basis in the summer of 2009.

BBC Blog: It's obvious that an enormous amount of work goes into maintaining it each year. Do you work with a set group of people? What is the dynamic like?

BL: The catalog has an in-house staff responsible for maintaining the database and the presentation of the modern (1981+) sections of the book. My bailiwick is maintaining the database and presentation of the vintage major league and minor league sections. I don’t maintain an official cadre of outside contributors, but work with dozens of specialist collectors and dealers year-round who keep me apprised of new discoveries, market (price) movement and popularity trends.

BBC Blog: How do you handle "new" discoveries?

BL: The inclusion of new discoveries is made easier in this day and age by the instant communications offered by the Internet and the ease of providing “evidence” in the form of scans. Even though it is a shadow of itself, eBay for many years offered a huge 24/7 international card show where new things were discovered and up-to-the-minute real-world market values were readily available.

BBC Blog: A great number of vintage Spanish sets are included in the Catalog (Toteleros, Topps Venezuelan, etc.), but very few vintage Japanese sets. Was this done on purpose?

BL: Yes. The principal reason that so many vintage Caribbean and South American card issues have been included in the past is that those professional winter leagues typically included former and future major leaguers, and Negro Leagues players who didn’t appear on career-contemporary “American” cards. Because these players populate the checklists of such sets, they are more popular with collectors in the U.S. than Japanese cards.

BBC Blog: In addition to your own work on the vintage side of the Catalog, you blog about variations and have created a wonderful gallery of your own custom cards. Can you tell me about why you started to blog? And about why you create custom cards?

BL: I started the blog when I signed back on with the catalog so that I would have a venue to communicate with collectors and dealers for the purpose of gathering information to update the book. It also provides me with an outlet for feature writing about baseball and baseball cards.

Bob's newest custom card, a T202 Triple Folder Honus Wagner/Max Carey.

The custom cards have been, for the past six or more years, my principal hobby. I no longer actively collect sports cards other than to provide materials I need to make my “cards that never were.” The availability of user-friendly computer graphics programs allows me to lose myself for hours or even entire weekends in creating baseball and football cards in the styles of the classic cards of the early 20th Century.


madding said...

Great read. I definitely miss the days when there used to be several Krause magazines on the newsstand about cards. Even though their pricing was sometimes out of touch with the real world, they were very informative and you could lose an entire afternoon in all of the interesting ads.

I didn't know about Bob Lemke's blog - it definitely sounds worth checking out.

deal said...

Nice Find - just like finding a nice card that you need for a set. I too did not know about the Lemke Site, but am excited to see it out there.

bamlinden said...

That was a very interesting interview. I enjoy making custom cards and find Bob Lemke's to be among my most favorite.