Vintage spotlight: Joe Doyle, king of the errors?

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By  Andy Broome | Beckett Media

“Slow” Joe Doyle (OPG and checklist) compiled a career record of 22-21 and a 2.85 ERA for the New York Highlanders and Cincinnati Reds from 1906-1910 — not exactly Hall of Fame material — but Doyle will forever hold a place near the top of the list in the baseball card Hall of Fame as the king of the error cards.

Doyle has the distinction of being pictured on the rarest card in the famed T206 set, rarer than the most famous card of all time, the Honus Wagner.

In fact, some would say it’s 10 times rarer than Wagner.

The rarity is the result of correcting an error very early in the print run and correcting the printing stone.

It is the first, uncorrected version of the card that is rare as very few made it into circulation before being corrected. How many got through is unknown but less than 10 authentic examples are known to exist today.

The error is found in the caption of the card.

It reads: “Doyle, N.Y. NAT’L” while it should have read “Doyle, N.Y. Amer” since Doyle played for the Highlanders of the American League and not the Giants of the National League.

Another player, Larry Doyle, played for the Giants at the time and could be the reason for the confusion in the preparation of the original print run.

The existence of the Doyle card was largely unknown in the hobby until the 1980s although a few sharp collectors such as long-time dealer and collector Larry Fritsch knew about the card and was searching high and low for examples many years before.

How did it happen? Someone discovered this error very early in the print run and removed “Nat’l” from the lithography printing stone and all future printings. Since replacing “Nat’l” with the proper “Amer” would require the cutting of a new stone for the brown ink, it was cheaper and faster to simply remove the error from the stone and leave the league designation blank. The removal was most likely done with grease or a litho crayon filling in the recessed area on the stone. From the printer’s perspective, problem solved and dollar saved.

We know this was an intentional correction by the printer and not a printing error because the word “Nat’l” was removed and not partially blocked by a foreign substance. An example of an unintentional printing error would be like the Snodgrass, or “Nodgrass” error where the “S” is partially blocked out on the stone causing it to appear to be missing. In some examples, the “S” can be faintly seen.

Of the 20-plus text-related errors in the T206 set, only the Doyle and the Sherry Magie error were corrected.

An authentic uncorrected error Doyle card can be found with a Piedmont 350 back. Why only this one? It is believed that the Piedmont backs were the first series to be printed. Brand backs such as Drum and Lennox would have happened much later in the run and at smaller quantities. If the error was discovered quickly, the few that were printed, cut and packed would have been on the brand backs that were printed first.

While there is the possibility of a few more raw examples out in the wild, the odds are slim. At least a few hardcore collectors and dealers have been searching for this card for more than 50 years. The lone example graded by Beckett Grading Services was graded a VG-EX 4.

As BGS can attest to, even a new-to-the-hobby T206 Wagner can appear from the depths of the unknown. The Wagner that was graded BVG 1 back in 2010 had remained tucked away in a closet for many years.

Fewer than 10 authentic examples of the Doyle card are known to exist. There are many more altered examples in the hobby. One example of an altered Doyle is a “Frankenstein” card. One takes a common Doyle corrected version and another common T206 card and removes the “Nat’l” from the card. They will then attempt to attach the “Nat’l” to the Doyle card, creating a “rare error” version.

What is the value of the card today? An example of the Doyle error graded a VG 3 by PSA sold in the Robert Edward Auctions spring sale for $350,000.00 (before premium).

Andy Broome is the senior vintage grader for Beckett Grading Services. For more information on BGS, click here.

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