Card of the Day: 1906 Fan Craze Vic Willis

Today’s Card of the Day comes from a set that we have featured here twice before. The most recent time was the first appearance for Claude Ritchey. The first time we used this card, we were sharing an article on Deacon Phillippe. Today’s third share is for Hall of Fame pitcher Vic Willis, who was born on this date in 1876. It comes from the 1906 Fan Craze set, which is a set that stands out a bit because there weren’t a lot of cards being made before things really picked up in the baseball card business in 1909.

There was the iconic Old Judge set, which was printed over five years (1886-90), then a few other smaller sets in the 1890s, not all traditional cards either, such as the popular and very rare Cameo Pepsin pin set. The 1891-1907 time period doesn’t have a lot of great sets, so certain sets like this Fan Craze offering become popular. If this set was released in 1909, it would probably be a forgotten set, with lower prices and only collected seriously by a few people. Because of the release date, Willis only has a handful of earlier cards, most of them extremely rare. He didn’t join the Pittsburgh Pirates until 1906 though, so this is his first card with the team.

Here’s the front of the card:

There isn’t much going on here, though the back will help explain that better. You get a great photo of Willis, which was taken before he joined the Pirates. The cropping here, which is the same for all of the players in the set, hides the fact that he’s in a Boston (current day Atlanta Braves) uniform. This same exact photo was used three years later for the artwork in the iconic T206 set, where the artist took the creative liberty of putting him on the Pirates in that set…sort of. They made it a road gray uniform and wrote Pittsburg across the jersey, which wasn’t on the actual jerseys back then.

Willis is referred to as Victor here. He’s always referred to as Vic now, but a search of newspaper articles from 1906 show that about 40% of the mentions for him say Victor, while the rest use Vic. Just an interesting side fact. Usually I check that for nicknames, but the use of a specific first name that can be shortened is interesting to see as well.

The Pittsburg spelling there is correct for the time (1890-1911). The “strike” at the top will be better explained with the back…

Here’s the back of the card:

Rarely do I get a chance to use a back scan more than once, but this is the same scan from the Phillippe and the Ritchey article. All of the backs looked the same, so no need to upload another scan. This was from a game, so those rounded corners you see were natural. It was basically like a deck of playing cards. The “strike” you see at the top of the front was an outcome in the game. There were 22 outcomes total in the 54-card set. The good outcomes were very limited, leading to what I imagine was a lot of low scoring games. You weren’t going to get a lot of extra-base hits or rallies when only three of the cards in the whole set included a type of extra-base hit.

There are two of these cards for sale on Ebay, and both are high grade. They are also both expensive, due to the grade, but also due to the fact that he’s in the Hall of Fame. These cards aren’t hard to find in high grade relative to their population. They were often found together in stacks, bought in one group instead of collected, which helped keep the grades high. The rounded corners also help. It’s a look harder to get a corner ding on a card when it doesn’t have a 90 degree angle to ding. The PSA 9 copy of this card on Ebay has a $1,200 price tag. The PSA 8 has an $800 price. There really isn’t a good comparison piece among sold auctions on Ebay, and no Willis cards have ended in the last three months, so I’m not sure how good those prices are compared to real value.