Since the early 1970s, Venezuela has been the venue of many sets of cards and/or stickers that go all but unnoticed to the wider collecting world. As a result, sets like this can be very frustrating to player collectors, as they can be very poorly documented. Case in point:
Thankfully, my Karl/Tuffy Rhodes saved search on eBay caught this one, or I wouldn't have known there was a set of Venezuelan stickers for the 1991-92 winter league season. I definitely wouldn't have known to look for a Karl Rhodes card in the set as neither Beckett, nor the Standard Catalog include them. But thanks to the wonders of the Internet, it now sits safely in my Tuffy collection between his 1991 Upper Deck Rookie Threats card and his 1992 Stadium Club card. A little digging turned up the checklist, which tops out at 244 stickers. Topping the list of well known players are, Galarraga, Vizquel and Franco, but also Eric Karros and another"Big in Japan" name, Roberto Petagine. Distributed by Genesis S.A.
Until this card showed up on eBay, I had no idea this set existed. Between Beckett and Sports Collectors Digest's Standard Catalog, sets of Venezuelan "stickers" (some are actual cards with information on the backs, some completely blank, but none with any sort of adhesive backing, I guess Venezuelans go for the DIY approach) have been documented for these years:
The Standard Catalog lists these as "Venezuelan Baseball Stamps". They feature the same photography as Topps 1972 cards, only somewhat less focused and more grainy. Almost like someone took photos of the Topps cards and then used those photos as the basis for these stickers. As a result this was a completely MLB-oriented set. Beckett does not list this set. The Nolan Ryan sticker stands out as the most valued. Distributed by Digallo C.A.
Beckett lists these as "1972-73 Venezuelan Winter League Stickers" and SCD as "1972 Venezuelan League Stickers". These covered the teams and players of Liga Venezolana de Béisbol Profesional. Obviously styled after the 1972 Topps set, thought perhaps a bit less flashy. The Standard Catalog lists 249 stickers in the set, Beckett only includes 96. Distributed by Digallo C.A.
Same set naming as the prior year and an original design. The Standard Catalog puts this set at 275 stickers, but, as of the 2006 edition, lists a few as "Unknown". Beckett lists only 210. The most notable inclusion is that of a very young Jim Rice, two years before his Topps rookie. Distributed by Digallo C.A.
Borrowing the (in my opinion) ugly burlap design from the 1968 Topps set, again, Beckett and SCD follow the naming of the previous two years, covering the 1974-75 winter season. While Beckett acknowledges the set contains 275 cards, they only bother to include 206 in their listings. The Standard Catalog includes the complete set. No notable rookies, though there is a Dave Parker following his 1974 rookie year. Distributed by Digallo C.A.
After skipping a season, Venezuelan collectors were treated to this familiar looking set, styled after the 1975 Topps entry. This series, covering the 1976-77 season, was expanded out to 330 stickers (Beckett lists 330 and the album). Stickers above 217 are mostly comprised of team action shots, group photos, logos and puzzles. Distributed by Divepress C.A.
1977 was a little different. This time around, in a larger 402 piece set, Major League and winter league players were combined into a single set. The Major League players were presented in the design of the 1977 Topps set, while the winter leaguers were presented in a unique design. Beckett makes a bit of a mess with this set, listing it as "1977 Venezuelan Topps Stickers", even though only about 50 of the cards reflect the Topps design, and only includes 326 stickers, but also listing it again as "1977-78 Venezuelan League Stickers", with 402. The Standard Catalog lists them as "1977 Venezuelan Baseball Stickers". Distributed by Divepress C.A.
After 1977, no sets show up until the 1980-81 Venezuelan League Stickers set. SCD doesn't cover this one, but Beckett lists 288 stickers, sorted by team. Says Beckett, "Andres Galarraga first ever card is in this set." Distributed by Digallo C.A.
The next three sets haven't been catalogued by either of the big two books.
This is actually sort of a two part set. Stickers 1-288 comprise the 1981-82 set, fortunately for me, including Hendu in the Pre-Smile phase of his career. For the 1982-83 winter season, the set was expanded with several cards being issued per team with letters suffixed to the card numbers. Distributed by Digallo C.A.
After a gap of a few years, the stickers returned in 1987, bringing this brightly colored set of some 240 stickers. A few of the big names here include Omar Vizquel, Andres Galarraga, David Justice, Cecil Fielder, David Wells, Julio Franco and one Gregory Maddux. Distributed by Digallo C.A.
Big names again include Andres Galarraga, Omar Vizquel, Julio Franco and Joe Girardi (ok, so he wasn't exactly a "big name" as a player). This set shrank a bit more to 216 stickers. Distributed by Digallo C.A. As far as I can determine, there were no sets for the 1989-90 or 1990-91 seasons.
Starting in 1993, Line Up issued several sets of actual baseball cards, in actual packs, covering the winter leagues, both for contemporary players as well as historical sets documenting the past 50 or so years of professional baseball in Venezuela. Panini issued a few sets, some specifically for the Venezuelan market, and some that just happened to be distributed there, along with the US. As recent as 2010, a set of stickers featuring caricatures of popular Major Leaguers in their Venezuelan team uniforms was issued.
All of these images (except for the Rhodes) come from listings by venezuelancards on eBay. I've ordered a few cards from him for my Tuffy Rhodes and Dave Henderson collections in the last couple of years. At first glance, some of the prices can seem steep, but he has pretty much cornered the market on selling these rare Venezuelan jewels to the U.S. I've sent him a few questions about the nature and origins of these sets and hope to post any details he provides. The checklists for all of the above sets are now available via the Inventory Manager over at SportsCardForum.com.
I got some responses from Gilberto, the gentleman who sells as venezuelancards. The stickers were usually issued in packs or envelopes of 4 at a time, and most of the time, the manufacturers did not release any sort of formal album, collectors were expected to create their own. Also, there were multiple companies that produced the cards over the years. I'll go back and amend the set listings to include the distributors mentioned in the eBay listings.
1 hour ago