Altered Card Alert: 1957 Topps #138 Johnny Unitas

Posted on 2/2/2023

CSG identified subtle "power erasing" that was done on a 1957 Johnny Unitas rookie card.

Over his 18-season pro career, NFL icon Johnny Unitas became widely recognized as one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. The longtime Baltimore Colts passer helped popularize the NFL during the 1960s and was one of the first superstars of the sport. Unitas won three NFL championships during the pre-merger era (1958, 1959, 1968) and was part of the Colts’ victory in Super Bowl V in 1971. The three-time NFL MVP was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1979, and his sports cards are still highly sought-after to this day.

Unitas' historic career has made his 1957 rookie card one of the most desired within the hobby. Shown below is the 1957 Topps #138 Johnny Unitas. He is referred to on this card by his given name of John Unitas; however, by 1959, he'd become a household name and everyone, including sports card companies, called him Johhny Unitas.

1957 Topps #138 Johnny Unitas graded CSG 3.5
Click images to enlarge.

The 1957 Topps football set is highlighted by its simplistic, vintage design, with the horizontal cards divided in half. On the left side of the Unitas card is his portrait with his signature flat-top haircut, while the right side features him in his blue Colts uniform showing off his famous throwing motion.

Due to Unitas' legendary career and the fact that this is his first recognized sports card from his rookie season, the 1957 Topps #138 can command hundreds or even thousands of dollars in today's market. For example, a card graded CSG 2.5 realized $432 in a Hake’s auction in May 2021.

CSG recently received one of these cards in a submission. At first glance, nothing seems too off about the Unitas rookie card, with its signature vibrant orange and green background, but the CSG grading team identified some red flags. And upon close examination, the CSG grading team uncovered an alteration known as power erasing.

Altered 1957 Topps #138 Johnny Unitas
Click image to enlarge.

CSG Vice President Andy Broome helped explain power erasing alterations:

"Power erasing is an alteration where a portion of a card's surface is removed in order to improve the overall appearance of the card. Power erasing can be used to remove stray print, print defects and improve the image centering, to name a few reasons. The name 'power erasing' comes from the use of an electric artist eraser that is sometimes used in the alteration."

This Unitas card is a good example of spot erasing. Looking at the white outside border of the card, there are some tiny stray prints that someone tried to erase in order to give the impression that this card is in better condition.

Zoomed in image of the card where small spots were power erased.Click images to enlarge.

Power erasing is easier to detect when the alteration is being used to improve card centering issues. That's because most of the time, the alteration follows the entire edge of the card. However, it can be difficult to discover power erasing used on smaller areas, with print spots and other defects that someone has attempted to address.

The most effective way to identify power erasing alterations is by sheening the card under the proper light source. By slowly tilting a card back and forth, the light source will reflect off the glossy surface of an unaltered card. However, if power erasing has occurred, the altered surface will look dull compared to its surrounding original surface.

Close-up showing the tilted card under proper lighting to identify dull surfaces due to spot erasing. Click images to enlarge.

As seen in the image above, the area that was power erased is small and can be hard to detect. Upon closer inspection though, we can see that whoever altered the card accidentally affected the darker area of print as well, which caused the surface area to look dull compared to the rest of the original surface.

CSG uses world-class expertise, advanced technology, innovation and operational excellence to provide sports card collectors and dealers with accurate and consistent certification services. CSG backs these determinations with the industry-leading CSG Guarantee, which adds significant confidence, liquidity and value to the hobby.

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