Monday, January 24, 2011

Calling All Cards

Today was freezing cold, so after our morning walk at the mall (very exciting) we came home to our warm house to stay. Usually when my wife and I are home at the same time, we fall back on a routine that seems to work for us. We have things we do together like eat, do crossword puzzles and watch TV, and things we do separately. It's a nice balance and helps keep us from tripping over each other. When the weather is so extreme it's an additional challenge since neither of us can do any of the outdoor activities we enjoy like messing around in the garden. On days like this I look for projects. Today I decided to start sorting out the baseball cards my sons collected during the 1980s and 1990s.

We have shoe boxes full of these cards made mostly by Topps. Some of the sets are boxed, that is, ordered by us from the manufacturer in complete sets for a given year. We have 5 of these along with hundreds of loose cards for 1980-1981 that I have sorted by team. We also have quite a few football and hockey cards, but these don't have the caché of baseball cards. It occurred to me that since they are just taking up space on my shelves, and my sons show no interest in them, I thought I would find out if any were valuable and give them the option of making some cash, something I know they are interested in. My timing is not great since baseball card collecting and values have fallen off in recent years.

The hobby peaked around the mid-90s when card values were at their highest. A number of factors helped kill card collecting: the 1994-95 baseball strike hurt the sport and the card industry; too many manufacturers flooded the market to compete with Topps, the company that once enjoyed a monopoly in the business...this created confusion in the market about card values; kids preferred to play video games rather than collect cards; the hobby became a big business as prices soared...people didn't just collect their favorite players for the fun of it but rather for their monetary value. Card shows sprang up where not only baseball cards were traded, but the shows were frequented by players past and present who cashed in on collector interest in cards. For a price they would sign your card, thereby starting the abominable practice of autograph selling.

Today packs of cards sell for anywhere from $1 to $10 dollars. They were a dime at the candy store when I was a kid. You got 10 cards and a piece of bubble gum as stiff as linoleum. The gum combined with the cardboard cards to emit a wonderful, mystical smell that any guy over 60 will recognize immediately. We flipped the cards as I described in a past blog. (View You Threw Out What???) We also did deals to acquire players we really wanted. We had no way of knowing what players were in the packs we bought, and finding a Mickey Mantle, Duke Snyder or Willie Mays was pretty much hit or miss. I once gave 200 assorted cards in trade for a Mickey Mantle.

I kept my card collection in cigar boxes and shoe boxes, sorted out by function. I had "nobody" cards I used just for flipping or trading since I could afford to lose them. I had cards I would not flip or trade for anything. I also had cards that were valuable, but since I already had them, I would use them for high-powered trades. These cards were our kid currency. We treasured them, looked at them until they got dog-eared, and never thought for a minute about their monetary value. Collectors today so highly prize these cards that they keep them encased in plastic and almost never look at them. Doesn't sound like much fun to me, but then the older vintage cards sell for serious dough. A 1909 Honus Wagner recently sold at auction for a record $2.3 million.

As I sifted through my sons' cards, ball players names long forgotten flashed before my eyes. I even thought I got a familiar whiff of bubble gum coming off these 30-year old cards. After all my work I'll probably find out the collection isn't worth what I paid for the special boxes to store it in. No matter, it was worth the effort to give me a chance to think back on a hobby that gave me so much pleasure as a kid. And I stayed out of my wife's way.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association


Joseph Del Broccolo said...

Nice blog! I think that the commercialization of baseball along with these fantasy leagues have helped kill the collecting hobby. I don't even know for sure that they still sell baseball cards! Baseball is a business and has lost its charm!

Jim Pantaleno said...

It's all about the money Joe...very sad.