Baseball Card Collecting : A Lifetime Hobby
How old were you when you opened your first pack of baseball cards? For me, it was probably about the age of seven when Topps baseball cards were a nickel…and came with a stick of bubblegum! For boys of my generation, the beautiful fragrance of that gum is something that has stayed with us over the years and would be recognizable even if we were blindfolded.
The wonderful magic of collecting is that the thrill of opening those packs to see if we got Ted Williams or Mickey Mantle is not any different today when we look for Bryce Harper or Carlos Correa to appear from beneath the wrapper. Of course, the packs are no longer a nickel (and there is no gum) but for a baseball fan, the thrill remains the same.
Card collecting is over 100 years old and the hobby has evolved into a complex and ever-changing marketplace. From the tobacco cards of the early 20th century to the sporadic issues of the Depression era and World War II to the post-war cards from companies like Bowman & Leaf, it wasn’t until 60+ years ago that the Topps company started the real boom era of sports card collecting. While they issued a couple of playing card style sets in 1951, the 1952 set marked the true beginning of baseball cards as we know them today with over 400 numbered cards that included statistics and player bios. Bowman also issued card sets during this time, but Topps bought them out in 1956 and became the exclusive distributor of major league cards for a period that lasted through 1980.
A court decision in 1980 paved the way for new companies to enter the market and starting in ’81, Donruss & Fleer began to distribute baseball cards and more competitors (like Upper Deck) joined the market during the 1980’s. In the 80’s & 90’s, this highly competitive industry created their own problems by adding too many products and brands, while also over-producing the products they made. Collectors became “investors” (a classic mistake), hoping that cards would increase in value as the players performance improved, but the glut of cards on the market created just the opposite effect. Even today, when I look at collections that people have interest in selling, many of the cards are “bulk junk” from that era.
Out of necessity, the card manufacturers began re-inventing their products in the late 90’s with the advent of higher-priced “premium” items that included autographed cards as well as memorabilia cards (pieces of uniform or bat) and limited edition issues. Today, we have come full circle, with MLB limiting the licenses they issue and Topps once again being the major producer of cards. For fans and collectors, the hobby is still great fun and continues to bring enjoyment to young and old alike.
In future visits, we’ll cover other aspects of the hobby, from building your collection, to understanding values, to card condition & grading and anything else you might find interesting. Please understand that the emphasis will be on “collecting” as opposed to “investing”…even though a nice collection will always be a good investment.
Your feedback is welcome…thanks for reading.