A Card Too Far

The vast majority of my collection consists of either (a) complete sets, or (b) sets I am working on. I completed 1968 through 1971 in the 1980s, and in the past 30 years I have managed to push it all the way back to … 1964.

I do not work on one set a time — I work (slowly and randomly) on a bunch of things, which gives me more flexibility when I see an affordable lot. I might go months without buying anything, and then see some 1954 Topps commons that look great. I have no timetable. I would be content not finishing another set. We shall see.

Here is where I stand at the moment on my 1952-63 Topps sets.

Year Total Have Need %
1952 407 33 374 8%
1953 274 42 232 15%
1954 250 56 194 22%
1955 206 46 160 22%
1956 340 207 133 61%
1957 407 243 164 60%
1958 495 300 195 61%
1959 572 360 212 63%
1960 572 348 224 61%
1961 587 472 115 80%
1962 598 508 90 85%
1963 576 543 33 94%

I have 23 1952 cards, and I have 543 1963 cards.

Logically, 1963 seems like the next set that I should finish — look how close I am! But it’s just not gonna happen.

One of the cards I need is #537.

169887

I have nothing against Pete Rose. Or, for that matter, Ken McMullen, Al Weis, and Pedro Gonzalez. Heck, I liked Pete Rose as a player, and I wish we had a player like him around today. He gambled a bit? Zzzzz.

But I consider this a rather ordinary card, perhaps even a bit ugly. I like the 1963 base design quite a bit, but I gotta be blunt here: the rookies and leaders subsets, both of which employ the “floating heads” technique, are pretty lame. (Do people disagree? Anyone?)

If I am patient enough, and compromise a bit on condition, I might be able to find this card for $500. We all have our budgets, but I just can’t see myself spending $500 for this. Its probably worth $5-10 to me as a card, and perhaps as much as $50 as a “I must complete this set!” card.

But if I have $500 laying around (spoiler: I really don’t), I could instead buy all of these 1955 cards (also “needed”) in the same condition.

Oh, and I’d have about $250 left over. Not really a difficult call for me.

I first heard of the concept of the “rookie card” almost 40 years ago, when a dealer explained to me why some of his cards seemed to be oddly priced. I thought, and still think, the whole thing is contrived. There was no increased demand for a Rose rookie card until dealers jacked the price up.

Dealers: “This card is scarce and desirable.”

Collectors: “OK, I must buy this card.”

Dealers: “Cool, its now actually a bit scarce.”

Its a not a card anyone would otherwise care about.

wpeE2

But even if there is additional demand for the first Pete Rose card, wouldn’t this be a better choice? For my money, this is actually Pete Rose’s first real card. Isn’t this, objectively, 10 times the card of the 1963 … thing? This is one heck of nice card, to be honest. And it is less than 20% of the price.

I like the multi-person rookie cards that came along later in the decade. They are a fun subset, like the World Series cards or the league leaders cards. But the “demand” for them is way overblown and makes set collecting unnecessarily expensive.

The Nolan Ryan rookie card is a cute little addition to the 1968 set. But the Bob Gibson (the best player in baseball at the time) is absolute magic.

 

 

 

Author: Mark Armour

Long-time SABR member, co-chair of the Baseball Cards Committee, founder and past chairman (2002-2016) of the Biography Project, author of several books and dozens of articles on baseball. See mark-armour.net.

14 thoughts on “A Card Too Far”

    1. The 2001 update is expensive due primarily for the Ichiro rookie. My son and wife gave it too me for Christmas. My son could only find it it in the chrome version. I have never understood the appeal of chrome.

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  1. The ’68 Gibson is a true classic. A great athlete at his peak showcased in a nice, simple portrait. I upgraded many of the’68 cards when I completed the set. My original Mets rookies has a crease through Koosman’s face. I couldn’t bring myself to spend the money to upgrade. I agree that the money is better spent on more cards. We can never have too many cards.

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  2. I also have cards going back go the 1950s. I did not purchase the typical multiplayer rookies cards. I have the next year cards of any star rookies from the previous season going back go about 1957. Most notable was the 1957 Frank Robinson who was the 1956 Rookie of the year. As he did not have a 1956 card, the 1957 card was actually his rookie card. I have all the cards with the Topps All Star Rookies including the 1964 Pete Rose.

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  3. The “floating heads” are completely ugly and annoying. I’m in agreement with you on all your thoughts about Pete Rose. You might consider just getting that Rose rookie for the cheapest price possible. Sacrifice quality and just get a poor, cheap version so you can complete your set.

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  4. I actually spent several hundred dollars for the Rose rookie card to complete a complete collection of Topps Pete Rose cards. And then his fall from grace. You are absolutely correct about the second card being much better. Your post also brings back memories of trading the Nolan Ryan rookie card, which I had from childhood, therefore for a nickel, for two Don Mattingly rookie cards. Oh well, love cards still. (Sold the Pete Rose collection in Cooperstown, for a fraction, but thrilled to have found a buyer.)

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  5. My collecting is like that too – dozens of sets that are slowly being compiled over decades in no particular order other than “time at which a bargain presented itself to me.”

    I agree about the Rose too. I picked up a mid grade copy of his 1964 Topps card a few years back and basically said “OK, Pete Rose is no longer a priority, because this is the best card of him I am ever going to own.” (well, I didn’t actually say those words, but its what I was thinking). I love the design of the 1963 Topps set and it is one that I would be actively collecting but for the fact that I know I will never pay that kind of money for the Rose rookie. So instead I have my 1964 set about 80% complete while I only have about 50 cards from the 63 even though I much prefer the look of it.

    There is a similar case to be made in a comparison of the 54, 55 and 56 sets. Those are all beautiful sets (which does distinguish them from that unattractive 63 Rose), among the greatest ever made I think, but the high cost of the rookie cards in the 54 and 55 sets have driven me to the key-rookie-card-less 56 set (which I think is the best looking of the three anyway). Put a 55 Clemente next to a 56 Clemente and both are attractive cards, but when given the option of buying a 55 Clemente or a 56 Clemente and….well, probably all the other cards from the 56 set together for the same price, its really a no-brainer.

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  6. I agree on the rookie scam. I have a copy of “National Baseball Card Price Guide”. The 1963 cards are all priced at .25 XF. 1952 Topps do list high number pricing. Cards out of the grouping are #311 Mantle $7 & #321 Joe Black $15.

    I think the rookie hype started in the early 80s with the 1952 Mantle & the 1963 Rose.

    (I did check the 1951 Bowman pricing. Mantle & Mays were not broken out, but Black & old NYC players were.)

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