The first time I considered cards as things to keep, not to throw out, was early 1972. I started buying old cards through dealers advertised in The Sporting News and had a mild epiphany – if I’m buying old cards why would I throw out my new ones? Thus a collection, and a collector, was born.
It was too late to salvage pre-1971s, but as the decade progressed I accumulated bunches of what I’d once had, though not nearly in as nice condition. As my friends aged out of the hobby, I dug in and, with a reputation for knowing about cards and their value (no one I knew but me had price guides and sales lists), I managed to set up a little cottage business. For use of my services, which included inventorying, collating and pricing out their collections, I would receive whatever number of cards I needed as compensation. It was a great deal for me. Not sure it meant squat to the recipients. I would visit their houses, leave with a giant box of cards, and perilously ride my bike home, hands holding cards, not handlebars. It’s remarkable that I never took a major, card-dispersing, fall.
My friend Gabe is moving from Cooperstown out west and, as part of his farewell tour, he was the featured speaker at our local SABR meeting on Saturday. As we worked on setting that meeting up, the conversation turned to 1969 Topps. Gabe knew I was working on finishing that set, and upgrading those crappy mid-70’s acquisitions, and mentioned he’d put together a mediocre set of his own. I was welcome to see if I could find any I needed.
We have a tradition in Cooperstown that, after our SABR meeting, we head out for pizza for a post-game recap and talk. Gabe took out his box of cards while we chatted and, quite cavalierly, tossed a card on the table. Lucky for him he avoided Diet Coke drops and pizza grease. I picked up the card and held it out to him.
“Are you OK?” he asked.
I was more dumbstruck than I should have been, but clearly a little taken aback.
“This is a Mantle white letter variation. You can definitely get a couple of hundred bucks for this.”
We talked about how to sell it, listing on eBay with good scans. Gabe put the card away carefully (not carefully enough for my taste!) and, when I got home, I searched sold listings and sent him the information.
I went through his cards and found 39 that were big improvements for me. In the box was a second year Nolan Ryan, slightly worse than I’m looking for, but easily worth $30-50. All told, even with pulling the Mantle and Ryan, Gabe’s got a substantial partial set in overall VG condition, with three other white letter variations (including Willie McCovey). All in all he’s likely to get $400-500 for the batch.
It felt great helping him out on this and brought me back, way back, to a time when the only way to find out what your cards were worth was trusting some 12-year-old kid who was eager to schlep your cards home just to reclaim the cards he’d thrown out only a few years earlier.