Reflections on “Shoebox Treasures”

Author’s note: Along with other members of the SABR Baseball Cards Research Committee, I was in Cooperstown this past weekend for the opening of the Hall of Fame’s “Shoebox Treasures” exhibit. Like a great song or poem, a successful exhibit leaves room for each visitor to develop his own meaning. Here is mine. I encourage each of you to visit and find your own.

When you’re a kid a shoebox can be a lot of things but mostly a safe. In the closet, under the bed, or in some nook a kid imagines a secret, there is a box of his best things. It might start out with some plastic army men or a G.I. Joe, some bottle caps, a few pieces of Halloween candy pilfered from his sister’s trick or treat bag, and some stamps and coins, but as the collection grows all these things give way to the consummate currency of cool: cardboard.

My favorite photograph from the exhibit

The baseball card collection, guarded more closely than eggs to a hen, was all things at once: encyclopedia of all that matters, marker of status, builder of friendships, beginning of plans and dreams, blank canvas, constant muse, and drawbridge to the bigger and better.

Not sure why “improved” is in quotes here!

The luckiest kids were born into cardboard royalty through an older brother or cousin, or–if they really hit the jackpot–their dad. I was not. Though my dad grew up during the Golden Age of Baseball and could have acquired countless cards of of Mays, Aaron, and Mantle, he had neither the interest nor the change to spare. His interests as a young boy were astronomy and dinosaurs. He told me why once. They were the things he could think of as far away as possible, in distance and in time.

Upper portion of “Collector’s Corner” area of exhibit

He had no cards for me, just a similar desire to escape. We both grew up in (and ultimately recreated) houses full of conflict: arguments, yelling, fighting, and ultimately divorce. I expected things to improve when my dad moved out, but my mom’s anger never went away. It only found the closest targets. From the outside our house looked solid. It survived earthquakes and a fire. On the inside it was fragile and falling apart, its only stronghold my growing house of cards.

More than 40 pull-out drawers, organized by era, offer a tremendous visual timeline of the Hobby.

The kids I grew up with, I think most of them collected to be closer to their heroes. Far fewer collected to be farther from everything else. As adults, however long our hiatus from the Hobby, I suspect the proportion is greater. Our cards help us start over, feel young again, and shield us from what ails us.

The exhibit included the work of Baseball Card Vandals, Gummy Arts, Tim Carroll, and other artists.

As I made the drive from Cooperstown to Albany for my 6 o’clock flight home, I reflected on the unbelievably great time I had all weekend but also how fantastic it would be to get home, to be back with my fiancee, my son, and our dog. (And yes, to add a few new cards to my binders from the local card shops!)

Getting ready to hit the card shops (L-R): Mark Armour, Harry Hoyle, and Andrew Aronstein

For most of my collecting life, I needed to collect. I don’t anymore. Life is that good finally. But here’s the kicker, brought home 100% at “Shoebox Treasures.” I still love the cards just as much. My shoeboxes are still safes, but now only the cards need protecting. Thanks to the heroes, cardboard and otherwise, who got me here.

Several players were on hand all weekend for the Hall of Fame Classic

I know some of you are a little bummed to reach the end of this post without seeing a bunch of great cards, especially if you missed the Mantle rookie in one of the pics. In fact the exhibit is loaded with great cards, including what’s probably the nicest T206 Wagner in the world. (Before you go checking some pop report, this one has never been graded!) I have too many pictures to share, and I’d rather you just go see the cards for yourself, but I will leave you with this great pairing.

Topps All-Star Rookie trophy supplied by the great Johnny Bench himself!

Author: jasoncards

I mainly enjoy writing about baseball and baseball cards, but I've also dabbled in the sparsely populated Isaac Newton trading card humor genre. As of January 2019 I'm excited to be part of the SABR Baseball Cards blogging team, and as of May 2019 Co-Chair of the SABR Baseball Cards Research Committee.

20 thoughts on “Reflections on “Shoebox Treasures””

  1. Couldn’t have said it better myself. It’s almost as if I was there. Oh shit! I was. Everyone you have to get to Cooperstown to see this for yourself. Cards can be an escape in many ways to all of us. As we briefly talked about over the weekend. Great synopsis of a great weekend

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pitch perfect summary. I wasn’t there but I loved the postings I saw all wkend. Your sentiments touch many of my thoughts on collecting and other hobbies. Look forward to others impressions & making my own trip in the future.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I loved seeing everyone’s posts. Am bummed I missed the event and meetup. I am however deeply looking forward to going to this with my kids. I guided them into baseball as a parent and they guided me back into cards again. It’s been fun to remember how much I loved cards and reacquaint myself with them all again. And it’s been just as fun to watch my kids fall in live with cards and collecting too. I know we’re all going to love sharing our first time through the Hall of Fame.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Very nice wrap up. You are spot on with the idea of collecting being a safe retreat.Thanks for Tweeting out highlights all weekend. By the way, Pilot sighting on the pull out drawer: Diego Segui.

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  5. I finally made it home! It was a wonderful weekend, spending time with friends old and new. Also: Mark H (Harry H?) and Andrew need to join SABR, stat. I have learned that they are two of the best people in the hobby and we would all benefit from a union.

    I plan to write a post about the weekend. I hope Jeff does too.

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    1. Mark, just seeing your comments now. It really was a great weekend and I feel fortunate to have met you guys! I’ll absolutely be joining SABR – something I should have done 30 years ago.

      Liked by 1 person

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