The One About Home Decorating

A few days ago Jason retweeted a photo I put on Twitter last fall showing a framed display of my baseball cards. Jason left out the role he played in my display, so I promised a post on the matter. This is more autobiographical than I am generally comfortable with, but the lessons herein might be of value.

When it comes to baseball cards, I have always considered myself to be a Set Collector. If someone were to gift me a stack of 1950 Bowman cards (no one has ever done this, but for the sake of science why not give it a try?) my reaction would likely be to figure out how many cards I needed to complete the set. Checking just now … I have 19 cards from 1950 Bowman (out of 252), which is 7.5%. I even have a few Hall of Famers. If you give me another 50, suddenly I am over 30% and pretty much committed.

IMG_1817

If you’re a Set Collector, a particular set’s “status” is generally defined more by what you don’t have than what you do have. I have been chipping away at my 1956 cards for 35 years–my focus on the set (and on baseball cards generally) has ebbed and flowed over the years. I still need 22, including the Luis Aparicio rookie card, and several difficult team cards (Yankees, Dodgers, Red Sox, Cardinals).

But in stating the case this way, didn’t I bury the lede? Should I not instead start with the facts that I own 318 cards from the 1956 set, and that many of them are … kinda spectacular? I am not writing this to brag, but as an admission that I often don’t spend enough time appreciating what I have. For most of the past 30 years, when I have picked up a new 1956 card, even someone like Roberto Clemente, it doesn’t take more than a day or two before I carefully place it out of sight, in a box or binder. “What’s next?”

If a new friend were to walk into my house, it would take them a while to discover I was a baseball fan. There are no baseball artifacts in any of the rooms they’d likely encounter. The main reasons for this: (1) my house is of modest size; (2) other people live here; and (3) they show no signs of leaving. My baseball stuff is mainly confined to a small office that I have gradually taken over without explicit permission.

So last September Jason posted a picture of his display of Hank Aaron cards. It was incredible, both in its inherent beauty and as a visualization of a wonderful collection and tribute. I mean, come on:

IMG_2463I knew Jason was a Hammer GuyTM, and that he had all of his major cards, but to see them all in one display like this was a bit breathtaking.

But I also thought: Hold on a sec, I also have cards.

I called Jason and asked him about the display case, and he filled me in. I quickly suggested to my family that the case would make a handsome birthday gift, and a few short weeks later I was proven correct. After a few days rumination, I filled it with my best cards from 1952-58 Topps and hung it up on the wall.

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(Jason, with 50 Aarons plus assorted other superstars, has considerably more WAR in his frame.)

Of my 45 cards, the first I owned were the 1956 Ted Williams and Jackie Robinson, purchased for $50 (total) at a card shop in Minneapolis in 1983. I had most of the others by early 1990s, safely squirreled away.

This display decision has worked out just fine. It remains up in my office, just a few feet from where I am now typing. My family seems OK with it, though my daughter is continually bothered the non-uniformity of the second row. I don’t recall that anyone else has seen it in real life–my office is not a visitor destination. I see it everyday, and I am sure I have looked at my 1953 Satchell [sic] Paige card more in the past seven months than in the previous 30 years I had owned it.

There are downsides.

First, it is not easy to replace cards or moved them around. You have to take the display down from the wall, lay it on a flat surface, open the hinged glass front, adjust the contents, close and re-latch the front, and then carefully place the whole thing back on the wall. I haven’t yet had any reason to change the cards, though I do have dreams of adding another Mays card or two.

A second down-side is its effect on my set collecting. My 1956 binder is now missing not only the 22 cards I need, but also the 9 I removed to put in this frame. What does this binder even mean now, with all of the best cards ripped from its pages? It’s not like I am going to buy second copies of these cards.

An upside to this downside is that it has allowed me to consider my collection in (arguably) a more healthy way. I recently purchased a few cards from 1953 Bowman, which is one of my favorite sets. I have no real intention of completing it, so I will instead just enjoy looking at the 20 or so cards that I own. Which is OK?

In a related matter, I have been mulling over a second display. The 1950s cards are from before I was born, so it stands to reason that a case focused on my sweet spot (say, 1967-71) would afford me some pleasure. Or maybe I could create pick out 50 of my beloved Corsairs and Belters.

The two biggest obstacles: (1) I am not seeing any available wall space around here, and (2) this plan would cause me to remove cards from binders of completed sets. I mean, is this even legal? While contemplating all of that, I wait.

In our little Twitter community, I have seen card displays devoted to T-205s, or of Dave Parker, or of Milwaukee Brewers. They all look amazing to me. In my humble-ish opinion, if you collect cards, and you have the appropriate space, they are worth displaying.

Happiness will ensue.

Author: Mark Armour

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

10 thoughts on “The One About Home Decorating”

  1. Love this post. Over the last year or two, I have been taking complete sets out of 800-ct boxes and putting them in albums so they can be looked at and enjoyed.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. A very important point. I have had 2 autographed Sports Illustrated covers ruined by exposure to light. These were in frames that were supposed to block out harmful rays.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you for the post, Mark. And for the pictures of the displays. One of the things I’m taking from this is that putting eyeballs on cards is a good portion of what makes this all fun. (Sounds self-evident, sure, but for me it’s a helpful reminder.) … Starting from your using the term Set Collector near the beginning, I find a lot in common with your approach and mine. In my case, after having a very targeted focus in my collection for so long I’ve thrown open the gates to an assortment of sets large and small. Without much available displaying space, a solution for me is few open storage boxes of various sizes within close reach of my desk in my office. With that I keep the cards in my most active set pursuits at any given moment just a glance and a grab away.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This approach can help with the card budget also. My first year back in I bought anything and everything. Now I mainly buy what will go on my wall, on my mantel, on my display shelves, or in my coffee table binders. I am fully aware that condition could degrade over time, but the same is true about me!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Heck, Jason, you could always get ’em slabbed. Heavier to display, though, more costly for sure, and won’t slow our personal degradation.

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  5. I have the answer to your space problem. I scan the cards and blow them up to 81/2 by 11. I then adhere them to the wall with mounting putty, which does not damage the wall. The pictures then become wall paper rather than decorations, and it’s great to see them blown up. Also has the advantage of not having to break up your sets. The effect is striking. I have completely covered my office at home with MVPs. I have now expanded coverage to the ceiling.

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  6. I really enjoyed this post. Thanks for sharing. BTW, my eye was immediately drawn to the inconsistency in the second row. You daughter and I obviously have the same personality quirk. 🙂

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