“Where the f- are my cards?”

I went to a card show at, I think, the Roosevelt Hotel in NYC, in, I think, 1985. I was a year out of college, single, working, and unembarrassed to be back into collecting. I had a 1967 Topps set to finish and nothing was going to stop me now!

At that show I bought a nice Clemente, probably near-mint. I have no idea what something like that cost back then. Anyway, Clemente and other cards in hand, I hopped from dealer to dealer, putting my purchases down as I looked some more. When I got home, the Clemente was gone.

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There was no foul play; I just didn’t have a good system for storing what I had already bought while I searched for more to buy. As distraught as I was to lose that card, and a few others, it was my fault and it made me develop a system of how to carry stuff at a show. Boxes, top loaders, lists, etc., would now be placed in a bag that never left my side. It’s worked ever since.

In the last two years I’ve bought a lot of cards online and thank the Lord for the tracking number. It feels foolproof and gives a security that lets me sleep soundly at night. I have paid for cheaper postage, and even shipped that way, but at least in those instances there’s a sense of shared risk – the buyer knows he’s paying a buck for an envelope and a stamp and I’m able to sell lower value cards. None of those non-tracking numbered mailings have been lost.

So it’s crazy to know that 29 1969 Topps I ordered from someone on Sportlots.com has vanished. Weirder still is that it got to the Cooperstown Post Office, was scanned as “Out for Delivery” and disappeared. I think it’ll turn up. One of the nice things of living in Cooperstown is that there’s a real connection to the people at the local Post Office, so they’re on it. If it doesn’t show, I’ll file a claim. After all, it did arrive!

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I learned one thing from this – don’t mark your checklists before the cards are in hand. I’ve been crossing things out as I order or trade so I know what I still need, but, man, now I have to go back and undo that, which is going to look ugly.

I guess I learned another thing – with all the postal advances there remains vulnerability. Psychologically, there’s an adrenaline rush to see that there are cards “Out for Delivery.” Really, it’s pretty exciting, at least for me (and, I’m guessing, you, considering you’re reading this). I’d hate to see this hiccup spoil a (formerly) predictably good feeling. That would suck.

“It’s a good book, but it is not the only book.”

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Do people still watch Inherit the Wind? In my house, it’s a staple, one of those movies that is always watched to the end, regardless of when we happen upon it. Spencer Tracy, as Henry Drummond, man of reason, makes the above quoted point about the Bible. The film is a true classic, timeless in its portrayal of science vs. religion, progress vs. regression, thought vs. belief. “Plus ca change…” and all that.

I’m not a slave to the Standard Catalog and its prices, but it serves its purpose very well. For me, it’s an upper limit of cost – most cards, especially commons, can be had for way less than book value. I’ve been spending about half the quoted price for 1960 Topps commons, about one-third of book for 1956 Topps commons, low and high numbers. Granted, EX condition is a wider lane to drive in, so there’s more play, and commons are different from stars. If I can get big names for any amount less than book, I’m happy.

Now that I’m down to the last 18 cards for my 1960 set, I’ve run into a bit of a wall. I see by sold listings on eBay that there’s a low range that I’m shooting to claim as well. I do like my bargains. Maybe I can get a Mantle All-Star for $65 instead of $75, but it’s not going to get better than that. (I know firsthand because I missed out on one at that price last week).  I’m not looking to pay 1985-era prices in 2017, just the lowest possible price within the realm of reason. I will prevail. There’s no reason to panic on 1960 Topps of any kind. They’re out there in force.

For other sets I’ve nearly finished, there are cross purposes at work. I desperately want to wrap up some sets but I’m finding that either book prices are not an indication of the present market, or I have to fight my impatience to complete and move on. I fight the feeling that I should pay way too much just to be done. I need the Jackie Jensen card to finish the 1949 Remar Bread set. That’s it. They aren’t plentiful, but I see them priced way beyond book, Sometimes they sell, sometimes they languish. I’ll sit back and wait. Then there’s crazy mispricing. I need two commons to finish my 1952 Parkhurst set. I don’t see them appear often, but when they do I can get them for $10. There’s a dude who wants $45 for a Jim Hughes card. Good luck buddy!

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Then there are cards that have clearly have reached a price point. I’m down to the last three cards for the 1971 Kellogg’s set. Wayne Simpson, Reds flash in the pan, is card #1 and there is zero possibility I’m going to get one in EX for $6.75, or NM for $13.50. Near Mint versions, graded or un-graded, are going for $50-60 and more. I’ve saved enough on the other cards that I wouldn’t feel too bad paying $20-30, but I don’t know if that’s going to ever happen. I may have to keep climbing that price ladder.

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What’s interesting about book is that, though I’m working with a 2009 edition, prices haven’t moved on vintage stuff, at least not in the sets and condition I’m interested in. Still, we’d all be nowhere without some kind of guide to tell us what to expect the market to be and to make us feel great when we get a deal and terrible when we pay too much. Much like the Bible itself, the Standard Catalog can lead to bliss or shame.

Pulling Dubs and Saying Goodbye

All of my cards are mine. Redundant? Nonsensical? Inscrutable? Perhaps, but I’ve always had an attachment to each and every one of my cards. They all feel like my children, if, like a seahorse, I had thousands and thousands of babies. That attachment to what is mine has made it nearly impossible to make sensible choices.

As a kid I was told that I shouldn’t love things, that things can’t love you back. Maybe that’s so, but things have provided me a lot of joy and if that’s not love, what is? So it’s been a major step forward to start selling extra cards and, in a grand sense, make the change from “all of these cards are part of me” to “wow, I have a lot of assets I can leverage.” The former is emotional, the latter as clinical as can be.

I wrote about making huge bulk trades a few weeks ago. Though I’ve only been through one trade, it was a great one – I’m getting around 350 1968 and 1969 Topps baseball and I’m giving 525 Topps football, basketball and hockey, 1969-1974. As trading partners, Mark and I sort of eyeballed value, but not too much. Clearly more of my commons were needed to match his commons, but there are a lot of stars and Hall of Famers in the mix and my guess is, if we really went through each card meticulously, we’d come out pretty close in dollar value. But that’s not really the point, nor where the fun is.

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I was in Chicago last week, missing my cards but picking up 150 1968s and 1969s from my longtime pal Jimmy. We’ve engaged in pretty loose back and forth trading. I came into a bunch of 1970 Topps last year and gave him what he needed. He returned the favor and I’ll return it right back once I get his mid-1970s want lists. Once I got back to Cooperstown, it was time to start pulling cards for the big Mark deal.

It was an interesting process for me. On one hand, going through boxes and boxes of cards from my prime pack buying days was pleasantly emotional, eminently enjoyable. Card after card, each one bringing back vague nostalgia and visions of little Jeff Katz ripping packs on the concrete step by the front door of his Long Island house.  I could see the old shoeboxes I stored them in, feel the thin wood doors of a cabinet that I put the boxes in. On the other hand, I knew I was saying goodbye to them all, sending them to a home where they’d become prized singles, not neglected doubles and triples.

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Cards are in transit, from East Coast to West, from West Coast to East and, I have to say, I feel great about it. I’m excited to get a box of cards and I know Mark feels the same.  Once I go through my new babies, I’ll likely be $100-200 away from a complete 1969 Topps set, unless one of you wants to join in and trade with me. I still have thousands of doubles I’m ready to part with, though I’ll miss them. Maybe they’ll keep in touch.

An Unsettled Set Strategy

I fancy myself as a frugal guy. Maybe not frugal, not anymore. I used to be pretty tight with money, which was fine when I was on my own, a bit more problematic once I got married. Over time I’ve become somewhat more profligate, maybe not profligate, but I no longer spend money as if I was still a kid without a job or had an entire career behind me. Still, I don’t love the act of spending, so I still try to maximize my dollars. If I’m going to spend dough, then I want it to be as little as possible within the confines of market rates.

When I started working on various sets, I had two general situations – 1) I had more than enough of the set that it was way less costly to finish off the checklist and 2) that, for other sets, it would be cheaper to buy the whole set and sell off what I already had from said set. I was more than aware of that, but there’s little fun in buying the whole all at once. Building a set over time is more enjoyable. And yet…

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I had about 30 1964 Topps coins and a solid amount of those were high end guys in EX condition. I figured with Koufax, Clemente, one of the Mantle All-Stars and plenty of other Hall of Famers, I’d be able to finish off the rest for less than the cost of a complete set. I was wrong, and I was wrong in a couple of ways.

The first way I was wrong was that, regardless of book value, there’s a definite floor on prices for commons. Could I get them for less than $1.75-2? Not really. Oddly, I can’t seem to sell my doubles for more than $2, about $1.50 after fees. It’s not a great spread.

The second way I was wrong was in gauging opportunity. I didn’t expect to go back to a card show, which I did, wrote about, and that led to 48 coins in one shot. I didn’t expect a friend to have another 35 he was willing to sell at a fair price.

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That’s it. I’m done. I have the entire set, not counting the Wayne Causey and Chuck Hinton wrong back All-Stars (they say “N.L” when they should say “A.L.”). I’ll likely pick them up over time, though there’s a difference between a complete set and a complete master set with all errors. (I do have both Mantle All-Stars. Less a mistake than a conscious and clever effort by Topps, there are AS coins of The Mick batting right-handed and left-handed).

Even with the 30+ head start, I ended up paying more to finish the set than had I bought it outright. How much more? Maybe $25 bucks, maybe $45 bucks with the error coins. Was that worth it? I’m not sure. I had expected that it would take me a good year or so to cobble together all the coins I needed. Had that been the case it would have been worth the extra money to work slowly and enjoy the gradual build.

But was it worth it for what ended up being about 3 months’ worth of collecting? I’m still not sure. I get an inordinate amount of joy looking at them, but maybe that would have been the case had they all arrived at once.

What I do know is that this is probably the only instance of doubt I’ve had on my process. I’ve been able to make enough good deals (and offset a percentage of costs with eBay sales) on the other sets I’ve worked on that it’s been better to piece them together. At least I’ve managed to stretch those sets out longer in a way that doesn’t give me pause.

My Cards Cup Runneth Over

The ‘70’s were my pack buying heyday. Except for Topps hockey cards (I started buying complete sets by mail in 1972, though stopped the year BEFORE Gretzky’s rookie, a massive collecting error in judgment), I bought pack after pack of baseball, football and basketball, mostly between 1972-1976 (the span is slightly different for each sport). I can tell how many packs I bought by the number of inserts left over. I have piles of unscratched off Topps football scratch off games from 1975. On top of the pack buying frenzy, I was known as a card collector so, by the end of the decade, my friends gave me their collections, all from the same period.

I was going through 1972-1976 football cards for a trade. You want to see a lot of 1973 Coy Bacon cards? Here are a lot of 1973 Coy Bacon cards!

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As I happily shuffled through countless Roy Gerelas and Halvor Hagens, I couldn’t shake the feeling that before me lay underutilized resources and a cavernous opportunity. There must be some collectors out there who need the commons and stars I have from this era and have commons/stars from years I need for a straight up value for value trade. There must be. But are there? Where are the many in need of a 1974 Billy Keller?

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It seems somewhat unlikely that someone would have 1968-69 baseball and football in nice condition and not have the years I cover so completely. There may be someone who has few cards from the other sports but holds a wealth of cards I need. I’ve been fishing around and seem to have found a few people who fit the bill, but I want more. My goal would be to virtually eliminate all the doubles (and triples and quadruples and quintuples, and other -uples) from my collection and have only single cards. I think it’s doable.

Another idea is trying to sell bulk commons to set builders, but at a price that makes sense and what I see out there doesn’t make sense. The market is the market, but selling 40+ year old cards for a dime doesn’t sit well with me. Again, trading is the way to go.

How can this blog community help? Well, I’ve already met, either virtually or in real life, other collectors and we swap a little. Maybe we can bulk up the Facebook page as a venue for, if not a sellers market, at least a healthy trading forum for us all. Who knows what we’ll find. There may be seven people desperately looking for nice condition 1973 Bill Bonham cards.

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And, So, I Return

I railed against card shows in a February post, extolling the virtues of eBay and espousing the problems of shows. No matter – last weekend was the East Coast National in White Plains. My friend Greg and I have been trying to coordinate going to a show together and, finally, our schedules lined up.

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Though I always used to go to shows on Sunday – seemed like dealers were more likely to haggle rather than schlep all of their inventory home – Saturday was the only day that worked for both of us. Replacing my last day strategy took some thinking, but I hit on something of a plan. I’d knock off as many commons from my want lists, mostly 1960 Topps, because I’m down to so few commons that going the eBay route is less worthwhile. If I could cross off enough of my checklists, I’d be happy. It’s much easier to find bargains on stars online. That’s been my experience.

Good approach, but that initial strategy of loading on commons was immediately derailed when I saw the Clean Sweep Auctions table. I used to order a lot from Steve Verkman. What I thought were random 1960’s turned out to be stars at 40% off. The discount brought them to book prices or slightly less. I’ve been having a hard time getting cards like Yogi Berra in EX or better for book or less. I ended up with 5 cards – Master and Mentor (Mays and Rigney), Berra, Snider, Brooks Robinson and the Pirates team card (with unmarked checklist) – one-third of my budget spent and a whole room to hit. So be it for the best plans. Mine gang aft agley.

 

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I assumed I’d hit the familiar tables with binders and binders of commons and, with a turn of a corner, I did. A dealer named Jeffrey Schenker had a nice group of EX or better cards, even giving me a good deal on some high numbers. I got 17 cards, a solid dent into the list, and I was back on track.

By this time I had gotten into the habit of telling people I was Mayor of Cooperstown. I didn’t think it would get me any better deals (and it didn’t) but this was the perfect audience to tell. Most had been to Cooperstown, and pretty recently, and it was nice to spread the word of the village to a group eager to listen.

As I walked past tables, I was surprised by how few dealers had varied offerings. It was Topps and Bowman, one after the other (outside the tables I couldn’t care less about – new cards, autographs, game used stuff, and so on). I was convinced I’d be able to get some 1971 Kellogg’s 3-Ds and 1964 Topps coins, but I was getting a bad feeling about it.

Then I found Stan’s Vintage Sports Cards and a small stack of Kellogg’s. I asked to see them and he pulled out one, two, three, four, five stacks! I hadn’t even noticed them all, so happy to see the one. I got three cards – Agee, Menke and Horton – but I only needed 8. I figured while I was there I’d ask if he had 1964 Coins. He did and what passes for hard work began.

 

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We laid some price ground rules early. I told him I wouldn’t pay much more than $2 per common. I went page by page, hunched over, a little sweaty, but it was worth it. I ended up with 37 coins at exactly the price I was looking for. A couple of tables over there was another guy with coins and I picked up 11 more. Big success.

 

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I’m so out of card show shape that I was exhausted, physically and (almost) financially. Greg and I met up again and, while we were chatting, I glanced over to a table with some 1960’s. I figured I’d give it one last go and picked up two more – Herb Score and the Tigers team.

Interestingly, this guy had a Jim Kaat rookie for $8. Way too cheap but seemingly nice, I took it out of the top holder and a PSA grading strip fell out. It said the card was “altered.” Now the dealer wasn’t trying to hide anything – he’d left that info in – but I couldn’t quite figure out what was wrong with it. It measured up in size to the other cards and had no discernible problems. He thought I should get it, of course, and I wondered if I should. “No one will know it’s altered, if it’s just going in a binder,” he said. Yeah, but I’d know and, while I might never figure out what was tampered with, I’d be nagged by the fact that somehow I had a bad card.

That was it. I’d spent most of my budget, was tired but happy, and my entire recent attitude on shows had changed. There are still pleasant dealers, engaged collectors who are happy to chat (I got into a long talk about Goudey Wide Pens) and certain purchases that can only be best made at shows.

I’m back!

Memory Almost Full?

I pride myself on my memory. When I shop for records, I know at a glance what I have and what I don’t. Same thing for books. Believe me, it’s not that easy to keep such things mentally cataloged when you have thousands of each.

Same holds true for cards. The “got it, got it, need it, need it” knowledge runs deep for me. So, whenever I slip up in life, memory wise, it gets me down. I’m only 55 (almost!) but not having 100% infallible recall worries me.

When I started looking at older sets to finish, searching for those that were reasonably within striking distance, I completely forgot about the 1936 Goudey Wide Pens, Type 1. I was putting some cards away recently and came across them, pages and pages of them. It’s not that I didn’t know I had some; I didn’t know how many and have little memory of when and why I was so into them.

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Turns out I have 70% of the set, 83 of 120, so add another set to the project list. It’s an interesting checklist. Granted, there were only 16 teams back then, but the amount of dross in the roster  is amazing. There is a quasi-DiMaggio rookie card (he’s pictured with Joe McCarthy) and a Hank Greenberg card (of course, I don’t have either), and there are a good amount of Hall of Famers (Gehringer, Waner and Waner, you get the idea) but there are so many people I’ve never heard of. Never. That’s odd.

Odder still is why a blah pitcher named Clydell Castleman has two cards. Two! Greenberg and Gabby Hartnett  only get one each and they were the reigning MVPs. Even John Thorn, MLB Historian, was at a loss when I Tweeted out to him. “Called Slick for some reason…” he offered. That’s something I suppose. Good ol’ Clydell was not much. Even when he won 15 games for the 1935 Giants, he had a mere 0.5 WAR. No one at Goudey knew that. He was out of baseball at 25 years old.

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Besides the less than thrilling checklist, hunting these cards down takes a bit of extra attention. There are three different types of 1936 Wide Pens and two more types in 1937. It can be confusing, but, for those of you keeping score at home, Type 1 have borders and “LITHO IN U.S.A.” printed on the bottom

I’ll admit that the set is not very nice. Seems I have a penchant for unattractive sets, according to some who have said as much when I go on about the 1949 Bowman and 1933 Tattoo Orbit cards. Pretty or not, finishing a set from the 1930’s would be pretty cool, so I’m going for it. Thankfully, no one seems to care for these cards very much. Low supply meets low demand so all cards, even the high priced ones, are not so expensive in EX condition as to be out of reach.

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But, as I pursue these cards, is the chase for Ed Moriarty and Tommy Padden going to knock more important information out of my head? It’s a risk I’m prepared to take.