In near lockstep with the explosion of legal online sports gambling sites, the card-collecting industry has seen a proliferation of card breakers—parties that buy unopened boxes of sports cards and open them live on social media streams. Hobbyists (a/k/a gamblers) pay for spots in the “break” that will entitle them to keep all the cards in the box or case from a particular team. The outfits publicize their breaks with fantastic claims, “No matter which breaking method you choose, you always have a chance at uncovering the next Holy Grail!”
In most breaks participants pick a team or several teams (typically priced commensurate with the potential values of the most expensive cards for each such team) or a random distribution of teams (usually for a less expensive entry fee that is the same for each participant). The card packs are opened live, and the cards are shown individually so that all viewers can see who gets what.
The main enticement for participants is the hope for a “hit,” a valuable—if not contrived—insert like a 1/1, rare parallel, or autographed card that far exceeds the entry fee. Card breakers profit by charging more for spots than the cost of the unopened box or case. If all of this sounds a bit like gambling, you are probably right.
“While surprise-based products can be sold, they are currently restricted on our platform. This means that sellers who wish to sell or promote such products must abide by our TikTok Shop Gambling, Gifting and Surprise-based Product Control Guidelines.”
Social media giant TikTok announced in early March 2023 that it will no longer allow card breakers to broadcast their videos on its platform because of concerns that the activity may constitute illegal gambling. TikTok’s terms and conditions regarding surprise-based products were updated to specifically include “Surprise Trading Card Packs” and now require any presenter (e.g., card breaker) to sell any baseball cards in “the manufacturer’s original packaging and content without any alterations. All sold product(s) must also be sealed.”
PayPal had previously cracked down on breakers through its gambling prohibition, even when the specific activity was lawful or not legally defined as gambling, including: “Games of chance and games of skill – Includes any activity with an entry fee and a prize, regardless of whether the outcome is determined by chance or skill.”
Although the actual factors vary by state, the elements of gambling typically require (1) consideration [the price charged for entering the break], (2) chance [that the box(es) opened may contain chase cards such as 1/1s, parallels, and autographed cards, or alternatively, that the cards that are worth less than the entry fee] and (3) a prize [the insert cards (“hits”) have significant value on the secondary market].
You may be familiar with the phrase “no purchase necessary” when entering a contest promoted by a reputable company. Offering participants an option to enter a contest for free eliminates the “consideration” requirement—required to deem a contest illegal—even if a particular entrant had paid to purchase a product for entry. Not surprisingly, card breakers rarely allow free entry.
There are dozens of highly regarded card breakers operating now, however, the industry is unregulated and susceptible to issues. In 2022, Backyard Breaks got into some hot water when they decided to keep a Trevor Lawrence “Gold Kaboom” card (they believed to be valued in excess of $15,000) found during a break, instead of sending it on to the person to whom it was originally promised.
Otherwise, a breaker who is adept at slight-of-hand can easily make sure valuable cards are not seen or distributed. In fact, there are articles available to help new breakers appear trustworthy. These recommendations include: keeping both hands on the screen, using multiple cameras, and showing that the box is empty.
Several baseball card manufacturers faced charges of illegal gambling in the 1990s when valuable insert cards first took the hobby by storm. [The card manufacturers ultimately won because a customer’s disappointment from not finding an insert card was not sufficient to establish damages under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.] It seems like it is just a matter of time before a disappointed break participant pursues a similar case against a breaker.
It remains to be seen whether other social media outlets like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitch will follow TikTok’s lead due to the potential that card breaks constitute illegal gambling or if lawmakers will seek to impose any regulations on the booming card breaking business. As for now it is still the Wild West out there for gamblers—caveat emptor.
In 2023, there are dozens of baseball card sets at every price point. Any major star has thousands of cards available, with hundreds added annually. We can buy most cards we want in just a couple minutes, at a competitive price.
But 50 years ago, there weren’t nearly as many choices for collectors as there are today. There was the Topps set, sometimes a couple Topps inserts and test issues such as Super or Deckle Edge, and a few food issues such as Milk Duds and Kellogg’s. These sets weren’t made for the organized hobby, which was just as well because there really wasn’t much of an organized hobby in the 70’s.
What was the organized hobby in the early-70’s? There were a few thousand adult collectors nationwide. There were a few small card shows in and near major cities, along with a few hobby newspapers. They were invaluable in creating the knowledge base for the hobby. There were a handful of full-time mail-order dealers like Card Collectors Company and Larry Fritsch cards. They advertised through mainstream publications like The Sporting News, and produced their own catalogs that could number up to 100 pages. There were few storefront dealers, and no Internet. The first National Convention would wait until 1979.
TCMA emerged as the first card manufacturer that targeted the organized hobby. TCMA stood for “The Card Memorabilia Associates,” or the initials of the founders, Tom Collier and Mike Aronstein. The company was headquartered in Westchester County, north of New York City .
Their first sets included the SCFC “Sports Cards for Collectors” 1969 Yankees pictures (see Al Downing below) and an Old-Timers set. The latter set included pen drawings not only of Hall of Famers but forgotten players–that is, forgotten by all but SABR members.
1972 saw the first sets issued under TCMA’s name . They released several reprint sets of vintage issues such as 1887 Allen & Ginter and 1922 American Caramel. They also released the first few series of a set that would number over 500 cards featuring players from the 30’s. To cap it off, they produced a set of the Cedar Rapids Reds in the Class-A Midwest League, the first of hundreds of TCMA minor league team sets over the next 16 years.
Though TCMA would become best known for minor-league sets, their sets featuring vintage players deserve examination. They found a market among serious collectors of the time. Many 70’s collectors wrote away to players for autographs. There weren’t a lot of contemporary cards for stars of the 30’s and 40’s, and many collectors were hesitant to send off vintage cards for autographs for fear of losing them.
Enter TCMA—their sets had a clean design conducive to an autograph, and if they weren’t returned with an autograph at least it wasn’t a 1933 DeLong that was lost to the U.S. Mail or to a former player ambivalent to autograph requests. Many of these sets were designed to feature players who signed through the mail, in fact some dealers sent a list of player addresses along with the cards. This explains why many early TCMA cards offered on Ebay are autographed.
TCMA also offered sets that allowed collectors of modest means to own cards of 19th century players, along with 20th century players who didn’t appear on a lot of cards. One great examples are the 1936–39 Yankees Dynasty set, including not only greats like Gehrig and Lazzeri but journeymen like Paul Schreiber, who appeared in 12 major league games over two generations. What a great find for someone like me who has to have all the players, not just the legends! Others include the 1975 1951 New York Giants set and the 1972 The Yawkey Red Sox set. One of the largest early TCMA sets was the “All Time Greats” postcard issue. The set consists of several 24-card series of attractive black and white postcards. It covered virtually everyone in the Hall-of-Fame including executives like Lee MacPhail, Judge Landis and Will Harridge.
In 1975 TCMA expanded their offerings. To promote their retro and minor league sets, they produced their first catalog called “Collector’s Quarterly.” Through this catalog, they marketed their first sets of current major leaguers. Those came out under the SSPC (Sports Stars Publishing Company) label. There was a 1975 set for the Mets and Yankees, and then a 660-card set in 1976.
SSPC’s 1976 set was an attempt to challenge the Topps monopoly. They were sold only as a set and only to the hobby. The fronts had no team name or player name—a “pure card” design perfect for autographs. Topps cards had facsimile autographs many years and nothing is more awkward than an authentic autograph written over a fake one.
Topps took notice and went to court to stop the further release of these sets. TCMA was allowed to sell through their stock, which took several years.
SSPC would be heard from after 1976 though. In 1978, team sets were produced as pages in their magazines for several teams. A set of vintage players even appeared in the 1979 and 1982 Yankees yearbooks.
By the late-70’s, TCMA was becoming better known for minor league sets. TCMA representatives went to minor league general managers with a proposition- TCMA would take pictures of their team, and provide the team sets for sale in their memorabilia stands for free, in exchange for the right to sell team sets in their Collectors Quarterly catalog for $3–3.50 each team. TCMA photographers not only covered players, but sometimes managers, coaches, team executives, trainers, even bat boys and mascots!
By 1979 dozens of teams had TCMA sets, a number that expanded through the 80’s. By the time TCMA stopped production in the late-80’s, virtually every minor league squad had at least one annual team set, some had as many as three.
TCMA didn’t leave the vintage market. In 1978 and 1979, they produced attractive full color sets of players of the 60’s (in 1978) and the 50’s (in 1979). These sets were from 275–300 cards and featured both legends along with players who had never appeared on a card before. They followed up with a second series of 1960’s in 1981. All three sets are collectible today and not expensive.
TCMA also collaborated with large dealer Renata Galasso on several sets. They co-produced the annual 45-card retro sets included as a bonus with every purchase of current year Topps sets from 1977-84. These attractive sets are known as “Galasso Glossy Greats.”
Collectors were discouraged from pursuing TCMA’s sets by the hobby papers of the time. TCMA sets were considered “illegitimate” and “collector’s issues.” They weren’t considered fully collectible because they weren’t released in packs at candy stores, nor as a premium for another product. Most TCMA cards weren’t licensed by Major League Baseball nor the Players Association, or even the players itself. Nevertheless, TCMA thrived in a time where former players hadn’t monetized their career like today.
In the late-1980’s TCMA saw a formidable competitor for its minor-league throne, the Pottstown, Pennsylvania based Pro Cards. TCMA continued to release retro cards, but at a slower pace. At the same time Mike Aronstein, the head of TCMA, was acquiring a huge database of player photos and built a successful business providing 8×10 glossy pictures and other player items such as keychains. The TCMA label morphed into PhotoFile, which still markets licensed items for all major sports.
Aronstein and TCMA were before their time. TCMA cards aren’t always easy to find but are generally affordable considering their age and print run. Their sets are an important part of the history of the hobby. They deserve a look from every vintage collector and every baseball historian.
On a sunny afternoon in January 1992, a line of fans stretched from inside the Huntington Beach High School gymnasium, out into the parking lot. That Saturday, the gymnasium was the scene of a sports card show. And though eight-time MLB All-Star and former National League Rookie of the Year, Darryl Strawberry, and the L.A. Raiderettes were on site attracting their own throngs of fans, those standing in the longest line were not waiting to meet them. Instead, their line snaked its way to a table, behind which sat 19-year old Marc Newfield, a baseball player who to that point had never played a game above AA. Newfield was a hometown kid who, just a couple years before, played basketball in this same gymnasium versus rival Huntington Beach High School as a member of the crosstown Marina High School Vikings varsity basketball squad.
It was during his time at Marina High School that Newfield established himself as a star baseball player, one of the most heavily scouted hitters in the nation. In June 1990, the Mariners selected Newfield in the first round of MLB Amateur Draft. As a 17-year-old, he tore up the Arizona Rookie League, clubbing a mammoth homerun (some said it went nearly 500 feet!) in his first professional game on his way to batting .313/.394/.495 with 6 HRs and being voted the league’s MVP. Then, as an 18-year-old in 1991 in the High-A Cal League, his first full-length season, Newfield continued to flourish. In 125 games, he hit .300/.391/.439 and was named a Cal League All-Star and the MVP of his San Bernardino Spirit.
But at this card show, organizers had hired Newfield to appear and sign autographs. After signing for two straight hours, he paused for a respite, observing “My hand’s killing me. All these people…I never expected anything like this. I don’t know what’s going on.” The painfully humble Newfield was bewildered by the gaggle of grown adults waiting in a lengthy line on a Saturday afternoon for his signature.
Many of the dealers and collectors in attendance that day viewed Newfield as a commodity and believed his early professional success would help them make a buck. One vendor was selling his cards for $1.75 each and explained, “He’s $2.50 according to the book. Somebody else here is selling them for $3.50.” Another vendor was laminating Newfield’s cards, mounting them to small wood plaques, and selling the simple displays for $15. A Huntington Beach card shop proprietor on site that afternoon claimed to have 10,000 Newfield cards stocked away in his inventory, lecturing: “The idea is to buy his card cheap now and sell high when he’s made it.” He then held up a box, “There are 1,000 Marc Newfields in here. Hopefully, someday, this card will be worth $70 [similar in value to a Frank Thomas rookie card at that time], too. That’s $70 times 1,000.”
As demonstrated at the January 1992 card show, Newfield’s first two professional seasons launched him into the stratosphere of the baseball card hobby. Baseball card manufacturers, too, wanted a piece of the teenager. At the end of the 1991 season, Upper Deck had scrambled to send a photographer to San Bernardino’s Fiscalini Field to snap shots of Newfield in a Seattle Mariners uniform in what was described as a “just in case session.” Upper Deck did not want to run into the same issue it had a couple years earlier when it did not have a photo of Ken Griffey, Jr. in a Mariners uniform and was forced to airbrush his San Bernardino Spirit hat a lighter shade of blue in order to include him in its 1989 set. Similarly, here Upper Deck wanted to account for all contingencies in the event that Newfield, like Griffey, leapfrogged higher levels in the Mariners minor league system and reached the big leagues in early 1992.
That August 1991 day at Fiscalini Field, Upper Deck provided Newfield a #24 Mariners jersey to wear during the shoot. At the time, Newfield—who was more focused on his own season than the goings-on at the big-league level—had no idea that this #24 jersey with no name sewn on the back was that of Ken Griffey Jr. Even without the knowledge that this jersey was Griffey’s—and the added sense of pressure that such a comparison would inevitably stir in a teen—the modest Newfield, who at that point had not played higher than Class-A, was already uncomfortable being put on a pedestal. Lacking even the slightest hint of ego, he sheepishly confessed on the day of the Upper Deck shoot that though he was honored to be photographed and presented as a big-league talent, “It’s kind of embarrassing. It just seems like it’s not the right time.”
That whole season, Newfield had done his best to navigate the attention thrown his way. He’d been an attraction at ballparks around the Cal League, signing for young fans. He didn’t mind doing this—it came with the territory. But he admitted getting irritated “when the same people ask for me to sign over and over again. They bring 10 cards one day and five the next.” Though this constant attention might have led some young athletes to develop an attitude or sense of entitlement, Newfield handled it like a professional well beyond his 18 years. Tommy Jones, his manager at San Bernardino, explained in 1991, “He’s handled the off-field pressures of the season very well: baseball-card companies, national magazines, TV, radio, all the media,” adding that Newfield never let the attention affect his play or his relationship with his teammates.
Everybody in the baseball card hobby wanted a piece of Marc Newfield. In January 1992 Baseball Cards magazine named Newfield its “Hot Rookie” in a feature story. The Beckett Focus on Future Stars profiled Newfield twice—in August 1992 and April 1994. And Beckett Baseball Card Monthly showcased the young ballplayer, interviewing him for its April 1994 edition.
I was no different. I had my own Marc Newfield collection. I grew up in the Pacific Northwest, and by 1992 I was 7 years old and developing my own interest in baseball cards. When I acquired a Seattle Mariner, I put it in a special binder with other Mariners cards. I recently dug out that old Mariners binder and found six different Marc Newfield cards dating 1991 through 1993.
Two of those cards have always stood out to me, and I’ve long wondered the story of those cards and the player pictured in them. I ran an internet search for Marc Newfield and quickly discovered that since his professional baseball career ended in the late 1990s, the once-shy kid from Huntington Beach has, perhaps unsurprisingly, lived outside the public spotlight.
Fortunately though, after a little effort, I was recently able to track down Newfield and speak to him about his personal and professional journey, and of course, about his baseball cards. Like all of us, he’s grown up in the intervening three decades since these cards were issued. But he maintains a sharp memory of those early days of his pro baseball career. He’s also patient and generous with his time. The humble kid from the early 1990s maintains a low profile these days, and, consistent with the personality he showed as a teenage baseball star, he’s still eager to come through for others. It was a real pleasure discussing his cards, and as a result of those conversations, I’m now a bigger fan of his than when he was a hero of mine as a youngster.
The first card I’ve always loved is the 1991 Topps “#1 Draft Pick” (#529). It shows a 17-year old Newfield in his senior year of high school, wearing his Marina Vikings pinstripes. On one knee in a traditional amateur baseball pose, an aluminum bat leaning into his body, a Mizuno batting glove on his left hand, and stirrups showing from below mid-calf, Newfield displays the widest, most sincere smile ever featured on a professional baseball card. The obvious happiness in his face reminds me of the great joy that baseball has brought so many of us. Newfield told me that, indeed, the most fun he ever had on the diamond occurred, not during his ten professional seasons or when he was in the major leagues, but in high school. He specifically recalls the summer of 1989 following his junior year, when he was learning to play first base on a Mickey Mantle 16U team that won tournaments all over the nation before securing a National Championship at Waterbury, Connecticut. The reverse side of the card lists this accomplishment along with Newfield’s high school offensive statistics and many prep accolades, the sort of eye-popping achievements that explain the swarms of scouts in attendance at his high school games.
As a child, I did not understand why this Seattle Mariners baseball card did not show a player in a Mariners jersey. It made no sense. But it also made the card unique. None of the other cards in my collection had players wearing another team’s uniform. And back then, the card’s uniqueness made it stand out against others.
Perhaps my favorite card, though, is the 1992 Upper Deck Top Prospect (#51) checklist. I liked it for the same reason as the 1991 Topps card: it was unique. Newfield is not even in a baseball uniform, but rather street clothes, looking like a teenager waiting for a bus. And here, the card shows two players, a second unique trait!
Newfield stands with Montreal Expos prospect Rondell White, and each has a team-issued duffel bag slung over his shoulder. Newfield sports a San Bernardino Spirit hat, and his oversized outfielder’s glove pokes out of his unzipped bag. But I’ve wondered: why doesn’t he have a bat in his bag the way White does?
The card shows the two young men standing in grass, seemingly along a road. Newfield pointed out that in the card, he is wearing two different shoes—I’d never observed this detail before. The grey shoe on his left foot is actually a medical boot. Following the 1991 season, he had undergone a surgery to try to correct a foot issue that had been bothering him for years and had become increasingly painful. He was recovering from that surgery when Upper Deck staged this photo. That surgery, however, did not alleviate the pain, and he was forced to undergo a much more invasive foot surgery in 1992 that cut short his season at AA Jacksonville.
White’s right hand rests on Newfield’s left shoulder, like a nurturing big brother. Interestingly, Newfield explained that he and Rondell White had no prior relationship—they were not friends, nor did they enjoy a personal connection. Upper Deck simply paired them together for this card. Nevertheless, the men gaze, together, into the dream-filled distance.
Behind them is a short wire rope fence, and a post rises over their heads with two signs attached. One sign points left toward Seattle; the other right to Montreal—with this signage, the photo should have been taken in central North America at a geographic point between those two big-league cities. But rather, Upper Deck had flown White out to Orange County, California, where Newfield lived in Huntington Beach and was recovering during the offseason. They staged the photo nearby, along California’s iconic Pacific Coast Highway.
Newfield has his own favorite cards from his playing days, though unlike me, he was never much of a baseball card collector growing up. Early in his career, he admitted that seeing himself on baseball cards was exciting and surreal, if not a little odd: “I’ll get a card, or my friends get the cards, and we kind of laugh because we all grew up together. It’s weird that one of us would be on a baseball card.” In 1994 he told Beckett magazine that his favorite of his cards was the 1994 Fleer Major League Prospects (#26), in which he is shown following through on a swing, in front of a Mariners logo.
But these days, his favorite card is the 1996 Select Team Nucleus (#22) that pictures Newfield, with Padres teammates Tony Gwynn and Ken Caminiti. He smiles and suggests how “ridiculous” it was that Select included him on a Team Nucleus card in 1996. After all, the Padres had acquired Newfield from the Mariners at the 1995 trade deadline, and he’d played just 21 games in a Padres uniform by the time the card was produced. But those 21 games represented the first time in Newfield’s young career in which he was afforded the opportunity to play every day and adjust to big league pitching without fear of imminent demotion or losing his place on the lineup card. And Newfield excelled, hitting .309/.333/.491 during that stretch. That late season performance in 1995 landed Newfield on this 1996 Team Nucleus card alongside first-ballot Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn—Mr. Padre himself—and Ken Caminiti, who would win the NL MVP after that 1996 season and eventually land in the Padres Hall of Fame. And though he still thinks the card is ridiculous, Newfield values this card because he was featured alongside two baseball legends. It is also not lost on him that, of the three ballplayers on the card, he’s the lone survivor.
Though the vendors at the January 1992 Huntington Beach card show may be disappointed that Newfield’s cards won’t finance a lush retirement, I still enjoy flipping through my Marc Newfield collection and adding more to my growing set. Each card tells its own story. And now, after I’ve had the good fortune of meeting Marc Newfield and getting to better know the man pictured in the cards, they are more valuable to me than any others in my collection.
 Mike Penner, “Investing in Stars of the Future,” Los Angeles Times (Orange County Edition), February 2, 1992: 1.
 Mike Penner, “Investing in Stars of the Future,” Los Angeles Times (Orange County Edition), February 2, 1992: 1.
 Gregg Patton, “Majors seem in the cards for Newfield,” San Bernardino County Sun, August 23, 1991: C1.
 Gregg Patton, “Majors seem in the cards for Newfield,” San Bernardino County Sun, August 23, 1991: C1.
 Jim Callis, “On the Mark,” Baseball Cards, January 1992: 55.
 Matt Hayes, “Focus on Marc Newfield,” Beckett Focus on Future Stars, April 1994, No. 36: 20.
We don’t talk a lot about value and sales prices on this blog. This is by design. Neither Jason nor I (nor Mark nor Chris) are interested in that stuff too much and we all agree that the primary interest of this committee is in card usage. Yes value maters when it comes to putting together a collection or knowing what to expect to pay. But none of us are in this committee to talk about how we’ve made (or lost) money on cards.
At the same time, when the market goes up and new money comes in, the results affect all of us. The past year in the hobby has been wild enough to result in numerous articles over the past year about the exploding market for sports cards. Most of these are nothing new to anyone who’s been collecting for more than a couple years. At their best they serve as decent primers to anyone who hasn’t thought about cards in decades. At their worst they end up being lazy analogies comparing card prices to index funds. Almost all of them mess up some key facts, such as calling the 1952 Topps Mantle his rookie card.
I read them because sometimes there’s something interesting. Usually I’m disappointed or frustrated but a recent article in the New York Times caught my eye because it made an explicit connection to the art market.
“This is the art of the future for sports enthusiasts who have money and don’t want to buy art,” Davis said. “Pretty much everything I collect now is because I think it is a good investment and because I like the player. The common thread is, I think it will be a good investment. It’s part of the fun.”
I’ve been making this point on Twitter for a while. While many people like to think of sports cards as analogous to stocks, it’s been clear to me that the better analogy is to the art market. From the way serial-numbered cards are basically art editioning to restoration issues and catalogue raisonné issues, the hobby has been moving in a direction which takes it out of the realm that most of us grew up in.
Becoming more like the art market means that extremely rich people are buying things as part of a portfolio. Some of them might be fans. Many of them though just like the idea. But the products they’re buying and selling are going to be products that the rest of us never see in person.
Most worrisome is the likelihood that the market will be manipulated as these investors seek to prop up the values of their cards. This kind of stuff is pretty common in the art world and, despite being a Potemkin Village, seems to skirt right by the press coverage which focuses just on the latest record-setting auction price.*
What the two dealers were apparently attempting to do was thread the needle on the two lesser Warhols. To bid high—as much as the consignor was hoping to get—might serve to prop up values for the Warhol market at large, but would be expensive and make the paintings that much more difficult to sell down the road.
Sure this might be fun for some people. But the fun is in the making money, not the medium which enables these flips.
The thing about the art market is that many museums have let the art investor/collectors drive the business. Some museums make a big deal showing one person’s collection. Often these feature a piece from all the prescribed big names and do nothing but allow for the owner to enhance the prestige of their collection. Other museums are basically showcases for a specific collection.
I don’t inherently dislike this but it’s important to realize that the immense platform we give the expensive stuff is only a sliver of the whole picture. As baseball cards move toward this territory it’s important for us all to remember that the art market side of things has pretty much nothing to do with the way we collect and that the focus on the expensive stuff tends to remove the hand of the curator.
In art, the museum curators are in charge of what museums display, illuminating why they’re on display, and considering how they interact with other items in the same gallery. There’s no similar position in trading card world. Instead, each of us is wears that hat and our collections are our personal curatorial projects.
The expensive 1:1 stuff is not only unattainable, it’s a distraction. It makes the focus just about value and turns a lot of heads. A collection of “these are expensive cards” is ultimately as boring as an art museum which only talks about how much the paintings are worth. There’s so much more interesting stuff to do with cards. There are so many more interesting ways to collect.
Pick themes. Tell stories. Run down a rabbit hole of weird stuff that interests only you.
Use your cards. Look at them. Share them. Display them. Talk about them.
During the 1960’s and 1970’s, through-the-mail communication was an invaluable resource for collectors. So much so that publications like Marshall Oreck’s The Collector’s Directory and Irv Lerner’s Who’s Who in Card Collecting were compiled to help everyone connect. And connect they did. But it was in 1969 that something happened to change the course of hobby history — a gathering of multiple sports collectors in one place, at one time finally became a viable concept. That year, small gatherings or “conventions” of around a dozen collectors started popping up around the country and were documented in hobby periodicals of the day.
My father, Michael P. Aronstein, hosted his own “convention” at the Aronstein family home on March 15, 1970 — 50 years ago today. For some perspective, I asked hobby historian David Kathman (trdcrdkid on Net54) to provide his thoughts regarding the occasion:
“Your dad’s March 15, 1970 ‘convention’ wasn’t the first such hobby convention, but it was the largest one up to that point (with 19 attendees), the first one in New York state, and the second one on the east coast (after a 9-person gathering at Mike Anderson’s house in South Weymouth in early December 1969)… but your dad’s 1970 convention is rightly considered a landmark because of the people who were there, several of whom became very influential in the hobby, and the fact that it was the first in the New York area.”
There’s quite a bit of info out there regarding the hobby pioneers who attended so I won’t delve too much into their individual stories here. I do encourage you to research them on your own, however. They’ve all got unique stories and -as is the case with most things in our hobby- you’ll be taken down a rabbit hole that goes off in a million different interesting directions.
Here’s a postcard from hobby pioneer Crawford Foxwell to my father confirming he’d be attending the convention along with Tom Collier. Keep in mind Tom Collier was the “TC” in TCMA but they didn’t partner up until 1972. Third image is a wire photo depicting Foxwell with his collection in 1975.
Photos taken by my father on March 15, 1970 during the convention at his home. Note my sister, Melina with the “Welcome Collectors” sign (we’re still eight years pre-Andrew here). Now see if you can spot the uncut sheet of 1970 Topps hidden in there somewhere.
All collectors in attendance signed several 8 1/2 x 11 uncut 1968 SCFC (Sports Cards for Collectors) sheets. Good luck tracking down one of these in the wild! A full list of the names are below along with where they traveled to the convention from.
SIX of these men (that I know of) either owned a T206 Honus Wagner at the time or would shortly after the event. I’ve placed an asterisk next to their names. Bill Haber actually brought his Wagner to the convention. Also worth noting -among many other deals struck that day- a T206 “Magie” error changed hands from Dennis Graye to Bill Mastro.
Bill Haber* – Brooklyn, NY
Crawford Foxwell – Cambridge, MD
Bill Zekus – Elmsford, NY
Dave Zemsky – Bronx, NY
Nate Cohen – New York, NY
Tom Dischley – New York, NY
Dennis Graye – Detroit, MI
Mike Jaspersen – Rosemont, PA
Fred McKie* – Fairleigh Dickinson University
Bruce Yeko – New York, NY
Irv Lerner* – Philadelphia, PA
Dan Dischley – Lake Ronkonkoma, NY
Mike Aronstein* – Yorktown Heights, NY
Bob Jaspersen – Rosemont, PA
Bill Mastro* – Bernardsville, NJ
Tom Collier* – Easton, MD
Bill Himmelman – Norwood, NJ
Jim MacAllister – Philadelphia, PA
Myron S. Aronstein – Mount Vernon, NY
With Dan Dischley and Bob Jaspersen attending, of course this convention received coverage in their hobby publications The Trader Speaks and Sport Fan respectively.
See the young man sporting blue in the photos above? That’s Mike Jaspersen. Heres his “Stealth Extremely Short Print” card from 2017 Topps Allen & Ginter. “Mike attended his sports card show in 1970.” Yes, he did and we’ve got proof!
Following the 1970 convention at his home, Dad attended a similar gathering at Crawford Foxwell’s place in 1971, known as the Mid-Atlantic Sports Collectors Convention. I call this his “super-villain” shot because, well, you be the judge.
Dad then attended the 1972 Midwest Sports Collectors Convention in Detroit and also founded TCMA with Tom Collier that year. In 1973 he went on to help plan and host the ASCCA (American Sports Card Collectors Association) shows in NYC with Bruce Yeko and brothers Bob and Paul Gallagher.
The first of many ASCCA shows was held May, 25-27 1973 at the District 65 Center at 13 Astor Place in Manhattan. Great images from this event were posted by Sports Collectors Daily in 2018 and can be found here. It was also chronicled by Keith Olbermann in the very first issue of Sports Collectors Digest, dated October 12, 1973. 6 of the 19 people at the March 15, 1970 convention are also depicted in the SCD photos below.
Where the hobby will be 50 years from now is anyone’s guess. A LOT has happened since those 19 guys got together in 1970. What we do know right now is that the hobby is booming — let’s keep that up! Dad and I hope to see you all in Baltimore for #SABR50 this summer and Atlantic City for the National. Feel free to say hi and let’s talk hobby history. Cheers!
Special thanks to hobby historian David Kathman (trdcrdkid on Net54) for his valuable insight and for providing the scans above.
Picking up a Street and Smith Yearbook from the newsstand or
drug store was an annual rite of spring for many baseball fans. Since ESPN and the internet were nowhere in
sight, annuals were one way to obtain updated rosters and prognostications for
the upcoming season. Of course, the
information was several months old by the time it reached the magazine rack. However,
those of us in a non-Major League markets or rural areas especially relied on
these publications to set the stage for the season.
In the 1970s, Street and Smith produced regional covers designed to attract fans of the local team. Prior to the Mariners arrival in 1977, Washington State baseball fans received covers featuring California teams. For instance, I bought this 1976 edition with Davey Lopes on the cover. But New England fans would find the same content covered with the photo of 1975 Rookie of the Year and MVP, Fred Lynn.
While looking through both versions, I was drawn to the
advertisements for sports card dealers. Obviously, sports magazines were an
excellent method of reaching the customer base.
The 1976 Street and Smith Yearbook has numerous ads for dealers across
For example, mail order stalwart (still going strong in 2019) Larry Fritsch Cards in Stevens Point, WI, has an ad. The 1976 Fritsch ad is filled with tempting choices including the complete 1976 Topps baseball set for $12.95 plus postage. This is on the expensive side, since most of the other ads offer the set for less. Incidentally, $12.95 in 1976 dollars has the buying power of $58.44 today. Thus, a kid had to mow several lawns or, in my case, return a huge number of beer bottles to the recycler to afford the complete set.
I distinctly remember ordering my 1976 complete set from G. S. Gallery in Coopersburg, PA. The set was $7.95, plus a dollar postage. I remember the postal worker (Mr. Copeland-it’s a small town) at the Selah, WA, post office having to redo the money order after accidentally putting “Cooperstown” on it instead of Coopersburg. By the way, $8.95 has the 2019 buying power of $40.39 when adjusted for inflation.
Two other dealers in the magazine offer examples of the
price range for the complete set. Stan
Martucci of Staten Island-who urges buyers to “Go with Experience” based on his
22 years in the business-priced his set at a whopping $14. Meanwhile, collectors could shell out $9.99
to obtain the same cards from the only West Coast dealer in the magazine, Will
Davis of Fairfield, CA.
In addition to new sets, the dealers offered sets from previous years. Wholesale Cards of Georgetown, CT, offered complete sets from the 1970s in all four major sports. Plus, you could pick up Topps Civil War, 1966 English Soccer or the 1959 Fleer Ted Williams set.
Another merchant with a tantalizing selection of cards was Paul
E. Marchant of Charleston, IL. The 1964 Topps “Giant” set was available for
only $3.00. Also, SSPC sets could be had along with an address list for
This ad uses the card of Glenn Abbott as an example for the
1976 set. An odd choice since Glenn was
just starting out. I must point out that
he would be the “ace” of the original Seattle Mariners in 1977, winning 13
games. At the time, his win total tied
the record for most wins on an expansion team.
The first to do it was Seattle Pilots hurler, Gene “Lerch” Brabender.
The Sports Hobbyist in Detroit offered a different way for
collectors to obtain a complete set of 660 Topps cards in 1976. For $10, they sent 1,000 cards and guaranteed
that “just about” a complete set could be assembled. A 50-cent coupon was included to purchase up
to 40 cards to help complete the set.
Once a complete set was obtained, the collector needed some
place to store the cards. A nifty tote
box, divided into 26 compartments, was one solution. It was available for a mere $4.00 from ATC
Sports Products of Duluth, MN.
Along the same lines, a Major League Baseball card locker
could be had from the Royal Advertising Corp. for $2.95, plus 36 cents
postage. You could even send cash! Note that Seattle Pilots outfielder Steve
Whitaker’s 1967 card on the Yankees is front and center in the ad.
Although cards are not offered, there is an ad for the hobby
publication, “The Trader Speaks.” I never subscribed to this trade paper but
went with “Sports Collectors’ Digest” instead.
One negative feature of all these offers was the fact you
had to wait four to six weeks to receive the merchandize in 1976. There was no expectation for faster service,
and no reason given for the protracted processing time. My recollection was that it always seemed to take
closer to six weeks than four. This
process explains why I am such a patient man to this day.
I will close with two advertisements that were ubiquitous in magazines of this era: Manny’s Baseball Land and Charles Atlas. Manny’s had the same format for years with many of the same products offered as well. Of course, Charles Atlas offered to “make a man out of Mac” for decades. I’m still trying to get his body building method to work, and I’m damned tired of bullies kicking sand in my face at the beach!
One of the nice things about pursuing sets that are out of the mainstream is that there’s a real chance for bargains. I need an ungraded 1956 Topps Mantle in VGEX. It’s going to cost me $350-450; maybe more, unlikely less.
The cards I tend to go for have relatively little demand and, even when there’s somewhat less supply, the paucity of interest works in my favor.
I just nailed down the final coin I needed for the 1964 Topps set. If you read my last post, you know what it is.
Fine, I’ll tell you again; it’s the Wayne Causey All-Star coin, NL back variation. I’ve seen them go for $20 and up, but was holding out for $20. I picked it up for $13.50, plus postage.
The reason I was holding out was because of the other “NL” variation, Chuck Hinton. Both errors (they were corrected to AL backs, but not before some NLs got out) are harder to find than the other coins (even the Mantle variations, which were purposeful), but neither is more or less scarce than the other. So why did I get Hinton for $6, and have to wait awhile to get Causey for less than $15?
Patience helps, but lack of interest helps more. People are not really running after these variations, so, in time, they settle to a price I can be happy with. My goal was to get them both for a total of $20. I came close.
It’s easy to assume sellers/dealers are very knowledgeable, but many aren’t. The guy I bought my coin from knew he had an error, and listed as such. Last month someone listed three Causey All Star coins and two of them were of the NL kind. He had no idea. I tried to swoop in cheaply, but someone else in the know grabbed them in the final seconds. At the recent Boston show, I talked to a guy selling coins and a guy looking to buy them. Neither knew about the variations! I told them all about them (after I had looked through the dealer’s stock), but I was shocked at their ignorance.
Here’s some good background on the whole set (and other coins), but I’m still puzzled. The Causey and Hinton All-Stars, #161 and #162, are at the end of the set, with all the other NL stars. Why are the fronts blue, like all the AL All-Stars? If Topps (wrongly) assumed they were NL players, they should have had red fronts. If Topps knew they were actually AL stars (or what a KC A and Washington Senator came close to in 1964), why were they numbered with the NL guys? The linked post has a guess, but I’m not so sure there was a reason. I can’t figure it out.
Lack of consistent price discovery can bite as well. When I was finishing up my 1952 Parkhurst set, I tried to get a seller to pull a Bob Betz card from his lot. He wanted to charge me $100 for it and I was in disbelief (and told him so). He went through a whole rigmarole about how Betz was moved off the Ottawa Athletics quickly and, as a short print, it was tough to come by. I argued that there were other players in the same boat and they cost me between $5-15. I came away from that exchange knowing that guy was a dope.
Then a Betz card came up on eBay. I figured, OK, I’m getting down to the end of the set so I’ll pay $20. I ended up paying $80-something. I was bugged that, 1) someone else was forcing me to pay more and, 2) that other guy was right!
So it works both ways, but usually I get the best of the deal. I’m waiting for delivery of a 1963 Bazooka All Time Great Babe Ruth card. I fully expected to pay $35 if I was lucky, $50 if I wasn’t. I got it for $19. It helped that the guy listed it as “Bazooke.”
On February 9, 2017, I declared eBay the clear winner over card shows. The hassles, unfriendliness and time spent (as well as back pain) that come with card shows was, for me, a thing of the past. Didn’t miss ‘em, didn’t care.
Then I went with my friend Greg to the East Coast National in White Plains and, as to be expected, had a lot of success, whittling away at my 1960 Topps, 1964 Coins and 1971 Kellogg’s want lists. It was, I’ll admit, kind of great.
More surprising was a local show in Albany that I went to earlier this year. A fine show – manageable, with binders of commons. Right up my alley. I made huge headway with my 1968 and 1969 lists. Yesterday there was another Albany show put on by the same promoter. I had high hopes. Why wouldn’t I?
Sheets of paper in hand, I had already played out in my mind that I’d get the last cards I needed to wrap up a few sets and, once I did that, I could really focus on the remaining commons and semi-stars I need for my 1956 Topps set. My son Joey, his interest in cards recently revived, came along. Everything seemed the same to me; Joey pointed out it was a new hotel and, when we walked in, it was a new cast of dealers. A cursory walk around showed that this was going to be a colossal disappointment. It was.
It took a ton of work to find 2 1969s and 3 1956s that I needed, at good prices. Best find – a ’69 Ed Charles, which goes for $4 or so on eBay, was mine for a buck. (I’m now down to one – Tug McGraw. I feel I should pay a buck for it; I’ll end up paying $5. It’s the premium of the last card which we all have paid.).
All of my show gripes from Feb ’17 came roaring back. I went through a small stack of 1956s and pulled out a Billy Martin, Ted Kluszewski and Giants team, all in EX (maybe EXMT) to me, all unpriced.
“How much for these three?” I asked.
The dealer opened his book (not sure what it was) and said “They book for $245.”
“Not in this condition,” I said.
“I can give you 40% off.”
“No thanks.” He was shocked I walked away from such a deal.
But it wasn’t a deal, never is. He took NM book prices, slashed a big percentage off, but the result was a specious bargain. The price was still too high. I know I can get all three for $75 tops, with some patience, but why even play this game. It made no sense to offer him $60; he was already a self-proclaimed martyr because of the price drop he deemed enormous.
Joey, freed from my world of lists and completion needs, found a dealer with a solid assortment of old non-sports. He picked up some Horrors of War and Red Menace cards. Very nice.
I left the show pretty down, trying to come to some conclusion on how I feel about shows. I still don’t miss them that much, but a good one is worth it. Once I got home I headed to eBay to see if I could work on what I’d hope to accomplish at the show. I immediately nabbed a couple of cards, bid on some more that I think I’ll get and knocked another 5 1969 Topps decals off my list. By the end of the day the bad vibes of the show had gone.
Late last month Al Rosen lost a long-term battle with leukemia. He was 71 years old and although two decades past his peak as a card dealer, much of his influence remains in the sports card and memorabilia business. Since I lived less than a half hour from Al, I would see him quite frequently at local New Jersey/New York events and seeing him in action was a site to behold. Many collectors and dealers both bought and sold from Al over the years. I did a few small deals with him and every one was handled very professionally.
He could be abrasive to people who offended him in some ways and, as arguably the most powerful card dealer of the 1980’s, when Al spoke the card collecting community listened. But I prefer to think of the positive aspects of his personality. If you had a chance to talk to Al, as I did, without the benefit of a large crowd at a show or when he felt he had to perform, you talked to a man who understood his business and his role within the card collecting community. I knew I was seeing the real Al Rosen when we sat next to each other flying home from the National Convention in 1985, 1986 and 1987. This ended in 1988 when the National was in Atlantic City, a drivable distance.
During his peak, Al would get so many calls and letters that he was constantly on-the-go buying and selling. I know members of his coterie who would finally get home for a day of rest and be called to go back on the road. Al never seemed to tire of looking at new collections as each deal truly excited him.
How did he know what to pay for collections? It all came down to the simplest terms he once imparted on me nearly 35 years ago. The most important aspect of this business is knowing what to pay for material. That simple sentence is pure genius. Why? Because if you pay correctly for an item, even if the value (real or perceived) goes down, you still have room to make a profit. And if you are a dealer, knowing how much room you have into an “piece” allows you to make a deal which may seem equitable for both buyers and sellers but also allows you to put money into your pocket. Sounds simple, but in actuality, it is the hardest thing for most dealers who are collectors to understand because they get smitten by seeing additions to their collections.
Rich Klein is a catalog maintenance expert for COMC and lives in Plano, TX with his wife and two dogs.
I’ve been on eBay since 1998, but my frequency of visits since last July, both as a buyer and as a seller, is ridiculous. I’m checking in all day, all the time, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I remember the hassles of card shows.
Starting in 1973 (yes, 1973!), I attended at least one big show per year. Back then, there were only one or two big shows in all of New York, either at a church whose name escapes me or the Roosevelt Hotel. We would drive in from Long Island for the day and I’d spend my dearly saved $100 very carefully. I got some good stuff back then, missed out on more.
By the mid-‘80’s, I started frequenting shows a bit more, both locals and nationals. The Chicago National shows were impressive, maybe too big, and while it was fun to see all the merch on display, it could get grueling to go from table to table, looking for what I needed, haggling with dealers who held all the power and, by the end of the day, I was usually pissed off and had a headache.
A small story: I used to go on Sundays because you could get deals. Dealers wanted to sell rather than pack up. I forget what year it was, but one dealer had an unopened box of cards I wanted. Let’s say it was $75. Another dealer came up to him and said, “I’ll give you $35 for each box.” He had three. “Sold,” and that was that.
“Can I buy one?” I asked. Maybe I offered $35, maybe $45.
“No, they’re $75 each.” You can imagine my response.
So card shows were a mixed blessing. I’d often find a lot of what I set out for, usually got as good a price as I could, but the power balance was way off. Buyers had no power other than to walk away.
eBay is great for truly sussing out what is rare and what isn’t and, even better, getting a true sense of supply and demand. Something rare may not be expensive if nobody wants it. Case in point: I’ve been working on the 2000-01 Topps Heritage Basketball set (yeah, I know that’s outside our blog’s purview) for 15 years and still need five of the short prints (1,972 of each made). I usually pick them up for $4-6, but I STILL NEED FIVE!
Having a vast amount of listings, easily found, is a buyer’s paradise. I’ve been working on the 1949 Remar Bread set. The Billy Martin rookie is the only card that is relatively expensive, but the rest of the 32 card set won’t set me back much. In the last week, three listings for an Artie Wilson card, of varying quality, were up for auction. Wilson was a Negro League star, so there’s some additional interest there. I watched them all – one went for $20, another went for almost $40 – and the third popped up because I’ve got it tracked as a “followed search.” I bought it for $10.
From a seller’s point of view, shows were a disaster for a normal non-dealer type person. Though I never sold anything to dealers, I watched one scene consistently unfold. Someone comes up to a table with, say, a 1952 Mantle. Dealer says, well, I can only give you $100 for it. Person says, but it’s worth $1,000. Dealer says, it’s going to be hard for me to sell, I have to keep it in inventory, I don’t have the kind of customers who pay a lot for cards, blah blah blah. Person either walks or gets ripped off.
Between eBay and PayPal the seller will give up a meaty percentage of the sale price, but it’s a fraction of what dealers would skim off the top. I’ve been selling more doubles and triples (sometimes quadruples and quintuples) to pay for cards I need. It feels great, like a solid trade, and the market rules. I usually get around what I want.
I don’t miss much about real card shows. Dealers tended to be unfriendly, fellow collectors absorbed in their quest. Even went I went with a friend we’d go our separate ways, with different want lists in hand. What’s there to miss? Plus, I can go to a card show on eBay whenever I want. In fact, I bought 4 1971 Kellogg’s 3-D cards at dinner last night, right in the middle of my Chicken Tikka Masala!