Man Without Portfolio

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Fifty years ago, Topps produced its largest product in scale: the 9-3/4” X 18-1/8” baseball posters. It was very unusual for non-base card products to find their way to my small hometown in Washington State. The various “test issues,” stickers, tattoos etc. were all distributed in larger markets. So, I pounced on the opportunity to collect the posters.

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Since most of you are familiar this product, I will just refresh your memory on a few points. The set is comprised of 24 posters with each team represented. Boston, St. Louis, Houston and Minnesota have two players each. The posters were sold in individual wax packs — folded four times — with a stick of gum-for a nickel.

Due to the large, irregular size of the posters, displaying and storing them is problematic. Binder sleeves don’t exist in this large of a size and standard photo albums are too small as well. At card shows, I’ve seen the posters “shrink wrapped” to cardboard, but this is not a great solution for storage.

Portfolio

Until last week, my posters remained folded and stored in a box. Then, my wife purchased an art portfolio for some photographs. The label listed the various dimensions offered by the company. So, I purchased a 13’ X 19,” 24-page portfolio, which is perfect for the posters.

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As you can see, the sleeves come with a black paper in each. Since the posters have blank backs, a total of 48 items can be displayed.

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Many of you may have experienced the posters tearing along the fold lines. This is very difficult to prevent, particularly if the poster has remained folded for 50 years.

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As a kid, I took the slogan on the wrapper to heart and hung some of them on the wall. The Mantle and Frank Robinson are not in the best shape.

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The Jim Lonborg poster may be my favorite. The reigning Cy Young award winner is shown at Fenway Park. Perhaps the photo was taken during the same session held before the game in which Tony Conigliaro was beaned by Jack Hamilton.

The poster series is a who’s who of baseball of the era. Twelve Hall-of-Famers and Pete Rose are present as well as outstanding players such as Richie (Dick) Allen and Rusty Staub. Only Ron Swoboda and Max Alvis don’t make the star grade.

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Topps reprised the standalone poster in ’72, with a slightly smaller version. I have 12 of the 24 posters, which I achieved in the portfolio as well. Of course, now I’m inspired to complete the set- Yastrzemski and Rick Wise are on the way.

I’ll end with a rumination. Half of a century has passed since I first collected the posters. It’s very pleasing to me that I finally figured out how to display and store them properly. But, damn! I’m getting old.

Talking Sheet(s)

I’ve always been a box guy – they stack easily, protect corners, are easy to label and easy to find. With finite space for card storage, boxes are the most efficient way to go; least costly too.

I haven’t been a purist on this. Non-standard sized cards, from the small (1949 Bowman baseball) to the large (the assorted Topps basketball), inevitably had to be housed in sheets and albums. Otherwise they sat in shoeboxes, shifting with each movement of their container, potentially dinging corners. One can’t have that.

Then, as I began completing some older sets, it became clear to me that sheets were the way to go. It became too unwieldly to pull out a box of 1970 baseball, of course positioned in the middle of a stack of 4 or 5 boxes, then pull out all the cards to place, say, #596 Mike Hershberger, in its rightful place. Having the cards in sheets made life a bit easier.

I’ll have to admit I got a  bit  hooked on sheets and albums and thought, “Hmm, maybe I have complete sets that would be better suited for albums and take up the same space as boxes.” A spreadsheet ensued. Conclusion: over time I’d put my 1970’s era Topps Hockey and Basketball in sleeves. (Not football. Most 1970’s sets aren’t very nice.)

This mini-project has provided an enormous amount of fun, maybe 1 ½-2 hours to fill 70 or so sheets. For a cost of $20-25 for a box of 100 Ultra-Pro 9-pockets and an album, I get solid entertainment. That’s good bang for the buck.

Not only to I get to rediscover old sets I haven’t looked at in years, I also get great Twitter content. This 1975 Topps hockey page stirred some emotions.

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Still, I’m not completely sold on the idea of shifting to sheets and albums. There are too many cards to move and, since I store albums flat, rather than upright, I run out of room fast. (I’ve never liked storing albums like books. Seems to me the pages would droop below the bottom edge of the binder and dent. Thoughts?)

I’m likely to be all done after a few more albums, unless I buy an old complete set that either comes in sheets or needs to be put in them. I’m a partial convert, partial because there’s still nothing better than to have cards in hand, rather than in vinyl. That can’t be beat.

What’s good about grading and slabbing

From the posts I’ve read (and I read ’em all. It’s great being retired), more than a few members of this group don’t think much of card slabbing. I have plenty of ungraded cards, but I admit that I have my favorite sets encased in plastic by PSA (Professional Sports Authenticator, as I imagine most of you know). I don’t especially like how PSA dominates the grading market, but I do appreciate, as self-serving for PSA as it is, the set registry. You can list your cards, even your ungraded cards, by the way, on the registry for free, even if you are not one of the PSA “Collectors Club,” members.

The basic advantages, from my standpoint, of slabbing is preservation of condition,  a record of ownership (each card has a certification number) and, to a lesser degree, an assurance of quality — this applies mainly when you are buying a card. If you’re buying a card online, you’re trusting the seller’s description, no matter how good the scan looks. And I don’t find having the card in a plastic slab a distraction or detraction.

Is it worth it? That depends. If you submit cards directly, rather than through a dealer, you generally have to fork over $6 or more to get PSA to grade a card, and that’s if you use the changing offers of the Collectors Club ($100 or more year but with a few free gradings and a monthly magazine), often having to send in at least 25 cards at a time. And the return shipping charge starts at a minimum of $18. But I get most of my PSA cards on ebay or from dealers, which keeps me from going bankrupt.

When I submit cards to PSA, I’m often disappointed at the grades, although I have become better at knowing what will drag a grade level down. Honestly, it’s still hard for me to tell the difference between a PSA 8 and a PSA 10. I assume most of us here would consider an “EX 5”  to be a pretty nice card, too. I have a bunch of ’64 Topps that are 5s, and I’m perfectly happy with them. On the other hand, my 1984 Topps set, which ranks no. 2 on the registry, has only 9s and 10s. Once you get out of the ’70s, you probably would not want a slabbed card with a grade less than 9, although you should be able to get those lower grades for next to nothing.

I suppose there are people who view graded cards as an investment. (I’m not one of them.) Certainly, graded cards command higher prices than their ungraded equivalents.

I’m not trying to convince anybody to have his or her cards graded, but it’s good to keep an open mind about it. Collectors like me are glad there are collectors like everyone else with SABR who still loves baseball cards — slabbed or not.

“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.

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.

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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A team by any other name

On December 1, 1970, the Red Sox traded infielders Mike Andrews and Luis Alvarado to the White Sox for shortstop Luis Aparicio. Red Sox trades were always somewhat startling to me at the time, much like hearing that we had traded our family dog for a cat on the next block over. Why?

Once I recovered, at some point in the next few days I got out my baseball card locker and moved my most recent Mike Andrews card (probably this one) to the White Sox slot, and moved Aparicio to the Red Sox. (Alvarado did not yet have his own card–for simplification, I will ignore him for the remainder of this post.) Then I got out the team stacks and tried to figure out who would play where. This was my childhood, basically.

As Topps was preparing its 1971 baseball card set, the relevant question for me: was this December trade early enough in the off-season for Topps to put the players on their new teams, or would they be left with their old teams?

The answer: “its complicated.”

Teammates?

Andrews (card 191) was in Series 2, too late for Topps to switch his affiliation, but Aparicio (740) was in Series 7 and got transferred. Today this seems ironic–the extra time allowed Topps to give Aparicio a worse card.

This has always been a problem for Topps, but especially in the days of multiple series — Topps’ team designation often depended on when the guy was traded and what series his card happened to be in. My favorite example of this was the 1969 Dick Ellsworth — the Red Sox traded him to the Indians in April, after the season started, but he still got onto a (hatless) Indians card late that summer.

When I got the Andrews/Aparicio cards in 1971, likely in April and August, respectively, I put them on their correct teams — my team stacks were always current. But the point of this post, and yes this post does have a point, is: how do I sort them now?

If you own a set of baseball cards — 1971 Topps, 1987 Fleer, whatever — you probably either store them in a binder of protective sheets, or in a long storage box. In either case, you probably either organize them numerically, or by team. (There are other ways to organize them — I will not judge.)

I am a “team guy.” When I look at my cards, I use them to immerse myself in a season, to recall (or imagine, if it was before my time) what the 1967 Cardinals or the 1975 Reds looked like, who their players were. Taken as a whole, the box or binder can represent a baseball season — with the league leaders, the post-season cards, the Highlights cards, helping to tell the story.

So that’s the first thing — the cards look backwards. Although I bought the 1975 cards in 1975, they do not (today) do a great job of telling the story of the 1975 season. The “Home Run Leaders” cards are the 1974 leaders. The stats on the back stop at 1974. My team was the Red Sox — how can I revel in the 1975 Red Sox with no true cards of Jim Rice and Fred Lynn? If I want to revel in 1975 (and I do, believe me), I need to be looking at these Rembrandts.

Excuse me, I need a moment.

OK, so that’s the solution — sort the 1976 Topps cards by team, and create a 1975 Red Sox starting lineup using the cards. Right? The 1976 cards depict 1975 teams. The end.

Well, no. We still have the Aparicio/Andrews problem. Although Topps placed both men on the 1971 Red Sox, they were two ships passing in the night. Looking at this from the White Sox perspective, you can’t use the 1971 “Topps team” to make a legitimate 1970 lineup (no Aparicio) nor a 1971 lineup (no Andrews). For the Red Sox, you can make a fake lineup with both players.

The solution, it seems to me, is to put the players on their correct teams. Either you organize by their actual 1970 team (putting Aparicio back on the White Sox) or by their actual 1971 team (putting Andrews on the White Sox). Pick one, but you cannot make them both Red Sox without promulgating a lie.

Since I already claimed that baseball cards look back a year, the best way to use the cards is to allow the 1971 Topps set to celebrate the 1970 season. So Luis goes back to Chicago.

If you look at my 1971 Topps set, organized by team, about 90% each team is the same as how Topps designates them, and a handful are mismatches. It looks a little funny, but my “team” depicts a group of players who played together in real life. So it works for me.

So you’ve got some work to do.  But before getting to all that, I leave you with Dick Allen of the 1970 Cardinals.

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