Raise your hand if you sold something too early this past year.
If I were a betting man, I’d say that nearly every one of you reading this put your hand in the air while gritting your teeth. Never in a million, billion, trillion years would I think cards would explode in the midst of a pandemic!
I had a bunch of high graded PSA rookies from the 80s and 90s, as well as FASC wax, and even a ton of low grade vintage.
And I sold nearly all of it.
Before prices skyrocketed.
Yes, everytime I see for forum topic about how the 1989 Upper Deck Griffey PSA 10 is breaking records, another piece of my heart breaks. Heck, even the PSA 10 Canseco Rated Rookie. I long to have back my ’48 Leaf Jackie Robinson, ’54 Topps Hank Aaron, and others. Oh, and what about the time we were told by Gary V to buy 2003 Topps Chrome PSA 10 Lebron rookies when they were 1k, and now they are 33k? BLECH!!!
It is enough to make someone go crazy, but that’s the hobby for you. In spite of all the missed opportunities, I’m very happy & thankful for what I was able to acquire with the money I got from selling everything. I want to share with you what my collection is now, along with the stories as to why they “made the cut”.
How I Got Here
2019 was HUGE for me in terms of education and discovery of passion for vintage. After the 2020 sell-off, I had to make a choice as to what I wanted to dive into. I found that my love for owning cards of Ruth, Cobb, Wagner, Jackson, and 19th century baseball outweighed my love for owning cards of Bo Jackson, Bonds, McGwire, Trout, Clemens, and others.
But what about nostalgia? I have more than enough for both schools. The difference is this:
- Junk Wax Era nostalgia beckons me to obtain perfect copies of cards I had as a child, but not enough to pay what they are selling for now.
- Vintage nostalgia pulls at my heartstrings to obtain beautiful copies of cards I could only *dream about* as a child.
I have loved old cards ever since I was a kid. There is a certain mystique about them. Holding something that wasn’t meant to be valuable, yet survived decades is exciting to me. I remember my first Tobacco card – a T206 I picked up when I was 12 years old. It was beat up, and a common, but I held it in my hands, and loved it. In the short stint when we lived in a small town in Kansas of 250-300 people, it was a fun show piece to tell the other kids.
We lived in an old house with my grandparents that was built around the same time period as the T206 was created, and it was fun to look at the old house & think that it was brand new when the T206 was created. Thanks to Google Maps magic, I’m able to take a trip there whenever I want – and also show you where I lived for a short period of time!
While I never had any super key vintage as a child, I saw them all the time – not in person, though – heck, the first time I held a ’52 Topps Mantle in my hand was at a card show about 6 years ago! I’m talking about seeing these key cards all the time on the covers of price guides, magazines, and books.
The desire of chasing these key cards that constantly grace the covers of numerous magazines and books outweighs my desire to dive into the world of prospecting, or getting heavily into 80s/90s gem mint stuff. I think a lot of this is due to the journey I’ve taken with cardboard over the years.
“I know someone who has a Babe Ruth…”
How many times have you heard this story? “My dad/grandfather had a (insert name of Mantle, Cobb, Ruth, Wagner, Shoeless Joe Jackson here) until they were thrown away”. Or “I know someone who has a Babe Ruth!” I’ll admit, I am instantly skeptical whenever hearing this, because it comes up all the time when talking old cardboard. Most of the time, it turns out the Babe Ruth they are talking about is either a reprint, or one of those cards from the 80s they produced with green or orange borders. My ears used to perk up all the time as a kid and an adult whenever I heard the name Ruth/Wagner/Cobb/Jackson, but now I just kind of assume it isn’t one from their playing days.
The burning question for me was what if *I* could be the one someone knows who has a Ruth/Cobb/Wagner/Shoeless Joe Jackson/Mantle? What if I could build my collection around the story I want to tell others about our hobby? In early 2020, some dads and their kids came over for a class in baseball card history. It was fun to be able to not only tell them about the history of the hobby, but also let them hold authentic 19th century baseball cards (cards decades older than the house we lived in Kansas!), a real Babe Ruth, etc. I would have *LOVED* that as a kid!
Showing the Cards
The joy that the dads and their kids got stuck with me. I love doing youtube videos, podcasting, writing articles, etc. especially if it means educating people on baseball card history, but showing them in person was way different.
A while ago, my wife’s sister and her family came over. My brother in law and I got to talking about baseball cards (imagine that!)
I started telling him about a Babe Ruth card I had, and he was all in to hear more about the history of cards! Eventually, I showed him most of everything I had, and it had the authentic feel of showing real historical artifacts that could/should be found in a museum. The awe and wonder he radiated from seeing what I have is frankly what I feel all the time with them being in my care. It is exciting to be able to share that! Showing Trout/Griffey/Ripken/etc. simply wouldn’t have done the same thing – especially since he isn’t really a baseball card guy, I guess.
Case in point, I showed him some of my best Canseco stuff, like a barrel, knob, laundry tag, etc. He didn’t bat an eye. He just wanted to see the old stuff, lol! I can’t blame him. Heck, even my wife thinks the old stuff I have is cool, and it has become apparent to me that key vintage baseball cards not only transcend the boundaries of our ever-growing hobby, but also sucks in those who aren’t collectors in! I like that very much.
Building a Museum Worthy Collection
After researching, buying, selling, buying, trading, etc. I have come up with a small collection of cards that make me feel as if they should be in a museum – my own remote personal little wing of the Hall of Fame that tells a compelling story of early baseball card history. I consider all the cards below to be iconic, but some are so scarce, you may have never heard of them. The vintage collectors don’t typically have as big of a presence online as the newer guys do. In any event, what some of these little unknown pieces lack in recognition, they more than make up for in their story. Here is what is in my collection, and why.
1887 OLD JUDGE BILLY SUNDAY
This is the first card I ever had graded. I love the new SGC black tuxedo holders! PSA has only 3 of these graded. Old Judge cards are notorious for their pictures to be faded into oblivion. This picture is as solid as you can get, and is everything I wanted in an Old Judge card. The clear picture, the notable player (he is one of the first American evangelists), the bare hands catching, and the ball suspended on a string. More can be read about him in this article I wrote.
1887 OLD JUDGE KING KELLY PORTRAIT AND BATTING
I won’t go too much into detail on these since I recently wrote an article about these here but these cards make me absolutely melt. If you know me, you know that King Kelly is probably my favorite 19th century baseball player, and these are my two absolute favorites of his. The man had America’s first pop song written about him (Slide, Kelly, Slide!) and started the autograph craze. He was the first in our favorite sport to transcend the game in the way that he did, and his picture hung in Boston saloons all over. I really hit the jackpot with these two! They are my two most inquired about 19th century cards from my 19th century collecting friends than anything else. The portrait looks like it could be on an Outlaw poster from the Wild West – why not – the time period matches up!
1887 (1888) ALLEN & GINTER COMPLETE BASEBALL SET & ALBUM
The PSA POP report shows between 50 and 200 of each of these as having been graded, so they are rare, but obtainable. Graded SGC 1, this is exactly what i look for: nearly pack fresh eye appeal with back damage. In the 19th century, kids were encouraged to glue them into a premium album that Allen & Ginter offered. As a result, many of these have missing paper stock from the back. They are beautiful miniature pieces of art.
I’ve talked at length about how I am amazed that these were so beautiful, Topps resurrected the design over a century later, and has been running the brand with a similar design each year for several years now, being one of the most popular sets ever. The original Allen & Ginter set was monumental, and perhaps the first nationally offered full color baseball card. The set is as historically significant to our hobby as it is beautiful.
Quite a while after picking up this set, I was able to pick up the album that Allen & Ginter offered as a premium. Each page features beautiful full color lithography showing every card in the set elaborately displayed. The album is probably quite a bit tougher to find than the cards.
1888 GOODWIN CHAMPIONS COMPLETE BASEBALL SET
After Allen & Ginter released arguably the most historically significant set ever, it is almost as if Goodwin said “Anything you can do, I can do better” and released the Goodwin Champions set. Instead of a single splash of color on a white background, Goodwin offers full color background lithography. The baseball set is 8 cards total, and feature some of the most beautiful cards ever made. The beauty of Anson and Kelly rival any art in museums, but the Glasscock is probably my favorite looking card from the set. He looks like he’s at the park or on the beach about to field a ball with his bare hands.
These are much more difficult to obtain than the Allen & Ginters, as the PSA POP report shows between 50-75 each of these having been graded. If you are like me, a card #/50 produced in the past couple of years doesn’t really make you bat an eye. When it comes to an iconic set like this that was produced in a time when hardly any other cards were released, the POP report of 50-75 means these are extremely scarce. It is fun to think that it is quite possible that only 10-30 other people in the entire world may have a complete baseball set graded by PSA.
Like the Allen & Ginter set above, this Goodwin set is in exceptionally beautiful condition, compared to their low grades.
The entire set is magnificent, but the individual character and beauty of each card may get lost when looking as a whole. Here is the Anson on top of a Monet. What a great pairing!
How about a pic of Van Gogh and Anson together? To put things into perspective, Anson was born in 1852, whereas Van Gogh was born in 1853.
1889 GOODWIN A35 ROUND ALBUM SET
This set was the subject of my main 2020 quarantine project. When the American Tobacco Company formed, there was no need to create cards to entice people to buy, but before this happened, Goodwin offered an obscure premium that is rarely ever seen, though considered a true gem of the 1800s.
They are unusual in shape (circular), significantly bigger than even cabinet cards, and are considered by many to be the most premium, beautiful lithography ever offered for baseball subjects in the 19th century. They are truly a victim of their own scarcity. Very few people know what these are!
I created/invented a custom holder with full color artwork inspired by the A36 Goodwin Album to display each piece.
They are heavy and extremely impressive in size to look at. Instead of posting every full size picture here, I’ll show the thumbnails, though it does them no justice whatsoever. More pics can be found in my article here.
Vinny at Shabby Shore Signs created this massive, magnificent wood advertisement. It is based off of the original advertisement that hung in cigarette shops nearly a century and a half ago. I cleaned up and brightened the original artwork taken from the Six Figure piece, and Vinny worked his magic! Imagine being a child back in the 1800s, seeing these for the first time and fawning over them.
1899 M101-1 SPORTING NEWS M101-1 HONUS WAGNER ROOKIE
This is a dream piece – and frankly, was only a fantasy piece in my mind up until this past year! I knew of the extremely rare M101-2 Sporting News Supplements offered a decade later, and instantly fell in love with them (more on those later). I heard of the M101-1 Sporting News supplements from 1899-00, and heard they had some star players such as Napoleon Lajoie, but never even did any research on them, because with as rare as the M101-2s are, the M101-1s are wildly more rare.
One day when I was scrolling on the internet, I found someone posted this. My heart stopped. My jaw dropped. My eyes popped out of my head. How on earth did I not know that Honus Wagner had an M101-1, and how on earth am I seeing it in someone’s collection instead of the Hall of Fame???
I reached out, asking if it was for sale, and it was! It took about a week, but we hammered out a deal for the most beautiful example I’ve ever seen of this (I’ve only seen about 6 others in the sales history ever, and most have chunks cut out). It is quite a bit more rare than the T206 Wagner that was created a decade later, and it is considered his rookie. This is graded as authentic altered, because a professional paper conservator carefully removed it from a damaged frame.
The owner of a real T206 Wagner has inquired about it being for sale. I don’t know why, but that in and of itself is exciting to me! The fact that this was released in 1899 bridges a very interesting gap between the 19th century guys and the big guys of the early 20th century, and the fact that it is a decade older than the T206 Wagner is crazy. I have a longer write up of it here.
1909 T206 GREEN TY COBB
Ty Cobb has four offerings in the T206 set, but the Green Background is the most sought after. I was fortunate enough to get this right at the beginning of the pandemic. It is free of creases, has great corners, and a beautiful dark green background. The card is penalized with a harsh grade mainly due to a few light specks on the front (which show up much more on scan, than in person!), and a small bit of paper loss on the back. The eye appeal gives many examples I’ve seen in higher grades a run for their money, which is exactly what I look for!
A couple days ago, this BVG altered green Cobb sold for nearly $800. I suspect it was trimmed! It goes to show you how highly coveted these Cobbs are, even without the striking green background.
Here is mine!
1910 E90-2 HONUS WAGNER
When I first laid my eyes on this card, my jaw dropped, and I knew I wanted to try and find one for my collection, but being nearly as rare as the T206 Wagner, I figured that would be difficult. Then, the right one came along. This is a survivor of my sell off – that’s how much I love it. It features artwork based upon the same Carl Horner portrait that the T206 Wagner is based off of. Its striking candy blue background really pops, too! Like the Cobb above, the eye appeal of this one out paces many higher graded examples, thanks to a small bit of paper loss on the reverse.
1909-1913 M101-2 SPORTING NEWS TY COBB/HONUS WAGNER, SHOELESS JOE JACKSON, & WALTER JOHNSON/GABBY STREET
When I first heard of these beauties, I instantly fell in love. They are roughly 8×10 in size, and the PSA POP report on each are 4 or less. They are showstoppers! The first shows baseball history’s best pitcher with his mentor. The 2nd shows perhaps the best picture ever of Shoeless Joe Jackson. Seriously, take a look at the mugs of what would be considered by many to be his top 3 cards. I love each one of them, but I’m not sure he’d have much luck with the ladies if he used any of them for an online dating profile.
The third shows a young Ty Cobb shaking hands with the veteran Honus Wagner in the 1909 World Series. A true passing of the torch moment – that is, after Wagner dominated the series!
As recounted in this article, I talked about how I lost out on a near complete set of these, but the buyer ended up breaking them up, and I was able to get my 3 favorites. The sepia tone, the clear players, and the faded backgrounds all work beautifully together.
1915 CRACKER JACK TY COBB
Before my first sell off, this card was my #1 most wanted card, and pulled the trigger on an altered version. It was clean, had razor sharp edges/corners, and was simply beautiful. Then I ran into this one. Rounded corners, perhaps a bit darker/bolder colors, and caramel staining. I opted to keep this one and sell the altered, as I prefered the caramel and deeper colors on this one. The caramel tells a story of how this came right out of a box of the delicious treat that is sung about in “Take Me Out to the Ballgame”.
Imagine a baseball fan sitting in the stands during World War I, and pulling a card of the best player on the planet … THIS card … from a box of Cracker Jacks. It was surely was a red letter day for someone just as it was for me to put this WWI era relic in my collection. Few cards out there rival how iconic this is!
1915 CRACKER JACK SHOELESS JOE JACKSON
This card is a dream come true for me. I have people regularly checking in to see if this is for sale more than most of the other cards I have, except perhaps one. It is the king of Cracker Jack cards, and among the most iconic cards ever produced. It is also the most well known card of a guy who has very few cards available. Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, and others all spoke highly of Jackson, alluding to the possibility of him being the best.
It doesn’t get any better than high praise from the best players in baseball history! Being kicked out of baseball would be akin to Mike Trout never playing another game now. Shoeless Joe Jackson had many more productive years ahead of him which were never realized, due to the biggest scandal in baseball history.
1919-21 W514 STRIP CARD SHOELESS JOE JACKSON
To me, the Cracker Jack Shoeless Joe Jackson is king, but the mystique around this card is astronomical. This is what I call the Black Sox Shoeless Joe Jackson card. It features him as a member of the White Sox, and was produced/released around the same time of the 1919 World Series. My thoughts are that the artwork was perhaps created in 1919, and was actually produced in 1920. More on that later, but to me, this is a tangible piece of baseball history’s biggest scandal ever, featuring baseball royalty…someone who the very best to play the game considered the best.
This card has a personal history as well.
In 2019, when I discovered this card existed, I set out to search for one. With a PSA POP report of less than 70, (that is less than the Cracker Jack!) I knew I’d be fighting an uphill battle given its historical significance. People don’t exactly want to give this card up, and they rarely surface. I found someone on a forum who had this as their avatar, and decided to ask if it was for sale. As I suspected, he said no. Then several months later, he agreed to it! I was jumping-out-of-my-skin excited.
Unbeknownst to me, I made the purchase on the 100 year anniversary of the last game of the 1919 World Series – to the EXACT day! Shoeless Joe hit a home run in that game, as well. I can’t even fathom calculating what the odds are that would happen! Once the “once in a lifetime” opportunity to land the Cracker Jack Shoeless Joe Jackson happened, I decided to sell this one. Over the next year, I opened up the text messages of the guy I sold it to, contemplating asking if I could buy it back. I thought better of it each time, and never did. Then he posted it for sale himself. We did a deal, and it is back home again – a true boomerang card!
1919-21 W514 STRIP CARD BABE RUTH
There is something magical about this set. I am not a huge fan of most strip cards, but the W514 set has a lot going for it. This Babe Ruth is also a boomerang card, in that I sold it and got it back later!
The thing that makes this card perhaps the most intriguing of all Babe Ruth cards is not that it is likely his first Yankees card, but his sleeves. The bottom of the card shows him as a member of the Yankees, meaning the card had to have been produced after 1919, but his sleeves are red, meaning the artwork may have very well been produced during the time he was a member of the Red Sox in 1919. If Babe Ruth had an official “Curse of the Bambino” card, this would be it!
This is a tangible piece of baseball history that perfectly captures baseball’s largest seismic shift – when the Red Sox were “the” team winning championships to the precise moment in time (and reason for) the Yankees becoming “the” team, going from winning no championships to winning more championships than any other team, ever. Here is an article I wrote about it.
1933 WORLD WIDE GUM BABE RUTH
If you close your eyes and think of a Babe Ruth card, the one that probably comes to mind is the 1933 Goudey #144 full body Ruth. It is perhaps the most well known card of the most well known baseball player in history. Last year, I had a PSA 1 that was wrinkled and had some staple indentations, among other issues. I was on a mission to find a nicer copy, and ran into a card that is nothing short of spectacular. 1933 World Wide Gum is considered the Canadian Goudey, as it is virtually the same card with the same iconic front, but with a Canadian back. I’ve written more about it here.
The Goudey has over 1,400 graded in the PSA POP report, whereas the World Wide Gum has less than 100. The extreme difference in rarity wasn’t the reason I decided to go with this example, though. It is the fact that it appears drastically undergraded. The centering, coloring, etc. the eye appeal is off the charts, and rivals many 5’s & 6’s I’ve seen. After going back and forth, I finalized a deal on this on Christmas day this past year.
1952 TOPPS MICKEY MANTLE
Last but not least is a card that needs no introduction. It is the #1 card to have this side of the T206 Honus Wagner, and a PSA 9 copy of it recently shattered sales records for any card in history at over $5,000,000. I had a creased up / ink blotched version in 2019/20 and sold it. I never thought I’d have one again, and then found someone with this. I was able to trade my 2011 Topps Update Diamond Mike Trout PSA 10 + some cash for it. As with the others above, the eye appeal is off the charts.
It almost looks as though it was perhaps put in one of those thick old school glass holders, and upon removal, some of the bottom left paper came off. If that didn’t happen, it simply wouldn’t be in my collection, as it would have graded way higher than I could have ever have fathomed to pay. Thankfully, much of it is localized to the border, so with as barely noticeable as it is in the picture below, it is even less noticeable in person. Like the Cracker Jack Shoeless Joe Jackson, I simply would be unable to obtain now given how well these have been selling recently. Similar examples were both in the latest Clean Sweep Auction and performed really well.
That is basically all I have in terms of non Canseco keeper baseball cards. They aren’t shiny, have no gimmicks embedded in them, or serial numbers. In spite of all this, I simply can’t stop looking at them, and can’t see myself ever tiring of owning them. The story that they tell radiates off of them with each glance, and I consider myself extremely fortunate to have them in my care for now. That may all change at the drop of a hat, but I love them tons!
As you can tell, I’m a BIG believer in low-mid grade vintage with high eye appeal of super key cards, and cards with amazing stories. When I started buying and selling cards back 15 or so years ago, I never would have dreamed I would be able to come across cards like these, and always wondered how people got to where they were wheeling and dealing at this level. I guess the secret is to start small, be patient, and do your homework. As Mark Cuban would say, you’ve gotta crawl before you ball. The trick is to have fun crawling along the way!