Via the Consumerist is a recent Slate article concerning the great baseball card craze of the ’80s and ’90s. It contains an excerpt from a new book by Dave Jamieson called Mint Condition: How Baseball Cards Became an American Obsession. It’s a topic I am all too familiar with as a former sports card and comic collector. I never became a card speculator, as others of my age did, so I didn’t get burnt too badly. Nevertheless, I have binders full of football cards that are now barely worth the plastic sheets that house them, thanks in large part to the ludicrous overproduction and subsequent cheapening of cards in the ’80s and ’90s.
I had a lot of fun collecting cards back in the day – I didn’t care much about the value of the cards although I did try to keep them in the best condition possible. Something about filling holes in my collection scratched me where I itched (a need I fill now by collecting songs). That naturally led to some suspect purchases, and it started to become obvious even as a teenager that card collecting wouldn’t be a lifelong hobby for me.
The moment when I knew things had gone too far came when I was about 14 or 15. I stopped into a local comic and card shop, a regular haunt for me, to peruse some possible new additions. As I approached the counter I saw a kid who couldn’t have been more than 8 or 9 years old haggling with the shop owner over some cards like it was the SALT treaty sessions. I can still remember the feeling of sadness and disgust I experienced that day; a day when I knew it was time to move on from card collecting.
This phenomenon extended not just to baseball cards but to football and other sports cards, as well as comics. I got a little suckered there, as I distinctly remember buying multiple copies of Todd McFarlane’s Spider-Man #1 in 1990. But for the most part I just collected comics I liked, regardless of value. That’s why I’m more likely to hold onto a lot of the comics I bought, instead of the cards.
One thing I did learn from the whole collecting phase of my youth is this – if you see something that actually says “Collector’s Item” on the package, it’s probably not.
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