Back when I was a boy I fondly remember coming home in the early summer evenings after playing some sandlot baseball and hoping Mom would bring me a couple of packs of baseball cards from her weekly trip to the grocery store. I loved Major League Baseball and, in the day when few games were broadcast on television and player stats were not instantly available on the internet, collecting baseball cards was a way to stay connected to the game. Card collecting is a fond memory that I will always carry with me.
Recently Dave Jamieson wrote the book “Mint Condition” about the history of baseball card collecting. It covers the entire history from the cards included with tobacco in the late 1880s and early 1900s to the bubble gum cards of later years. It goes in depth into the different card manufacturers including the initial Tobacco companies, the Gowdy Gum Company cards of the 1930s, on to Topps (who had a monopoly for a couple of decades during the 1960s and 1970s – which was the period I collected) to the 1980s, after the Topps monopoly was broken by a court ruling, companies such as Fleer, Donuruss and Upper Deck brought stiff competition to the industry.
The 1980s and early 1990s saw a great increase in baseball card collecting, due primarily to the price of old rare cards increasing as so many were thrown out as kids grew older. Collectors started entering the market to speculate on these old cards and current cards, that they could purchase cheaply as investments, thinking they would later appreciate if the player performed well. However, as there were so many more current year cards in circulation than in prior years and being saved by buyers these investments proved not to be very profitable in most cases. This fact, along with the manufactures marketing the cards away from kids towards investors, the baseball strike of 1994 which angered fans, and kids becoming more enthralled with video games than baseball caused the baseball card market to go down significantly after the early 1990s. Today, card collecting is only a small fraction of what it was at its peak in 1991.
In addition to the history of the card companies, the book profiles several master collectors and important persons in card collecting history who accumulated huge card collections and produced the initial catalogs of cards, including assigning numbers many of which are still used today. Their individual stories and devotion to the hobby were very interesting. The book also discusses how cards are graded and how many are doctored to make them appear more valuable among other card collecting subjects.
This book was an excellent read and I highly recommend it to anyone who collected baseball cards or has an interest in Major League Baseball. It was sad to see how card collecting has diminished but goes hand and hand with the over-hyped and diminished nature of Major League Baseball itself today and the distancing of the card industry from the simple pleasure it once was for kids to collect a card of their favorite player – Mickey Mantle for me!