Art has the Mona Lisa – jewelry, the Hope Diamond. But in baseball cards, the Holy Grail is a 98 year old piece of cardboard, barely 2 and a half inches long and just under 2 inches wide. It’s known simply as “The Card” – a 1909 T206 Honus Wagner.
And just how valuable is it? It jsold in February for $2.35 million dollars.
The card is rich with history – but as Michael O’Keeffe and Teri Thompson explore in their new book, The Card, it’s also rife with scandal and controversy.
With doubts about authenticity and whether it’s been doctored, the card that has made some folks a lot of money and became the face of an industry has a dark side that O’Keeffe and Thompson do a thorough job exploring.
Having been an avid card collector when I was growing up – the book instantly took me back to my childhood — not just the fact that I collected cards, but the thrill of opening a new pack, the anticipation of a new series of cards coming out, and the wheeling and dealing trying to get my favorite player – Andy Van Slyke of the Pirates, or pretty much any Mariner.
It was also the beginning of the time when cards really started to be worth something. There were several card stores in my neighborhood – each filled with display cases of cards new and old and each priced with varying numbers of digits – some of which you looked at to see the price on the sticker as much as the card it was attached to.
The Card chronicles this rise of the baseball card market that erupted in the late 1980s and into the 1990s. As O’Keeffe and Thompson explain in great depth – baseball cards stopped being promotional attachments to products as they were with tobacco in the late 1800s and early 1900s, or truly collectible pieces that connected kids (and adults) to their baseball heroes. Their truly became a marketplace for cards – complete with price guides, grading and evaluating organizations, trade shows, and auctions handled by some of the country’s largest auction houses.
But like any business, there is opportunity for corruption and improprieties — and while O’Keeffe and Thompson don’t hold a smoking gun to the issues they bring light to, they do cast enough doubt on the integrity of the leaders and “authorities” of the baseball card industry that would really make you think twice about your rationale for getting into it.
I admit that I occasionally get the itch to pick up a pack of baseball cards every once in a while – but I have yet to scratch that itch. Maybe I don’t want to start a new hobby…or habit…or maybe I just want to leave that part of my life alone. I haven’t looked at my cards in a long time – although I know where they all are. Either way, after reading The Card, it reinforced my lack of desire of to get back into collecting baseball card collecting. While I wouldn’t steer a kid away from baseball cards – I would hope that they wouldn’t get into it for a perceived financial investment, but rather from a genuine interest in the game.
If you’re into baseball cards and memorabilia – you’ll appreciate this in-depth look at a complex and controversial side of the game. History, economics, and conspiracy theories converge to educate you on the collectibles business. The section on the relationship -read financial value – of the card companies and the Players Association was particularly eye-opening when you consider how lucrative it has been for both sides.
Overall The Card is a real gem – just like it’s namesake. Luckily for you though – there are plenty of this one to go around…and it won’t run you a seven digit number.
What do you think about The Card? Join the discussion and post your comments!