Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Confessions of a Vintage Cardboard Junkie: Aug./Sept. 2009


I am told that collecting is most likely a manifestation of obsessive compulsive behavior. My older brother collects nothing – doesn’t have what I call the "collector gene." He’s quite well off, financially, and already has pretty much everything he wants, so until I discovered restaurant gift certificates, it was nearly impossible to buy gifts for him. Me? A nice vintage baseball card will never go unappreciated.

So it’s already well established how I slake my obsessive thirst – that constant stream of padded mailers arriving to my doorstep several times per month. My brother…? Well, he gives free rein to his compulsiveness by being a slave to neatness and orderliness. I couldn’t be more different – I’m a slob, except when it comes to my cards, where my inner neat freak emerges. All of my cards are well kept and organized in toploaders and binders, as one would expect.

Then there’s the "completion thing." In card collecting, I would say that the supreme beings of compulsiveness are the set builders, of which I am one. Many of my complete sets started with that one type card acquisition. Funny how that works!

I’d say there are set builders, then there are master set builders, those who truly occupy the summit of the cardboard-obsessed Mt. Olympus. Oh yeah, there’s the standard copout of those who choose to deem a set complete in spite of the absence of cards where popularity and rarity have conspired to make the cards virtually unattainable, at least for most collectors, with the T206 "Monster (minus the big 4)" being the most prevalent example of the compulsive cardboard accumulator’s willingness to compromise the purity of his normally uncompromising obsessiveness.

Another question such an individual asks oneself – Is the ’33 Goudey set complete sans Lajoie (see card scan above)? The card fits into the numerical sequence of the 240 card set (card number 106), but it was issued in 1934. Or the same question can be posed with regards to the 30 card Canadian Maple Crispette set, which presents a similar quandary. It seems that only one Casey Stengel, card number 15, is known to exist. It positively boggles the mind when one is forced to confront and contemplate the incredibly weighty philosophical conundrums of set building.

The anomalies cited above make total completion of the Maple Crispette set close to impossible for most. The much more frequent bane of the set builder is the existence of error and variation cards. Is my ’54 Bowman set incomplete because I lack some of the cards with stupid little player statistical mistakes on the back? How could Bowman be so careless? Need I mention Sherry Magee (see T206 spelling eror card above right)?

Even more pernicious are the variations within certain sets. Did the card designers of yore purposely set out to drive later generations of collectors to the brink of insanity? Surely not, but it sometimes seems like it. What would it take to put together a complete run of E94 George Close Candy cards with all of the different background colors? Who decided that ’52 Topps cards would be offered with red and black backs? And maybe the mack daddy of all variations, the ’52 Topps Mantle card (see card scan at left) with two variations in the stitching of the baseball on the back. Imagine, only another $10K to truly finish off your master set. Oh the humanity!

I have often thought that these sorts of errors and variations were put on this Earth to torture the obsessive compulsive mind of the set builder. Those sadistic card manufacturers of yore must be yucking it up from that big card factory in hell.

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