A Card Collector’s Journey

I’m pleased to present this guest post from Gerry Garte, a regular contributor here.

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Dwight Eisenhower was President when I first started collecting baseball cards. From year to year, I had the biggest stars of the day – Mantle, Mays, Berra, Banks, Aaron.  A small pack of Topps cards cost a nickel, gum included. My collection lived on a 25-cent weekly allowance, plus benefits.

Neighborhood guys and cousins had baseball cards. We’d trade players or flip for them. It was usually closest to a wall or curb wins. Leaners were great.

After Roger Maris hit an amazing 61 home runs in 1961, his card became prized. I had two. One of the neighbor boys offered to swap 12 marbles for my extra Maris. Transaction accepted. Funny thing, nearly 50 years later I still have the marbles.

The cards were a neat hobby, but like most kids, I never thought of their long-term value. Keeping a card in nice condition was not one of my concerns.

By age 16, baseball cards were like bicycles – left behind. So I yielded closet space. Long story short: None of the cards survived my high school years.

In the mid ‘80s, I went to a couple of sports card shows. It had been about 20 years since the early cards. I’d buy one or two cards at a time, spend maybe $10.

I met Enos Slaughter at a Raleigh, NC, show. He is a 1985 inductee into the Baseball Hall of Fame. I got the gentleman’s autograph and was honored to be shaking the hand of a Hall of Famer.

My son, Benjamin, was born in 1991. When he was about 9, I introduced him to baseball card collecting. I was hoping he’d catch the bug as I had 40 years earlier. Turns out, the bug just winged him. But for the second time, it caught me flush.

After we had put together a great set of 1991 cards (year born), I took it from there.

Newly divorced, but with a steady job, I reverted to age 10. I decided – because I could– to buy all 587 cards in the 1961 Topps basic set — the great Maris year.

This time, I focused on the condition of the card. To ensure authenticity and condition, all cards were graded.  It helps avoid getting cheated.

The authentication services I trust most are PSA, SGC and BVG (Beckett). Their service determines if the card is fraudulent or has been tampered with — trimmed, re-colored, etc. Also, it renders a rating or grade for the physical condition and appearance of the card.

It took several years to complete the set. The journey was its own joy. I don’t know what it cost me, but two years later the set sold on eBay for enough to pay off the bills and buy the son a used Jeep. It was an investment in baseball history.

Three years later, I did it again. This time, I had a complete set of graded 1955 Bowmans (320 cards) auctioned off. The pay-off was smaller – due to condition, popularity and size — but the search was just as much fun.

In childhood, baseball had become imbedded. As an adult, seeing Major Leaguers from the ‘50s and ‘60s on baseball cards is a pleasant way of renewing memories and appreciating the game and life as it was.

As the country transitioned from Ike to JFK, I kept up with my world as best I could. I’d check the box scores daily. On Saturdays, after pick-up games at the schoolyard, I’d hurry home to catch Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese call the game of the week. I’d be engrossed, centered in front of the black-and-white TV set, with my baseball cards close by.

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Email Gerry Garte at garte@comcast.net

0 thoughts on “A Card Collector’s Journey”

  1. Somewhere I have some cards issued by Strong Heart dog food, seemed like I had a set. I also have some cards of Warren Spahn with the Braves still in Boston. My dad gave me some cards from the 30’s where the players had big heads on smaller bodies. I think they were drawings or cartoons of the players. They are all around here somewhere.

  2. I still buy a few cards now and then. Right now WALMART has the 2010 Topps update set in stores and I bought two packs. I got the vintage crds of Mel Ott and Honus Wagner. As much as I like cards, mine is a money issue right now. Since 2006 I have had two jobs that laid me off and I went to work in the packing house driving a forklift. Low and behold, a college friend is managing a milk plant near buy and gave me a job making about $5/hr more than the packing house with good benefits. So now that I can afford it I am thinking of trying to complete a set of 1972 Topps. I would like to complete every Topps set from the 70’s until 1983. You can buy your childhood on E-bay. Adn you can vote for your favorite cards at the Topps web site.

  3. Hi old side armer: The cards from the ’30s with big heads on small bodies may be 1938 Goudeys, a 48-card set numbered 241-288 (numbers carried on from the ’33 Goudey set). Not familiar with Strong Heart, but there are 1954 Red Heart dog food cards. It’s 33-card set. It sounds like you have some nice older cards.

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