Not too long ago, I got a request from Bruce who hails from Washington state, and does some great writing and reporting at Baseball Mexico. It is the only English language blog dedicated to the game played south of the border. Bruce did a great write up about reprint cards, and asked me to share it with all the card collectors out there. I think Bruce did a great write up, and you should give it a read. I will gladly forward all comments on to Bruce.
REPRINT CARDS: The Affordable Collectibles
Before you read further, ask yourself two questions: Do you collect cards primarily as an investment? Is price no object? If the answer to both is “Yes,” I’ll save you time right now and advise you to move on to something else…what’s next is for people who collect baseball cards as a hobby and not a business, particularly those of us who are on a budget and have to watch how much we spend on them.
I started collecting baseball cards in 1969 when I was 10 years old and became a fan of the sport, particularly a fan of my hometown Seattle Pilots. I still have the very first card I was ever given (a Topps card from that year of Padres’ infielder Bobby Klaus), but over time my collection numbered well into the thousands. By 1990, when I turned 31, I probably had over 25,000 cards…not a huge amount by many standards, but it sure seemed like quite a few to me. But by then, however, something had changed: Collecting cards wasn’t fun anymore.
Growing up, you had one choice of cards to buy: Topps. Some years were better than others, but you knew who was putting the cards out because Topps had a monopoly. Fleer and Donruss broke the monopoly in 1981, followed by Upper Deck in 1988, Score in 1989 (the year Topps resurrected Bowman, a company they’d bought out in 1956), and then things really got crazy in the 1990’s, with all kinds of competitors, subsets, chase cards and so on. It was pretty hard to keep track of things, but that wasn’t the worst of it. By the 90’s, something else had sucked the joy out of card collecting: Speculators.
We all know how speculation works. A player gets got on the field and the value of his card goes up…and down if he cools off. Anyone remember the Kevin Maas craze? What speculators did was drive the overall price of cards up, while turning what had been a hobby for most of us into a business that could get cutthroat. So there I was with thousands of cards representing something that was no longer fun. Until one day in 1991.
By 1991, when I was burned out on something that had ceased to be a hobby, card shops had popped up all over the place and, while trying to become the kind of “businessman” who’d taken over collecting, I took a Mario Lemieux rookie card into a local shop to see what it would bring me. I looked around until I spotted something I’d never seen…a complete set of Topps cards from 1953. I was transfixed. They’d reissued those old cards? Sure enough, I asked a few questions and learned Topps had indeed put out an Archives set that year. I ended up trading the Lemieux card straight across for the unopened box set. I was hooked.
From that point on, I started seeking out reprint sets wherever I could find them, not an easy thing in the earliest days of the Internet and not having a computer to begin with, but I started picking up sets: 1933 Goudeys here, 1909 T-206s there, 1953 Bowmans way over there…you get the point. Fortunately, I didn’t have to spend much money because I had a pretty good bargaining tool with all those thousands of cards I’d collected for over 20 years. Eventually the number of original Topps cards dwindled to around the present 10,000 at the same time I was snapping up over 7,000 reprint cards spanning eight decades (even some “reprints” of cards that had never been issued like the 1942 Play Balls and three years of Parkhurst cards representing the 50’s and 60’s, including a Bobby Orr “rookie” card). As far as I can tell, I now have every reprint card ever put out. It would have cost a million even without the T-206 Wagner to collect the originals in pristine condition, but the reprints? Even without trading for them, I doubt if I’ve spent $500. And they’re worth every penny to me even though I’ll never sell them.
Reprint cards aren’t for everyone. I do have some older original cards and I’ll be the first to admit there’s nothing quite like them. But you know what? I can’t afford a lot of them…things like food, gas, the power bill, and stuff like that keep getting in the way. So if, like me, you collect cards because you LIKE them, as opposed to using them like a Mutual Fund, why not spend a fraction of the cost of one original (that might be dinged up anyway) and get a reprint instead? Stick around and I’ll tell you two good, inexpensive ways to see if reprints are for you.
Let’s start out talking about the most inexpensive way to decide if reprints are an affordable alternative for collecting cards for you. Way back in 1977, Dover Publishing (which specializes in low-cost books) put out “Classic Baseball Cards,” a magazine-sized paperback which featured 98 perforated reprint cards dating from the 1880’s through the 1950’s. One year later, Dover issued “Hall of Fame Baseball Cards,” which included 92 perforated reprint cards from the 1880’s into the 1960’s. If you want to spend as little as possible to sample reprint cards, try buying one or both of these books. You can either keep the cards in the books (which are really magazines with cardstock pages) or pull them out. Either way, if you take a look at eBay or Amazon and spend less than $5 for either, even with the shipping, and you can get both for under $10 total, which is not bad for 190 cards..including THE Wagner card.
Later similar issues from Dover included books for National League cards, American League cards, selected cards from the 1953 Bowman set (in lush Kodachrome glory) and the complete 50-card 1911 Mecca Double Folders set. The 14 vintage cards pictured with this article are from all six books. Only three books are still available at $5.95 each through Dover (including the first two), but they’re widely available elsewhere, usually used. Be advised that the quality of paper is not as good as reprint sets out there, the card backs are printed in black & white and these are just “type cards,” but this is the cheapest way to get started. If you decide you’re not into it, you’ve lost little.
If you’d like something a little less “entry level” in quality, I’ll next tell you about a way to get ten smaller (up to 72 cards each) complete card sets for less than $100.
The next best way to get your feet wet would be to pick a few smaller complete sets of reprints, many of which are available through Larry Fritsch Cards of Wisconsin. This will be a bit more expensive because you’re getting real cards, not just perforated pages in a magazine, and the quality of the cardstock and printing is much higher. Here’s a list I threw together of 10 smaller reprint sets totalling 298 cards from 1869 through 1959 you can get through Fritsch for under $100 (including $10.95 shipping & handling):
$ 4.95 1869 Peck & Snyder Cincinnati Red Stockings (1 card)
$ 5.95 1887-8 N28-29 Allen & Ginter (16 cards)
$ 7.95 1909 E95 Philadelphia Caramels (25 cards)
$ 7.95 1911 D304 General Baking (25 cards)
$ 6.95 1921 E253 Oxford Confectionary (20 cards)
$ 6.96 1933 DeLong (24 cards)
$10.28 1938 Goudey Heads-Up (48 cards)
$14.41 1941 Play Ball (72 cards)
$ 6.48 1948 Bowman (48 cards)
$ 9.95 1959 Home Run Derby (19 cards)
I’m not trying to give Fritsch Cards free advertising (I’ve been a customer for years) because they can get a little spendy. It IS worth looking around, especially if you decide to get a larger reprint set like the 1933 Goudeys (240 cards) or T-206s (524 cards). However, if you’re looking to buy a number of sets, the shipping is cheaper than cherry-picking here and there online, plus if you’ve got some cards of your own you’d be willing to trade, they’re not afraid to do a little wheeling and dealing. Fritsch Cards is a family-owned business, easy to work with and their catalog is breathtaking: http://www.fritschcards.com/CAT96pdfs/Catalog96web.pdf.
So there you are. One last time, reprints aren’t for everyone. But if you’d always wanted your own Honus Wagner, Bob Feller or Mickey Mantle card, this is a great way to do it without selling your house to get one. It’s about the card, not the investment.
By Bruce Baskin
“Would you rather spend thousands of dollars for these cards or less than $20?
Top (L to R): 1886 Allen & Ginter Cap Anson, 1909 T-206 Honus Wagner, 1912 Hassan Triple Folders Ty Cobb/Hugh Jennings, 1915 Cracker Jack Joe Jackson;
Center: 1933 Tattoo Orbit Dizzy Dean, 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth, 1935 Diamond Stars Carl Hubbell, 1934 Goudey Lou Gehrig, 1938 Goudey Bob Feller;
Bottom: 1941 Play Ball Joe DiMaggio, 1950 Bowman Warren Spahn, 1951 Bowman Ted Williams, 1952 Bowman Mickey Mantle, 1953 Bowman Stan Musial.