Nearly 600 cards from the legendary collection of Jefferson Burdick, the godfather of baseball card collecting, will be on display at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art from July 8-December 1.
Legends of the Deadball Era (1900-1919) will include a T206 Honus Wagner card and other legendary cards accumulated by Burdick, one of the earliest and most prolific adult collectors.
The display also include cards of Joe Jackson, Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Tris Speaker, Eddie Collins, Christy Mathewson, Joe Wood and Napoléon Lajoie, among others.
Most of the Burdick collection is usually available only by appointment.
The cards remain in the original, rudimentary albums that the long-time collector placed them in decades ago. Burdick died in 1963.
The ‘Dead Ball Era’ wasn’t great for offense thanks to softer baseballs, huge ballparks and pitcher-friendly rules including legal spitballs led to the game’s greatest period of strategy called “small ball,” wherein a high value was placed on individual runs and attempts to score them without requiring extra base hits or sometimes without base hits at all, instead using bases on balls, stolen bases, or sacrifice bunts. The ball itself was often used for an entire game, sometimes until it came apart.
A series of rule changes in 1920 and the arrival of Babe Ruth put an end to the era and also marked the virtual end of the ‘tobacco card era’.
Burdick’s collection is considered the largest and most comprehensive collection of American trade cards ever assembled privately in the United States. An electrician by profession, Burdick stored more than 300,000 items at the Metropolitan between 1943 and 1963, including more than 30,000 baseball cards. It was during this time that he developed the American Card Catalog system that is still used by collectors and dealers today.
Over the last 20 years, largely because of collector demand, the museum has exhibited small portions of Burdick’s collection, rotating them every six months.