Editor’s Blog: Hobby Attitudes Then and Now

I’ve been going through some old hobby publications over the last week or so and even though I have a lot of memories of the era, it’s been more than just a trip down memory lane.  Some things have changed.

A lot.

Others have stayed pretty much the same.  Some of the concepts we think of as newfangled were already pretty common in the 1970s.  Many of the concerns adult collectors have today were the same things being discussed in the pages of those dusty old, staple-bound booklet type magazines from more than 30 years ago.  It’s been an eye-opening, interesting experience.

A few observations:

  • Collectors of vintage baseball cards weren’t quite as snobbish about their chosen genre as some can be today.  Throughout most every issue of The Trader Speaks that I looked at from 1974-83, collectors of old cards happily dispensed knowledge of new  regional sets (Granny Goose anyone?), secondary card company sets just off the presses and even 7-11 cups.  If it had a baseball player on it, and it was new, it was a collectible.  Few thumbed their noses at this stuff.  They realized that there were people out there who could appreciate both and many more did.  You didn’t have to swear your allegiance to one or the other.  Maybe it was just a function of not having a new major release from a card company every week like we have now.  Either way, it was sort of quaint–and refreshing– to remember that time.  I sometimes wish they hadn’t been quite as generous though.  I’d rather have more T206s or ’52 Topps than some of the police sets and other stuff I bought back in the 80s.
  • Auctions were a big deal.  There weren’t any huge, color catalogs like we have today but a lot of dealers chose to sell that way.  The auction, as most old timers know, is not a new concept in our hobby.  There was no internet, so bids were taken by mail (a postcard was just fine).  It may have been because dealers (most of whom were of the weekend variety) just didn’t know what their stuff was really worth.  Price guides were kind of a new concept.  Dealers priced by feeling out the market and auctions were a fair way to do that.  Of course, you could only list what you could fit in your ad (which wasn’t cheap) so it took a long time to move material this way, but most didn’t seem to care.  If you know what the phrase ‘usual rules apply’ means, you remember those old auctions!
  • Classifieds were where it was at for the little guy.  Every hobby publication lived and died by the classified ad.  They were like your local newspaper’s classifieds but a lot more fun.  You bought from them.  You sold through them.  You traded through them too.  Just about everyone traded.  One ad might generate a dozen or more hand-written responses, which made getting the mail a lot of fun.   Forums have become our classified section now, and things run faster but using snail mail meant you were committed!
  • Even in the late 1970s, hobby leaders hated the ‘new attitudes’ about what things were worth.  Page after page decried the increasing focus on money.  It sounds silly when you look at some of the prices.  A nice set of 1955 Topps hockey cards was $95.  Hobby leaders who wrote about the mainstream media’s sudden interest among adult collectors focused on cash.  Someone spent $1,000 for a baseball card?!?  Crazy!  And for a guy who played in 1909!   Many of the dealers who decried the focus on cards as currency were lying through their teeth, of course.  They were just fine with their inventory growing in value.  Many retired quite nicely years later when they sold it.  Yet many of those who had been collecting when it was strictly for fun lamented the growing influence of money.  There were open letters predicting a “rich man’s hobby” if skyrocketing prices didn’t level out.  Those who collected what we call ‘pre-War’ cards today really hated anyone calling post-War cards ‘rare’.  Those guys knew what rare was.  In that case, being a little snooty was probably justified.
  • Condition was a factor, but not a huge one.  Before professional grading, there was a wide variety of standards among dealers.  One guy’s mint was another guy’s EX.  But no one seemed to care if one corner had a touch of wear.  It was still a nice card and the buyer happily paid the price if he needed it.  EX-MT covered a lot of ground.
  • If you’re old enough to remember when there were more than a couple of local card collecting clubs, you’re an old timer.  The Trader Speaks and SCD often carried news about ‘conventions’ sponsored by local clubs that held regular meetings, small shows and trading sessions.  Their annual big regional show was a  way to raise a little money for the club to go to a ballgame or bring in a former player to give a talk.
  • Fellowship wasn’t just a word.  Many of those who wrote columns for those old publications spoke of the friendships they’d made over the years and who they’d run into at the last event.  Conventions weren’t just for buying and selling.  They were for bringing wives along and seeing the sights of a new city.  They were for having dinner and catching up on what the other guy had been up to.

I always wonder what those of us who collected, either as young people or adults back then would think if 2012 Collector had dropped in and told them what the hobby had become and told them about eBay, online bidding and email.  Would the reaction be positive or not?

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