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Editor’s Blog: What Defect(s) Can You Live With?

After making it through another week, I decided to reward myself by buying some cards over the weekend.  Unfortunately, what I need isn’t found at the local card shop or show.  When you buy a card from the pre-World War II era—especially one that’s rare—eBay is about the only place to find it unless you’re at the National or another big show.  And before we go any further, here’s a warning.

I’m not going to do wonders for the reputation we collectors may have with some elements of society.  This post is about as geeky as they come.

The cards I need often fall under one of two extremes:  either really, really beat up or nearly perfect and very expensive (just how cards this old can be that nice is the topic for another blog post).

Finally, I found one of the three cards I needed to complete the set and it was not only reasonably priced, it looked great!  Just a little corner wear and nicely centered.  There had to be a catch.

There was.

On the back, the original owner (or so it appears) wrote a date in what we’d now call ‘vintage’ ink.  There was also another identifying mark on the back.  It wasn’t large or all that obtrusive.  Just one neatly written line made by a collector decades ago.  I kind of thought it actually added some character.   WOB (writing on the back) is usually a value killer for any card.  This one will always have a black mark against it.

Literally.

Figuring I could live with that, I bought it.  I’m happy.  My want list now has only two cards on it and my set is a step closer to being aesthetically appealing… from the front.

Then I wondered if my being OK with a small amount of writing on the back was weird.  In other words, what’s the flaw or defect that causes more collectors to turn their noses up at a vintage card?  Is it the centering?  Corner wear?  Creases?   When push comes to shove, what makes you shove your money back in your wallet?  What’s the thing that makes you say you’re not stooping that low just to have a card you need?

I’m not crazy about creases.  It’s like a torn cover on an old program.  Like a smudge on a really nice painting.  I’m glad the kid who owned it had fun with it but when it’s in my set, my eyes are drawn to it—not to the player.

I can live with a minor amount of corner wear.  As long as a card isn’t cut crookedly, I’m OK if it’s about 75-25 or better.

Wax stains on the front?  No problem.  Rub a woman’s nylon stocking over the stain and it comes right up.

Wax stains on the back?  Again, it proves the card was once in the back of a pack.  Character, remember?

Print dots and marks?  Not a huge deal to me.

Scuffing because of a dark background?  Not crazy about scuffing.  Won’t buy a scuffed card anymore.  Won’t buy one with tape on the front or pinholes.  I’m glad the original owner had fun with it and I respect those who do not care one iota about how much their cards have been loved.  If they can look at cards and see right past it, I think they’re better people in some way.

I keep telling myself when I have to sell them, I’ll be glad I had some standards.  What are yours?

About Rich Mueller

Rich is the editor and founder of Sports Collectors Daily. A broadcaster and writer for more than 30 years and a collector for even longer than that, he's usually typing something somewhere. Type him back at [email protected].

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