This column has always been a mix of returning to the past while keeping our eyes on the present. When the present gets a little too complicated, a great hobby benefit is to look into its much simpler past. Recently, I was transported back to my early days in the hobby when I picked up a copy of a really good, but short-lived hobby magazine called Sports West which was issued by Dave Houser in the mid-1970’s. Most hobbyists do not remember Dave but he was a fellow contributor to Baseball Hobby News in the 1980's and personally, I always enjoyed his Here's Houser column.
Dave was the publisher and primary writer for Sports West. The issue I recently picked up was only ten pages, but chock full of information. The front page cover story had to do with newly released card sets, including the Cool Papa Bell set, the 1947 Bowman fantasy set created by then Philadelphia Show Promoters Bob Schmierer and Ted Taylor and the 630 “pure card” set released by SSPC.
Page 2 was a review of recent comments by noted hobbyist Dan McPherson. I was struck by this quote: "Collectors shouldn't try to turn a profit even on their checklist and sales list”. Noted hobbyist and old-time SCD columnist Wirt Gammon was noted for selling a one page B-18 Blankets checklist for $2. In addition, there was a complaint, believe it or not, that a person who walked into a show had cards in such great condition that the total auction price for these cards was $4,678, considered an astronomical figure for the time. If those cards were worth that much in 1976 dollars, I’m guessing a hoard like that would bring six figures today if it appeared fresh into the hobby.
Page 3 was a review of more shows including the Southern California Sports Collectors Show where that collection mentioned in the previous paragraph walked in. Here are some highlights:
There was an auction at a show for three 1952 Topps high numbers—Mantle, Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella. They brought slight less than $100 combined. While the bulk of his collection was from the 1950's, I loved this line: "As assortment of several hundred Topps baseball cards from 1959 through 1963 went for just three cents each”. Shoot, low-grade cards from that era would probably be at least a quarter each today.
Speaking of the B-18 Blankets, most of page four and five were dedicated to an in-depth look at the set.
Pages 6 and 7 feature more sets with primary source evidence of how much they cost directly to the hobbyists. Page 8 was a detailed story about the Taylor/Schmierer set.
There were a few other ads and the last page of the issue featured the "Western Collectors Directory” with names, address and collector needs. Among the collectors who were mentioned were Dwight Chapin, who wrote a hobby column for the San Francisco Chronicle for many years, Mike Berkus one of the National Sports Convention Founders and Lou Chericoni who perhaps brought in more Zeenuts to the hobby than any other man. But this was the best line of the whole page: “Stephen Brees of Portland, Oregon will pay $1 peach for 1953 Topps #'d 221-280 in mint condition only and will return any cards he does not find acceptable”. Dave's line was "That's telling 'em, Steve!”
A nice little publication which sadly did not last very long but there is little doubt Dave had a pretty good grasp on the hobby as well as how to construct a publication.
We also ran across a February 28, 1977 issue of Sports Collectors Digest, which was then published by John Stommen and family out of Michigan. This issue was 80 pages long. Although at this time, SCD was not even five years old, one could say that it was either the primary hobby publication or right up there with the Trader Speaks. The cover photo was Herb Score in his 1957 Sohio pose. Score was smiling and surely was not aware of what fate would have in store for him later that year.
Stommen wrote a column entitled “Our Hobby” which was full of news and notes, Among the people mentioned are Don Lepore's change of address and Jim Kovacs running a show in Akron, OH.
We mentioned Dave Houser and his relationship with BHN earlier but Jim also had a long-term relationship with BHN. Kovacs was a long-time contributor and under the initials JOK even produced many of the cartoons you would see in BHN. In addition, Kovacs kept meticulous records of how many of each cards he sold from vintage sets and would raise prices accordingly when he sold a large number of cards of a specific number. That would bring up circumstances of people seeing a $4 price tag on a card listed at a quarter. Jim, was, of course, way ahead of his time and what he did made a lot of sense.
There was an interview with Bobby Thomson on one page and some pictures and information of shows taking place at the time.
On page 27 was an ad from Larry Dluhy, who is still active in the Texas show scene. He was selling a lots of 100 1956-63 Topps cards for $7.95 plus postage. He also had another ad on page 37 selling a list of stars in vg/ex including the Luis Aparicio rookie, 1960 high number Topps All-Star cards of Willie Mays and Hank Aaron and a 1962 Carl Yastrzemski. Those cards were advertised at 12 cards for $8.50 plus postage. Wow, if we had only known.
Page 32 has the first of several advertisements from Barrie Sullivan. At that time, Sullivan was a leading collector/dealer and was one of the people heavily involved in the very effort to form a national hobby association. When Sullivan recently passed, I posted the news on a message board but only a few people responded despite the one-time importance of Mr. Sullivan in the hobby. This just goes to show how fleeting hobby importance can be. It would seem many of those who remembered Barrie have either passed on, are no longer active in the hobby or aren’t much into the computer age.
Page 45 featured an ad by a young Robert Lifson with an auction of some very tough cards including an E121 Ty Cobb and a bunch of well-known players and HOFers from the Old Judge set with no bids under $12 each. Rob, of course, now runs Robert Edward Auctions, one of the hobby’s most important auction houses.
The back page was an advertisement for the upcoming Montclair State Show promoted by Bill Jacobowitz and Tom Reid. They still had a few tables available and while a couple of years later I would be setting up at these shows, I was still in the attending phase at that time. And for years in New Jersey, we knew if someone was a long-time hobbyist if they remembered attending these shows which moved to a hotel in the early 1980's.
This was a fun trip to the past. When looking through these publications, I couldn’t help but think this was a world before cable TV, before the internet, before multiple card companies and multi-million dollar auctions. Consuming information and buying and selling the way we do today on eBay or other sites would have felt like science fiction at the time. A computer in your house? On your desk? In your hand? Get outta here!
Yet while life and the hobby have changed a lot, deep down things aren’t that different. We still love the feeling that collecting gives us, we still chase complete sets card-by-card, we still love going to shows and those of us who are old enough are sort of proud of being able to say we remember when.
Do you have any thoughts on your early hobby days? We'd love to hear them. Please send your emails to the address listed below.