Letters from Jefferson Burdick to his fellow baseball card collecting pioneers are up for sale through Hunt Auctions.
Burdick, who decades ago painstakingly catalogued thousands of cards as he grew his remarkable collection, died in 1963, but the letters provide some important insight into the man few of today’s collectors ever knew.
In one letter he wrote to Wagner in August 1948, Burdick discusses the possible sale of Wagner’s own collection which includes a T206 Honus Wagner card and Burdick’s decision to place his collection inside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where it could be preserved. Cards had minimal ‘value’ at the time and Burdick tells his friend, “there is a possibility that they will be worth more in future years but I sort of doubt it.”
He apparently had already made a deal to acquire what was even then a very elusive tobacco card, the now iconic T206 Wagner. “I’ll sure be glad to get the Wagner card,” he writes. “One of them should be preserved in a museum.”
And so it was.
In 1947, Burdick began to donate his entire collection of approximately 30,000 baseball cards along with another 270,000 trade and postcards, to the Museum. Over the course of 15 years, Burdick spent innumerable hours organizing the cards into albums—incorporating the sports cards into other contemporary advertising material. which remain in the Museum’s possession today.
Burdick didn’t collect for value. During his collecting days, even holding tens of thousands of cards dating to the early days of pro baseball was simply a hobby. Some money changed hands at times, but cards changed hands primarily through trading. The T206 Wagner was a small exception. Writes Burdick in 1941:
“I see where Edwards is offering $2.00 for Wagner in #521 but I guess that+s one he will have to want as far as you are concerned. Best you would have to be starving to death to part with your copy. I hope you can get the real dope on its scarcity…”
Even as he created the hobby’s first “guide books”, Burdick didn’t expect to make any money.
“Profit and loss mean little to a real hobby enthusiast,” Burdick writes to his fellow collectors in one letter as he pursues his work of creating the Card Collectors Catalog. He also thanked a group of ten fellow collectors who sent him a money order to cover some of the losses he’d suffered while creating the early Card Collectors Bulletin, a collecting publication he started. Burdick wrote that the gift covered the cost of a new mimeograph machine he would be using to continue to produce future issues.
The group of correspondence is fresh to the hobby and was obtained from the estate of a now deceased collector.
Earlier this year, Hunt Auctions sold a first edition of the American Card Collectors catalog for $4,176 which had been bound with a number of a run of issues of Burdick’s Card Collectors Bulletin. The consignor then relayed that he had this additional group of letters/etc., having purchased all from an estate sale.
The letters are part of Hunt’s June Internet/Phone Auction, set to conclude Wednesday, June 10.