Recently on Net 54 there was a thread discussing the new release of the vintage-only Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards. This huge tome used to include just about any known baseball card set from every year but is now strictly 1981. As a former editor of the Beckett Almanac of Baseball Cards & Collectibles, it’s a subject near and dear to my heart.
To me, cataloguing is still a very important part of the hobby. One major difference between 20 years ago and today is that the process, other than the new major manufacturer releases, has become much more hit and miss than it used to be. Part of that is the evolution of two major hobby publishers and part of it simply has to do with business.
Let’s begin with those business reasons.
When I left Beckett, there were over 25,000 sets in just the baseball database. Granted, many of them were mainstream parallel and insert sets but a lot of them were what people called “oddball” issues; sets issued regionally or as a promotion for a company or product. Those sets were actively collected in the 1970s-80s and early 90s before the explosion of sets from the major manufacturers and an increase in licensing fees effectively killed many of them.
With that many sets already accounted for, does one more set really have an impact in either direction? Does it really matter of a regional or oddball set or a secondary set from a card company never gets into a big price guide/catalog?
Truthfully, there never has been a way to quantify the value of adding any specific set to the Beckett database. But here’s the thing. One of the big differences was both Chet Krause (of Krause Publications back in the day) and Jim Beckett understood that hobby knowledge was very important and they were willing to spend resources to add to that everlasting information base. Today, with companies owned by businesses and not by hobby people, that world has changed. Some of those sets that used to be put into the database are nowhere to be found and in the long-term, that’s sad.
There is nothing “sexy” about adding another checklist into a database and I suppose if a set is a 2013 stadium giveaway, how many people around North America are really going to go after those cards in comparison to the latest, greatest autograph card out of the newest product? These days, the collectors of obscure sets are somewhat few and far between, but they’re not extinct. I guarantee you that. I get the dilemma publishers are facing, though, and on a business level that all makes sense to me.
Another issue with cataloguing, and that includes cards already in the databases, is keeping up with prices. A set such as 1914 Cracker Jack or the T206 John Titus (only player in the set with a mustache who has a bit of a cult following) had explosions this year in pricing but everyone left on the staff of those hobby publishers is so busy doing what seems to be ten different tasks at once, that they cannot always keep up with values. Heck, I had problems and I was monitoring the market very actively when I was in that role.
There are some sites which do work on constantly adding to the cataloguing purposes. One of the more fascinating processes is what COMC is working on.
We have written some about the COMC/Beckett split of 2014 that has forced COMC to basically create their own checklist from scratch using the cards they have in hand, getting contributions from users and getting information from the card companies.
Because of the breadth and width of just how many different cards they have scanned, there is a wealth of information already on their website (and it’s free) and they are using many resources to build the best possible catalog they can create. However, they are learning what a daunting task it is. For COMC, because of the nature of what they provide, catalog information is a key and thus they just might end up as the best source in the hobby or until someone decides to spend quite a bit of money and begin the process again almost from scratch.
I also think it will end up being an online venture thus there might eventually be a good way to determine the value of each and every listing in a data base. I’m not sure what that is, but I hope some of the sets that might be slipping through the cracks eventually do find their way into easily accessible databases because all of it, in some way, helps chronicle the history of card collecting. It’s also important for collectors who like to chase sets outside the norm and in my world, those people are a great part of the hobby at large.
Those are some of my thoughts as a former cataloguer and we’d love to hear yours. You can reach me through the email address below.