Last week I, along with many collectors, received an email from long-time collector/dealer Lew Lipset in which he mentioned he was endeavoring to write his hobby autobiography. I know I’m looking forward to that tome if and when the book is published as Lew has many stories to tell. Lew, for several years, was a columnist for The Trader Speaks which was the most influential hobby publication during the 1970’s. Created, edited and published by Dan Dischley, who interestingly enough was one of the 16 founding members of SABR (Society of American Baseball Research), that small-sized publication was the hobby powerhouse. Just about every serious collector subscribed to that publication.
I remember that one of the perks of being a subscriber was receiving a free 50-word classified ad or six back issues each year. The first year, so I could learn more about the hobby, I chose the back issues but for my second year of subscribing I chose to run a 50-word advertisement. The ad ran, if I recall correctly, in 1978 and the hobby was still so innocent I could run an ad saying I have cards from 1957-1978 please send lists with price willing to pay. I swear I had 10 responses within a week and at least two letters had come in by the day I actually received my copy of TTS in the mail. I should note that Dan mailed out all TTS first class and I received the first orders on the day I received my magazine. Just a delivery quirk we still see today for various mailings.
Thinking back over the responses to my ad, there were very few people who tried to put in for low-balling and almost everyone was fair in their offers. You’d send the cards you wanted to sell at that price and the buyer would send back a check (or cash!) for what he decided to keep plus a little for shipping and returned the rest. Selling cards on approval is something only a few dealers still do.
Every once in a while I would run ads in hobby publications but since mail order was not my strength I preferred to go the show route because face to face buying and selling were instantaneous and a lot of fun. I made many contacts both ways as buyers and sellers and usually enjoyed the interaction. And yes, at most shows I made a profit but usually could also “buy” my way to a meager profit if all broke right. Sometimes, that profit took 25 years to cash in.
My former colleague at Beckett, Brian Fleischer, was working on a project of collecting autographs from every member of the 1961 Yankees and I believe also trying to collect autographs from every pitcher who surrendered homers to Roger Maris that season.
In 1979, there was a show at Fairleigh Dickinson College that seemed to have everything going for it but turned out to be an absolute dud. The autograph guest, Elston Howard, was too sick to attend. Sadly, his illness was very real as he passed on from cancer only a few months later but he did sign special promotional cards which were handed out to each dealer.
Twenty-five years later I sold Brian the Howard card, assured him the autograph was real as I explained the story and filled in an important part of his Yankee project. This card, by the way, is pictured in the Beckett Almanac.
A couple of other notes: Have you ever wondered, like I do, why sometimes autograph cards are so cheap compared to the costs? I was struck this morning while reading an article on CNBC.com that with the slippage in gold pricing, manufacturers actually have to spend more money per ounce of gold than it is selling for. That scenario does not make sense to me; however, if you think about the value of autograph cards, that dilemma makes perfect sense. For example, if you pay Lance Berkman $25 per autograph because you think he can add value to your product, do not be surprised if his card ends up selling for $20 on the secondary market. That type of price structure happens all the time and must really drive card company product managers and executives crazy.
Oh, and congratulations to MLB.com for putting many of their classic games in their inventory up on YouTube. Over the weekend, I heard Game 6 of the 1977 World Series and game six of the 1978 World Series. For years baseball had been behind the curve in having games online so congratulations to MLB for doing the right thing for fans. To show how things have changed since 1977, the winner’s share was announced as $32,000 per player for the winning team. I did not do a count but a great many players today now make more than $32K on a per game basis. In case you ever wondered why ticket pricing is so much higher, just think about those numbers for a minute. And then think why the prices for baseball card packs have also gone up in price.