John Staples turned 54 earlier this month, but the card shop owner from Phoenix, Arizona, was doing the gift-giving.
“Big John,” who also runs a Facebook page for vintage card traders, coordinated “a fun project I’ve always wanted to do”— building and completing a vintage set for a young collector. And doing it for free.
Tim Tush, a 16-year-old high school sophomore in Bonner Springs, Kansas, will be owning a complete 1975 Topps set that was put together by collectors who frequent Staples’ Facebook page. Tush, who roots for the Kansas City Royals and also is a big Kansas basketball fan, already had 37 cards from 1975, including a George Brett rookie.
Staples had hoped to complete the set for Tim by the end of November. But after announcing his project on October 28, 19 of Staples’ fellow collectors went to work and committed to mail the remaining 623 cards to the teenager, finishing the set in exactly 3 days, 4 hours and 14 minutes.
Staples got it started by sending a Robin Yount rookie card. Other donations ranged from a common card from one collector to “a couple hundred” from another. Some of the collectors even broke their own personal collections to donate a card or two. Most of the cards already have made it to Kansas.
“It was pretty heartwarming,” Staples said.
And to think, this act of kindness was inspired by a robbery.
Born in Omaha, Nebraska, Staples grew up in Lyons, Kansas. He has been a collector since 1971 and did his first show as an 11-year-old, taking a Greyhound bus to different venues. He opened his first store — a coin and card shop — in 1978, while still in high school.
After running several coin, card and sandwich shops, Staples retired to Phoenix in 1997. He stayed busy in the hobby, selling cards online. In February he heard about a card shop owner who was suffering from cancer. Staples bought the store’s inventory and opened his own shop.
Several weeks later, a customer came in and was looking over a high grade 1975 Topps set. Suddenly, he bolted out the door, binder in hand.
“I took off running after him, then I remembered I weighed 350 pounds,” Staples laughed. “I couldn’t catch him.”
The next day, Staples told his wife Michele that he’d love to give something away “to turn the tide on such bad luck.”
Enter Tim and his dad, who visited Staples’ shop (20th Century Sports Cards), a few weeks later. The pair had come to Arizona to watch some of the Royals’ spring training games in Surprise. They visited the card shop, and Staples said he was impressed by Tim’s love for collecting — not for profit, but for the thrill of putting together sets or chasing after favorite players.
“This boy was a freckle-faced kid who reminds you of Opie from ‘The Andy Griffith Show,’” Staples said. “The kid couldn’t care less about condition. Mint is not in his vocabulary.
“He has a true love for vintage cards.”
“I like to get lower grade cards so I can get more of them,” Tim said.
And while Tim collected newer cards for a while, “that stuff doesn’t interest me as a whole.”
“I collected newer stuff for a few years,” he said. “The value of some guys can go up and down so fast.
“So I liked vintage cards better. I like to learn about the older players.”
Tim’s favorite vintage baseball players? Former Royals stars Amos Otis and John Mayberry.
He is active in sports, playing baseball and basketball and running cross country. He was steered toward card collecting from a video game.
“I was playing Madden football on PlayStation and it had the old Chiefs teams on them,” he said. “I wanted to learn more about them, so my dad took out his old Chiefs football cards.”
On one of the vintage group pages run by Staples on Facebook, Tush asked what 1970s set would be best to buy in bulk.
Staples asked Tim what his favorite vintage set was between 1974 and 1979 and he answered “1975” because he already had the Brett rookie card and he lives in the Kansas City area.
That set in motion a collaborative effort by several generous collectors.
“It was good to rally the troops,” Staples said.
“It was crazy,” Tush said. “I was not expecting that at all.”