The Game of Baseball Has Fans of Many Ages
COLUMBIA, Pa. — It’s that time of year again when baseball season begins. But, fans don’t actually have to go to a game or watch it on television to be a baseball enthusiast. Collecting vintage sports memorabilia, particularly baseball items, is a hobby that has been on the rise in the past several decades.
So much variety exists in baseball collectibles that there is something for everyone, no matter what their interests, and no matter what their budget.
One man who knows a lot about baseball collectibles is Alex Boyer, the co-owner of the Old State Theater Antique Mall in Columbia, Pa. According to Boyer, this mall has one of the largest for-sale collections of sports collectibles in the Northeast — 1,250 square feet.
Baseball items are popular with collectors of any age. Boyer said old timers come in to relive the glory days of the sport, and are anxious to share their enthusiasm with the younger generation. And young kids, on a limited budget, can find photographs, baseball cards, score cards and posters, as a starting point for their collection.
Boyer said the most popular items are balls, bats, gloves and cards.
Many people think of baseball cards as the glossy cardboard cards that came in packs of Topps bubble gum. Topps started manufacturing these in 1951 and they were a huge success. But the original baseball cards really came along much earlier. According to D. James Beckett, who wrote “Collecting Baseball and other Sports Cards,” the original baseball cards were made, not as bubble gum premiums, but as cigarette cards.
In 1886, small collecting cards were given away with packs of Gypsy and Old Judge cigarettes. There were cards for all sorts of sports, including more than 2,000 different images of baseball players on cards that were only 1-1/2-by-2-1/2 inches.
Throughout the early 20th century, many other tobacco companies included sports cards in with their products.
Today, these small cards vary in price, from $10-$15 each, to a lot more. One card, a 1909 card featuring Pittsburgh’s Honus Wagner, sold for more than $1.2 million on eBay in 2000.
According to Boyer, it is important for collectors to buy from a reputable dealer, someone with an established reputation, because there are cases of forged signatures on balls, bats, gloves and ephemera. Get a description of your purchase in writing. The right signature on a piece can make the difference between it selling for $5, $50 or $5,000.
Boyer said sports collecting has been influenced by a new trend in decorating — the “man cave,” a place for the man of the house to call his own that is typically decorated with masculine artifacts. Sports items, such as large autographed posters, framed score cards, vintage uniforms, caps and baseball bats are one of the ways a “man” or a “woman” cave is being decorated.
Throughout the years, baseball has been used to advertise every sort of item. All of the great players, including Mickey Mantle, Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson, Joe DiMaggio and Babe Ruth put their names and their faces on colas, cars, batteries, mattresses, restaurants, cigarettes and beer. A wonderful, and very affordable, collection can be made of these old advertisements. They can often be found for $10-$20 each, and are perfect for framing.
Boyer said that sports items are always more expensive in the area that they were made famous. In other words, Philadelphia Phillies items are most in demand, and most expensive, in Philadelphia. Orioles’ items are most expensive in Baltimore.
One item that is almost always present in a baseball collection is something not normally associated with vintage collectibles — the Wheaties cereal box. Wheaties, with the logo “Breakfast of Champions,” started advertising with sports celebrities in 1934 by placing the athletes’ photos on the outside of its boxes. The first baseball player featured was Lou Gehrig in 1934. Through the years, hundreds of ball players have been featured. To expand its baseball advertising, Wheaties issued baseball cards on the backs of its boxes in 1952. Early Wheaties boxes can be worth hundreds of dollars, but boxes from the past 20 years or so are very common and may have more sentimental value than monetary.
Besides local interest, another thing that affects price is history. Everyone wants a souvenir of the great historic events of the sport. An ordinary score card might sell for $10 or $20, but the score card for Jackie Robinson’s first game, or for Lou Gehrig’s last game might be worth 10 times that amount.
When asked why he loves selling baseball memorabilia, Boyer, who grew up playing the game, said, “You can follow the evolution of baseball history from 1840 right up to the present time. A 50-year-old man can come into the store with his 80-year-old dad, and they can each find the equipment they played with as a kid. Everyone has their special memories of the game.”
Linda Sarubin can be reached at 717-382-9252 or firstname.lastname@example.org.