Time magazine, October 11, 1971
The Card Sharks "Anything to declare?" "Yes," said the driver who had just crossed the Ambassador Bridge from Detroit to Windsor, Ontario, "bubblegum cards." Pulling over and opening the trunk of his car, he proudly pointed to stacks of shoeboxes containing thousands of picture cards of baseball players. To Canadian customs officials, it was one of the strangest cargoes they had ever seen. To Frank Nagy, 49, it was simply a representative sample of his 500,000 baseball cards, a collection that places him in the front ranks of those who participate in one of the U.S.'s most popular but least publicized hobbies.
Baseball-card collecting, still largely a kids' pastime, has recently been heavily infiltrated by serious adults. Last month 500 collectors from mid-America convened at the Detroit Hilton Hotel for the second annual Midwest Sports Collectors Convention. For two days collectors bought, sold and swapped cards portraying players as famous as Babe Ruth and Tris Speaker and as little known as Elon (Chief) Hogsett, a Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Browns pitcher in the '30s and '40s.
Although baseball cards far outnumbered other kinds shown at the convention, trading was also brisk in cards that featured subjects ranging from birds to Presidents. Such variety is particularly fascinating to Richard Reuss, a teacher of folklore at Detroit's Wayne State University and the owner of a 40,000-card collection. Says Reuss: "They very much reflect American life, from the 1930s when it was G-men and early airplanes, to the '60s when the Beatles and spacemen were popular." Between conventions a great deal of trading is done by mail.
There are no fixed prices in the bubble-gum-card market. "It's like investing in stocks and bonds," says Collector Nagy, who is a mechanic by trade. He has turned down offers of $1,500 to $2,000 for his prize card, a 1910 Honus Wagner. One of Reuss's most treasured cards is the first Bob Feller, issued by the now extinct Leaf Gum Co. in 1948. It was worth $35 until several other originals turned up, dropping its price to only $20.
Monthly Magazines. Most collectors get their new cards from Topps chewing-gum packages or Kellogg's cereal and Milk Duds candy boxes. Collections are diversified by trading at conventions or by mail. Some of the most valued cards have been found moldering in attics and garages. Some collectors run their own auctions, notifying fellow enthusiasts through monthly card magazines such as Trader Speaks and Who's Who in Card Collecting.
In 1963 New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art unblinkingly accepted a large card collection donated by Jefferson Burdick, a Syracuse ad salesman. The Burdick collection includes cards on everything from battleships to movie stars and is shown by appointment only. Says Roberta Wong, a librarian at the Met: "Each period has its representative minor art. Why shouldn't we have bubble-gum cards?"
1930 - 1980