First card show was transformative moment …

 dealer table.jpg   I’ll betcha it makes for a pretty good story to hear about what events prompted someone jumping into the card-collecting hobby. I’m sure some are better than others – and probably some are pretty pedestrian – but for just about anybody there almost certainly was some precipitating event that marked the change between merely having saved the cards of your youth and getting actively involved in an organized hobby.

  (I got into the hobby so long ago that everything was in black-and-white at the time.)

   For me, it was a card show in the basement of a bank on Western Avenue in Albany, N.Y. I am pretty sure it was in 1980. I had simply saved all of my cards from when I was a kid – and bought some sets through the mail from Larry Fritsch in the 1970’s, but even though I had seen the card advertisements in The Sporting News and other sports magazines, I really had no clue that there was an expanding, organized hobby out there.

   That’s why the visit to that basement show in Albany was such a revelation. I was just blown away to see a couple of dozen tables filled with vintage cards, the majority of which I had never seen before. To the modern collector who grew up with card shops in the neighborhood and price guides out the wazoo, it’s probably hard to imagine what a treat it was in 1980 to simply find out that there were so many other people who cared as much – or more – about these odd little bits of cardboard as you did.

   I was amazed to see cards so elegantly displayed in plastic sheets; I don’t know that I had ever seen them before. I also got to see what I assume were the first complete sets I had ever seen presented in that fashion, and I was awestruck about how great they looked.

   What a joy it was to be learning so much in such a short period of time. Unfortunately, I couldn’t learn all the important lessons quite quickly enough to avoid throwing away a good chunk of dough that I couldn’t really afford back in those stagflation years of the late 1970’s.

   It took me several trips to the show, which I think was monthly but might have been even more infrequent than that, before I pulled the trigger on much of a transaction. Not surprisingly, I completed botched it in the process.

   I had this nifty pile of 1933 Goudeys and 1935 Diamond Stars that I had been guarding since the mid-1960’s. They had been given to me by this old geezer that I worked with in a leather factory while I was in high school. I think there were about three dozen of them or so, and if you asked me about the condition, I would have said something to the effect of they looked good as new. In hindsight, it turns out they were probably Very Good.

   Anyway, I traded away the whole pile for a 1954 Topps Hank Aaron rookie, which might have been a decent enough deal were it not for the punch hole at the top of the card. It took me a few years to realize what I chump I had been, but as you can see, I got over it. Sure I did.

   I have this notion that the people of my generation who lived through this exciting period are the ones with the deepest attachment to the hobby. That’s not snobbery, just an acknowledgment that the period of 1976-86 was a particularly compelling period to be “coming of age,” so to speak, in a fledgling hobby that most assuredly was doing the very same thing.

   In my own case, the excitement translated into a markedly different direction than what would be typical for most hobbyists. I was so enamored of everything I witnessed in those early years that I quickly decided that I wanted to make my very own baseball cards. That learning curve I mentioned was about to get tested in a big way.

   I’ll continue with that on the morrow.

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