And now, after that brief interruption for my apology about A-Rod’s steroid use, we return to our regularly scheduled programming, which was essentially a discussion about that 100-year-old news article from the Charlotte Observer entitled “The Small Boy’s Mania.”
If ever there were a news story that neatly described what the baseball card hobby is all about, this was it. While baseball fans often have difficulty connecting to the turn-of-the-century ballplayer, this account of youngsters hovering around the local drugstore to wade through packs of cigarettes in search of Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner and Christy Mathewson makes it clear the distinction between young collectors in 1909 and 1959 is nominal at best.
The article describes “flipping” of the pictures, though that particular verb isn’t employed; more intriguing is the paragraph alluding to Cobb and Wagner:
“More especially are the likenesses of Ty Cobb and Hans Wagner desired, and until a week ago only a few pictures of Cob (sic) had been found, two of these in the possession of the Buford Hotel cigar stand.”
It went on to detail arrivals of shipments at area drugstores, noting that “13 pictures of Cobb were found in the first installment opened.” The story also noted that one store sold 3,000 cigarettes and that by day’s end, 5-cent packages of smokes were selling for as little as a penny apiece, sans pictures, of course.
The article made no mention of any Wagners being found, and if you take into account these scenarios of prepubescent boys wrasslin’ with 5-cent cigarette packages, it’s easy to see what Honus had been worried about all along … assuming you buy the mythology.