Just in time for baseball season, award-winning journalist Dave Jamieson serves up a home run with Mint Condidtion: How Baseball Cards Became and American Obsession (Atlantic Monthly Press, April 2, 2010, $25, 288 pages), the first narrative history of the long-time American tradition of collecting baseball cards.
The idea for Mint Condition came to Jamieson when his parents decided to sell his childhood home and summoned hm to pack up all of his prized boyhood possessions, including his mammoth collection of baseball cards. Thinking he’d found a goldmine, he brought all of the cards to his home in Washington, D.C. so he could sell them. After all, he had some real treasures, including cards of Ryne Sandberg, Kirby Puckett and the pre-steroidal Barry Bonds. But when he tried the card shops, he discovered they were all gone. Attempts to sell the cards on eBay and Craigslist were fruitless. What happened to this great American pastime?
To find the answer, Jamieson explores the fascinating history of baseball cards, from the years after the Civil War, when tobacco companies started slipping cards into cigarette packets as clever marketing strategies. In the 1930s, the cards helped gum and candy makers survive the Great Depression–for, a at a penny a package, the heavily targeted children could afford them. Indeed, as attendance at professional baseball games plummeted, sales for baseball cards soared, allowing fans to follow the game even if they couldn’t afford tickets.
Jamieson traces the history to the 1980s and 1990s when baseball card collecting became a billion-dollar-a-year indsutry, to present day, where card collecting has become the rarefied preserve of fanantics and businessmen. Mint Condition is a remarkably original, captivating history about a subject dear to millions of Americans.