Collector Tells Judge He’s Addicted to Cards

After his own testimony in court that he suffered from an addiction to baseball cards, a postal worker in Maine has been fined and given a suspended jail sentence for stealing a vintage card that had been sent through the mail intended for someone else. At the center of the unusual case was a 1915 Cracker Jack card of Hall-of-Fame pitcher Christy Mathewson that had been sold on eBay by a dealer based in Wisconsin to a collector in Maine.

In Federal District Court in Portsmoth, N.H., Richard Trofatter, Jr., of Wells, Maine, pleaded guilty to a Class-A misdemeanor charge of theft of lost or mislaid property. The court was told Trofatter had recently been treated “for obsessive compulsive behavior surrounding baseball cards.” According to local news accounts, the 31-year-old Trofatter described himself to police as “borderline addicted.”

Apparently, Trofatter crossed that border when the Mathewson Cracker Jack card reached the post office where he was working, after being purchased online for $1,211 and mailed by the seller, who also insured it for $655.

The court was told the Mathewson card was not in its packaging, but lying loose in the bottom of a postal bin, although there were doubts that account was accurate. A postal worker for six years, Trofatter had been assigned to the USPS processing and distribution facility in Portsmouth, a coastal city in southern New Hampshire not far from the Maine border. After the incident, he was fired from his postal job.

Apparently, Trofatter sold the vintage card, although there was no information available concerning its current whereabouts.

Accepting the guilty plea, the court imposed a six-month sentence in county jail, with all time suspended if Trofatter stays out of trouble for two years. He was fined $2,000, with $1,000 of it suspended pending good behavior, told to pay restitution of $655 and ordered to perform 30 hours of community service for an area non-profit.

The defendant’s addiction to baseball cards served as a reminder of a 1995 book written by a psychoanalyst titled Collecting: An Unruly Passion; Psychological Perspectives.

The book, by Werner Muensterberger, provided one of the first psychological analysis of collecting and what it called “the emotional sources of the never-ending longing for yet another collectible.”

The author contends that, for many, it was unhappy childhood experiences that created the passion for collecting, and that securing and controlling an object that is collectible helps relieve anxiety over feelings of helplessness. Stated another way, some have contended that collecting is dominated by several desires, including those that are  compulsive and obsessive.

The book describes the cases of some of the most obsessive collectors in history. One of the most extreme was British collector Sir Thomas Phillips, whose life’s goal was to collect one copy of every book in the world. Though he let his wife and daughter live in squalor, Phillips assembled a collection that numbered 50,000 printed books and 60,000 manuscripts. The collection was so large that, after his death, an auction house needed more than six separate sales to distribute it all.

If the psychological theories about collecting are too analytical or extreme for you, you’ll feel more comfortable with the theory of another author. As the dust jacket on the collecting book mentions, John Steinbeck’s explanation for his love of collecting was simply, “… I simply like junk.”

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