In the fall of 2002, I entered grad school in the Iowa State University Department of Statistics. One of the nice things about being accepted into this program was that we grad students were awarded monthly stipends for serving as teaching assistants. I didn’t really have any expenses at the time (tuition was paid through a fellowship, I did not own a car, I shared the cost of rent with multiple roommates), so for the first time in my life I had (at least what seemed to me) a lot of disposable income. And so as grad school got underway, I started to think about what I wanted to spend my money on. My attention quickly returned to reestablishing a sports cards collection. I was curious to see how the card hobby had changed over the previous few years. Furthermore, the internet and my relative “wealth” combined together to give me access to a large marketplace of cards that I never had as a kid.
I first decided to go through my old card collection and see which cards I wanted to keep as a foundation for a new collection. I pulled out all cards that had a book value of at least $1.00. When I was a kid, this had always served as a baseline for me – any card valued at $1.00 or over was a “good” card in my mind. That still seemed like a decent standard to use.
It was a fun trip down memory lane as I sorted through the cards of my childhood. Some cards that had been stored in nine-pocket sheets had become stuck to the plastic over the years, but for the most part, my old cards were still in pretty good condition. After my review was complete, I ended up with a single binder of cards. My cards had been reborn from a collection of 35,000 down to a single binder. I then subscribed to Beckett Baseball, Beckett Basketball, and Beckett Football price guides as a way to reintroduce myself to the hobby.
The first major purchases that I made were for a box of 2002 Fleer football, 2001/02 Topps Heritage basketball, and a complete set of 1983 Topps baseball. One of the big changes in the hobby that I noticed right away was the growing prevalence of game-used and relic cards. I thought that game-used cards were a cool concept, and my chase for them kept me buying various wax boxes during the 2002-2005 time period. A couple of my favorite purchases were a box of 2001 SP Authentic baseball and 2001 Studio baseball. I also bought complete sets of 1985 Topps football, 1987 Topps football, and 1992 Bowman baseball. I meticulously recorded card information in an Excel file, and stored the cards themselves in Ultra-Pro pocket sleeves. Monster boxes were out; I wanted to see each of my cards without having to physically touch them.
Unlike when I was a kid, I never bought individual/single cards. I liked the feeling of playing the lottery and trying to pull rare hits from unopened boxes. Looking back, it would have been more efficient to simply purchase high quality cards as opposed to (in effect) solely gambling for them time and time again by purchasing unopened boxes. Not that there is anything wrong with purchasing cards by the box – after all, it is certainly a lot of fun ripping into a box and ending up with a huge stack of cards to sort through. I just wish that I would have had a little more balance in my collection – sometimes buying single cards, and sometimes buying boxes – that would have saved me some money in the long run. And while I did pull great cards from time-to-time (such as an Albert Pujols 5×7 Private Signing box topper from 2001 Studio), because I only bought unopened hobby boxes, the commons in my collection started to quickly pile up again. I liked going through stacks of so-called common players as much as anybody – it was a great way to learn about sports. But keeping track of thousands of cards was not easy – especially for the peripatetic college student (and then by 2005 young professional) that I was. Another issue that I was facing by 2005 was that I didn’t really have a theme to my collection – I had created a very random and eclectic assortment of cards. As such, I started to contemplate how I wanted to build by collection going forward – which player(s) and era(s) would serve as the focus of my collection? How could I better budget my resources? However, my upcoming move to China brought my card collecting project to an abrupt halt…
Word of the Day
capricious: changing often and quickly in mood or behavior; capricious weather/winds; employees were at the mercy of a capricious manager