What I Collect (II)

When I came back to collecting in full-force in 2014, I wasn’t sure what kind of collection I wanted to build – what themes and project scopes would make my collection mine.  But here we are several years later, and my collection’s desired focus, theme, and scope are now much clearer to me.  I want a collection that is organized and on-point, a collection that favors quality over quantity.  It is easy for projects to spin out of control if careful thought isn’t put into defining them.  I will not let that happen with my collection.

Think of What I Collect (II) as a more detailed complement to the higher level and slightly abstract What I Collect (I).  To be clear, everything I write in What I Collect (I) still holds.  In What I Collect (II), I simply wish to detail the macro projects that I am working on.  As described below, I have four macro collecting projects.  However, because I collect three sports, twelve (4×3) separate projects actually comprise my collection.  And so without further delay, I present What I Collect (II):

Project #1: Vintage (Late 1800s to 1979)
Some of us consider cards from the 1970s to be of the modern variety, but because I was born in 1980, that year has always been where I naturally draw the line between the vintage and modern eras.  It works for me.  Of all my collecting projects, my vintage collection is the least defined and the collection that I spend the least amount of time thinking about and building.  Obviously, 100 years of cards is hard to break down into a single project.  In fact, I had thought about creating separate collections for Pre War and Post War cards.  But because of the relative lack of time that I spend in the vintage era, building a single collection of anything pre-1980 makes the most sense for me.  Perhaps if I begin focusing more on vintage cards it will become necessary for me to refine Project #1.

My vintage cards must be well-centered (at least 60/40 on the front and 70/30 on the back), and be PSA graded.  I have no leeway for these two requirements, although the exact PSA grade requirement is determined on a case-by-case basis.

Project #2: Prospect/Rookie/Second Year Card Collection (1980 to Present)
Project #2 features base cards (and base card parallels) that were made prior to, during, or the immediate year after a player’s rookie season.  In other words, this collection contains prospect cards, rookie cards, and second year cards.  Essentially, I take the most liberal definition of what it means for a card to be a “rookie” and use that as the basis for Project #2.  To better understand what I mean, consider Mark McGwire’s early Topps cards; all fit into Project #2:

  • 1985 Topps Mark McGwire #401 (made prior to McGwire’s rookie season in MLB)
  • 1987 Topps Mark McGwire #366 (made during McGwire’s rookie season in MLB)
  • 1988 Topps Mark McGwire #580 (made the year after McGwire’s rookie season in MLB, this card includes Big Mac’s 1987 rookie season statistics)

As the above example illustrates, all cards in Project #2 revolve around rookie seasons.  I’ve been trying to come up with an umbrella name for prospect, rookie, and second year cards.  Something like Nascent Career Cards is really what I am getting at here, but it just doesn’t roll off the tongue.  Here are a few more examples to drive home how Project #2 works:

  • Baseball: Derek Jeter’s rookie season was 1996, so any of his cards manufactured in 1997 and earlier are eligible
  • Basketball: Scottie Pippen’s rookie season was 1987/88, so both 1987/88 and 1988/89 cards are eligible
  • Football: Tom Brady’s rookie season was 2000, so both 2000 and 2001 cards are eligible

As I note in What I Collect (I), I do not collect cards from minor league nor collegiate sets.  Only cards that come from fully licensed MLB, NBA, and NFL sets are eligible for inclusion.  Pure base cards must be professionally graded (for pre-1996 cards, PSA only; for post-1995 cards, either PSA or BGS depending on the set) and/or serial numbered.  Whether or not a base card parallel must be graded is determined on a case-by-case basis.

Project #3: Veteran Card Collection (1980 to Present)
Project #3 is the complement to Project #2, but I place more restrictions here on the level of scarcity that I am willing to accept.  My focus here is on third year or later base cards (and base card parallels).  Again, pure base cards must be either professionally graded (grading guidelines are the same as used for Project #2) or serial numbered.

Additionally, for pre-2006 base card parallels, only those that are serial numbered less than or equal to 250 and/or are a member of the lowest serial numbered (or print run more generally if a set is not serial numbered) non one-of-one parallel are eligible for inclusion.  Starting in 2006, only those base card parallels serial numbered less than or equal to 25 and/or are a member of the lowest non-one-of-one base card parallel set are eligible.  For example, suppose a new release comprises a base set and six parallels numbered to /1, /40, /99, /250, /500, and /1000.  Only the base set (must be either professionally graded or serial numbered) and those parallel cards numbered to /1 and /40 are eligible for Project #3.  Whether or not a base card parallel must be graded is determined on a case-by-case basis.  For all of my macro projects, I am willing to obtain raw cards and submit them to grading companies for slabbing when necessary.

These eligibility restrictions may seem to be overkill and confusing, but they make perfect sense to me.  These criteria serve an important purpose.  The hobby, especially the modern hobby, is oversaturated with serial numbered parallel cards.  The only way to maintain a sense of scarcity is to define it into the eligibility criteria and standards for my collecting projects.  I love low numbered parallel cards because they feature all of the great aspects of base cards (detailed player information and statistics in particular), yet they maintain a sense of rareness that is too often removed from large segments of the hobby.  In short, since there are too many parallels out there, I’ve decided to just collect the relatively rare ones.

Project #4: Insert Card Collection (Mid 1980s to Present)
For the most part, inserts didn’t really take off until the 1990s, but there are a few great sets from the mid-1980s that I enjoy pursuing (1986 Topps Football 1000 Yard Club for example).  The traditional insert set scene started to lose luster around 2000 as relic and autograph cards became ubiquitous in the hobby.  Manufacturers started paying less attention to designing traditional thematic inserts during this time period.  Still, there are several nice insert sets from the 2000-2005 era that I enjoy pursuing.  For inserts manufactured in 2005 and earlier, only those that are serial numbered less than or equal to 250 and/or are a member of the lowest non one-of-one insert parallel are eligible for inclusion.  Insert sets that do not contain any parallels are eligible for inclusion.  For post-2005 inserts, my eligibility restriction is very straightforward: only those insert cards serial numbered to 25 or less are eligible for inclusion in Project #4.  No exceptions.  Again, much like I note in the description for Project #3, I’ve designed these eligibility restrictions in an effort to maintain a sense of scarcity.

Taken together, the eligibility criteria spelled-out in What I Collect (I) and What I Collect (II) give me the foundation for a great collection.  I want a focused and defined collection on the one hand, yet one that provides me great flexibility at the same time – I like many players and I like all kinds of sets.  The emphasis of What I Collect (I) is more about which players I collect, whereas the emphasis of What I Collect (II) is more about which cards I collect.

Even with the numerous player and card eligibility restrictions that I have placed on my collection, I still leave myself a broad set of players and cards to pursue.  At the end of the day, I am after broad representation in my collection.  I am not a set collector, nor am I a player collector.  It is difficult for me to describe to others who and what I collect because I can’t summarize my collecting projects in a sentence or two.  But as long as I am clear to myself, I will be happy.  As time goes on, I am sure that my collection will continue to shape itself as I pursue more and more cards that I am naturally drawn to.  It wouldn’t surprise me in a few years if I need to create a What I Collect (III) page.  What I Collect (II) outlines my macro projects, and these projects may evolve over time.  With time comes experience, and with experience comes knowledge.  I’ll know more about my collection, myself, and what I want in the future.  I look forward to seeing how it all unfolds.