When a piece of cardboard satisfies …


By Chris Olds | Beckett Baseball Editor | Commentary

For years, I had a personal rule that I never spent more than $15 on a single baseball card — period.

Then, of course, came memorabilia cards and certified autographs … and that changed some things.

In the past, I never had a problem spending money on wax as that’s how much of my collection was built — well, that and trading. But that also meant that much of my collection reflected more current years — you know, the ones this thirtysomething can actually remember.

Don’t get me wrong, I have plenty of cards from a broader era of collecting — the Topps years — mostly stuff obtained via trades and smaller lot buys. But pre-war cards? I might own a dozen — mostly because of buybacks found in packs of Topps 205 and Allen & Ginter and other small-dollar purchases. Pre-war cards were just never an affordable priority.


Recently, though, I added a card to my collection that had quietly screamed for my attention in recent years, a card that, to me, defines perfection for its time — though my copy is nowhere near perfect at all

And that suits me just fine as it’s one I could afford to buy — and still pay all the bills.

It’s a PSA 1 1909-11 T206 Christy Mathewson dark cap variation, which I picked up for less than the price of a couple new wax boxes. Well, technically I got it for a gift card and about $30 of my own money — and I was shocked to get it at all as mangled copies (ones looked like they made it through the laundry before being run over by a truck) can still command asking prices of $200 and up, sometimes more in online auctions.

This card is not one for the faint of heart, though it’s no Honus Wagner, as it’s a card that once sold for $29,482 in a PSA 9 grade and it’s one that can quickly escalate in price if graded even beyond a 1.5. It’s readily apparent that, a century after its release, this card commands attention no matter what. It’s a classic in any condition, and it’s one that’s still readily available for those looking unlike many of Mathewson’s other cards. It’s one of just 700 Mathewsons cataloged on Beckett.com — cards that total nearly half a million dollars in value … yet another sign that I am out of my league with this realm of collecting.

I had one simple rule in my mission to find a Matty — find a slabbed, low-grade copy that wasn’t ripped, was in-register and had a clean, unobstructed view of his face. Well, all that and a pricetag of under $150 — not an easy task considering my too-frugal goal.

Who is Mathewson some of the younger or beginning collectors might ask? Well, he’s one of the greatest pitchers in MLB history, a member of the inaugural Hall of Fame class and so much more. But nothing says it more succinctly than the biography from his website:

Christy Mathewson was a college man, with a range of interests, who mowed down opposing hitters in his spare time. While at Bucknell University, Mathewson sang in the glee club, belonged to a literary society, played football and served as a model of clean living. On top of these achievements, Mathewson also wrote a series of children’s books. In a time when baseball was known for hard-living, hard-drinking baseball players, there was Christy Mathewson to prove that there was another way for athletes to live. He was the role model after whom every parent wanted their children to shape their lives.

On the mound, Mathewson was a fierce competitor who became arguably the most dominating pitcher of all time. During his illustrious 17-year career, he led the league in wins four times, won five strikeout titles, won 30 or more games four times, pitched four shutouts and 10 complete games in World Series competition, and won 373 games in his career.

I’m not sure precisely why this Mathewson appeals to me so much, but it’s just the little things that seem to add up with his life that make the card interesting to me. Beyond baseball, so much of his story is storybook — from his being from Factorysville, Pa., a town with a population of about 1,200 (see video above), to his becoming one of baseball’s biggest stars and then to his enlisting in the Army to serve in World War I where he was exposed to poisonous gas leading to tuberculosis and an early death at age 45, there’s just so much to examine.

It’s all so interesting — just like my baseball card that has seen its better days long, long ago. And, yet, when I first had the card in my possession, I just couldn’t stop looking at it. I literally held it, examining its wrinkles, folds and wear of life for close to an hour immediately after I received it.

It’s a card that I’ll probably hold on to for some time.

Could I find a fresher, cleaner and pricier copy? Of course, and maybe that will happen someday — but this is a start.

But, for now, this little piece of history will stay with me. It’s not about dollar signs, it’s not about a status item or showing I have taste (not in this condition at least). It’s not about much at all that I can completely articulate.

But I do know this … for some reason, it’s just satisfying to own one.

Perhaps that’s the sign of a special baseball card.

Do you have a card like this? Tell us about it in the comments below.

Chris Olds is the editor of Beckett Baseball magazine. Have a comment, question or idea? Send an email to him at colds@beckett.com. Follow him on Twitter by clicking here.


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  1. steve 2 December, 2011 at 00:11

    my card isnt even close to the age of the one in your story Chris, it is just 30 years old…..but it is the one that started me off in what is now an ever-consuming collection of cardboard gems (I say ‘gems’ because they may not be worth a huge amount of total dollars…..they are what I enjoy !!). This 1981 Topps football; Joe Montana rookie card, is one of four Montanas that I had…..when I drug the paper sack of loose cards and some wax in 1991 when my life had changed for the better & I no longer wanted to live the life of a rock-n-roll star from the 80’s….and I needed something to keep me focused-and sportscards was a positive outlet. I had purchased those packs at a local convenience store-for $0.25/pack after I had got off work, when I was a busboy during my last few years of high school. For reasons unknown to me, I opened quite a few of those packs (and of course….rubber-banded many of those teams….like many collectors did during those times). When I found the bag, ten years later……I decided to keep one Montana and build a set around that……I then traded off the other three Montanas (he was going for around $250 at the time) and the unopened football & baseball wax packs-which totalled maybe one full box of packs. I traded for what I wanted at the time (and back then……Medford, Oregon had four card shops. NOW WE HAVE ZERO !!!!!)…..like a 1991 Fleer BB set, a 1989 Donruss BB set, a 1992 score FB set, etc., etc., etc. It got me started in a hobby, that besides almost leaving it for the years of 2001 to 2004, that I have enjoyed for over 16 years. I now have over a hundred thousand cards (lots of commons from the 90’s), over 800 different game-used cards, over 500 autographed cards (use to be over 1500….but had to liquidate a few cards) and over 250 different serial numbered cards (non-autographed, etc.). I have enjoyed this hobby & even in these very lean times-hope to keep collecting !!

  2. J.R. 2 December, 2011 at 09:05

    Love the Mathewson! Mine isn’t pre-war, but it’ll do. I traded away a bunch of hockey cards for a stack of 1941 Play Ball set fillers. Included in the lot was a Ted Williams, missing a bit of the upper right corner. Doesn’t matter to me… Love the card.

  3. Charlie DiPietro 2 December, 2011 at 16:14

    The year was 1982 and I was walking the floor of a small show in Dayton, Ohio. I saw this older gentleman (who must have been 70 years old at the time), taking a box of loose cards from show dealer to show dealer looking for the best offer. In this box were nearly 500 T206s and 12 T3 Turkey Reds. When I saw the gentleman take a break, I introduced myself and said I would give him 20% above the best offer he received. He said he was not ready to sell the cards just yet, so I wrote down my name and phone number and asked him to give me a call when he was ready.

    Nearly two years had past when I was filling my car with gas in Vandalia, Ohio and I saw the same older gentleman. I introduced myself and asked him if he sold the cards. He said, “Make me an offer.” To which I responded, “Let me take a look at the cards and I think we can make a deal.”

    Although this man (a retired doctor) never collected baseball cards, they held a sentimental value for him. It turns out, the cards were collected by his father in 1909-12 (about the time this man was born). He went on to say, he found the cards in his father’s attic soon after his death in 1952. He said his father was not a smoker, so he must have bought the cards to collect (nearly 500 cards and none were duplicates). He said he felt like his father saved the cards to pass on to him. This gentleman kept the cards for over 30 years and told me, “Now seems like the right time to sell.”

    Today, nearly 28 years after we made the deal, I still own most of these beauties. I had all the Hall of Famers graded. The T206s range from BVG 1 to BVG 5. The T3s range from BVG 3.5 to BVG 5.5. Most of the T3 are the highest grades Beckett has ever given to T3s.

    I’ve always enjoyed collecting T cards and E cards. Because of the way this deal transpired, it just seems like I was meant to own the collection I bought in Vandalia, Ohio in 1984.

  4. steve miller 2 December, 2011 at 20:01

    I’ve always wanted a Mickey Mantle card in my collection & preferably one from the 50’s, but have always been too cheap to actually purchase one & add it to my collection. This past year I had a friend of mine from High School & college come to visit me back in Indiana from his new home in Florida where he’s a successful graphics design artist. He told me in his email that he was going to bring me a few gifts, which I assumed meant a few t-shirts that he designed. Low & behold when he arrived in my driveway, he was bearing a 1959 Topps Mickey Mantle!!! Probably the best sportscard gift I’ve ever received & I now have a 50’s Mantle in my collection!

  5. Tommy Callaway 2 December, 2011 at 22:58

    I’m a life-long Dodger fan. One day at a local shop that was going out of business , looking through a box of reduced priced cards, I found my favorite card ever. A 1953 Topps Jackie Robinson for $35. Its not in great condition, but hey its a Jackie Robinson card so I really don’t care.

  6. Joe Soper 3 December, 2011 at 12:46

    As a Yankees fan, I have always wanted a Babe Ruth to add to my collection but could never affford the price for an original. About 12 years ago I move to England and starting picking up lots of tobacco cards as another aspect to my collection, after a bit of research and many visists to the antique shops I found the 1925 Churchman’s Sports and Games of Many Lands set. It has a card that is unmistakingly Babe Ruth but does not not identify him specifically. I managed to pick up the entire set as most of the UK only deals in complete sets of tobacco cards. That sparked my interest and I ended up finding another Eurpopean set that hat the great George Sisler in it. I was able to acquire both cards for under $100. I sent the Ruth and Sisler off to PSA and received them back with a PSA 5 for the Ruth and PSA 4 for the Sisler. I was pretty happy considering what I paid and the age of the cards. They wont be leaving my collection any time soon…..

  7. Gabe 4 December, 2011 at 00:44

    Great stories…keep them coming. I am not a wealthy man so I don’t have big money to buy mint condition cards. With that said, I am willing to buy cards that are far from mint but good enough for me. I have all the big names, like Ruth, Cobb, Cy Young, in my collection. To me it is the history that is important. Of course condition is nice but I am able to add cards to my collection that I would never usually afford.

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