By Ryan Cracknell | Hobby Editor | Commentary
People are drawn to collecting for different reasons. It can be a pastime. For some, it’s an escape. To others, cards are a business. They can be a connection to a specific period. The fact is, there are millions of different cards out there.
Even if a small percentage of those are up your alley, you’ve got a lifetime of collecting ahead of you.
And if you’re not into the vast majority of those millions? That’s fine too.
“Collect what you love” should be an obvious mantra for a hobby with so many possibilities and options.
And yet, too often, collectors get dragged down for pursuing the things that bring them joy.
That’s a problem.
I’m used to being a bit of an oddball. Growing up, I was surrounded by a sister and a pair of stepsisters. Their interests involved reading Sweet Valley High novels, playing together in the playhouse outside and plenty of other things where my presence was not required.
The only exception was when Jem was on and, later, when the local video store didn’t mind renting Nightmare on Elm Street VHS tapes to us.
As a teenager, I was the guy who took a Mr. T puffy sticker to a printing shop and had the image scanned onto a T-shirt. This was before transfer paper was in every Walmart and retro shirts were a thing. I wasn’t a trendsetter by any means. Rather, I was an oddball.
And that was fine.
Today, I’m the guy with a binder overflowing with John Jaha cards and a few more on the side. And next to that binder is a bunch of binders filled with Montreal Expos and enough odds and ends to keep me busy for longer than I’ll be collecting.
I’m not the person that’s chasing the rainbow of the hottest prospects or multi-panel book cards that fold out to reveal a dozen different autographs from future Hall of Famers. I can certainly appreciate those sorts of cards on several levels, but that’s not where my collecting passion is.
If it is your passion, I’m excited for you.
Like any collector, I have my personal preferences as to the kinds of cards I want to go after (it’s not just Jahas and Expos). There are some types of cards that I personally loathe. That doesn’t mean said cards — or those who do enjoy them — deserve to be marched through the streets while some lady with a bell walks behind yelling, “Shame!” over and over.
I’m pretty sure the lady with the bell hasn’t smiled in a long, long time. I could be wrong, but that’s not what collecting is supposed to be. And yet, sometimes I encounter other people who look down on other collectors and what they like.
My question is, why?
Just Because You Don’t Like It, Doesn’t Mean It’s Garbage
In today’s collecting world, you’re not going to like everything. You might actually dislike the majority of what you see. That’s fine.
But just because you hate something, doesn’t mean that everyone has to feel the same way. It also doesn’t mean a product is garbage.
Take the McDonald’s cheeseburger. A lot of people in my family won’t touch one. They’ll probably live longer because of it. But with billions sold, clearly there’s an audience for them.
Cards can be seen the same way. It’s perfectly fine to not like a product. It’s good to be critical. It provides constructive feedback that can hopefully make something better.
But simply screaming, “This sucks!” over and over isn’t being critical. It’s a Beavis and Butthead catchphrase.
Being critical means looking at something and getting into specifics why it doesn’t work. It also means acknowledging things that do work.
When you’re respectful, a dialogue opens up. You listen to one another, both the good and the bad. This can lead to actual change.
Being critical also means accepting the fact that what isn’t your taste might be someone else’s.
The world of sports cards is more segmented than ever. At one time, sets were for everyone by default. There was only one, two or five sets to get you through the year.
But then the number of companies making cards expanded. And those companies went from making a couple of sets to producing lots of them.
That meant they had to be different. Products needed angles, identities and branding. It also meant the collecting base started to get carved up into different audiences and demographics, even as the overall audience was shrinking.
With so many exclusive and near-exclusive deals dominating the hobby landscape today, it’s probably more important than ever for products to be distinct in their look and feel.
For collectors, it means accepting the idea that not every product is meant for you. The audience for Topps Opening Day is not the same as Topps Transcendent. Donruss is very different from National Treasures. Both ends of the collecting spectrum can exist and even thrive.
Why the Hate? Seriously.
The Internet has been a blessing to card collecting in a lot of ways. Yes, it has presented some new challenges, but I look at the community aspect as a good thing. Would it be great to have awesome card shops in every town and city again? Sure, but it’s not likely to happen.
For many of us, that means using things like social media and online communities on chat and message boards to come together. This is a good thing. For me, I probably would have given up collecting 20 years ago if it weren’t for online communities.
Just like anywhere, the vast majority of the online collecting community is phenomenal. It’s supportive, encouraging and a great place to chat and learn.
You make friends — and not just the superficial kind. In today’s world, you don’t have to see someone every week to be close to them. Online communities may reside in a series of cables, wires and airwaves but the relationships that are formed on places like Twitter, Facebook and message boards can be very real.
They can also be toxic.
Post something from your collection or express what you like (or don’t like) and you’re going to get some that agree with you and share in your joy. You’re also bound to get people who jump down your throat. You’ll probably get insulted. A select few will put down the very things in your collection that bring you joy.
“They’re not worth anything.”
“What a waste of money.”
Is it jealousy? Is it the thought that everyone has to collect the same thing?
The ugliness is, thankfully, not the norm. But it can be loud and easy to get lost in. Some corners of the Internet can become echo chambers where a handful of people like to get together and scream.
That’s fine. Personally, I’d rather go and find somewhere else to hang out. When I surround myself with grumpy people, I get grumpy. When I’m around happy people, I feel happier. I prefer being happy so that’s where I try to gravitate.
What that doesn’t mean is ignoring things. There is a time and a place for being critical. Discussion is good. I’m just not a fan of anger and drama being the default. I had enough of that in high school.
For most of us, collecting cards is a hobby. Hobbies are meant to bring joy. If cards aren’t making you, maybe it’s time to reassess where you put your energy.
That doesn’t mean stop collecting. But it might mean refining how you collect. If you look at new products and are regularly disgusted, go back to an era that you like. Maybe that’s vintage, maybe it’s pre-War, maybe it’s the sparkling ’90s. No matter when, there’s still plenty left to go after.
Dealing with the insults and the anger can be tough. Sometimes I let it go. Sometimes I try to engage in a discussion. And there are times where I have, unfortunately, returned the favor. But most of all, I just try to ignore it. I used to be a regular on a couple of message boards. But it’s hard to sift through the things I’m interested in on a message board. Even one that’s well organized can create a lot of content that’s not much more than noise.
That’s why I’m a fan of Twitter for talking about cards. You can choose who you want to follow as well as who you want to ignore. If someone brings the hate or the drama, all it takes is a couple of clicks and they’re gone. They’re welcome to scream all they want and I’m probably not going to see it.
Instead I see people with similar interests. Even if we don’t collect the same ways, we can have good discussions. We can learn from each other and be excited for each other. We’re not trying to one-up each other in our collecting like it’s a contest.
If you find yourself surrounded by hate, get out. There are lots of other places to go and share your passion for collecting, whether that’s online, in person or a combination of the two.
It’s Only Cards.
Collecting should be fun. If it’s not and it hasn’t been for a while, it’s probably time for reflection. Think back to when you were enjoying the hobby. What brought you a smile? What made you fired up?
Now, look for ways to get that back. Focus on what you enjoy the most. You can’t collect it all so don’t even try. But you can find a niche and go from there. Stick with the kinds of cards you like and ignore the rest.
If a $500 box of cards makes you angry, they’re not for you. Don’t give them a second thought.
If the style of card or brand direction isn’t something that makes you excited, don’t buy it.
There are no obligations in collecting. The most powerful statement you can make about a product that you don’t like isn’t screaming and yelling. It’s choosing not to buy it.
Dollars and cents are what companies listen to most. That goes from your local shop to the card makers and all the way up to the leagues. If something’s selling well, that’s what matters. Why would they want to make big changes?
But when people stop buying, it raises questions as to why. Then reassessments happen and things get shaken up.
If all you do is complain and try to one-up others, collecting will lose its fun fast. You won’t be able to keep up. With the steady and diverse flow of products, there’s always going to be something on the horizon that brings a shaking fist to the air.
It’s not worth it. Unless collecting is your business and livelihood, you shouldn’t be stressed out about it. It’s a hobby. It’s only cards.
Stress over a hobby is bad. If you don’t like something, don’t buy it and move on. If you’re around other collectors who aren’t supportive or only rile up your anger, go elsewhere. Collect what makes you happy, not everyone else. You.
In Collecting, Respect Should Be Something Shown, Not Earned
A healthy card collecting community doesn’t mean we all have to hold hands, sit around campfires and give each other positive affirmations all the time. It doesn’t mean agreeing or even being friends with each other.
But it should mean respecting each other.
It’s good to have opinions. It’s great to have passion. Let’s just try not to do it at the expense of each other, though.
It’s just cards. Collect what you love and let others collect what they love.
The idea is simple but sometimes we make it way too hard.