Trading Cards: how to burn money and fuel the flea market.

Today I want to talk trading cards, the good, the bad, and the expensive card board that will never, I repeat never be worth much of anything.

While the trade card goes back to before we were a nation, being handed out like advertisements when a product was purchased, The trading card has it’s origins in tobacco. There was a time when they would put some kind of promotional card in packs of cigarettes, a way to get a second use out of something, or really to give you something to collect that required the purchase of even more smokes to collect the cards. The most well known of these are the Allen and Ginter cards of early baseball heroes. The most valuable of which has become something of an American legend in it’s own right. Honus Wagner. Honus Wagner was a great player, and adding to the value of anything of his, is the fact that he played ball until 1917. However, his card is not valuable because of that, it is valuable because it is rare, not simply because of the age of it, but because he hated tobacco and demanded that the cigarette industry cease to use his image, making his card incredibly rare. There is an episode of “Prison Break,” where a minor thief is in federal prison because he stole a baseball card collection, which included a Honus Wagner. The value of which made his crime a felony.

 

While some cards are the stuff made of legend, they are far and few between, owned and accounted for…sometimes miracles do happen, as in the case of the family that found seven (later an 8th) Ty Cobb baseball cards from between 1909-1911 in an old paper sack while cleaning out their great-grandfather’s house. That is probably, I would say, the last of those miracles. Most cards today, are absolutely worthless, not even worth the paper they are printed on, except if you are counting the personal value they have to the collector.

Trading cards in this case, should not be confused with Pokemon, or Magic the Gathering, both of which are collectible card games. Yes they come in packs that depend partly on chance to get good things, and yes they can be sold and traded, but they are not the same as trading cards. However, I will weigh in here, I think many of the things which have ruined the trading card, have also ruined the collectible card game. It has become about money, and winning, and there is not an ounce of spirit left in it. I loved both of those games, and now avoid them at all costs.

I cannot in good conscience recommend that anyone get into trading cards, especially sports cards today. There are others out there of course, that has been a long tradition. There is a familiar rule about a certain type of content on the internet, and it is much the same with trading cards, there is a trading card for everything, and I mean everything. When I was a kid, my favorites (to my regret) was Dragon Ball Z. I have seen plenty of others. There was a set for the 2016 election, and in my searching the bazar that is eBay, I found out there were Desert Storm trading cards in the 90s. I know, there were probably ones for other wars, but that strikes me as…distasteful.

Today’s cards are overproduced. I made an attempt to become a serious collector of baseball cards a couple of years ago, and it was somewhat fun opening some with my son, but very quickly it was expensive and out of hand. There is not just one set per brand, there are tons! I like Topps, and there wasn’t just a Topps set for the year, but there was also Topps Allstars, a follow up set, rookies sets, and then they started to issue sets that were made like the ones of years past (and these were the best) Allen & Ginter, Gypsy Queen. Part of their draw is that they have added cards that include real memorabilia from players, pieces of bats, pieces of shirts, things like that. They are nice, if you can find them, we found an autograph once, but again, it is far more cost effective to go on eBay and find the ones you want, than to hunt them in packs. Some of them were truly insane, but again their rarity was created one. I saw a double rip card that was listed for 2500, and it has more things inside of it that you have to rip it open to get. I do not understand. I have bought the memorabilia cards for around 5$ when I found one I wanted. What I really have is a mess of baseball cards that I have hidden in a closet so that I do not have to face them. I have organized a years worth and realized that it would start all over again.

I do not enjoy doing all of that work, as there will always be more, they are made to keep you buying, and they will eat up space, doing nothing except being printed faster than they can be collected with no value and not even the joy of the hunt to be really had. They are the predecessor to smartphone apps that require gems or something, they are the micro-transaction of the analog world.

What I do enjoy doing is opening the packs, looking at them, feeling the perfect edges, that smell of a new pack of cards, so I have come up with a way that allows me to get my enjoyment from trading cards, and then move them on in a meaningful way. I use them as extras in my letters. The letter writing community is (re) growing by the day, but for every 100 people who try writing letters, maybe five will stick to it. The dedicated I have seen, have been including things that express who they are in their letters. I have gotten stamps, comic strips, pressed flowers (an old card making hobby of it’s own.). In mine I include the comics from my tear away calendars, some stamps, the occasional sticker, but this year I started something new. I started to put my baseball cards in, one per letter. I keep on the Boston Red Sox cards, and the rest go in letters. It gave me the chance to look at each one again, enjoy it, and then use it to express my passion for the game I love.

I began to wonder, what if I could find other ones, discounted, vintage, and most likely at a flea market, cards that showed the things I loved, films from my collection since childhood, favorite shows, etc. I took to the flea market to find out, and was rewarded for my efforts. I found Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, Batman, and Batman Returns. Thirty year old cards from some of my very favorite films!!! I chose to document the time in which we opened them, and realized that many of them would have a piece of bubblegum still. The gum is a left over idea, the cigarette cards never having recovered from the paper goods rationing of the Second World War, and later it was the bubblegum card that took over for it, you got a card with your bubblegum. Later, it went the other way, you got some gum with your card.

We opened the TMNT cards first. The quality of the cards was ridiculously 80s, even to the point that they were mislabeling turtles, but it was fun! Even better, I have not encouraged the industry, and these things will not remain in my house long. They will become the odd ephemera of my letters, part of my lettercraft, which is good as I am not very good at making creative cards or anything like that. On a sidenote, my cousin Lucas decided to try a piece of that thirty year old gum, and neither of us recommends that experience. Their are plenty of videos out there telling you that is an awful idea, and now we are telling you.

There is a special place inside you for opening old trading cards, the cards you wanted as a kid but were probably not a good use of money, and now I have gotten to scoop them up for a steal at the flea market. I will not always be on the hunt for them, as this one time out has given me enough cards for letters for years, but if I see some for the right price, I will keep the variety going, but the letters are a means to an end, I still like opening the packs and seeing the images of my film heroes on pieces of cardboard.

I have enjoyed this experience, but I am sad to say, the age of the trading card is dead, and we missed the funeral by a few decades. I do not recommend this hobby, the hunt is dead. Unless there is a truly rare sports card you are after, the hunt is held on a reservation, you can find complete sets of the cards you want or even whole cases of the store boxes for a fraction of their cost on eBay and there will be no hunt to speak of. If you can find a way to recycle what is essentially high dollar trash from a flea market into something meaningful, then I beg you to do it. However, do not let me stop you from something you are passionate about, but the trading cards of today are a collector’s black hole.

Brandon Bledsoe

Analog Savage

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Stamp Collecting: My Story

This is a very big first for this blog and I, we have our first request for a post. A reader asked if I would tell how I became involved in stamp collecting. I thought that was a very fine question, as it allowed me to talk about one of my favorite subjects…me. Just kidding, I love to talk stamps.

First off, what is a stamp? Well, as best as I can put it, a stamp is something which marks the monetary requirement of something as having been met. It means to us, something with which to send mail, and can be used to ensure that a tax on some commodity has been paid. If you are, or know a smoker, look at a pack of cigarettes. If the bottom portion of the cellophane is still there, most likely you will find a tax stamp present. Fortunately for our lungs, our subject at hand is postage stamps. There was a time when you could send mail without the use of a stamp, but the recipient would have to pay to receive it. This was terrible. It was the collect call of the day except that should the recipient refuse to collect their mail for any reason, then the service had already made the effort of physically moving the mailed object. The London Penny Post of 1680, moving mail around London eliminated the basic flaw, collect the money before hand, and prove that it was done by physically stamping the piece of mail. Voila! I will not make a huge history of stamps here, after all this is about my history with them.

I am from a town call Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee. The current post office was erected there in 1983. My grandmother went to work there in 1985. My grandfather worked there as well, I cannot tell you when he started at this moment. Sometimes, my mother was even a sub when there was a need. I remember a good deal of time spent in the back of that post office due to the fact that they all had to work, and I had to go somewhere. I could walk in today and find my way around…well up until I was arrested for trespassing as almost no one there knows me anymore. I was recognized when I went to mail something there during my recent road trip, but that happens less and less, and it is a bit perturbing considering the connection I feel with the place. There is a retaining wall in the back parking lot with train tracks at the top. I remember seeing tanks being moved by train there, and my grandmother told me they were going to the war (Desert Storm if it was true). I have many memories of playing out there if she needed to go finish work after picking us up from school. It is a rural place and to me, that post office had a yard. I truly love it.

We kids were always being taken to post office picnics, helping at the post office booth at the county fair, wearing post office (and more importantly Stamp) shirts. It was a part of life. So for me, stamp collecting was kind of Organic.

Stage I:

My grandparents would show me stamps, and by my nature the minute I found out that a thing could be collected, I collected it. Now, at this time this might have consisted of a bunch of cancelled postage in a bag in my room, haphazardly glued to the pages of something. Nothing of this early collection remains.

Stage 2: Invested

Stage two came in fifth grade. We had been on a class trip to the Coca-Cola bottling plant, and we were asked to write an essay about it, and the next day a winner would be picked, six pack of Coke as a prize. I won! I was kind of shocked, but I mean I had wanted to be a writer, and now I had won something for writing. My family was told, and my grandmother told me there was an essay contest for the “Celebrate the (20th) Century,” stamp campaign going on at the time. I really loved the Celebrate the Century stuff because it was all very in your face and wow stamps are cool. I wrote about my favorite set (only set) which was the Classic Movie Monsters. They are awesome. You could buy this little plastic card that revealed hidden images in them, like bats behind Dracula. I had that thing…need to see if I can get one off of EBay.

Much to my shock, I won that to (for my state.)This was huge for me! I had won two things for writing. The prizes were not to be sniffed at either, I was buried under stamp stuff. I still have exactly one item from it besides the plaque. I have the 1997 stamp collection. More about those later. The news came and did a thing about it, at the post office. I have a picture of that somewhere, and I wore a stamp tie (Looney Toons) and they gave me 150$. I used that to by a nice new Sanyo TV.

Stage 3: It was just my thing

After this, everyone just kind of knew I was a stamp collector. I think if not for my great aunt and my grandmother, I really would have been known for being one without being much of one, but they would buy sheets of stamps they knew I would like and give them to me for my birthday and such or just because. I think my favorites so far are when my great aunt surprised me with the Lucille Ball stamps (I really do love Lucy,) and my grandmother ensuring I had a set of the Harry Potter stamps (ok. So this still goes on. I had a kid already when those Harry Potter ones came out.).

Around eighteen, I joined the army, and I reconnected with my love of the mail. I do not know how basic training is now, but when I went, it was like the movies, you got very few phone calls, and you wrote letters home. I certainly did. I am very glad that our drill sergeants did not always like us to pay for each piece with pushups. In a training environment, a drill sergeant distributes the mail, which they have to go and get from somewhere secure. When we would get back late, I think often times they were just hoping that we were too tired to care, and they hated me because I would ask in front of everybody (sometimes I was discouraged from this) “Drill Sergeant! Is it too late to ask for mail drill sergeant?!” They did not have to go get it, but usually they did. After a while they made me go get it and bring it. Then it became my task to gather up everyone’s outgoing mail and take it to the mailbox in the morning.

Fast forward two year. Baghdad Iraq. I wrote letters still. I did not need to. We had computers with email a good bit of the time, but I really liked mail. Every team had to have a guy who could pick up the mail, usually someone in charge. I would always get mad because they never went to get it, and then I would pester the mail room sergeant about it and he would go on and on about “being certified!” Finally I asked him how to become certified and he asked for my ID card and my assurance that whoever was in charge of it wanted it. I gave both (I had an ID and I was not actually clear on who was supposed to be getting our mail.). He bent down, wrote my name and unit in a book, gave my card back and said “ok.” I thought, “wow. That was easy. So easy as to almost be arbitrary….”. I signed a book and wheeled our mail back. No one really ever asked why I started showing up with it everyday.

Back to the stamps. I came home and ignored my hobby for sometime. I ignored many things. Later, after I was out of the army, and my first son had been born, I realized that without ever noticing, I had been buying stamps and putting them in a binder by the sheet. Just because, that was my thing. I was collecting again and had resumed it without ever noticing. I had some catching up to do though. So I took to eBay for that. Now, whenever stamps come out that I like, I buy two sheets. One for me to use (as I write a lot of letters) and one for the book. I tried two for the book (one for each son) but that got pricey in a hurry. One for the book it is. I love going to the post office to get stamps (Fort Sam Houston, clean it up, the stamp situation here gets sad,) and to see L. L is the clerk here, and he is amazing, and almost singly responsible for me discovering a love of Jazz. He is everything you want in a postal employee, he makes you feel like you are family and you matter.

How and Why: The Sticky parts

Today my son got involved. Well, he has been but until today, he just liked to put the paper that old stamps come on by the bag into hot water and remove and dry them. Today we collected, and I am indicating that we did it together on the label of each one. Let’s talk about the why. I do not know why it started, maybe just a way to get a second use out of something back when. Some people collect for the sheer love of stamps (woohoo!). Some collect because stamps are national symbols, little posters of history (double woohoo!) some collect for profit (every community has them.).

I took my son to the National Postal Museum (go! I will write about it later) and it was awesome. That is as close as I care to come to valuable stamps. I collect because I love stamps. I collect because things I love are on stamps, the collection is a form of expression about the collector (see photos.) Now I collect to express a love of history. I major in history and I collect stamps of the Soviet Union because it allows me to learn, and to be amazed by the art that these people produced. They are beautiful pieces of history. Now my son collects with me. I collect for love. Whatever your reason, make sure you love it. You should feel something when you are with them.

Now, here is my primer on how.

  1. Ask yourself why you want to collect stamps. Do you just wish to amass stamps and Scrooge McDuck swim in them? Cool! Do you like the ones being put out in your lifetime? Do you want the presidents? Are you looking for stamps about something dear to you? Do you write letters and have realized that the ones from other countries are fun? Understand what started to pull you in and that will tell you where to start.
  2. You can find proper supplies on Amazon. Search stamp collecting supplies, get a binder, a magnifier ( to check out the details!) and some decent quality stamp sheets. I like the Light House Vario brand. You can buy books if you like, they are helpful guides.
  3. If you are collecting sheets of current stamps as they come out, a book will not be necessary. If you are collecting older stamps, every year the post office puts out a stamp guide that has every U.S. stamp up to the printing of that book. I recommend it for dating stamps and such.
  4. If you plan to lift the stamps off your mail, be prepared to be frustrated. The self adhesive ones are the bane of every collector I know. They do not come off the same way as the others (hot water) and the only way I know to get them off is with a citrus cleaning spray that ruins the whole thing for me (very smelly) so I do not try.
  5. If you want older stamps, especially without a theme, go to places like hobby lobby. They sell stamps by the bag. You will get tons of repeats ( I trade mine or give them away) and you get to have fun looking through them. There is killer variety too. I get plenty of WWII war bond stamps there.
  6. The USPS is a great way to collect. They put out a stamp collection every year (like the one I showed above) that has information and a copy of every stamp made that year. This is an investment, but you get them all, and no research, and you still stick them in their places in the book, so you are hands on. The also just sell every stamp that year as a bagged set, so collect how you want. I prefer sheets myself, but the set can be more cost effective, because then you only have one of each rather than the 10 or however many on a sheet.

That is my stamp collecting story, and I hope you enjoy it.  I truly love this hobby, and I have far more stamps than I actually use on mail, and that is saying something.  However, I firmly believe that time spent on an unharmful passion is time well spent, and I will never regret my son asking me if we can do more stamps.

Thank you Bill.

Analog Savage,

Brandon Bledsoe

grandma 84

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