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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 1976: Postage Stamps of the Soviet Union

When I started writing this guide to the postage of the Soviet Union, I was still a new collector, but I had a whole year catalogued already.  I had the idea to write a blog/guide later.  Really the two are linked, as there was no such guide when I started.  There still is not now.  There is a rather expensive book, which I should probably get around to buying, which tells the names and some basic collectors information, but still this is the age of the free internet.  This information should be readily available.  So that is what I am trying to do, to share knowledge and information with at least a dozen people.  

    I catalogued 1976 first, I will be going back to write about these while I do 1983.  It will get me all caught up and it will help to keep new content being produced by me.  

    1976 was a big  year, Cold War wise.  You can read the full Wikipedia entry here.  Here is my take on the themes and key events that I see:

    The world was held in a seemingly unending Cold War.  Large events had come and gone and yet not much had changed.  The United States involvement in Vietnam was over and the nation was fully communist at this point.  The world could be described as tired at this point by this unending ideological struggle.  Technology was ramping up more and more, gaining speed as more was developed and advanced, helping to cushion some of the dreariness of the unending Cold War.  There was also hints at what would become the 1980s, as terrorism was picking up, and while terrorism will be later seen as the theme of a post Cold War age, it was also a result of the tensions created during this time, but one persons terrorism is another’s political strife.  You will see punk music taking off as a sign of stagflation gripping the West, stagflation being one more symptom that this was never going to end and was kind of hopeless, as the Sex Pistols say a year later “no future for me.”

  • Gerald Ford was president, but Jimmy Carter was elected same year
  • The Cray 1 super computer was introduced
  • The Philadelphia Flyers defeated the Soviet hockey team
  • The Red Army Faction Trial begins in West Germany
  • The United States Vetoed a U.N. Resolution to form an independent Palestine
  • Cuba’s current constitution enacted
  • Toronto Blue Jays are formed 
  • Videla dictatorship is started in Argentina
  • Argentinian dirt war starts
  • Apple Computer Company is formed
  • The Ramones release their first self titled album
  • The Phillipines open relations with the Soviet Union
  • The Soweto Uprising begins in South Africa 
  • Strikes against communists raising food prices begin in Poland 
  • Socialist Republic of Vietnam formed
  • The United States Bicentennial 
  • The first class of women are inducted at the United States Naval academy, Annapolis 
  • Family Feud debuts
  • The Viking I lands on Mars
  • The United Kingdom breaks ties with Uganda after the hijacking of Air France 139, which also saw Israeli Commandos involved later against the Palestinians 
  • The Seattle Seahawks begin playing 
  • The First (known) Ebola outbreak occurs 
  • Viktor Belenko lands his Mig-25 in Japan and requests asylum from the U.S. (this one is good, we took it apart and examined it, and the Japanese returned it in crates, billing the Soviets $40,000 for crating services)
  • The Muppet Show is first broadcast
  • The “Night of the Pencils” occurs
  • 100 Club Punk Festival goes on
  • U2 is formed
  • The Cultural Revolution in China concludes with 
  • Clarence Norris, last surviving “Scottsboro Boy,” is pardoned
  • Microsoft is registered
  • The Viet Cong is disbanded and folded into the Vietnam People’s army
  • Mao Zedong dies
  • California’s sodomy law is repealed 
  • Richard Dawkins publishes The Selfish Gene
  • IBM introduces the IBM 3800, the first laser printer

All of these can be found on the Wikipedia page for 1976, and more.  This list was cherry picked by me from the larger one.  It is to be your jumping off point or refresher for this year (and decade as I am starting here) so that you can put yourself into this decade and thinks critically about it.  Reading about these events, listening to the music, will begin to give you a grasp of the worlds state, if you want it, so that you will perhaps better understand the stamps the Soviet Union was producing.  

Analog Savage 

Brandon Bledsoe 

Stamp Collecting: Great Analog Hobbies

For many analog hobbies, it is true that if you look near the heart of the thing, collecting can be found in some form or another.

For me the love of the stamp came naturally, and was partially detailed in a previous post, but here is the short version.  My Grandmother was a Rural Letter Carrier.   My mother worked there off and on, My grandfather also worked there, and later my grandparents would retire from that post office.  It is/was one of my favorite places in the world, it is the post office for home, Soddy Daisy Tennessee.  I used to play out in the parking lot, and there was a wall to keep the ground from collapsing into the lot.  If you climbed to the top of it there were railroad tracks, it was at this rural post office, as a boy, that I saw the tan tanks on trains heading off somewhere in the early 90s.

Stamp collecting goes back to the advent of well…the postage stamp.  I love history, and if you look closely enough, there is a history lesson in every postage stamp.  What makes it great as an analog hobby besides that?  Well, it does not require a lot of start-up capital or specialized equipment or the thing we all seem to be short on, time.  It can be as simple as buying a sheet of stamps that you like at the post office and putting it away.  Places like Hobby Lobby sell bags of around 300 stamps for about ten dollars a bag, and there is a big mash up of stamps in those.  You will, of course, come across many repeats, but there are great things too, I have pulled plenty of WWII war bond stamps out of those bags.

I collected ever since I was a child, and it usually consisted of putting away sheets of the stamps that had come out and my family bought me what they believed I would like. Remember for me, the post office was a deep part of life.  I looked forward to the post office picnic every year.  There were good prizes for the games, usually postal related.  The point is, I was never one to trace rare stamps, or to have a giant book, but what I did have was Classic Movie Monsters, Bugs Bunny, and I Love Lucy.  This hobby allows you to pick your own involvement level.  Minimal investment, a vague interest, and the willingness to research.

Here is where I will say this for the first time: Digital for the win.  This hobby has been improved through the wonders of the Internet and the personal computer.  Guides, and lists, that used to cost money, are now available for free online.  My real collection is the stamps of The Soviet Union, and a website called Collectors Net has saved me the price of a sixty dollar book.


You will all have to forgive me from this point on with this post, I was just informed that I lost a family member tonight.

I decided to involve my son in stamp collecting and so we expanded a bit.

We buy the bags together, sort the stamps together, and then we do his favorite part, we soak the stamps in hot water and peel them from the paper they are stuck to and dry them in books.  It is time together, not in front of a screen (minus part of the research, if we do not use the hard copy encyclopedias) and he gets to learn some things.  Stamps do not offer much in the way of the tactile, but even at four, the taste he had gotten was enough to make him excited to see the National Postal Museum in Washington D.C. and as I said, it does not involve a video game or a television.  It steps into the real a little bit.

Bottom line-  You can start a quick and easy collection that can grow with your knowledge on the subject.  You can give the collection and the passion to your kids.  You will also be in some good company, FDR and Freddy Mercury counted among the great philatelist.

Let’s address that, philately, the study of stamps, is not stamp collecting.  However, you usually cannot collect stamps without some light philately, so do not get hung up on the two being used interchangeably.

The Bullets:

  • low initial cost
  • something for everyone-national icons, celebrities, sports, the stamp world almost has it’s own rule 34.
  • low initial knowledge need
  • Self-adhesive stamps are the devil

Tip  Bullets:

  • look up the Vario system, second to none stamp storage pages
  • The National Postal Museum has better articles than I could ever write on how to get started, right here.
  • get the kids involved
  • pick a niche at first-Hollywood, musicians, Soviet Russia, Cold War-era, the 80s, there is no limit to niches
  • Every year the post office puts out a complete guide to every U.S. Stamp ever, get it as your first serious purchase, runs about 45$
  • slow down, enjoy the learning, and the collection
  • pull it out and review it sometimes
  • Read articles
  • Getting a pen pal or two can help, they usually have cool foreign stamps if they are not from U.S.

Get out there and get an old fashioned stamp, and look at it.  If you are still collecting in a year, maybe you will be ready to study how they are printed.

Ganger-Bjorn, The Analog Savage

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