Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The money pit years

Do these Mantle cards from 2006 give you blinding, regret-filled flashbacks? They do me. The Mickey Mantle home run history cards were a plague on the hobby for several years, but began with one single card.

The card was of Mantle's first home run. It came out in Series 1 of Topps' 2006 base set. I have no idea what the seeding rate was for this particular card, but every rack pack appeared to feature one.

In 2006, I bought rack packs like they were food and the world was ending. So, when I head to my big box of dupes, the tiny tribute to Mantle's very first homer is still going strong, and I am powerless to stop it because none of the cards are edible.

This causes me to wonder if 2006 was the year I blew the most money on cards. Chris at Stale Gum features a running total on his sidebar of how much he has spent on cards each year. That's rather brave of him. I have never calculated it. All I know is I have a budget, and I try to stick to it. But total cash wasted on cards? Not a clue.

I could guess at the years in which I spent the most, based on how many cards I have from each year, my memories of that particular year, and knowledge of my situation at the time. So that's what I'm going to do -- pinpoint which years I spent the most money on cards. Assigning a monetary total to it would be fun, but I could only guess poorly, so I'll leave that out.

I invite you to perform your own little money pit exercise. It might be cathartic. Or depressing.

I know this is mostly a set-collector's exercise. We like to wallow in our ineptitude a little too often. But you high roller player collectors can follow along, too, and laugh and point, or shake your heads, or whatever you do in your house of shiny.

OK, from least cash blown to most cash blown:

5th place: 1981

Reason for spending so much cash: A combination of there being three primary card sets for the first time since I started collecting, and having a paper route for the first time.

The ugly outcome: Three incomplete sets. Topps was more complete than Fleer or Donruss, with approximately 400 cards to 300 for the other two, but that was pathetic considering I almost finished off the 1980 Topps set the previous year. Throw in a complete Drake's cakes set and some Kellogg's cards and I spent far more money on cards than I had ever done in my life to that point.

Residual damage: I was so scarred by the year that I bought a lot fewer cards in '82 and '83, then simply purchased factory sets in '84 and '85.

4th place: 2008

Reason for spending so much cash: Blogs, primarily (that's right, it's YOUR fault!). But also a new awareness of the abundance of cards available. It wasn't just Topps and Upper Deck anymore. It was Heritage and X and Chrome and something wonderful called Allen & Ginter.

The ugly outcome: I foisted a blog called Night Owl Cards on everybody. I entered a hopelessly one-sided love affair with A&G that continues to this day. I actually spent hard-earned cash on something called Spectrum (*shudder*).

Residual damage: Still a slave to the blog (typing RIGHT NOW) and still sending roses to A&G. But, fortunately, because of the events of '08, I discovered online trading and will probably never have another cash-blowing year like I did in 2008.

3rd place: 1992

Reason for spending so much cash: Well, let's see. In 1992, there was Topps, Donruss, Fleer, Score, Upper Deck, Pinnacle, Ultra, Bowman, Triple Play and Stadium Club, plus several non-sport issues, and they were ALL available at the drug store down the street from me. Plus, there was this general consensus in 1992 that every card you purchased was going to make you rich. I'd call that incentive.

The ugly outcome: Boxes of cards that I NEVER look at anymore. Many of the card sets from '92 I find absolutely hideous, and I can't tell you why. I can not stand the look of 1992 Score. I'd be happy for someone to take all of the cards off my hands. As for 1992 Donruss? The look of the cards almost makes me puke. I don't know the reason. But it does.

Residual damage: The best part of collecting cards is that each card has meaning. It is very difficult to find any meaning in most of my cards in 1992. They are just empty, empty pieces of cardboard from a time in which I wasn't very happy. I don't know if cards from any year can make anyone sad, but 1992 comes the closest for me.

2nd place: 1989

Reason for spending so much cash: I had more time on my hands than at any point in my life since I was a little kid -- but with a lot more money. With that much disposable cash, I decided to pursue a lifelong dream of trying to complete a set through purchasing packs -- and my focus was the 1989 Topps set.

The ugly outcome: A frustrating four cards short of a complete set, and up to 20 or 25 dupes of players like Scott Bailes and Danny Gladden. A separate giant box reserved for just 1989 Topps. A disinterest in '89 Topps for many years because the cards lost meaning. And because I had blinders on, I completely missed '89 Upper Deck (and basically ignored '89 Donruss, Fleer and Score).

Residual damage: I've never liked Upper Deck as much as Topps and I think my tunnel vision in '89 is partly to blame. But other than that, not much else. The big box of '89 dupes was sold to an older lady at a garage sale many years ago. I often wonder what she did with 21 Moose Stubing cards.

1st place: 2006

Reason for spending so much cash: Bit by the collecting bug after 15 years of not-so-cold turkey, I returned to the world of modern cards and re-attempted my quest that I came up short on in 1989. Rack packs at Walmart not only featured the ubiquitous card commemorating Mantle's first home run, but three "vintage" cards from Topps. When you're pulling cards from 1982 out of a 2006 pack, that gets addicting.

The ugly outcome: Another giant box of dupes devoted to a single set. The ugly Mantle scene that you saw at the top of the post. An ability to know which cards were more plentiful than others and which cards were more rare (finding a Greg Maddux in the first series and a Julio Franco in the second series was pretty darn difficult). An ability to know the card number of many of the cards in a set -- something that should be the domain of little kids collecting their first set. And, finally, almost an entire second set of '06 Topps.

Residual damage: Well, I did finish off the base set, so I've got that going for me. But I also have this ridiculous notion to complete a master set of 2006, even though I've pretty much stopped caring about it. Also, it's taken me about five years to rid myself of the need to purchase repack boxes -- which all began in 2006. One day, after not finding any rack packs, I discovered repacks of 2006 Upper Deck and other card brands. I am just now climbing out of this downward spiral.

These were all defining years in my collecting life. Sure, there are some not-so-pleasant memories, but there are lots of good ones, too. I wouldn't do anything differently, because I like how I collect today and I have those years to thank.

Of course, if I actually did have a total on the money I spent, I'd probably be shutting this blog down, right now.


  1. 1989 to 1991 were BAD years. If I never see a 1989 Donruss card again, it will be too soon.

  2. I actually did the math (though it's been long enough that I don't recall the exact number.) I spent close to $200 to build the 2002 Fleer set when I got back into collecting.

    Never again. :)

  3. I have been keeping track on how much I spent on cards since 1988. (Because it was a way from stopping me from getting out of control on spending on cards.)

    My record was in 1991 - 17961 cards that cost $721.00

  4. I am never going to bip you, but do have a stack of blue to send your way.

  5. 96 was my biggest spending year. I know I spent about a grand on Select Certified alone, and that was just one set. I couldn't even start to put a $ amount on my Marino collection at that time. (At one point I had 14 Marino RCs and I got them that year) (unfortunately they are about a 5th of the price now)

    Oh to be young single and live at home again...

  6. The most I spent in one year is every year. It keeps getting bigger and bigger. I will never learn.

  7. I don't want to do any of the math because then I'd start thinking about how many of the debts I could pay off or simply wouldn't have. I do know that 1992 was a strange year for me in that I didn't buy nearly as many cards as the three previous years or the following year. After 1993, it was all about girls, compact discs and not going to (college) classes for me. But I don't really know what was going on in 1992. I think I had a really busy year in high school or something. I'm still not really sick of 1992 Donruss, Fleer or Score and I only saw 1992 Bowman for sale one time ever. I remember Fleer Ultra was big for me... and basketball cards.

    Thanks for confirming my suspicions about that Mantle #1 card. I have started to laugh at how that card is priced at basically the same amount as the other Mantle cards in Beckett-type listings.

  8. I went nuts on 2005 Heritage because I got my first job out of college. That was stupid.

    Incidentally, I'll take all your 1992 Stadium Club off your hands! -Andy

  9. 1990-92. Never has so much been spent for so little return.

  10. 2008 Allen and Ginter! Truly, that hit a sweet spot, even for a crusty vintage collector like me. (Oh yeah, and thanks for showing career baseball guy Spike Owen! Loved watching him field.)

  11. Boy, looking at some of these comments and the Stale Gum site, all I can think of is, I wish I was rich too. Good thing I enjoy big boxes of junk wax commons from flea markets and garage sales and never got into high-end or vintage stuff.

  12. I haven't tracked dollar amounts ever, but judging on how many "doubles" I have, I'd say '76 and '77 were the years of the most actual packs. I had a paper route then, I think I'd get about $30 a month out of it, and packs were what, $0.15 I think? I am pretty sure I could get 6 for a dollar. Back then the problem for me wasn't having the money, it was finding a store with any cards on hand.
    2nd worst year was 1992, I still have a few boxes of shrinkwrapped unopened Leaf. Probably worse less now then when I bought them.