Friday, July 18, 2014
When cards were for kids
I received a handful of cards recently from the ever-generous Mark Hoyle, and as I was looking at them, I suddenly became proud of the era in which I started collecting cards.
No, I didn't start collecting in 1966. I'm not that old. But I did begin in the mid-1970s. And at that time, collecting cards was still a kid's hobby. There were no adults who collected cards. I remember reading about a noted dealer who collected in the 1960s who said he would almost have to hide his hobby from other adults for fear of being ridiculed.
So, I think I came along at the right time. When I collected as a kid, that's what kids were supposed to do. And now that I'm an adult, that's what adults are supposed to do. Eighty to ninety percent of the attendance at every card show is adults.
But back to those glorious days when cards were manufactured for kids and no one else.
The designs for cards back then were remarkably simple. I'm not sure how much thought Topps (and past card companies) puts into their adult consumers when they create card designs, but I have a feeling that back in the '50s, '60s and '70s, they didn't think about it all that much. What did a kid care about design? All kids care about are the guy in the picture and bright colors. There is so much you can get away with when manufacturing for kids.
Even the backs, while filled with adult-like features like statistics and transactions, retained a kid flavor with a brightly colored background. And, of course, there was a cartoon, which was a staple for cards from the 1950s right through the early '80s, when, not so coincidentally, cards became an investment for adults.
(By the way, the back of this Lou Johnson card looks like it came directly out of a pack. It almost looks like a reprint, it is so pristine).
Speaking as a former kid, who remembers what it was like to be a kid (don't you just hate those adults who don't?), I know that the fact that the first set I ever collected -- the 1975 Topps set -- was so brightly colored was what helped get me hooked on cards. I loved that red, blue, pink and yellow so much that it was almost like candy, because god knows the gum was inedible.
Mark also sent some Classic game Dodgers cards from a different era of collecting.
Even though Classic came out with cards during the junk wax period when people were gobbling up cards because they were going to make them rich, there was still a kid-element to cards of that period.
They were still brightly colored -- Classic is Example A -- and they still felt like kid fodder. Classic featured quiz questions on the back and were part of a game. And there was space at the bottom for a player's autograph -- or your own if you were feeling egotistical.
As cynical as we get about the cards from 1987-93, there was still a general feeling at the time that "cards were for kids." The Donruss and Fleer designs from that period will tell you that.
So, it was a changing but still innocent time -- yeah, I'm going to save a few of these ones for my stock portfolio, but really the cards are for the kids.
Mark also threw in a couple of cards from an even later period, when I don't think cards were for kids anymore.
These are from the Just Minors set from 1999.
The fact that there was a card company created to nationally produce a card set featuring minor leaguers -- a.k.a. "prospects" -- is all you need to know about the market for baseball cards in the late '90s.
No longer was it for kids clueless about the players on the front. They knew exactly who those guys were, and who was in the minors, too. Because "the next big thing" was what was going to have value. In fact, I don't even know if I consider kids who think like this "kids". That's a rather adult viewpoint. And, of course, adults had begun to take over the baseball card market by this point.
Today, kids -- if they collect cards -- collecting small rectangles of fantasy figures. Some still collect athletes' cards because I see those kids here and there. But mostly, Topps and Panini are marketing for adults like you and me, who critique endlessly the design, quality, collation, value and other Very Adult concepts.
Cards aren't for kids anymore. Haven't been for a long time.
But as long as I don't look at my collection like it's a ticket to a house in Hawaii or a blissful retirement, then cards can still be for the kid in me.