Sunday, October 4, 2015
Trading card alchemy
I went to a card show today. You'll see what I landed in the next post, but I wanted to write today about something I heard there.
I was at my usual table, hunting vintage cards while in set-completing mode. Since this dealer caters to set collectors, he has binders and binders of different vintage sets everywhere. And he attracts slightly older customers, because as much as I don't want to admit it:
a) I'm old
b) set collectors are old
Those are relative statements, of course, but there was no mistaking the gray-haired gentlemen paging through cards along with me.
There was one man talking to the dealer mainly. It was a high-level discussion: T206s and Honus Wagner and running into trimmed tobacco cards. It's stuff I'll probably never worry about in my life.
Another gray-haired man joined the conversation and the discussion turned to removing stains from cards, and soaking cards, something that both the dealer and the gray-haired man had apparently done many times without a hint of regret. This is considered a "gray area" in the world of cardboard alteration, with many saying it's OK, but few shouting it to the rooftops.
Then the talk turned to a collector/dealer who apparently lives just north of Syracuse, where the show was. The dealer said he knew the name and called him "notorious in the hobby." That intrigued the two gray-haired men, and me, of course, and here we go:
The dealer said this man, whose name was mentioned but I won't mention it here because some of this might be hearsay, is sort of an expert at "fixing" flawed memorabilia. He is known for taking creases out of cards, and the dealer was not keen on people doing that. One of the gray-haired men wasn't either. "What if the crease comes back?" he said.
This was interesting to me because I had never heard of it. (I'm still such a newbie). And I had never considered it. The 1952 Rocky Bridges up top has a major crease in it down the middle from top to bottom. Not once have I thought, "I wonder if that could be fixed?" It's always been "what's done is done."
But the dealer went on. He said that this guy's newest thing is to claim that he can erase autographs off of balls so that there is no trace of that autograph on the ball. The dealer was very much against this. He said that this would allow someone with a ball that featured autographs of a mega star and four nobodies to suddenly become a ball with a single mega star's autograph. And that ball would sell for a lot more money.
Then it became apparent to me why fixing a crease would be something that someone would want to do.
The dealer called the guy "an alchemist," like it was his area of expertise. I didn't know alchemists existed anymore, except in the beer-brewing world. Maybe the guy actually has a chemistry background and that was what the dealer meant. But the word was interesting to ponder. Alchemy seemed appropriate -- performing science that seemed impossible, the obliteration of creases, the erasing of signatures.
It was then during the conversation that a younger guy walked by and stopped when he heard the discussion. It turned out the cardboard alchemist was his uncle. And that got the dealer excited.
He started asking him about removing creases and the nephew said, yes, his uncle does do that. But he said it wasn't really removing them. He said once the work was performed, you could still see a line where the crease was. But when one of the guys asked if those fixed crease cards are submitted for grading, the nephew said "sure."
Then the dealer asked the nephew about removing signatures. The nephew said he had never heard of that one.
That's where the conversation ended. But it made me think, what is acceptable when altering a card? The older guys there seemed to think soaking cards was a tried-and-true practice to remove excess glue and maybe lessen wrinkles. They agreed that trimming was bad (yet an accepted part of the hobby). The dealer was adamant about full disclosure when a card been altered. Good for him. And removing creases and autographs seemed way out of line, I was relieved to learn.
But I was raised to believe -- by the good bloggers who came before me -- that any altering of the card to make it appear better than what it was, is not acceptable.
Yet if someone could actually remove a crease from a card -- I mean get rid of it as if it never existed, not even a line -- then wouldn't that be improving the card, like restoring a piece of furniture? I suppose the key questions is: do you plan to sell it?
I admit the conversation confused me with the contradictions. It was as if the lines were being blurred. I just know that coloring in chipping on 1971 Topps with black magic marker is not cool. And to make things easier on myself, I simply lump any altering of a card to improve the sale price as not cool, too.
How about you?