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Modern card collecting and the pain scale

I am a traditional collector in the modern world.
That causes all kinds of conflicts. I grew up during a time when you walked or biked to the store to buy wax packs and then used those cards to -- maybe one day -- build the set.
We almost never achieved that goal (well, the people I knew didn't anyway) because we didn't have the funds to accumulate 660 different cards in a 6-month span. But the objective each year always made sense to me. The goal was to accumulate as many players and cards that represented that year that you could.
I still think that way, even though set-collecting is even more daunting today than it was when my allowance was like a buck a week. Almost everyone agrees it's impossible today to complete a set the way I did in 1978. It certainly isn't cost-efficient.

But I can't help the way I was built or dismiss what I was taught when I was first buying cards. The way the sets were presented 40 years ago, from packaging to appearance to size and availability, are what I like best. So, basically, I'm lost in modern card collecting. Not only can you not buy packs for a quarter anymore but there are no corner stores. Heck, there aren't even cards at any store anywhere and those cards that you can't buy don't even have borders. It's a mess.

Still, I soldier on even though buying current cards is a bit painful for this traditional collector.

I will illustrate with some packages I've received recently from Jeremy, Johnny and RC.

1. Modern sets

Because there is so much more variety in the card world than when I was collecting as a kid, I instinctively rank what I like and don't like. This was never a thing in the '70s. You had one set a year. It wasn't a question of like or dislike. Did you want to collect that year? Well, then buy the cards.

I like having choice. But sometimes it's tiring deciding what I will buy and what I won't. And then there are sets like Fire that have a half-dozen looks in one set. You could collect only the portions that you like, and, yes, I have done that.

 Pain scale: 2

2. Modern sets I really don't like

Choice in cards can also create divisions. That shouldn't happen, people can collect whatever they want. But in the case of Gypsy Queen v. Allen & Ginter, collectors naturally settle into camps and sometimes start lobbing insults at the other's set.

I'm in the A&G camp. I don't understand the point of Gypsy Queen. It seems like it's "The Set For People Who Want Allen & Ginter Without All That Weird Stuff". But mostly, I don't like GQ because it's ugly every damn year. It doesn't appeal to my brain. And that's why I haven't bought any since 2013.

Pain scale: 4

3. Modern sets I really like

Now that Heritage has reached the 1970s Topps designs, I really, really like it.

I went through an entire decade of moderate interest when it was spanning the '60s designs. But now that we're moving into the designs I saw as a kid, I'm tempted to buy those cards and will be until Heritage reaches the 1979 set (I don't sense any enthusiasm in me for that one).

The 2020 Heritage set, which covers the super-awesome 1971 design that I've considered epic since I first knew what they were as a youngster, is my first test of how far I will go with Heritage. And I've gone a lot farther than I thought I would.

As far as modern sets and set-collecting goes, Heritage is as PAINFUL as it gets. The short-prints that you need to find to complete the set can cost you hundreds of dollars. There are 100 short-prints each year now and you're not going to find each of those for less than a buck a card. So, yes, hundreds of dollars. And, that to me is sick. And definitely painful.

Pain scale: 8

4. Bowman

Bowman deserves its own special category because not only does it cause distress on an emotional level but also on a mental level. I have been aware of Bowman in its current form since I began my blog more than 12 years ago. I still don't have a handle on what all the Bowman sets are or who is in each one.

I try to create want lists for the Dodgers in the set but I'm doing it with a set-collector's brain and I know my want lists aren't correct but I can't fix them because Bowman is a PAIN. It gives me a headache. Collecting shouldn't give you a headache.

I've avoided buying any packs for more than five years. I don't know who half the players are, I don't have the patience to wait around five years to see if they become "somebody," the designs are usually irritating. There is a lot discomfort there.

Pain scale: 8

5. Parallels

The stereotype of a traditional collector would say that he hates parallels. But that's not true. I was fascinated by parallels the very first year I started collecting (1975 Topps minis). The fascination has held strong as various colored borders were introduced. I won't complain too much about the sheer numbers or scarcity simply because there are way too many to even think I have a chance to own them all and also LOOK AT ALL THE PRETTY COLORS.

Pain scale: 0 (feeling no pain)

6. Allen & Ginter tobacco-style minis

Another example of a parallel in which fun masks the pain. I will even buy a blaster of Allen & Ginter for a year in which I have the entire base set, just for some mini parallels that I need for my frankenset.

That said, the time is growing short on that quest. Johnny, in particularly, filled a bunch of empty spots in the frankenset binder and I'm down to just seven spots left.

2, 151, 171, 241, 281, 300, 325

But there's always the chance a better card comes along and boots a less-than-appealing card out of its slot. That's why this quest will continue for a little while longer, as long as it's fun!

Pain scale: 0

7. Online cards

I remember when I was outraged by online-only cards. There are rants on this very blog about them.
Well, that ship has sailed so far that no one remembers who was on the ship.
So now I need to separate this into two categories: online cards that appeal to me and online cards that don't.

Online cards that appeal to me cause a little bit of pain just because I now have to set aside a bunch of other goals to chase this thing that I didn't know existed yesterday.

But as often is the case with online cards, they have limited appeal, so I find myself just adding singles. If people want to send me some -- heck, they're retro-ish with players I knew growing up (some of them anyway, I don't know about those Cubs) -- I'll take 'em!

As for other online cards, such as the 3D things and the minis ...

... yeah, they're all minis -- see? ...

... there is no pain if I ignore them. Both pay tribute to cards of my youth (3D and mini) but they're not my style. Whoever heard of mini card without a border? It's weird.

Pain scale: 2. All over the board on this one, just like online cards.

I did receive a few more traditional cards in this assortment of envelopes.

The 1989 Donruss baseball best Dodgers needs have been elusive for a long time, while I accumulated the other baseball best Dodgers years ago. But no pain here. We like our 1989 cards. They're pretty traditional.

Finally, a 1971 Fleer Laughlin card. I adore these things and I grew up with that kind of art. I could collect these cards for the rest of my life and be in my happy zone the whole time.

So, I know people are asking, why do you collect modern cards if it causes you pain?

I've answered this before. As long as I'm living in the modern world and following the modern version of baseball, I am interested in the cards that show these people. I WANT to collect them. I don't feel that I HAVE to collect them. Sure, I wish things could be different, but that's not a reason for me to totally give up.

If I did, that would cause me quite a bit of pain.


Swell post! I think I must be more sensitive than you as most of the modern stuff gives me a 12 on the 1 to 10 pain scale.
I remember buying cards at Gerry's Variety (which is still around) on the way from school to bowling...yes bowling. I opened the first pack I bought of 1980 Topps at the bowling alley and pulled the Nolan Ryan. I remember being so psyched. It was the first set I ever completed and since I didn't have anybody to trade with I had to keep buying packs until I finally got the last card I needed...Rico Carty.
I had a huge sense of accomplishment when I finished that set.

If there were SPs and parallels and 500 Topps releases back then I don't know if I would have even tried.
Nachos Grande said…
Heritage is a definite 10 on the pain scale for me... I hate having to spend sooooo much money on the short prints - it's bad if you are spending multiple dollars on a "no name" player as a short print but it's even worse if Topps sticks someone like Mike Trout in the SP section and then you need $10 (or more) for a single, lousy base card.
I have a lot more pain these days than you for sure.
bbcardz said…
As long as there's Topps flagship and Heritage sets to collect, I'm a happy camper. It's not in my budget or time schedule to collect any other card product/sets.
Mark Hoyle said…
Great post Greg. I’ll buy singles or tea sets for the modern releases. I try and keep the pain level low and won’t stress about what I can’t get. I pick and choose with the online releases.
John Bateman said…
On Line cards make sense if you went to the game or saw on TV the game/event its is portraying.

I like GQ because if feels a little like a piece of art.

However, for every cards in the post - the best cards were those 1989 Donruss Baseball Best design, the green and yellow works with the Dodgers.
BP said…
I'm with you on most of your comments. You actually have more tolerance for the newer cards than I do. I loved buying boxes and building sets from there, but it is not cost effective any more. I don't want all the freakin' insert cards! I love Heritage, but the short prints kill me. I don't even care about the variations in Heritage, but knowing that every year there are going to be 100 cards that are difficult to obtain is not fun. Especially when you know a large portion of them will be the best players. I've really taken to the Topps 35th Anniversary insert sets. They have the Heritage/Archives feel, but there are no short prints. The set sizes are reasonable. It's mostly the star players. I'll buy several lots of them off eBay to build the majority of the set and then fill in the rest with TCDB trades or Sportlots. It works for me.
Fuji said…
I like being given choices too... but sometimes too many choices can be an issue. It's even worse when you discover something you like, but you weren't given the opportunity to buy it at the suggested retail price. That's why I try to focus on the options I do have and use the extra time/money I have to appreciate what I currently own.
Nick Vossbrink said…
Hehe I'm mostly in agreement with you except that I'd want to make distinctions in the "no pain" side between "things I like" and "things I don't care about"
Unknown said…
Why are cards short printed in Heritage? I know about hi series cards produced in the old days (my childhood) but there is no reason to SP them now. Do any collectors like SPs? What a frustrating set to collect.