Skip to main content

Play with your cards (a set completion story)

Knowing full well that I was getting very close to completing the 1956 Topps set, I began to obsess about how I would present the news on this blog once it was finished.
I've completed a number of sets in my blogging day, including some of the great card accomplishments of my life, stuff like the '72 Topps set and the '75 Topps minis. But this was 1956 Topps, the first major set that I had completed that was produced before I was born.
Considering that I think it is the greatest baseball card set ever made-- many do -- and my long interest in the set going back decades, this was another blog post altogether.
But what? And how?
OK, I'll get to that later.
I'll first explain how I reached the end of the set.
When I last updated my progress, I had just landed the Mickey Mantle card and there were three cards to go. It was all but definite that I was going to complete the set, which was a feeling totally out of sync with what I thought for like the past 40 years.

 I mentioned the three cards I needed in that post and reader and Pirates fan Dave commented that he could send the Pirates team card. A week or two later it arrived, along with a bunch of other goodies I'll show later. But the key bit of info was there were now two cards to go.

I next zeroed in on the Luis Aparicio rookie. I had started to get concerned with how the price was rising on that card, given the current card insanity and rookie card mania. I figured I'd better get it now.

I got it. A very nice copy. It arrived early this week. And now there was one card left.

I made sure though. I went through the binder that houses my '56 collection and checked every page for holes. I checked the numbers on the back and made sure nothing was out of order or skipped.

It all checked out. There was really ... in fact ... actually ... for real this time ... JUST ONE CARD TO GO.

And there it is. Monte Irvin, who all this time I could have sworn was a New York Giant in this set. But '56 was Irvin's only season with the Cubs.

This card arrived yesterday from Jim. All I had to do was send him an autographed card that I had pulled out of a pack last year, and my '56 set was finished. The crowning accomplishment of my card collection journey -- so far -- was finished.

So, now -- how was I going to write about this achievement?

This is where "playing with your cards" comes in.

I knew I wanted to display them in some manner. What's the use of being on social media if you can't announce your card success all over the internet? I thought about video of me paging through the binder and then I thought about displaying them all together on a table or the floor. But the table wasn't big enough and the floor is filthy with dog hair.

But the cards were out of the binder already. All of them. So there was no going back.

I started to play with them.

I tossed each card on the dining room table. No order except that I started with the first cards in the set and ended with the last ones. Just randomly displayed though. And this was the beautiful result:

Every member of the 340-card set is there. Feel free to check (no, I'm not chasing down the two checklists).
It was great fun creating the display and even more fun having the freedom to toss a Mantle or a Clemente onto the table without worrying about dings or dents. All of my '56 cards are in pretty good shape for a 65-year-old set, but there are definitely creases and nicks and a couple with writing on the front. And that's totally cool, because I can play with them.

 And I played with them.

Remember when you were a kid and you assembled all the cards you had for that year's set and stacked them all up like a tower of power?

That's the entire 1956 Topps set in one stack. OMG, that is so much fun.

So, while I was doing all that playing, thoughts about the 1956 set bounced around in my brain. I thought about individual cards and how I obtained them and the people who sent them to me.

And, of course, I thought about the first 1956 cards that I ever owned.

These are the first 1956 cards that came into my possession, that I probably ever touched, two of the greats from the Brooklyn Bums.

I've mentioned many times that the first '56s came to me and my brothers on one fantastic evening after my dad got home from work. He was carrying a brown grocery bag full of cards from the mid-1950s. He had told us that he might be doing this. A co-worker was looking for someone to take on his collection. I don't know how the exchange went between my dad and co-worker. I didn't care. I didn't even believe it was going to happen.

We dumped those cards -- literally dumped them -- onto the dining room table, spread them all out and my brothers and I divided up the cards. Since I was a Dodgers fan, all the Dodgers cards went to me and these were the first cards that I found, along with Randy Jackson, Don Zimmer and the team card.

We were as giddy about our good fortune as I was today as I tossed the complete set of '56s onto my current dining room table. I wish I could remember the year, let alone the exact date, that I received those first '56s. I can only go by the setting, the approximate age of my brothers and where we were in our card journey (we had just started to get into older cards). If I had to guess, I'd say 1981. But no idea on the time of year.

As I thought and thought about it and continued to play with my cards, I realized how much my late dad had a hand in this collection.

Not only had he delivered the first bunch of '56 Topps cards to me -- I owned around one-third of the set by the time the grocery bag was emptied -- but I firmly believe he was behind my quest after he passed away almost two years ago.

"Oh, no, night owl, you don't really believe in that stuff do you?" Yes I do. Here is why:

A month or two after my dad died I obtained a card in his honor. I've written about it. It's the '56 Ted Williams.

Ted Williams was my dad's favorite player. I paid more for this card than I ever had for any card, but I didn't hesitate because it was a tribute to my dad.

He wasn't big into collecting cards when I knew him. Outside of those '56s, he never found any other cards for me, he didn't seem to care about them much. I know he collected as a kid and I know his mom threw out his cards after he moved out of the house. I never inherited any cards from him.

But anyway, that Williams card jump-started the final stage of me collecting this set. After the Williams purchase, I began to make more and more big-name purchases, because I could actually see the finish line for the first time.

Then, my parents' house sold. My brothers and I received funds from the estate and it was more money than I've ever seen. I'm not rich -- never have been, I work in the journalism business -- so even that modest sum amazed me. And that money from that house that my dad worked so hard to maintain helped me gain the last few big-money cards that I needed for this set. I'd still be stuck on the final dozen cards if not for that. And who knows how long it would take to get them.

Still not convinced?

How about this? I mentioned that the last card I needed for the set -- the Monte Irvin card -- arrived yesterday.

Yesterday would have been my dad's 87th birthday.

Don't tell me he didn't want me to finish that set.

I thought of all of this while playing with my cards.

I took them all out of the binder not only to display them on the table, but also so I could put them all back again, and review each one, read the cartoons on the back and experience the joy of filling all the pages once again.

None of this happens if you grade the cards, stash them away in your portfolio, or whatever investors do with cards. Yeah, I sell some cards, but the vast majority of them are meant for playing because life's too short and I want to enjoy the cards and the memories that come with them every chance I get.

Thanks to everyone who helped me complete this set. It took 40 years, almost on the dot. It was all worth it.


Angus said…
What an awesome post! I can only imagine the fun that you had with a set that old. I love the tower.

Congratulations on completing the set!
Brett Alan said…
Congratulations...completing that set is a huge hobby accomplishment.
Yes indeed, what an accomplishment!
carlsonjok said…
Congratulations! A great accomplishment and a great tribute.
Wrigley Wax said…
Congrats!! Nothing beats the feeling of satisfaction after completing a set.
Section 36 said…
Congratulations! Amazing accomplishment!
Mark Hoyle said…
Looking forward to this post. Great accomplishment
I salute you and your truly impressive accomplishment!

(...and I love that you played with your cards!)
I have been looking forward to teading this post. Such a great accomplishment, and such a special tribute to your dad.

Congratulations, NO.
Nick said…
Big congrats! Gotta be the most impressive set completion I've seen during my time around the blogs. At the risk of sounding crotchety, I wish I'd see more pictures of cards fanned out across a table like yours than pictures of dudes precociously handling their slabbed PSA 10s or whatnot.
steelehere said…
Congratulations. It’s been an enjoyable journey to read your efforts to complete this set going back to when I first started following your blog I’m 2009.
Michael Gray said…
Congrats! There's something about the size and cardboard of the 56s that makes them even more fun to play with. I greatly enjoyed reading along on the journey and living vicariously through your pickups.
Very,very cool. This should be required reading for every "investor".
Chris said…
So thrilled to see this, not just the completion but the enjoyment of playing with and arranging the cards. Congrats on a crowning achievement of collecting! I tip my hat to you sir.
I have been looking forward to teading this post. Such a great accomplishment, and such a special tribute to your dad.

Congratulations, NO.
bbcardz said…
So impressed and so happy for you! I especially love the Newcombe card. I remember back around 1990 (give or take a couple of years) at Dodger Stadium seeing Don pass with Roy Campanella. Memories!
Old Cards said…
Congrats and thanks for showing us what fun it is to be a collector.
Jeremya1um said…
Congrats! What an amazing accomplishment to complete such an old set! I hope it brings you enormous enjoyment. Those are some amazing pictures and I bet they are better in person.
Tom Robak said…
Not much of a set collector anymore, but my 1956 set is my prize. First got interested in cards in 1956, all that is left of my original cards is the Pirates team card, the corners are a bit fuzzy but can’t think of replacing it as it is my link to my roots. The rest were lovingly and painfully gathered over a 12 year period, or if counting from when I first started 51 years. On particularly bad days, you know like during a pandemic, reviewing the binder is quite the relaxer Congratulations on completing yours.
Jon said…
Happy completed set! As far as card collecting goes, this is obviously a pretty big accomplishment. I liked the part about your dad, as I do believe in such things, and it's very rare to see anyone talk like that on the card blogs.
Your journey of completing this set touches on many things that make card collecting so worthwhile. Thanks for sharing.
John Bateman said…
A life long journey fulfilled. Congrats

Not sure the 56 is the best set ever but would say the Team Cards are best ever
Fred Pike said…
Great post. The cards spread on the table looks like it could be a puzzle someone put together. In some ways it is. The Irvin card being the last piece.
gregory said…
Congratulations! This is what card collecting is all about. We should all chew a stale stick of bubble gum in celebration.
Trevor P said…
I agree with Nick: that is one of the most impressive builds I've seen. Nice work (or play, whatever).
CaptKirk42 said…
WOW Congrats. Not an easy accomplishment.
David said…
I do not doubt that your dad had a hand in this. He knew how much it meant to you and, as a father, you know how much you meant to him.

Thanks for sharing more than pictures of the cards and news of the milestone.
BP said…
Congratulations. I really enjoyed reading this. Thanks for sharing your story.
gcrl said…
What a hobby achievement, especially this year. Congratulations
Bo said…
Congrats! It's been fun seeing you work your way down to getting the last few cards.
Fuji said…
Congratulations! That table collage could be used on a book cover or something.
Congrats! So happy that you were able to complete this set! A major accomplishment.
Matt said…
Congratulations on completing this iconic set!
mr haverkamp said…
Agree wholeheartedly with "Swing And A Pop-Up", everyone on YouTube making vids about card show hauls for shiny slabs of graded 21st century 'flavor of the moment' should read this and reflect on the true meaning of collector. Congrats, N.O!
simpson said…
late to the post, but I second everyone by saying a hearty congrats and I love that you played with them too. add in the story of your dad, and it's just a magical thing. congrats and enjoy!
Jafronius said…
Belated congratulations on completing the set! Why no checklists, or was that explained already?