Baseball, America’s pastime, is more than 150 years old and has inspired collectors from the past to the present.

The first issuance of baseball cards was by Goodwin & Company in the 1880s to promote their cigarettes. Soon, non-tobacco companies got into the act, including Cracker Jack popcorn, Tip Top Bread and Sporting Life magazine.

From the 1930s to the ‘50s, the nickel pack of tasteless stick of gum with those all-important baseball cards that included superstars like Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams or Mickey Mantle, were found at the local drug or corner store.

Today we find baseball cards at shops such as Book Review, owned and operated by Craig Cotton. It’s been in Rochester for 30 years. Keep an eye out for auctions, garage and estate sales, antique malls and shops and scan the daily paper for those who advertise trading cards and sports cards. Watch online, too. And there are shows you can occasionally find in the area. Find schedules at your local hobby shop.

Joan Thilges, owner of New Generations of Harmony, is privileged to have a vendor with an entire booth dedicated to sports memorabilia.

“Tim Gunn, who specializes baseball and sports collectibles, has a wide range of baseball collectibles including cards, signed baseballs, jerseys, replica bats, game giveaways, and all types of equipment,” Thilges said. “His baseball memorabilia also includes lots of items from the Twins, Brewers, and Cubs. You can find inexpensive cards for a few dollars all the way to highly collectible sports items for several hundred dollars.”

As far as placing a value on cards, they are worth what somebody is willing to pay. You can also search online at www.Beckett.com and sign up for their online price guide. Tuff Stuff is another magazine price guide that give you an idea of what they’re worth, but a lot is based on the condition of the cards.

Starting a collection

“When starting a collection, focus on the area that interests you the most in order to cultivate a truly rewarding collection,” said Jeff Figler, author of “Picker’s Pocket Guide to Baseball Memorabilia.”

“That might mean only collecting a specific type of baseball memorabilia, for instance, or focusing on varied items relating to a specific team or favorite player. Did you know that if a player is a Hall of Famer, honored at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Cooperstown, N.Y., that any memorabilia relating to them is normally worth considerably more than an ordinary player. Players like New York Yankees Lou Gehrig, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and George Herman “Babe” Ruth, Jr. for example. Certain games or seasons are legendary.”

Baseball cards

Figler still sees baseball cards as a great option for starting a collection.

“They hit their peak of popularity in the late 1990s and early 2000 when values were going sky-high. And even though they haven’t bounced back in value to those top levels, they’re still available and they make a great starting point for a baseball memorabilia collection. Getting a valuable card professionally graded not only helps to authenticate it, but it assigns a condition rating that can bolster, or maybe even boost, the value. The size of the cards hasn’t really changed that much and the only real change would be the thickness of the cards.”

Chris Ivy, director of sports auctions at Heritage Auctions, said, “April, 2018, a mint condition 1952 Mickey Mantle baseball card sold for a $2.88 million and was nearly dumped in the Atlantic Ocean. This one survived and turned into quite the investment.” Just think of that price for a baseball card!

Autographed baseballs

According to Figler, “Collecting autographed baseballs can run the gamut in price, but it doesn’t have to be an expensive proposition. Most players are not superstars, so autographs might be $10-$20 each at a sports shows.

If you want to add a vintage ball to your collection, that’s certainly doable. Just be sure to buy from a reputable source willing to guarantee the signature is authentic if you’re going to invest a good sum in a signed ball. Sports shows offer the best selection in one place if you like to examine goods in person before buying, but there are many dealers on the up and up selling online as well.”

Other baseball collectibles

What else is available beyond cards and baseballs? Baseball pats, bobblehead dolls, baseball gloves, pennants and posters — just to name a few items. There’s something for collectors of every age.

Sandy Erdman is a Winona-based freelance writer concentrating on vintage, antique and collectible items. Send comments and story suggestions to Sandy at life@postbulletin.com.

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