When our cards outlive us – SABR’s Baseball Cards Research Committee

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When our cards outlive us – SABR’s Baseball Cards Research Committee

Most of the baseball card collectors I knew as a kid eventually outgrew their collections in favor of girls, cars, college, drugs, or any number of other things more grown up. Not me though. And if you’re reading this article, my guess is not you either. We may just keep on collecting till the day we die.

But then what?

On days when my thoughts drift a bit dark I imagine myself in the past tense as my wife and son examine the mighty cardboard empire still occupying their basement. The thought of throwing it all away, as abhorrent as it may seem, might well be a frontrunner in their minds, particularly given the time and effort it would take to figure out what’s valuable and how to sell it.

Yes, I think they both know I have some valuable cards, but which ones? Are they the ones framed on the walls? Some, but I can only imagine the response they’d get if they hauled my framed (and glued!) collection of 1989 Topps Dodgers to the local card shop hoping for a life-changing offer.

What about the cards on the shelf? Good news for them if they grab my 1954 Topps Jackie Robinson. Not as good news if they grab my Gummy Arts Joe Kelly or Project 70 Cody Bellinger.

How about my binders? Let’s just hope they grab the one with my T206 and 1933 Goudey and not my 1981 Fleer Star Stickers set.

Way back when, I never imagined I’d ever need a plan for my cards beyond passing the collection on to my son. Little did I know he’d have no interest in cards at all. I asked him a few years ago what he would do if he ended up with my card collection. Only half jokingly he told me he’d burn the Dodgers and sell the rest, which is of course as heartbreaking as it is hilarious.

So is there plan? No, not yet, but I’m at least starting to think through some ideas.

My guess is that my collection, like most collections, follows some version of the 80-20 rule. That is, nearly the entire value of my collection resides in a rather small fraction of my cards. Simply making and sharing a Google Sheet of the 10 most valuable cards (or perhaps sets) in my collection, along with instructions on where to find them and how to sell them, allows my wife or son to spend minutes rather than months going through my cards and still end up with a pretty good payday.

What’s left after that would still be a shame to throw out but likely not worth my family’s time to figure out. My idea here is that there might be a small number of short lists that my wife or a friend could attempt to honor—kind of a “baseball card will.”

For example, my 1952 Dallas Eagles signed baseball would go to the family of Dave Hoskins, and my Diamond Stars Brooklyn set would go to Chad who runs the Dodger Cards twitter account. I’d also love it if my SABR Chicago friends came by and grabbed some cards too, whether a handful or a car full.

Beyond that, could it be that the simplest and most sensible thing to do would be to throw the rest away? The most important thing is that my cards don’t become a burden to my family, so I can’t discount the idea entirely. Still, I’d probably encourage one of two alternatives if easy enough to accomplish.

When the time comes, will I have any collector friends who would want everything left enough to come haul it away for free? And if not, even putting it all on Facebook Marketplace for some nominal amount spares my family some work and hopefully puts a ton of cards with someone who values them.

A final angle I’ll mention is museums or other venues where cards might be enjoyed by the masses. To have any of my cards go this route would be an incredible honor but ultimately an unlikely one. The reality here is that very few donations of cards or memorabilia ever end up on display, instead collecting dust in a warehouse or storage room. I’m also sober enough about my collection to recognize that nearly nothing of mine is of museum quality.

That said, let me know, Hank Aaron Museum, if you’d have room on your walls for Mr. Aaron’s career in cardboard…

…and let me know, Dodgers, if my favorite stadium could use some additional décor.

While I don’t dislike the planning I’ve just laid out, I know a much more courteous approach with my collection is to dispose of it before I die rather than kick the can down the road for loved ones to deal with. The challenge of course, since death is generally unplanned, is to know when to do this. I’d like to think it’s when I no longer enjoy my collection, but gosh, that could be never, and it’s most certainly not yet.

How about you? How are you tackling the topic? Let the rest of us know in the comments.

UPDATE: Inspired by this post, I just put together my “baseball card will.” It more or less turned out how I described it above, but I ended up listing more than just ten cards to sell. It may well be more like a few hundred now but many are kept together (e.g., 1959 Fleer Ted Williams set) so I still think my wife or son could find and gather everything in under an hour.



SABR’s Baseball Cards Committee

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