Friday, May 14, 2021

Dime boxes exist, and other flea market tales

It wasn't long ago that I was fretting over the eventual fate of dime boxes in this money-hungry card universe.

I figured it was a legitimate concern, because who's gonna sell dime cards when you can bring your $100 Mike Trouts instead? Why cater to the people like myself who routinely pay for cards with folded-up singles when you can be rolling in crisp hundreds? I am, admittedly, somewhat of a pessimist, but I thought the extinction of dime boxes was something to seriously be worried about. But I guess there's a small glass-half-full somewhere in this wide universe, because what did I find at the flea market this past weekend?

Dime boxes!


There, under a bright Sunday sun, were dime boxes to be dug through to my heart's content. I'm going to show you all the card joys and finds in a minute here, but the real highlight of all this was the sheer peace in knowing that, at least for now, dime boxes exist again! 

My only regret was that I didn't see this vendor earlier in the afternoon - I only got to dig through about three of the boxes you see there (wrench and screw-down present because it was mighty windy, with cards and other objects blowing away like tumbleweeds). The guy had at least a half-dozen more boxes under his table which I happily would've perused had he not started packing up for the day. But I can't complain, because 450(!) cards and one bad sunburn later, my first official dime box dig of the post-vaccination era was complete - plus the guy only charged me $20 for the lot(!!), which actually comes out to less than a nickel per card(!!!).

(Note to self: bring sunblock next time.)

And the cards themselves were nothing short of supreme - they were mostly late-90s/early-2000s gems that I'm convinced all but fell off the face of the earth at some point in the last 15 years.

Turkey Red, Topps Total, Donruss Team Heroes - just generally lots of good stuff I usually don't have a prayer of finding in the wild.

The '90s and aughts generated more mini-collection hits than any other era, and as expected, I walked away with a small goldmine of those.

Bigtime player collection hits here, including a nifty Ichiro team-issue that somehow made it all the way to suburban Illinois.

There wasn't a whole lot of filler in these boxes either - almost every card was browse-worthy, and I didn't see runs of '89 Fleer or other overproduced stuff that I have no problem skipping.

Every stack had something weird or cool or or wacky or generally noteworthy.

Better yet, I didn't have to jostle for space - any of the prospect-hungry card youths on the prowl quickly saw there really wasn't anything for them here.

One guy asked if there were any rookies in these boxes, and I actually saw him flinch when the vendor said No, they're all commons.

I remembered a different reason I love dime boxes so much - they're a space where I can basically shut out all the other uncouth trends in the card world, and just focus on the gloriousness of shiny objects or other random card happenings.

Maybe it's just my imagination, but this particular era of baseball seemed to produce a lot of famous guys in not-so-famous uniforms.

A few dime box legends here - the Greg Luzinski was an especially exciting find, because when's the last time he got a baseball card?

More legends!

A handful of other dudes who've risen on my player collection radar lately - plus that Wright is a Heritage SP, which is always a dime box thrill.

Horizontal greatness - yes, I still love that die-cut Deion Sanders even though I'm already dreading trying to slide it into a binder page.

Something I absolutely despise doing is leaving dime cards left unturned - because even though I hand-picked a few hundred cards I wanted, I always wonder what was in those other boxes, what else remained a mystery.

But thankfully this generous dime box vendor told me he's planning on regularly setting up at the flea market this summer, so I know where I'll be heading the next Sunday I'm there. For now I'm content to know that dime boxes are back, and I've got 450 cards here to remind me of how joyous that news is - what I just showed you was the painfully abridged version of that dime box tale.

So until next time...

Oh wait, that's right - my flea market journey actually ended with those dime boxes, because I'd already been lugging around a bag of cards I'd acquired from other vendors throughout the day.

You ever come across card vendors who seem to be on drugs when pricing their stuff? I saw one such hazy-minded guy early in the day - one minute I saw a 1991 Topps Frank Thomas priced for $10, and the next I saw a Hostess Dave Winfield with a much more sane $3 price tag. I...don't get it.

I also shelled out a whole eight bucks for that Roberto Clemente, even though I wasn't even sure what it was - turns out it's some kind of membership card for a Clemente fan club from the early '70s, which was worth every bit of that eight dollars.

The guy with the massively overlooked 50-cent cards was back, and his binders had gone untouched since the last time I saw them (not that I'm surprised).

I'd already plucked all the top-tier cardboard from his binders the first time around, but there was still more than enough good stuff left over to supply a nice encore.

The only thing better than a Nolan Ryan magazine cover is four Nolan Ryan magazine covers!

I saw someone buy two circa-1990 Michael Jordan graded cards for $75 while I was at this guy's table, which seems even more absurd considering I was down on the ground finding a whole page full of Topps Retired Signature stuff for 50 cents a pop.

Not surprisingly, this second run-through just about cleaned out everything I needed from this guy's binders, so hopefully he restocks 'em before my next trip to the flea market.

My regular card guy was back again on Sunday, and his discount bin was marked all the way down to 5/$1 by the time I found him.

I've never been a huge collector of pocket schedules, but these were too cool to pass up for 20 cents each.

I'm continually fascinated by the sheer amount of different stuff I always seem to find from this guy - everything from Topps Fire to modern legends to vintage oddball reprints was in there this time around.

Also, 20-cent vintage!

Never gonna turn down defunct Senators at that price, and the Duren and Javier add to my growing collection of brilliantly bespectacled ballplayers.

I'd almost forgotten about it in the midst of the dime box madness, but I also scored a card I've been wanting for a while with this '58 Jim Bunning from my regular card guy, mine for all of five bucks.

It's a fine early card of a HOF great, and how often do you see pink so prominently portrayed on cardboard? Dime boxes and 20-cent vintage is great, but it does feel good to shell out some cash for a bigger score...or at something that qualifies as a "big" card to me, even though I indeed paid for it with five wadded-up singles. 'Twas a great way to close out another successful day.

In the end, I guess I can always count on the flea market to remind me what's fine and good about this hobby, and how silly I was to think that dime boxes could ever go extinct.

Friday, May 7, 2021

Keep it a secret

There's a certain thrill in being in on a really good secret.

I've been blogging for almost ten years now, and the blogs in general have long occupied a substantial place in my card universe. But every time I find myself scrolling through chats about group breaks and PSA slabs and all the other hot-button topics of the day, I'm reminded of how much of a secret the blogs remain to the vast majority of collectors out there, how little of a space we occupy. When you zoom out a bit, and see the whole landscape of the current card community, I really don't think a whole lot of people know we're here. 

And honestly, I'm kinda okay with that.

While I love seeing the blogs constantly grow with new faces and names, I often worry about an influx of chasers and profit-seekers ruining an otherwise peaceful place, a beautiful co-op full of collectors who support each other and send stuff back and forth for no other reason than simple generosity.

Even though I don't blog as much as I used to, make no mistake - I still get more solace out of the blogs than any other place in the hobby. 

Even the readers among us, those mysterious folks lurking in the background, have repeatedly shown themselves to be among the most gracious members of this community, and I've had the good fortune to receive some excellent cards from a couple of those readers lately.

A reader named Dave S. has sent me a flurry of packages in recent months with many stacks of cards that contained, let's see - one, two, three, four, five...

...six, SEVEN of my Dime Box Dozen needs, including a couple (like the '81 Fleer Rickey) that'd been sitting on there for a good long while now.

It's incredible to think that over half of my Dime Box Dozen list was taken down by a single, solitary person.

As if seven Dime Box Dozen needs wasn't enough to tide me over, Dave also sent along a bunch of stuff for my bigtime player collections.

Send me all your Kenny Lofton cards.

Then came the four(!) Darryl Kile autographs.

I've never been a huge TTM/in-person autograph guy, but these are much, much appreciated, and will forever be cornerstones of my Kile collection given that he's tragically no longer around to sign for his fans.

Only the '90s could pull off crown-shaped baseball cards.

I'll always take any spare Cubs people have sitting around - and yes, I still hoard Junior Lake cards for some reason.

Like any good blog trade package, there was a whole lot of randomness in the cards Dave sent me - from old-time catchers to Lou Whitaker rookies, there was a lot to like.

Lesser-known sons of big-league stars.

I'd have to check to be sure, but I'm pretty sure this is my first Henry Chadwick card, and that's a shame since he's considered by many to be the father of baseball.

I'm a bit ashamed to admit that I had no idea this card existed, and there's a good chance it would've remained a secret if Dave hadn't come along - just another reason we bloggers are sitting on the best-kept secret in the collecting world.

It's hard to explain the excitement I feel over seeing an I'm sending you cards! email pop up in my folder.

It's even harder to explain how I feel when that email says I'm sending you a '70s Yaz disc! like the one I received from a different blog reader named James C. a while back - seriously, who just has these to give away?!

James also sent along a couple other things I feel wholly unworthy of even owning in the first place.

These two don't fit snugly into anything I collect, but no matter - I won't turn down 1/1s or dual-relics of Hollywood legends like Hedy Lamarr.

I'd received a different package from James a month or so earlier that somehow even managed to pack more of a punch, mostly because you just don't see this kind of vintage fall out of trade stacks very often.

I can't say I'm the biggest Leader Card collector out there, but no way am I passing up a chance to own a card with Ernie Banks, Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews on it (oh, and Ken Boyer, who kinda seems like an afterthought).

But all that somehow paled in comparison to the real gem from James: a '51 Bowman Nellie Fox rookie card!

This predates the next-oldest Fox I own by nearly a decade, and I've actually seen this exact card with asking prices hovering around $100 at card shows. It's on that long list of heavy-hitting cards I pretty much assumed I'd never own. And someone sent it to me for free, just for the heck of it. I'd bet good money that the blogs are the first and only place where anything like this happens, or would ever happen. Easily.

The joyous and unworthy blogger in me feels like shouting right now, but I'll try to keep it to a whisper when I ask you: isn't this little corner of the card universe great?

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

A sense of normalcy at the flea market, almost

This past Sunday, for the first time in over a year, I got to dig through real, actual baseball cards.

There was never much doubt about what my first card event would be in the post-vaccination era: a trip to the local flea market seemed obvious. It's outdoors, it's spaced out, and it's just generally a good reminder of the oh-so-beautiful cards and card people I've been missing over the past year. Despite the temperatures being a bit chilly last Sunday, it felt so warm to be back among actual tactile card experiences, and enjoying at least a tiny slice of whatever "normal" might look like in the world from here on out.

Of course, things have changed in the past year, and a lot has changed with cards. One reason I wanted hit the flea market because it was my first chance to really observe in-person how and if the card scene has changed, a bit of a test run. And yes, I'm here to report that it most definitely has. I counted no less than a dozen different vendors with cards on Sunday - about double the pre-COVID count - and huge crowds of young dudes swarming around tables where I'd had plenty of elbow room in the past.

Halfway into the very first aisle, I spotted a vendor I recognized - I've bought a few cards from his dollar boxes in past years. This time, however, he had a slew of new binders on display - the cards inside also a buck a piece, with volume discounts for bigger purchases. The guy told me he'd bought a collection from someone, took out all the "good" cards to be graded, and left the rest in the binders to sell. I leafed through those binders while he was regaling a few curious youths with tales of PSA, rookie cards, and other card boom happenings.

Oh, and while that Ted Talk was going on, I pulled this orchestral Dizzy Dean card out of those "leftover" dregs for what amounted to a 50-cent purchase with my eventual volume discount - a card that's recently sold for no less than $100 on eBay in the past.

That is what we in the real world would call irony.

One table in, and I'd already unearthed one of the greatest treasures in my long flea market history. The magic was back - I just couldn't believe how quickly it happened. And it didn't stop with Dizzy - I found just about two dozen legend variations in those binders, most of which are damn near impossible to find in the wild for anything near affordable numbers. 

These cards aren't going anywhere - Dizzy Dean on the Sousaphone will be in my binders for all of eternity! - but I can't help but find it funny that all this happened in the middle of a lecture on "value" since lot of these are of the gimmicky "super short-print" variety and easily fetch $20-30 a pop. 

I still wonder two things: whose collection that vendor bought (who has this many super short-prints?!) and what the "good" cards were that he specifically removed to get graded.

The guy obviously knew about the monetary side of the hobby, but I guess if some cards don't have MIKE TROUT plastered across 'em, they're as good as dirt to that crowd.

End result: more short prints for me, including not one but two Sandy Koufax legend variants from 2011 Topps(!!!).

Here's a staggering run of four different Stan the Man variants - yes, all mine for 50 cents a piece.

It seems like a good time to note that even among this 50-cent madness, I did see some retail flippers in the flea market crowd - I spotted a couple people trying to hock 2020 Chrome Update blasters for $40-50 a pop, and standard 2020 base cards for a dollar each.

It's one thing to laugh at it on Twitter and wherever else, but it's quite another to see that thievery up close - and if they're already invading the flea market, I can only imagine how bad it'll be at the card shows to come...

But in the end, I guess all that won't matter much to me if I'm still able to find gargantuan stuff like this for loose change.

As you've probably already noticed, these binders were heavy on legends, and I stand by my statement that putting magazine covers on baseball cards is one of the greatest things ever.

If you would've asked me to conjure up a list of things I would've most wanted to see in those binders, it would've looked pretty darn close to the cards I actually ended up finding.

I absolutely love anything and everything from Topps Retired Signature, but they're tough to find on the cheap, which made this excellent batch of 50-centers all the more thrilling.

My interest in the whole Topps Living Set phenomenon is minimal at best, and I've bought exactly one of them (Ichiro) in the few years it's been going on.

But I'll certainly take them for 50 cents, because apparently the world's gone mad all over again.

This is just insane: all these Throwback Thursdays for 50 cents a piece?!

Anyone who's read my COMC posts in the past knows how much I love scooping these up on the cheap, and this single dig just about doubled the number of 'em in my collection - I'm especially fond of the Lou Brock/Grease mashup.

All this felt like something close to robbery, and I had quite the sly grin on my face as I was leaving that table - not that anyone could see it under my mask.

The rest of this post might seem a bit underwhelming in comparison to that table, but I basically still had the whole afternoon ahead of me at that point, and an entire flea market parking lot left to go.

I was happy to see my main card guy from the past few years set up at his usual spot as if nothing had changed, and he still had his usual box of 50-cent vintage - as usual, it'd mostly been picked through by the time I got there, but I still managed to find a few fun team-card oldies.

I'm admittedly a bit late in recognizing the greatness of Ryne Duren's Coke-bottle shades, but this table helped me make up for a bit of lost time there.

That '63 is even more glorious since Topps accidentally slapped Duren's picture onto a card of a completely different guy.

As the day wore on, I started to spot a few of the same twenty-something dudes following my own trail of card tables throughout the flea market, and I got the sense that a lot of them didn't really know what they were looking at - they'd grab a couple stacks of cards, turn them over curiously in their hands, and put them back without buying anything.

Heck, I actually had to wait for a spot to open up at one card vendor's table midway through the day, and I don't think that's ever happened at the flea market before - still worth it, because in addition to these 25-cent finds...

...came an entire box of Kellogg's!

Granted, most of these were from the late '70s/early '80s era, which I already own way more of than the earlier '70s stuff. But I still managed to nab a few 3D greats I didn't already have, reaching past a couple card youths who seemed to be especially confused at the sight of these weird cards of guys named Hooton and Easler.

And even though the vendor originally said they were a buck a pop, he gave these beauties to me at 50 cents per.

I made another brief stop on the trail to sift through one vendor's small basket of quarter cards - nothing spectacular, but I can't stress enough how good it felt to dig through random cardboard again.

This vendor, and all the others I talked to throughout the day, said to a T that they were selling more stuff at the flea market now than they ever did in the past - another sign the card boom is still going strong, for better or worse.

Whether it's because of the boom or not, the flea market's always good for some laughable prices along the way - one guy tried to sell me a box full of '88 Topps singles and unopened packs of '89 Topps Big for a scant $200 because, and I quote, "there's a lot of rookies in there."

So you can understand why I'm a bit wary when I see baseball cards without a price attached to them - midway through the day, I saw a few small boxes of singles sitting on a table that seemed halfway interesting, and preparing for the worst, I hesitatingly asked: How much are these?

I let out a deep sigh of relief when the vendor said: a nickel a piece.

Tables like these were the kinds of hidden goldmines I'd missed so much in the quarantine era. I ended up buying 80 nickel cards in all, and while there weren't any super short-prints or anything, it was just a generally fun tour through a couple boxes of complete randomness. It truly felt like the card universe was back again.

Sure, it gets dull flipping through stacks of '88 Donruss along the way, but if I can find even a few Pokey Reeses or dudes wearing absurdly loud shirts in the mire, it's all worth it.

I also unearthed a small treasure trove of '82 Fleer in the nickel boxes at one point, and I will fight anyone who calls this set ugly.

Maybe more than anything else, it just felt great to be part of the card community again.

One vendor who my more veteran readers might remember as the Penny Box Guy was there on Sunday (sans penny boxes), and I was shocked by the fact that he actually remembered my name. I didn't end up buying much from him - this nifty Roger Maris insert was one of only three or four cards I wound up purchasing - but we still had a nice chat, and in that single moment it was like the past year had never happened, that everything was back to normal, almost.

And really, after the first glorious Sunday I've spent at the flea market in a long time, all I can say is: it's good to be back.