Monday, April 9, 2012

The condition threshold

If there's one thing that is a fairly new topic in the collecting world, it's condition.

Up until the late '80s, kids across the country flipped, rubber-banded, and folded their cards, enjoying pretty much every aspect of their pieces of cardboard except keeping them in "mint" condition.

I'm not sure "mint" was even a term back then in the collecting world.

I like to think I'm a kind of "throwback" to that era. As I've said before, I could really care less about how my cards look, especially vintage. If I want the card, that's all that matters.

That's not to say that I don't get why others only want better condition cards or are constantly on the lookout for "upgrades", because I do. (I've even upgraded a card from time to time, if I can find one cheap enough.)

Condition-wise, the above "Catfish" Hunter card is about the best vintage card you're going to find in my collection.

However, I'll be showing a few of my worst condition cards in this post. I'd guess that most of us have some type of "condition threshold". I'm trying to figure out what mine is. Ask yourself this question as you get further along in the post:

If you saw a card you really wanted in as bad of shape as the following cards, would you still buy it?

How much do creases factor into it?

Creases seem to be becoming a thing of the past. I've barely seen any newer cards that were the victims of creasing at one point in their lives.

While it is a bit unsightly, I still bought this one, the only 1960 "Rookie Cup" card I own.

I'm not sure I could pinpoint everything that's happened to this card.

There's a giant fold in the middle, along with tons of other creases and some other stuff going on that I'm not sure I want to know about.

But yes, I still bought this one.

After all, how often was I going to come across a Harvey Kuenn rookie card?

How much of a role does centering play?

Okay, this is an extreme when it comes to off-center cards. I can understand if a card is way off to either side. But I do find it a tad silly when people complain that a card has a 55-45 or 60-40 centering rather than a perfect 50-50. (And I have seen it.)

If you really wanted it, would you buy a card as off-center as the above Rollie Fingers card?

I've shown this card before.

I have to say that it is indeed the most battered card in my collection. I've got a few other cards that I accidentally left in my pocket as a kid (like this one), but the above Brett takes the cake.

Even if this card was in perfect shape, it would still have one major flaw. It's about as miscut as the Rollie Fingers card I just displayed.

I've never really collected George Brett. However, when I came across this card in a fifty-cent bin at a card show this past November, I knew I couldn't pass it up. How often do you get a chance to buy this card for under a buck?

I never really planned on owning this card, but I've loved it ever since I first saw it in that discount bin. Granted, it's probably the worst version in the world, but I can still say I own an actual 1975 Topps George Brett rookie card.

I guess I don't really have a condition threshold.

With the exception of the Fingers (and maybe the Brett), the conditions of these cards are a sign that they were well-loved in the past. While others might look at that as a negative, I see it as an absolute positive.  All I can ever hope is to give them as good a home as they previously had.

It makes me believe that I'm really not all that different from the kids who collected cards before my time.


Robert said...

While collecting my '64 Topps set, condition hasn't played a major factor in any of my purchases so far. Nearly 50 year old cards in 'mint' condition? Not likely. You have to be realistic in certain situations.

None the less, cards always fall under the old phrase "beauty is in the eye of the beholder", with your Brett being a prime example.

Great post!

topher (Crackin Wax/Varsity Trading Cards) said...

See, you just never see modern cards with that type of "love" and "care." I think that's one of the big things missing from the hobby.

Dhoff said...

I'd buy that Brett card for two dirty quarters all day long. Love it.

hiflew said...

With my Rockies collection, I am a bit of a stickler for condition. But there are no Rockies cards older than 1992 either.

With vintage, I believe it depends on how old or more specifically how expensive. I am collecting the Rookie Cups and the 1974 set. I would personally get those two you have, but I would looking for upgrades. My cards don't have to be mint, but for my cornerstone collections I like 'em a little better conditioned.

That being said if I found a 1954 Hank Aaron (or another big 50's rookie) in the same condition as your George Brett...I would be all over it for the right price.

Hackenbush said...

At the risk of ostracizing myself I'm going to say that I'd rather have cards that are in the best condition available for a good value. I'd rather pay say five bucks for a nice copy of a vintage card rather than a dollar for a beat up one. I think there may be some romanticizing going on regarding the condition of vintage cards. Here's my personal take. I started collecting cards when packs were a nickel for 5 cards and a dime for 10 with a stick of gum. I still have a lot of those cards. In my case the reason they're not in mint condition isn't that I "loved" them, it's that I just didn't take great care of them. I remember having them all spread out loose in a big drawer at one time. By the time I got to around to say 7th grade, I started taking better care of my new cards so my 72's-75's are in NM condition while my 71's and back are not. Do I love my 71's any more than my 72's? Nope. Do I wish I had taken better care of my cards at an earlier age? Yep.

Anthony Hughes said...

Beat up cards are only fun for me if it's *my* beat up card, i.e. I beat it up! I have a lot of trashed '69-'72s because I just didn't care much about cards at that age, my '73-'75s are better in general, no mutilations, and my '76 and forward I guess I took best care of.
I don't think I'd buy anyone's trashed card, unless it was a card I just don't have a chance of owning otherwise.

Stealing Home said...

i'm on the side of 'condition-condition-condition' - IF - i'm laying down greenbacks for cardboard. in that way, i'm like hackenbush.
however, in trading, i'm more open minded. i dont really favor cards that some kid had in his back pocket all summer long, but i gotta admit, when the right creases meet the right photo, it kinda looks like the aging and crackled surface of a master oil painting.

CaptKirk42 said...

The term "Mint condition" and the concern for condition of collectibles has been around practically since hobbies have been around. My first recollection of the term "mint condition" referred to comic books in the early to mid 1970s from the Overstreet Comic book Price Guide the Comic Collector's Bible (or it was in the 1980s before the overproduction boom and the internet) the first trading card price guides started coming out around then they were little more than glorified checklists.

I've got a 1975 Topps Merlin Olsen card that I found "in an alley" on the pavement after a rainstorm. I say alley but it is really just a small entrance to a parking area between some apartments and some businesses. Merlin isn't as "loved" as that Brett card but it is still a bit rough and purists would avoid it like the plague. At the time I found it I thought it was in the shape that Brett card is in I almost didn't rescue it.