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Monday, February 22, 2010

Hobby Reading Material - The Card

It is the most valuable piece of cardboard in the whole world.

The T206 Honus Wagner PSA 8 NM-MT was printed in 1909 to be included in cigarettes from the American Tobacco Company. The card was most recently sold to a collector for over $2,000,000. According to "The Card: Collectors, Con Men, and the True Story of History's Most Desired Baseball Card" by Michael O'Keeffe and Teri Thompson, it is the ultimate prize and the holy grail of collecting. Printed in 2007 in hard cover and soft cover in 2008, the book is readily available at many online dealers.

There are only about fifty Honus Wagner's cards but most of them are in poor condition. Wagner did not want his image on a tobacco card and was therefore removed from the set which already make his card harder to obtain. The book is about the one known as The Card. Once owned by hockey legend Wayne Gretzky, this card is in excellent condition and that's the problem. The Card is possibly in too good condition. You can refinish classic antiques and paintings get retouched but baseball cards must not be altered. There are card doctors who remove stains, smooth out wrinkles, build up soft corners, change memorabilia patches, and laser rough edges. The book explores the serious doubts about the authenticity of The Card and its current condition.

There are authentication services, such as PSA and BGS, that will grade cards for a fee. There is little policing by dealers, the authentication services, or governmental authorities and police often turn a blind eye to something which seems like a fringe hobby. However, the hobby for kids has become a playground for fraud. The book explores authenticity issues relating to the Wagner card as well as the problems which will always be of concern for collectors in general.

Whether you are interested in sports or collectibles or just interested in a good story, this book keeps the reader amused and enlightened. It profiles collectors and their obsession with accumulation but it also casts doubt on the integrity of many aspects of the sports collectibles market. The Card is an entertaining look at the hobby, the collectors, what drives us, and what may eventually bring the hobby to its knees.

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