I’ve always taken an interest in collecting things. I get it from my father, who first began collecting Lionel trains before transitioning into collecting vintage sports cards.
I remember the first card he bought. He dropped it on the kitchen counter, right in front of my mom and me, saying “Frank Robinson Rookie. First card; we’re going to start collecting vintage sports cards!” with a content little smile.
That ungraded 1957 Topps Frank Robinson Rookie Card was purchased at a tiny sports card store right outside of the Oxford Valley Mall, tucked away, almost hidden, and unknown to most people in the surrounding area.
The store was right near his office, so he would always make it a habit to go there on his way home from work. He would end up staying for hours, looking at and talking sports cards with the owner.
It got to the point where he’d call my Mom and say he was “going to Warren’s after work”; Warren was the owner of the card store called “All-Star Collectibles”. Anyway, that Frank Robinson rookie was later graded at a Near Mint (PSA 7) and has now realized a modest 2,300% growth in value over 2 decades.
It was THE card that ignited a passion for collecting between my father and me.
When my two older brothers and I were in grade school, we each had the opportunity to participate in the annual school science fair. In 2001, my older brother was in seventh grade and thinking of topics for his project.
My dad suggested doing it on sports cards grading, which thinking back was quite early for its time--grading had only been serious for a few years and nothing like the behemoth it is today.
Dad recommended the scientific method and suggested the title of the project, or experiment, to be “Can You Scientifically Grade Sports Cards Better Than Professionals?”. The second he said that it was game over.
Amazingly enough, all three of us did the exact same project when we were in seventh grade. My friends and classmates at the time were dumbfounded when I tried to explain it to them.
When I tried to tell my teacher, I remember her saying something like “Is this a real thing?”. Of course it is, I told her, 'Cards are based on condition and this is a way to keep the grades consistent without any sort of subjective opinion." Yes, let's just say we were obsessed with card grading.
Despite our passion for grading cards, we ran into a little bit of an issue. My dad started sending cards purchased from Warren's over to PSA for expert grading. Dad wanted to see how effective our scientific research had been. Yet, some of the cards were coming back ungraded due to evidence of doctoring and tampering. That ended up being a bit of a wakeup call as to our actual grading expertise.
I don’t think Warren knew that he was selling altered cards and he ended up giving us our money back, but we decided to move on from the local card store to bigger and better pastures. That's when we started going to huge card shows at the Fort Washington Expo center in Philadelphia.
When my dad and my brothers and I walked into our first card show, we felt like pro rookies walking out of the tunnel and onto the field for the first time. We were just completely in awe of the spectacle before us.
I can distinctly remember walking up to the first private seller’s display case, only to behold the beauty of the 1915 Sporting News M101 Babe Ruth Rookie Card. We had come a long way from that Frank Robinson rookie card.
I can’t remember the grade on the Ruth, but I do remember being on cloud nine, as we had just read about how expensive it was in this book my dad had bought, “The 200 Greatest Sports Cards”. The card was probably being sold for a tenth of what it would sell for today.
A year later, I invited my best friend, Frank, to come to a card show with us to share in my excitement. As we were pulling up to the Expo Center, however, we were hit with a pang of devastation once we saw a demolition crew was in the process of demolishing the huge building. The building that had housed our beloved card show was no more.
My dad and I were so upset. “She told me she checked and there was a show this weekend”, my Dad said in a frustrated tone, referring to my Mom. My loving mother would look-up dates for card shows, as my Dad had no clue how to work any form of technology at the time.
That was the second to last card show I ever attended, or tried to attend, aside from the National Card show in Atlantic City. As my brothers and I got older and the hobby moved almost entirely online, we fell out of the hobby for a while, yet started to get slowly more involved in our adulthood.
We still talk for hours about cards, the ones we love and the ones we think are good and bad investments. The kid in my dad would always come out when we were talking about cards, becoming giddy when he found one of the cards on his personal list of cards to find and buy.
See, my Dad is an extremely intelligent person and also loved watching and talking sports with his father; his father made a large portion of his money through gambling- sports, horse racing, and cards. He loved the nostalgia of cards, and had an uncanny memory for recalling sports statistics, and who beat who and in what year and so on.
However, he also saw the potential value in these cards as long-term investments aside from just being able to enjoy them. Sometimes I joke with my dad however and tell him his investment acumen isn't all that great as he should have mortgaged our house and bought that Sporting News Babe Ruth.
Collecting vintage baseball cards with my father has always brought me joy, from the time he first brought home that Frank Robinson rookie card, which we still have to this day. At times it was like two best friends rather than a son and a Dad, and I’ll always treasure the hobby for the happy memories it’s brought me throughout the years.
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