A Look into the Challenges of Pre-War Type Collecting
For the most part, I am a set collector. I like the idea of having complete sets rather than a few scattered cards here and there. I tried to focus on one set at a time but after a while, I began adding more issues and currently, I’m either passively (picking up a card here and there if they’re cheap enough) or aggressively (will overpay for cards if I have to) working on about a dozen sets.
Some of my sets are quite rare and finding hits to them isn’t all that easy. So one of the things I got into about a year ago is type collecting. It isn’t as serious for me as my sets are but it provided a nice diversion.
Type collecting, if you’re unfamiliar with it, is basically the opposite of set collecting in my mind. Instead of collecting every card in a set, type collectors will often pursue a single card in as many sets as possible to have some diversity. Like anything, there are variations to type collecting as everyone does things differently. But that’s the general idea – collect as many different types of cards as you can.
While type collecting post-war cards is a bit easier, as you can imagine, it can be difficult in the pre-war era for a few reasons.
Type collecting many sets in the pre-war era isn’t too hard, really. Some things like T206 are downright plentiful. And many times, collecting certain cards is costly but not too hard if you’re looking for any one card.
Now, with maybe a few dozen known cards of most subjects in the N172 Old Judge set, finding a certain pose of a certain player can be maddening. But if you’re type collecting and willing to settle on any player you can get your hands on, they are easy to find for about $100.
But many issues are absolutely scarce and the problem with pre-war cards is that there are a lot of those.
Such is the case with things like the Boston Garter trade cards (seen here). Other things like the N354 Turn Cards also rarely surface. I’ve literally seen 2-3 of those cards and there are plenty of other similar examples of equally tough sets.
Not that the rarity of some sets should really scare you out of type collecting any more than not being able to afford ultra expensive cards (i.e. Honus Wagner in the T206 set) should keep you out of the set collecting game. But it’s one of those things you have to deal with quite a bit. Some things, even if you have the money, just aren’t easily found.
Because some cards are so rare one of the most annoying things to deal with in type collecting is misidentification (or in some cases, no identification) of certain cards.
Some of these cards are downright scarce. And even pre-war collectors with decades of experience come across things they haven’t seen before. The fact is that some cards that are seemingly impossible to find are out there. But unfortunately, if the seller doesn’t know what he/she has, it can mean they aren’t easily discovered.
I’ve studied trade cards quite a bit and have found some tougher ones due to flat out misidentification. For example, I found a previously unchecklisted card in the H804-39 Pink and Blue trade card series. Had the card been advertised with that classification given to it by collector Frank Keetz, it likely would not have gone under the radar. I in fact won it with a single bid as it was not even classified as a baseball card. That type of stuff doesn’t happen everyday but I’ve won dozens of cards under similar circumstances where they were misidentified.
And in some cases, there isn’t even known identification for some things.
For example, I purchased an extremely rare stamp that features a baseball player sliding along with a safety slogan. Even after considerable digging, I could not find any information on it. Finally, I stumbled up an old newspaper advertisement for the set and found out that it was from a mostly non-sports issue that was part of some kind of safety campaign in the 1930s. To this date, it is the only one I have ever seen and I certainly have never seen the name of a set for it. How do you go about searching for it? At least, properly?
While that works out if you are simply looking for cards and can sometimes land deals that way, it’s a tremendous pain if you are a type collector looking for very specific issues and the names are not widely known.
Ah, yes – pricing. Pricing is an issue now matter how you collect, right? Well, it’s no different when it comes to type collecting.
The good news? With type collecting, you can generally avoid the need to buy the more expensive cards in the set. After all, any kind of card will do and many type collectors will gladly take commons instead of shelling out big bucks for stars.
The problem is that, some types are so rare that even the commons can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars. Finding rare 19th Century issues, regardless of the player, can easily run over $1,000. One way to save a little is by collecting other non-baseball cards that are part of multi-sport issues. For example, the rare 1886 N167 Old Judge set (Buck Ewing shown here) features some very expensive baseball cards. But it also includes boxers and actresses in it as well. And while those are still pricey, they’re not nearly as expensive as the baseball cards.
Keep in mind, too, that those types of multi-sport releases are limited so you can’t always avoid purchasing a baseball player even if you wanted to. Pre-war type collecting (advanced type collecting, anyway) will often involve purchasing three-figure cards with some degree of regularity. You can certainly build up a nice collection of type cards without spending that much. There are hundreds of sets where the cards are not that expensive. But the most serious type collectors cannot afford to balk at those kinds of amounts for tougher issues.
Type collecting can lead to a lot of dead ends but there are a few things you can do to fight against the number of struggles you’ll have by going down this road.
First, you can limit the cards you pursue to a specific type. Maybe you’re only interested in type collecting tobacco cards. Or caramel cards. Or strip cards. Putting that kind of restriction on it will make things much easier.
Additionally, you can also limit yourself to only cataloged issues in the American Card Catalog. That will help cut back on the rat race of trying to find every uncataloged issue under the sun. And as stated, you can look for non-baseball cards in multi-sport releases.
Finally, keep in mind that it’s okay to go without collecting every single card. There is no such thing as a type collection that includes every single type so don’t be discouraged by missing out on the ultra rare or ultra expensive stuff.