Too Many Sets, Too Little Time (and Money)

Establishing and breaking limitations in the grand world of set collecting

When I jumped headfirst back into collecting, I actually came in with a plan. Novel concept and all, I know. In addition to coming in with a purely vintage focus, I’d settled on specifically trying to work on sets. After toying with some post-war vintage, it didn’t take me too long to shift again to entirely collecting pre-war cards.

Upon making that decision, I was lured in by The Monster and decided to try to build a T206 set. Now, my initial plan was to try to upgrade many of the very low-grade cards I had in it — and I have. Thus far, I’ve upgraded probably 150 cards to ones in better condition or to slightly rarer backs. But there’s only so much of that you can do before you get bored.

My next task, I determined, would be to work on T205 and I finished that in relatively short order. During that project, I thought a complete T205, T206, T207 run would be cool, so I tackled T207 next. Three years later, I’m still working on that one but missing only four cards so nearly done with it.

During my T205 and T207 exploits, I began digging around. While I still needed cards in those sets, some of them were a bit harder to find (particularly T207). As a result, I began work on some side projects.

Relax. This is going to take some time.

A Cornucopia of Nonsense

E91-A 20 PlankE90-1 061A KeelerI took a look at caramel cards first, I believe. The E90-1 American Caramel set is one of the more well-known ones and, unfortunately with 121 cards, pretty difficult with numerous shortprints. Shortly after that, I got sucked into E91 American Caramel which is nearly as large (99 cards) and even tougher since the cards are rarer. Recently, I’ve still got the E-Card bug and have reluctantly started Philadelphia Caramel’s E95 and E96 sets.

That would be enough for nearly everyone but I couldn’t stop trying to tackle more sets. Soon, I was into strip cards, focusing on the W512 and W513 combined set. Missing only two cards, I’m nearly done with that one but quickly added more, including W514, W515, and W560. And in the W-Card family, I also added the 1939-46 Salutations set, which is an Exhibits set.

Oh yeah, I also jumped into 1930s and 1940s gum cards, too. I had little interest in these cards at first but also became frustrated by finding amazingly good deals on them and not wanting to pass them up. Further, starting with some small sets has led to a good bit of expansion into more difficult sets.

1941 Play Ball Joe DiMaggioFor example, I started with 1941 Play Ball one weekend because, with only 72 cards, it’s a relatively easy build. But then my fascination with runs took over and I jumped into 1939 Play Ball. I’m about 30 cards away there but have quite a while to go on the 1940 set.

This was also seen with the 1936 Goudey set, which I built one weekend doing nothing more than buying cards on COMC and eBay. That led to doing the nearly equally manageable 1935 Goudey set and has since evolved into also doing a complete Goudey run with the more challenging 1933, 1934, and 1938 sets.

And if you think this has been limited to baseball, think again. Most recently, I’ve gotten into boxing and have been working on sets like the 1912 Cohen Weenen set, the T220 set, and others, including some multi-sport sets. This week, in fact, I couldn’t resist a buy of a complete 1901 Wills Sports of All Nations set on eBay for about $100. Well, near complete, missing only six cards. Another set to work on!

N29 Allen Ginter EwingTim Keefe N28This year, I also jumped back into the tobacco world. Using eBay Bucks and finding a willing seller, I bought the Ty Cobb/Sam Crawford T201 Mecca Double Folders card on eBay. Since it’s the most expensive card in the set, you can guess that my natural inclination was to go for that one, too. Currently, I’m about halfway through it.

Then, there’s the really old stuff. About a year ago, I jumped into the N28 and N29 Allen & Ginter Champions sets. These are two of my favorite sets and I’m also past the halfway mark on those, too, buying quite a bit in the past few months.

None of this has even touched on the ‘Granddaddy of them all’ — the massive 1,560-card 1901-02 Ogden’s General Interest Series A-F sets. I’ve made incredible progress there but am still only about halfway.

And while it is not always the case, some of these sets are started on complete whims. Recently, I found a bunch of $3 cards from the 1915 Ogden’s Boxers set on COMC. With only 50 cards in the set, I’d bought more than half the set in a few minutes time.

Jack Johnson T218 FrontT51 Murad MichiganNow, it’s also notable to point out that I’ve actually completed some sets since finishing both T205 and T206. In addition to the Goudey sets I’ve mentioned, the T218 Champions set is one I did quickly and the same goes for the T51 Murad College Sports set. Even there I’ve not been content, deciding to build a second T218 set because the cards are generally so affordable.

But in general, most of these sets have gone unfinished with too much interest and too few resources. I am making good progress on them, mind you, but have many balls up in the air at this point.

Don’t Forget the Singles

Babe Ruth W511 Strip CardAn ancillary problem I have in collecting all of these sets is trying to find money for singles that I want. Complete sets are my passion, really, but every now and then I’ll stumble upon an individual card that I want that isn’t part of a set I’m pursuing.

Sometimes, that’s just a really desirable card for whatever reason. One recent purchase was a Walter Johnson W516 strip card set with an abundantly weird color shift.

Other times, it’s a card that I just think is a really good buy, like the W511 strip card of Babe Ruth that I recently purchased, shown here. A while back, I bought Buck Weaver’s and Chick Gandil’s Obak minor league cards, the keys to the Obak sets. Sometimes, I just want to spend some money on a card without any thought to trying to collect a set.

I try not to pass on good buys or single cards I really want. However, that is sometimes (a lot of times, actually) necessary just because with collecting so many sets, resources are limited.

You can’t collect everything, after all. The problem, it seems, is coming to that realization.

A (Mostly) Satisfactory Conclusion

So, at the end of the day, I’m a man with something like 20 sets in the air and no end in sight. Where do we go from here?

Some collectors would realize they’re in over their heads and make the decision to scale back and focus on a few sets. But I’m not going in that direction — here’s why.

I enjoy set collecting and while one of my primary goals is to finish a set as quickly as I can (so I can pursue others), I’ve gotten to the point, though, where I realize that speedy completion isn’t really necessary. And that is surprisingly less bothersome to me than it used to be.

Thus, instead of taking one set and going all in on it, I’ve been buying cards that I feel are the best value. If that means buying a few cards from the 1933 Goudey set that I’m only about 20% complete on as opposed to buying a card in a set that I am 95% complete on, that’s perfectly fine. I do generally get a sense of urgency once I get near the end of a set. I’ll overpay for cards a little or focus more on trying to wrap it up when that happens. But I’m also mostly fine now with letting completion of sets drag a little longer than expected.

Collecting a bunch of sets at once keeps me active and interested so that’s the road I’ve taken for now.

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