A Pre-War Recap from the Monroeville Card Show

The Annual ‘Pittsburgh’ Card Show provided a nice selection of pre-war as well as a few surprises

The last few times the annual Main Line Pittsburgh card show has been held, I’d sort of begrudgingly gone. The show, I’m told, used to be quite the haven for vintage and pre-war cards. But the last couple I’d attended seemed a bit lackluster.

This show used to be held out near the airport — roughly 45 minutes from my house. These days it’s held in Monroeville and is a hop, skip, and a jump from me. It’s literally ten minutes away so is a virtual must for me to attend as it’s the largest show in the area. So even if I don’t come away with a ton, it’s just too big, compared to the other shows here, and too close, that I’ve just got to make it. There’s no reason not to.

The show wasn’t held last year due to Covid and then was pushed from this spring to the fall this year (if you’re bored, here’s my recap of the 2019 show, the last one that was held here). It will return, hopefully, on schedule next spring.

Unlike the last few times I’ve gone, I didn’t drag my wife. And also unlike the last few times, I actually attended on a Friday afternoon, minutes after the show opened up. I really wanted to hit the show before any other pre-war hunters beat me to the punch on anything.

So what did I see? More than anything, I think, I was surprised at the amount of pre-war. Just eyeballing it and trying to draw comparisons, there was more pre-war than I can remember being at the show since I started attending a few years ago. I probably counted about 10-12 dealers with a solid pre-war selection. A handful of others probably had a few cards -from that era.

That, unfortunately, didn’t lead to a slew of purchases. Like the National, prices were not low by any means. I didn’t consider most to be outrageous but, like most shows these days, the baseball was often priced higher than what you’d find on eBay. And many things, like T206, I’ve mostly just sort of advanced beyond. There were lots of solid T206 prices but I just don’t need to spend $200 on a T206 Hall of Famer since I’ve completed the 520-card set. I think if you were a T206 setbuilder in today’s climate, you probably would have walked away with some nice finds. I spent a few hundred dollars but even that was largely out of a spirit to support a local show as opposed to finding true bargains. There wasn’t much that I ‘had to have’ at the show.

And I’m fine with that, by the way. I love the fact that the area has a nice-sized show like this (roughly 75-100 dealers) and I’ll gladly buy some things I might not otherwise if it helps to encourage dealers to show up again.

Alright, so let’s recap, shall we?

The Show

Upon entry, I was given a pair of autograph tickets. Said tickets were for former All-Star Jack Clark and Kris Jenkins, though frankly, I have no idea if that was Kris Jenkins the former college basketball player or Kris Jenkins the NFL lineman. I’m guessing the latter but, well, we can’t be concerned over such details, boys and girls.

Now, these tickets were given to the first 225 or so people in attendance and were to secure a free autograph from each player. But I’m not much of an autograph collector and certainly wouldn’t have been spending time waiting in a line to get autographs from guys I just didn’t care about all that much.

Nice gesture but in the end, these stayed crumpled up in my pocket except for the photo op here. In hindsight, I should have probably given them away and had I seen kids there, I would have. But most kids were probably just getting out of school at that point and the show was pretty much an adults-only one at that stage.

My card show experience began with a bit of a surprise. The first three tables in the front all had pre-war cards, which led me to believe this was some sort of alternative universe. None had anything I was willing to buy but that was a good sign.

One of the tables right up front had some pre-war oddities. Among those were this uncatalogued card of Hall of Famer Johnny Evers.

I was completely unfamiliar with this type of card, though I suppose it’s possible that I’d encountered them somewhere else and merely forgotten.

On the surface, this is clearly a hand-cut card, which might make you think it’s a strip card of sorts. But it’s actually a card that was cut from a candy box as the dealer told me (and another dealer confirmed).

The dealer that owned the card told me that he believed the majority of these cards were printed in blue ink. But another dealer, Ed Hans, wasn’t sure if that was the case, though he did confirm these cards were printed in blue and red ink. He also mentioned that the full card would have diamond edges around it and said he did not think one was ever found uncut from a full candy box.

I’d love to do a set writeup on these cards but need some more information on them (if anyone’s got it or can point me things like past auction sales, etc., please do).

After seeing this card, I continued making my way through the show. I stopped at a table that had some old memorabilia and spotted a few cards. The dealer was friendly and local, though his name escapes me. But flipping through some binders, I bought a few things from him, including a 1946-49 W603 Sports Exchange All-Stars Photo/Supplement of Buddy Rosar and a 1939 100th Anniversary of Baseball booklet.

The Sports Exchange pickup was merely as a ‘type card.’ I like to have examples of different types of cards just for comparison or reference sake and had never had one from this set. It’s from the 1940s and I don’t really collect much from that era, but it was an excuse to buy something.

I was more intrigued by the 1939 booklet, shown here.

This was, as mentioned, a 100th anniversary/commemorative booklet for baseball that was issued in 1939 by the local Duquesne Brewing Company. Notably, the front included an image that was familiar to me as it appeared on an ink blotter that I recently bought.

The caption underneath this picture mentions that it is a depiction of the first baseball game. However, MLB historian John Thorn told me that the picture originates instead from an 1860 game.

To the booklet itself, I’ve only seen a few of these before. It’s a 14-page booklet that included a chronological history of baseball from its presumed 1839 origins. It references the then 12 players enshrined in the Hall of Fame and gives an accounting of pennant winners, statistical leaders through 1938, and has a full 1939 schedule for all 16 teams at the end. It’s a very cool early baseball collectible that I was glad to snatch up.

After this, I continued making my way through the show and came upon another solid pre-war dealer. He did have post-war vintage, too, but the pre-war selection was enough to make me stop. And I was glad that I did because his table included my ‘big’ baseball purchase of the day — two 1911 T201 Mecca Double Folders.

I noticed a stack in his case and, as I was only 13 short of completing that set, figured I’d take a look. I was inclined to do that because prices for them on eBay have been steadily rising. Not too long ago, I was able to buy respectable, lower-end commons starting around $20. That price is closer to $30-$35 these days and it isn’t uncommon to see dealers aggressively pricing them at $40-$50.

Most in the stack were ones that I already had but I was able to pick up a Nap Rucker/Jake Daubert. The very last card in the pile was the only one unpriced — a card for Hall of Famer Tris Speaker and Earl Gardner. In the dealer’s defense, it was one that he recently purchased and all of his other stuff was marked.

I didn’t think I’d get out of there with it after he told me he wanted to look up comps on his phone. That’s usually not a great sign for scoring a bargain but the price he came back with was significantly under market given it’s nicer overall condition. I nearly left his table with nothing but got a few bucks knocked off by purchasing both. The Speaker even has a bit of a miscut, which adds to the allure for me.

After this pickup, I headed over to see the previously referenced Ed Hans, who I typically see at this show and always has great pre-war at fair prices.

Ed had some really great eye candy, including a very rare 1910 Darby Chocolates card of Ed Konetchy. These cards are scarcely seen and you don’t even encounter them much on a site like eBay. A bunch of these were thought to have been discovered in a building where a fire took place and you’ll often see them in this sort of low-grade condition.

I saw Ed at The National about two months ago but was not really collecting American Tobacco Company non-sports cards at the time. Since then, I’ve jumped into collecting several sets, including the T53 Cowboy Series, T118 Explorers, T68 Men/Heroes of History, T77 Lighthouses, T73 Indian Life in the 60s, and T29 Animals. All of these were released from 1909 through 1912, the same time the company was issuing its T205, T206, and T207 baseball cards.

I’m not collecting these with the same sort of vigor as I do sports cards. But when I am able to find them at good prices, I have been picking them up. And because that’s happened a lot, I’m probably already beyond the halfway point cumulatively on all of those sets, despite having just started really collecting them a little over a month ago.

These non-sports sets are mostly nice and affordable with cards starting at just a few bucks a piece for most in lower-grade condition. Beaters, if you can find them, are sometimes even cheaper. The T68 Men and Heroes of History set has a lot of big names in it so that one runs significantly more. But the others all are generally pretty cheap.

Ed had a decent amount of these cards and after I stopped by another dealer named Charlie that I see at this show every time, I left with a nice pile of them. Charlie also had some 19th century cards I added, as well as a silk of president Millard Fillmore. I wish I had been collecting those cards at the time because Charlie, in particular, told me he had a lot more at the show that went sold.

Among my finds at their tables were two notable ones, by my standards. One was the Statue of Liberty card in the Lighthouses set, easily the ‘key’ to the set. It’s the only one that you can’t usually find for $5 or less and I got a nice copy of one. Ed also had what looks to be a T68 scrap of William Gladstone. The card is handcut and blank-backed lending credence to that idea. But it also has a horizontal white border and traces of another picture directly above it.

It is possible that the card is a scrap but it also could be cut from an advertising poster or book. Thing is, those tobacco books and posters were far more common in the 19th century as opposed to the 20th. So this one’s kind of a mystery until I can research it a bit more.

After those stops, I made one additional stop at another dealer I wasn’t familiar with. He had a bunch of cards but also quite a bit of historical memorabilia so I stopped by.

A few minutes in, I spotted a T68 Men of History card of John Harvard, the founder of the school that bears his name. It is a card that I already have in the set I’m building but it was reasonable enough that having a duplicate didn’t bother me.

The real find from his table that I got was this American Flag felt. The felt includes the 48-star American flag, so it would have been issued after Arizona was added as the 48th state in 1912. That places it right around the time of most of these tobacco felt products in the 1909-1913 time period.

He had a second U.S. flag felt, that I believe was slightly different. In hindsight, I should have probably gotten that one, too. But this one fits in nicely with my growing Americana/Historical collection. It’s a slightly larger ‘card’ as you can see here in comparison to the T68 Harvard card. But it’s not so ridiculously large that it doesn’t fit in the binder with the rest of my stuff.

All in all, I had a lot of fun. Dealers seemed to be quite busy there, too, and even Friday at the very start of the show, things were buzzing pretty well. I have to imagine that Saturday and Sunday when people were off of work were even better.

Can’t wait till the spring when the show returns.

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