Friday, June 19, 2015

The Quest for '60 - Visiting Vintage Heaven

A recent post by my friend William over at motivated me to finally make a pilgrimage to the hobby and collecting treasure that is the "Columbia Antique Mall" (also known as "Chic Antiques") in Columbia, South Carolina.

While the entire business covers a wide-range of treasures that fill two cavernous warehouses, my favorite part is the incredible sports cards & memorabilia collection that belongs to one of the proprietors, Conrad. Conrad has been collecting sports cards and memorabilia his entire life and has built an amazing catalog of inventory that focuses mostly on vintage baseball cards. His display cases are filled with stacks of vintage HOF cards. Each card resides within its own top-loader (and is typically penny-sleeved within, as well) and is adorned with a small post-it note that provides a "book value" and his price.

Yes, the "BV" is typically the "Hi Value" from Beckett and the cards rarely approach the necessary conditions to demand the high price, but this provides a good starting point for collectors like me to perform a quick condition assessment and see if we're in the ballpark for comparison with his price. It's a very convenient way to start the conversation or at least decide if you'd like for Conrad (or another employee) to take out a card for a closer look. It's important to note that Conrad is always willing to listen to reasonable offers below his listed price. This is crucial in mind and it can really add to your comfort level when you're assessing higher value cards. Condition, price and "worth" are all very subjective (as we all know), so this approach is very conducive to encouraging happy outcomes for both stakeholders.

Anyways, as luck would have it, I missed Conrad when I went to visit last week. He was enjoying some time on the golf course while I was enjoying some time around his vintage cardboard. While I was sad that I missed him, I think we were both pretty happy (and I was jealous of his time on the links!) with our situation. Determined to make the best use of my rare visit, I asked the very nice lady who was working (she is actually the shop's art consultant) if I could see Conrad's boxes of 1960 Topps cards.

That's right. Boxes. Here's one of them:

A few Moose among rows and rows of beautiful vintage cardboard

Yes, the shop has several glass display cases that are jam-packed with beautiful individual cards - but the true value of this cardboard heaven is the "back room" where Conrad has amassed dozens upon dozens of 5,000 count boxes that are both completely organized (by year, brand and in numeric order!) and completely filled with cards from the Tobacco era on's amazing! Do you need some '67 Topps cards? No problem - BOOM - here's a few thousand cards to look through and find what you need. It's really something.

Again, the cards aren't in mint condition, but that's not the point. It's a BOUNTY of vintage cardboard that is well organized and reasonably priced for you to select yourself and TAKE HOME that day without the cost of shipping and knowing FULL WELL what you just paid for. With the LCS apocalypse in our rear view mirror and card shows being few and far between in my area, Conrad's shop is a godsend - particularly when I'm on a mission to complete my Dad's 1960 Topps set. I hadn't crossed off any cards from that list in some time - and time is precious.

I found 26 cards that day, whittling my NEEDS list down to 59 cards! I even had the luxury of selecting the 'best' conditioned copy when Conrad's stash produced more than one for me to consider. When it comes to searching for vintage needs, that has to be a rare treat. I only wish I had visited Conrad more often over the previous four years since we moved into the Columbia area. Here are all of the options I had to consider for card #129, the rookie card of Bob Hartman:

Let me know if you need a Bob Hartman, too!

Since Conrad was hitting the links that day, he had to think quickly on his feet when the art consultant called him for pricing. She hung up the phone and quoted me $2 per card.

In retrospect, I really should have taken it.

But no, I was trying to be conservative and careful - which I can't really feel too guilty about. The family budget is as meticulously constructed as ever with our new addition in March. So I countered the $52 price tag with just over a buck a card at $30. You see, I was focused on the fact that several of the cards I had selected were severely creased and a majority of the checklists I had pulled were completely (albeit sentimentally) marked on by collectors from days long gone by. The centering was also quite rough for many of the cards, in the tradition of 1960 Topps! Here are the team cards that pulled double duty as checklists:

Aren't they beautiful? You can see the creases but there's nothing that really detracts away from your enjoyment and viewing of the cards. Not to mention, Conrad informed me that these checklists (in addition to the Coaches cards that I'll show in a moment) can be a little tough to find. I didn't know that, but appreciate his knowledge. Here are the backs of the team cards:

I enjoyed seeing the variations in "marking" techniques on three of these four checklists!

As you can see, only one out of the four checklists escaped being inked. And the one clean checklist is the Senators cards which, is VERY cool, but is also one of the cards with a significant crease on the front. Not ideal, but not something out of the ordinary for these 55-year old checklists. And while the marked-up checklists aren't desirable from a value and condition perspective, they did give me a chuckle when I realized how elusive the 'star' cards were for our collecting ancestors. Check it out:

I am proud to carry on this set-build quest today, 55 years later!

Check out the All-Star portion of the list at the bottom of the card - no Eddie Mathews, Ernie Banks, Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris or Hank Aaron (sad trombone sound) for the kid I imagine to have been tracking his progress decades ago...while our hero DID manage to obtain the two Willie's and the Al Kaline, I can still picture him mumbling as he ripped packs that fall (late summer?) and wondering if he would EVER pull what he needed. Good stuff.

Speaking of good stuff, let's see what else I managed to find. Here are those Coaches cards I was talking about earlier. Hard to find, these gems deliver a a unique opportunity to snag some vintage of legendary players at a severe discount to cards from their playing days. Are you a fan of Yankee greats like Bill Dickey (HOF), Ralph Houk, Ed Lopat or Frank Crosetti? Get 'em all on one card!

Floating heads - never a bad idea.

With the white borders, it's easy to see that centering is a challenge with all of these cards and there are plenty of dog ears and creases to go around, too. While it factored into my initial offer for the cards, it didn't really matter as far as my desire to set aside and hope to utilize in my quest. Here is the next batch, a couple of coveted high numbers:

SP's - not JUST your modern card gimmick!

Yes! These two come from the seventh and final "high number", short-printed (SP!) series released by Topps for the 1960 set. The entire series consisted of 66 cards, #507 through #572. This Amoros and K-Mac represent numbers 531 and 534, respectively. of the 59 cards remaining on my NEED list, nearly half of them (28) come from this 7th Series. Therefore, the severe cross-diagonal crease on K-MAC and Sandy's <80-20 centering didn't even matter when I decided to buy or not...but again, it did factor into my offer.

Onward. How about some 'stars' that revealed themselves in the troughs of those 5,000 count boxes? Were there any notable players? I would argue that EVERY player in an old vintage set is notable...but there were certainly some bigger names. Here you go:

While Senator Bunning is the only official Hall of Fame inductee in this trio, the other two can be seriously viewed on a level playing field. Gil Hodges has continued to flirt with induction for decades and Big Klu has certainly earned his spot in the lore of the White Stockings. Ted led the league in long balls one season and was a multiple All-Star selection and World Champion. Gil slugged four home runs in one game a decade before this awkward mugshot was released (1950) and also boasts a hat trick of gold gloves to go with his All-Star selections and World Series rings. Both players have their numbers retired by their clubs. Good stuff! Bad centering...but fantastic baseball cards.

How about some inserts?

Hey, there's the WINNING Hartman out of the multitude of options pictured above! The Pascual All-Star card is a great pick-up but has some surface loss in the lower right. This was probably the toughest card I had to accept that day, but in light of the circumstances, there was no way I could leave it behind when I am so close to the finish line. 

The Baxes card is really stunning! It's surface is clean, the edges are sharp and you can see that the centering 7 corners aren't too bad either. I like the red and blue color scheme that seems to work very well with the old-school tribe cap. And that GIANT ROOKIE CUP - awesome. Just awesome. In fact, there's even more glorious baseball history wrapped up in that Baxes card that I plan to share in a later post. Stay tuned! It will be Hoot...

The Moose card was a nice surprise in the box, too. Skowron is considered by most to be a pretty memorable star, even among the crowded memories in Yankee Stadium. I can't believe that my old man (a Yankees fan) had never gotten around to trading for the entire Yankees team set, but there you go. The checklist doesn't lie...and cool is it that I can now wrap it up for him? Gives me chills.

And now, for the Best Supporting Actors:

Has anybody ever referred to '60 as the Skittles set? If not, I'm coining it!

A few of these are pretty stunning cards. I was able to, once again, fish around through dozens of duplicates and compare until my OCD-collector's heart was content. What great way to spend a lunch break, right?! Though deemed to be "commons" by the harsh reference documents of our Hobby, the colors are vibrant and the creases are minimal...heck, there are even a couple of sharp corners in this batch.

And so there you go! I set these 26 cards aside and asked the art consultant for pen and paper so that I might leave a thank you, offer, and explanation for Conrad to consider. I also added an EPIC Hall of Famer vintage rookie card to the stack but I'll cover that gem later. 

As respectfully as I could and laying out the reasons for my math, I made my offer of $30 for the 26 1960 cards. I knew it was conservative, but I also didn't know how strongly Conrad felt about the thousands of cards he kept boxed up in the back room. Was every card an individual treasure to him or were these separated out from the display cases and tucked away for a reason? In essence, Conrad and I would be getting to know each other during this, our first transaction...

I received a call the following afternoon and Conrad was very gracious as he chuckled.

"You should have taken the $2/card price and run away!"

I smiled and asked him what he was thinking...he went on to go through each of my 26 cards and explain their relevance within the set. The rarity of inserts and the hard-to-find nature of the checklists, coaches cards and SPs. His math began by adding up the maximum (remember, Beckett "HI") value for each card as a point of reference - this reached over $200, my friends, so my $30 offer obviously looked a little wimpy in contrast. Of course, the cards I was buying wouldn't come close to that value - and he recognized that. We began to discuss a middle ground. I reminded him that several of the rare/high dollar checklists were actually marked on, effectively rendering them down to the basement levels. He kindly agreed and continued to work with me on the price, though he did remind me that it was important to consider rarity. I nodded my head in agreement and reassured him over the phone, "I definitely understand what you're saying, Conrad."

I could go on, but I'll spare you the agony. In the end, we agreed upon a price of about $75 for the lot - just a little bit under $3 per card. On one hand, it was a little painful to see my original offer tripled...but my conversation with Conrad and the undeniable value associated with being able to cross these cards, some of them quite tough to find, off the list of this very special collecting mission made it easy to acquiesce in the end.

We had a deal.

During my search, I had a very pleasant conversation with art consultant regarding Conrad's collection and the man himself. She revealed that Conrad loved a good cup of coffee - black, nothing special. So, after we agreed on the price, I assured Conrad that I would stop by as soon as possible complete the purchase and that I would have a steaming cup of coffee for him. He gave another warm chuckle and we exchanged our goodbyes.

A great experience!

In the end, I feel like a still got a great deal. I feel like I gained some perspective during this process and learned a little bit more about this part of the hobby that I love so much. Vintage, set-building and some great conversation. What could be better? Hopefully, Conrad will still greet me as a friend and fellow collector the next time I bring him a cup of coffee. I think he will. 

What do you guys think? Was it a fair deal for both sides in the end? Do you have any similar tales of vintage hunting and lot-purchasing of old "raw" cards? Let me know what you think and feel free to check out my "Set NEEDS" tab to see if we can help each other!

Thank you for a great experience, Conrad! Here's hoping that our next chance to sit and talk cards isn't too far away. Besides, there's that gorgeous '76 Mike Schmidt card..and my insane idea that I am building the 1959 set...and...

Thanks for reading!     



  1. If you were happy and he was happy then it was a fair deal. I don't like that he clings to Hi Beckett regardless of condition, but I do know that the condition of the cards would be downgraded after I drooled all over them.

  2. Too many times, people are looking for the absolute bargain-basement/yard sale price for cards. I'm glad you were able to discuss with Conrad where you arrived at your number, vs. where he arrived at his. I have bought and sold cards for too long and had folks get offended when I would ask a price for something, yet, they wouldn't even counter offer. I hope you enjoyed your trip to the Antique Shop. I'm doing a card show in Raleigh this weekend, and if it isn't too far for you to drive, you ought to come say hello.