Now was the time to cash in on his “investments,” but all the card shops had closed, and eBay was no help, either. Cards were selling there for next to nothing. What had happened? In Mint Condition, Jamieson’s fascinating history of baseball cards, he finds the answer, and much more.
Picture cards had long been used to advertise household products, but in the years after the Civil War, tobacco companies started slipping them into cigarette packs as collector’s items. Cards featuring famous generals and Indian chiefs, flags of all nations, and comely actresses all achieved success with boys, but none were as popular as cards featuring the heroes of the new American pastime. Before long, the cards were wagging the cigarettes, and a century-long infatuation had been born.
In the 1930s, cards helped gum and candy makers survive the Great Depression. In the 1960s, royalties from cards helped transform the baseball players association into one of the country’s most powerful unions, dramatically altering the game. In the ’80s and ’90s, cards went through a spectacular bubble, becoming a billion-dollar-a-year industry before all but disappearing, surviving today as the rarified preserve of fanatical adult collectors and shrewd businessmen.
Mint Condition is brimming with colorful characters, from a destitute hermit whose legendary collection resides at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to Topps’s mad genius designer who created the company’s most famous card sets, and from a larger-than-life memorabilia specialist whose auction house is under investigation by the FBI to the professional “graders” who rate cards and the “doctors” who secretly alter them. This is an original, captivating history about a tradition dear to millions of Americans.