BY JEFF FALK
‘Hey, I’ll trade you two Richie Ashburns for your Mickey Mantle.’
Back in the day, sports didn’t play as prominent role in our culture as they do today. There was no internet, not every game was on TV, zero fantasy sports.
We stayed in touch with the sports and players we loved by listening to the rado, scouring through the daily boxscores delivered to our doors and through trading cards. Trading cards? Yeah, that’s right – trading cards.
Trading cards were a great way to stay connected with your favorite teams and players. On the front was a great staged action shot of your guy. On the back, his career statistics, all the teams he played for, his best seasons, his worst years and just enough personal stuff to remind you that indeed he was a human being.
You could collect every one of your favorite player(s)’ cards – especially his rookie card – the entire starting lineup of your favorite team and trade away to your friends the guys you didn’t particularly care for. Little did we know at the time that the more we handled them, the more the corners got bent and the less they were worth (some things you just can’t put a price on).
For one thin dime, you would get ten of the best players of the day AND a hard stick of bland-tasting bubble gum. A better bargain one would’ve been hard-pressed to locate.
“One of the things I liked about them, like the (19)50s stuff, was their graphics, their design, the look, how colorful they were,” said Terry Breidenstine, a professional trading-card collector. “Here, I have a couple of thousand, which isn’t a lot. But the couple thousand I have are good cards. They’re worthwhile stuff.”
As the proprietor of All-County Jewelery, Coins and Antiques – located at 450 East Cumberland Street in Lebanon – Breidenstine is a buyer and seller of collectibles, first and foremost. But he is also one of the few remaining purveyors of the once-proud trading card industry.
The collecting of football, basketball, hockey, and especially baseball, cards will always occupy a special place in Breidenstine’s heart.
“I actually grew up doing it,” said Breidenstine, a 30-something graduate of Cedar Crest. “I grew up on yard sales and auctions. My dad actually did it and I fell in love with it. Cards were one of the first things I began working with, and bobbleheads. I always liked those too.
“Coins are really popular right now, gold and silver, antique jewelry and watches,” Breidenstine continued. “Any more it seems like it’s the quirky and odd stuff that people want.”
Notice he did not mention trading cards.
Trading cards have been around almost as long as sports themselves, dating back to the turn of last century. They may have reached the peak of their popularity in the 1980s.
“They’re tough right now, especially the newer stuff,” said Breidenstine. “The older stuff has some value, but even that is difficult to move. I get a lot of calls from people trying to sell cards. Anything in the mid 80s up is a tough sell. Anything in the 70s is so-so. From the 60s and back, they’re sell-able, but it all depends on the condition.
“There’s probably a couple of explanations,” Breidenstine added. “In the late 80s and early 90s, cards were really popular and they over-produced them. To collect all the cards became very difficult, next to impossible. Then the prices declined.”
Many of the trading card collectors from half-a-century ago hadn’t touched their stuff in years. But recently they’ve been moved from the attic, a garage, the back of a closet by a stagnant economy.
“There’s probably more factors than the (card) boom,” said Breidenstine. “I’m sure the economy hasn’t helped. We’ve definitely seen some of that (collections being sold off as sources of income). I think it’s been a buyer’s market for a while. I’ve seen it in my business as a whole. People aren’t collecting as much as they used to.
“As far as I know, there’s not a single card shop in Lebanon County,” continued Breidenstine. “There used to be card shows all over the place. But they’ve been cut back dramatically.”
First initiated by the popularity of our national past-time, the trading card concept was mimicked by the other major sports. But it appears that baseball has always been – and always will – be the king of cards.
“There is a market for other sports,” said Breidenstine, who’s been in business for the past six years. “But baseball is easier to sell and more valuable. But basketball, hockey and football aren’t as plentiful or as easy to find.”
So what is a Mike Trout or Bryce Harper rookie card worth on today’s open market?
“Honestly, I don’t even pay attention to them,” said Breidenstine. “Doing all these things you try to make your business go, but I don’t see the kids collecting them like they used to.
“I’m unsure about the future at this point,” Breidenstine continued. “The older stuff is really popular, but I wonder how much of that is pushed by the older collectors. Even some of the older big names, their cards aren’t popular right now.”
Breidentstine actually maintains two trading card collections, his public one and his private one. But the thing to remember about the value of trading cards is that they’re determined by one’s perception of their worth.
And every one has its price.
“I have some stuff that’s not for sale,” said Breidenstine. “I’ve always had a card collection. I just had a (Michael) Jordan rookie card that graded out really high and I sold it for $2,000. It was part of my personal collection and I just decided to let it go.
“I probably have a Mantle worth $1,500 or $2,000 or a little bit less,” Breidenstine added. “I have a couple of Mickey Mantles that are really nice. It’s the popularity of the player and the scarcity of the card that helps determine its value.”