The realm of card collecting often holds unexpected revelations, unveiling gaps in knowledge that even seasoned collectors can encounter. It's a journey that can take unexpected turns, leading to intriguing discoveries and fresh perspectives. You may think you have a handle on it, and then you find a random card at a card shop with two murderers on it and you end up deep diving off a cliff in a whole new direction. This was apparent when Iowa Dave, a podcaster, prompted reflections on whether a single card had reshaped someone's collection. For me, the 1990 Mark Jackson hoops card instantly stood out.
In 2018, an astute hobbyist noticed something remarkable on this card: the Menendez brothers seated courtside in the background. Despite its mass printing since 1990, this revelation emerged only after 28 years, demonstrating the hidden layers within card collecting. However, the focus of this narrative isn't solely on that particular card; instead, it delves into the transformational impact a single card can have on a collector's trajectory.
Personally, I've never been drawn to vintage collecting. My focus has primarily been on cards from my two cherished teams, the Chicago Bears and the Chicago Bulls, since my childhood. However, stumbling upon a card that intertwined two of my fascinations – true crime and sports cards – triggered a newfound enthusiasm. This discovery was an awakening, highlighting the vast extent of what I don't know. Delving deeper into athletes' histories, particularly those from earlier eras, has revealed how much I'm unfamiliar with in terms of card details.
Today, a pivotal moment prompted this reflection. Back in January, I acquired a T206 card of Jerry Downs. This player had a stint with the Detroit Tigers in the early 1900s, a time when the MLB was in its infancy and the Cubs secured consecutive championships. Downs was a decent player plagued by a drinking problem that led to his professional downfall. As the Great Depression hit, he turned to a jewelry heist for survival, resulting in his arrest. This T206 card held significance for me – it was my first purchase of its kind. While I generally steer clear of vintage, the iconic T206 Honus Wagner card intrigued me, so I ventured into the tobacco card market.
My pursuit then led me to seek a Bill Bergen card. Bill was the brother of Marty Bergen, a legendary catcher who played only 344 games before his tragic end. Marty's gruesome act involved brutally killing his entire family with an axe in January 1900 before taking his own life. In contrast, Bill was a skilled catcher but struggled tremendously at the plate. His batting performance was notably poor, boasting a career batting average of just .170 after a total of 3,028 at-bats – a record low for players with over 2,500 plate appearances.
While seeking cards of these players, I discovered a vast spectrum within the T206 cards available. My goal was to possess an original card for each of these men. I aimed for graded versions of their T206 cards, assuming that my main concern would be authenticity. However, I soon realized my naivety.
Acknowledging the existence of alternative cards for both these players, my desire was rooted in the unique lithographic printing that characterizes these types of cards. It was an aesthetic inclination, a preference for the distinctive visual quality associated with these vintage pieces. My intentions were clear in one sense – I sought a card linked to a particular player, from a specific historical era, infused with a compelling narrative. I was drawn to what I perceived to be the most iconic card of that era, relying on my limited understanding of such matters. Yet, as I delved deeper, I quickly realized that my pursuit would lead me down an intricate path I hadn't fully grasped.The issue at hand was not solely authenticity, but the backs of the cards. This revelation took me by surprise – how had I not considered this before?
Between 1909 and 1911, the American Tobacco Company distributed the T206 White Border cards through 16 different cigarette and loose tobacco brands. Notably, Piedmont & Sweet Caporal adorned more than 80% of these cards, making them the more accessible options for collectors. My Jerry Downs card, a Sweet Corporal, was an affordable entry into this facet of collecting.
Another category emerged – T206 cards with Semi-Scarce Backs, constituting 2% to 7% of the total card population. The ads on these cards varied, but commonly found Semi-Scarce Backs included Polar Bear, Sovereign, and Old Mill. These three cigarette brands featured on roughly 15% of the T206 cards from the 1909-1911 White Border series. Southern League players deviated from this trend, boasting cards that were rarer and often featured ads for Hindu Brown.
This explained why as I looked at Bergen cards and saw an SGC 1 for $500 and a PSA 3 for $116 I was confused. It was a thrilling revelation, enabling me to decide whether to prioritize the uniqueness of the back in my collection or select a single brand to collect. It was like finding a treasure map. Ultimately, now I could decide if the rarity of the back was worth the cost for my collection, or did I want to pick one brand and collect only that back? Would I need to trade up if I wanted a more rare PC? Was that in my budget?
Ultimately, I'm excited to add a Bill Bergen card to my collection, potentially opting for the Sweet Corporal brand. These experiences encapsulate the joys of collecting – the elation of unearthing something new and unexpected. The fact that a 1990 Hoops Mark Jackson basketball card indirectly led to the acquisition of a baseball card from 81 years earlier is a testament to the fascinating connections that can emerge within a personal collection.
If you would like to hear more about this revelation check out Iowa Dave’s podcast The Shallow End Episode 7 - Opening a New Collecting Lane - On the Wolfpack Sports Cards Network
For more info on the Mark Jackson Card - Check out Dangerous Games Podcast Episode 106 - How The Menendez Brothers Ended Up on a Sports Card - Featuring Don from Breakin Wax
For more info about the Jerry Downs T206 card - Check out Dangerous Games Podcast Episode 103 - More Than Stole Bases - The Red Downs Story
Lastly, for more info about Marty and Bill Bergen - Check out Dangerous Games Podcast Episode 117 - Marty Bergen - Family Annihilator - Trigger Warning that is a brutal story.