Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A Collector's Lament: The Non-Collector Acquaintance

This afternoon (lunchtime, to be exact), I was retrieving my midday work mail, as per usual. Before I could hightail it out of the school office, one of the secretaries called my name. This usually means that I forgot to mark a student present because he showed up right at the attendance cutoff time and I failed to notice his now-occupied desk and the automated dialer attendance system had called his parents to inform them that their son was not at school which freaks them out because they had indeed dropped off their child albeit 15 minutes late.

Not today.

Today, for the first time, the beckoning from the secretary was a card related matter. It went something like this.

Secretary: So I've heard you collect baseball cards.

Me: That's right.

Secretary: Well, my husband has inherited a large box of cards... and he doesn't want them.

That's all I had to hear, but I'm sure you share my first initial assumption: JUNKWAX! However, I ask an appropriate follow-up question. "What years are they from?"

Secretary: Well, there are some '60s, some '70s, some '80s. I'm not sure exactly, but he's got like a laundry basket sized box full of them.

SOME '60s???


Flash forward to the end of the school day. As I'm about to take my students out to the buses, the phone rings. It's the secretary informing me that her husband has arrived (wow, that's fast) with some samples, and I should stop by the office after I'm done. At this point, I'm virtually salivating at the prospect of a laundry basket filled with stacks and stacks of pristine 1962, 1965, and 1972 Topps cards. Mays, Mantle, Aaron, and more.

Okay, I get to the office and Benny (the husband) is standing by the counter. He has three stacks of cards in his hands. Here's red flag number one: The cards are rubber banded together. I shit you not, one of the stacks was bound with a girl's hair tie thingy. I should have known.

Stack #1: A mishmash of 1990s basketball and football cards, mostly. Dinged to shit. Worthless.

Stack #2: The prospects are a little better here. There's a nice bunch of 1981 Topps, even an Ellis Valentine with that weird helmet thing. I thumb through and find a few 1979 Topps commons. Again, dinged all to hell. A lone 1975 Topps card peeks through.

Stack #3: Pretty much the same as the second one. A few 1981 Fleer are visible. Several of the cards were contained within this odd plastic stuff reminiscent of cling wrap. Really, that might be what it was. And they felt dirty, too.

I was done at that point. There were none of the 1960s cards I had hoped to find. I was all set to make a fair offer on such a lot of cards, but not on what they turned out to be. I talked a little more with Benny and let him know his best bet would be to throw them all in a box and throw it on Craigslist with a starting price of $100 and work from there. He was taken aback a little, I could tell. He told me he had looked on eBay and noticed that just about every card he had was selling for $1 or $2, and from that observation he reasoned that he had about $4,000 in cards. I lacked both the energy and the desire to argue with him, and wished him luck on making some money from the cards.

In my head, I was running through about a half-dozen counterarguments:
-"The starting price on eBay usually begins at..."
-"Unless you're willing to set up a storefront..."
-"A buyer would have to be looking for the exact card..."

Granted, there could have been some of those mythical '60s cards left at home in the giant box, but I won't hold my breath. His vastly inflated assumed value of what he has made the prospect of getting some of the better cards (if there are any) for a reasonable price. A really nice guy, but I'm sure we have all met someone like this. Good luck finding a buyer for that 1981 Fleer Dave Stieb for $3.00 shipped. More power to ya.

This incident immediately made me think of Bad Wax and his Craigslist feature, but from a new perspective. I'd imagine that most of the CI's are actually honest people who have attached an overinflated sense of worth to their cards. I'm sure every collectibles industry has people like this. Still, it was nice to be thought of, to talk cards for a few moments with a Non-Collector Acquiantance.


Colbey (flywheels) said...

How did Benny acquire these cards? Did he pay for them? I manage a self storage facility and a few years ago (before I started collecting again) a guy was trying to sell his father's baseball cards. Turns out he was a shop owner and had unopened cases of junk wax. He wanted WAY too much for them. I hated to be the bearer of bad news and let him know he wasn't sitting on a gold mine. I'm not sure he could have even sold enough of the cards to pay the storage bill he owed me!

night owl said...

I had a similar encounter with a co-worker. He's younger than me and his collecting days married up with the junk wax era perfectly. He was going back home to get his cards and was eager to know what they were worth.

When I asked what years he collected, he said "1987-1994," I told him flat-out that his cards were pretty much worthless on the market. He was a bit disappointed but took it well. He went online just to confirm what I was saying and saw it was true.

I hate shooting down people's hopes like that. But it's better than the alternative. He doesn't need Bad Wax coming after him.

Community Gum said...

A couple people at work have offered to bring in their cards for me to look at as well. I've told them that most likely there's nothing of value, but I'll double check. The only thing that gets my hopes up is they mentioned Garbage Pail Kids.
I'm already sold on those if they ever show up at my desk!

Baseballislife1984 said...

this happen's far too often with me. The worst is when I get a phone call from a family member saying they picked up a bunch of cards for me at a flea market or from a friend. Everytime it's been junk wax so I've learned not to get my hopes up. But the gesture is always nice and maybe one day they will strike gold

Retrofan said...

My 82 year old grandmother was remarried last year and her new husband who's a nice guy, was single for a good portion of his life and that mutated into a packrat. She knew I collected, and asked me to look at his cards with him, saying all the key phrases you heard initially. My story has a much nicer ending though. What I found was 100+ 1963-69 Topps, tons of 1978-85 Topps, an 1981 Fleer complete set (with all errors), and a ton of 1972-84 OPC. I've got some with me at home (the ones with a better chance of being sold). Overall condition is G+ to VG for the 60's, VG to EX for the 70's and the same for the 80's (with some exceptions).

Ryan said...

Thorzul, this post is priceless. I can't tell you how often this happens and I look at the person and think to myself "YOU ARE A MORON!"

I am seriously convinced that these people bank on retiring on their heap of 92 Score and 90 Donruss