An article that we’re publishing in the May 29 issue of Sports Collectors Digest focuses on the Fleer World Series cards from the 1970s, the ones that utilized the cartoon renderings of R.G. Laughlin, who had actually created several of his own sets in the late 1960s. Over a period of about 15 years, he produced literally hundreds of pen-and-ink drawings that were used first for his own 1960s issues and then for a time in full color with his linkage with Fleer.
What struck me about the article was the reminder it provides that the passage of time becomes the ultimate determinant of what is actually considered collectible. And deciding when enough time as passed to make that determination is as tricky as knowing which collectibles to pursue in the first place.
Now past 40 years from his first creations, some of the Laughlin issues can sell for hundreds of dollars in high-grade complete sets, which is not bad for something that wasn’t that highly regarded at the time. Back in the 1970s the Laughlin and Fleer issues held a niche as kind of a diversionary pursuit for collectors at a time when it could be argued that there wasn’t enough product being produced every year.
I know I stumbled badly when I sold the whole array of Laughlin/Fleer World Series, Famous Feats, etc. issues in the late 1980s, long before the cards had achieved the level of respect that they hold today.
Not surprisingly, my friend Larry Fritsch, who died in 2007, has a better record in that regard, but in fairness, he bought just about everything and held on to most of it. The other cool thing he did was buy a whole bunch of Laughlin’s original artwork, which he showed me at his store several years ago.
If the cards themselves have gained a new-found respect within the hobby, one can only guess about the level of regard for the original paste-ups.