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Mint Condition III: 81 billion cards and counting ...


A book as good as Dave Jamieson’s Mint Condition probably needs three blogs to give collectors an adequate glimpse of his monumental research effort. This is No. 3.

Eighty-one billion cards. If I had constructed the sentence differently, I could have used digits instead of spelling it out like that. OK, you asked for it: 81,000,000,000. That figure shows up on Page 156 in a chapter that examines the frantic expansion of the hobby in the 1980s.

The number was used as part of an explanation about how the card companies were producing goofy numbers in printing cards. Jamieson cites an unnamed trade magazine as estimating that 81 billion baseball cards were being printed per year by the late 1980s.

To his credit, Jamieson doesn’t necessarily endorse the number or even suggest it has any credence, he just tosses it out there, I suspect, for fun. I certainly hope that we (SCD or what was then Baseball Cards Magazine) aren’t the trade magazine he refers to, because I don’t buy the number. I’m not sure what the correct number is – and nobody else is, either – but I don’t think that’s it.

Still, I don’t quibble about the notion of way too many cards being printed back then; hell, we (SCD) groused about it plenty for years and years.

I would add that if there’s criticism to be offered, it might be that the role of the National Convention seems oddly muted here, but knowing how careful he was in all of the other research and compilation of the book, I’ll betcha he’s got a viable explanation for the omission. Besides, I just threw that in there to show that I’m not just being an obsequious shill to help him sell books.

It would be impossible to offer a completely comprehensive account of all that’s taken place of note since the hobby came out of the closet around the mid-1970s, but Jamieson offers a significant taste ...

Kit Young and Pat Quinn and their early travels around the country to various Holiday Inns fishing for baseball cards. Dr. James Beckett. An episode of “Hart to Hart” from 1982 that put baseball cards in the national spotlight one balmy evening. Paul Sumner and the arrival of Upper Deck. Tom Geideman tapping a youngster named Ken Griffey Jr. to be the first card in that inaugural 1989 Upper Deck set, and fate tapping a somewhat older Billy Ripken to preside over Fleer’s naughty pasteboard the same year.

After that, there’s a look at the baseball strike and the ensuing spillover outrage directed at baseball cards, Bill Mastro boards Rosa Park’s historic bus to take us a bit further along our tour, then Rob Lifson, the gang at PSA and the Card Doctor, Kevin Saucier, pretty much bring it all home. I should also mention that there's a swell 16-page color plate section in the center with images of many of those famous cards and characters, from "Slow Joe" Doyle and the elusive Nap Lajoie to Gidwitz, Gelman and Berger.

Oh, and with an nice assist from Bill Henderson, “The King of Commons,” who provides a welcome reminder at the end about the elemental aspects of collecting that had propelled the whole enterprise in the first place.

Now that’s one helluva book.