His collection has featured some of the most iconic rookie cards of the 20th Century: Mickey Mantle 1951 Bowman, Michael Jordan 1986-87 Fleer, Wayne Gretzky 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee and Jim Brown 1958 Topps.
But after a half century of collecting, David Oliver has turned from an individual focus to helping high school seniors who took similar paths as he did as a young man.
Oliver, who turns 80 in October, is selling every one of his cards, jerseys and pieces of memorabilia to fund a scholarship set up for students who attend his alma maters: Versailles (Ohio) High School and Wittenberg University (Springfield, Ohio).
The former Ohio resident, who moved to Miami Lakes, Fla., in 1962, has sold a portion of his collection thus far and donated $52,000 for the scholarship fund through the Darke County Foundation. The scholarships are for $1,500 apiece, and the first recipient from Versailles was awarded from the Class of 2020. The winner will football at Wittenberg.
“Considering my positive experience academically and athletically at both Versailles and Wittenberg, I really feel good about it,” said Oliver, who excelled in football, basketball, baseball and track in high school. “It’s something that I can easily afford, because I was blessed with a good job in the newspaper business, then my investments turned out very nicely.”
Oliver has amassed quite a broad collection over the years.
His passion for cards started in 1949 when he’d pick up packs of ’49 Bowman baseball. Since Versailles was a small town, Oliver thinks retailers weren’t aware of Topps cards because they only carried Bowman baseball and football products.
“I had a good friend that we rode our bikes all over Versailles and the neighboring little towns because we’d hear that they had a series or that they had boxes of Bowman cards that they didn’t have in Versailles,” Oliver said. “We pedaled all over. We put a lot of miles on our bikes.”
Oliver picked up a nice variety of 1950 and ’51 Bowman cards before having his first experience with Topps. He came across a kid who was collecting 1952 Topps.
“I traded a lot of my duplicates to him to get the Topps cards,” Oliver said. “Then I used those Topps cards to fill in the missing first series of ’50 Bowman and ’51 Bowman.”
Oliver figures he traded for a number of ’52 Topps Mantles, but then he traded them away in the ’50s.
“It could have been a Stan Musial for a Wayne Terwilliger because you didn’t have a Terwilliger,” Oliver said. “You didn’t have checklists, so you made your own checklists.”
Living in Versailles, one time considered the “Poultry Capital of the World,” Oliver’s dad was a truck driver, delivering food to cities around the country. Once a week, Oliver would go with dad. Once the two dropped off their load at its destination, the pair headed to local ballparks, including Tiger Stadium.
“I got to see in their prime, Ted Williams and Mantle and Musial, from both leagues,” Oliver said. “That developed a big interest in baseball. And, of course, I had three brothers. We all played and so that just made it natural. Then when I saw, hey baseball cards – these are the guys I see play, so naturally, I was going to start collecting them.”
Unlike many kids around the country during those days, Oliver kept his cards in prime condition. He wanted to enjoy them later on in life.
“Nobody in our town put them in (bike) spokes and my dad also spokes the cars,” Oliver said. “So, I put my cards into the cigar boxes, which kept them in great shape. In those days, condition wasn’t that important, just so you had one. I don’t know how many of those Mantle cards I gave away because I (already) had one.”
Oliver said he was one of only three kids who seriously collected cards in Versailles. He wanted to have the best collection. The kid with the top collection eventually started chasing girls and gave away his cards to Oliver. Years later, Oliver bought all the other kid’s cards.
Oliver collected through his childhood, and in 1962 when he moved to Florida, he took his cards with him. In the late 1970s and early ’80s when the card industry heated back up, Oliver got back into collecting.
He started filling in the holes from his Bowman baseball and football sets that he had started as a kid. Living in the heart of Miami Dolphins country, Oliver picked up a Bob Griese 1968 Topps rookie, a number of Dan Marino 1984 Topps rookies and a Jordan 1986 Fleer rookie.
Oliver – who had to sell his 1953 Bowman baseball set a while back to pay for some personal items – didn’t own any hockey cards, so he bought a Gretzky 1979-80 Topps rookie. Then his chase was to track down an O-Pee-Chee version of the card.
Through a neighbor, Oliver met a collector from Toronto about a decade ago who had a massive card collection. A big-time collector of Jewish athletes, the guy told Oliver he had two ’52 Topps Mantles, but he didn’t know where they were because his collection was so disorganized.
“He said, ‘I need somebody to take this and organize it and then let’s sell,’” Oliver said. “I spent a lot of time – I’d go up like two weeks at a time and maybe come home for a week or two then back up. Depending on what it was, we would auction it through auctions or we’d go to the big Toronto National, which is held twice a year, and have a couple tables at that show. Finally, we got it done. That was a hell of a task.”
Oliver was paid by the hour, but when he found certain cards he liked – such as a Gretzky 1979-80 O-Pee-Chee – he arranged that as part of his payment.
With collecting cards being so important in his life, Oliver has always had the support of his wife. When the couple moved to Florida, Oliver was able to convert one of the bedrooms in their house to a den to display some of his items. There is also an extremely large closet in the couple’s master bedroom that Oliver has filled up with his collectibles.
“Most cases the woman gets the mammoth, mammoth closet, but because I have at least 100 jerseys of football, baseball, hockey, I get the large closet,” Oliver said.
Oliver’s collection has started to slowly shrink as he sells it away. As of the end of May, he’s already sold his 1986-87 Fleer basketball and 1952 Bowman baseball sets as well as his Gretzky O-Pee-Chee rookie to a number of private collectors. But Oliver has so much more to sell to any collectors who are interested.
Oliver has his entire collection inventoried on a spreadsheet. Page after page after page display his rich passion for baseball cards – he has over 150 original sets and well over 50 reprint sets available. Oliver also had unique sets that represent his Florida roots with the Florida Marlins, Miami Dolphins and Miami Hurricanes. He also had plenty of non-sports cards sets, including Civil War, presidents, movie and TV stars, and cowboys/indians/Wild West.
Some of more interesting items still available include: 1951 Bowman baseball set with a sharp Mantle rookie; ’55 Bowman baseball set; ’89 Upper Deck factory-sealed set; a pair of Dave Winfield 1974 Topps rookies; a pair of Cal Ripken Jr. 1982 Topps Traded rookies; 1969-70 Topps basketball set; 1987-88 Fleer basketball set plus 11 stickers; 1988-89 Fleer basketball set plus 11 stickers; 1953 Bowman football set; 1955 Topps All-American football set; 1984 Topps football set; Dolphins team sets from the 1970s and ’80s; O.J. Simpson 1970 Topps rookie, PSA 7; Walter Payton 1976 Topps rookie, PSA 5; three Dan Marino 1984 Topps rookies, one graded PSA 8 and two 7s; two Joe DiMaggio autographed pieces; and Super Bowl tickets when games were played in Miami.
“If there’s something there that revs your engine, let’s chat about it,” Oliver said.
The majority of Oliver’s cards are ungraded, but in good condition.
When selling his cards, Oliver looks at two aspects to determine a price.
“I look on eBay under recent past sales,” Oliver said. “If I’ve got a Jim Brown rookie card, I would look that up. It’s graded a 5, so I’d look that up and see what they’re selling for and I would use that as my working price. The other one is the PSA market guide where you take a ’51 Bowman set and let’s say it’s got 300 cards in the set, I would take off $10 apiece for grading, so take like $3,000 off there.”
Those are Oliver’s starting prices, but he’s extremely willing to work with a collector.
Oliver has a nephew in Ohio who is a card collector. He might be interested purchasing some items from his uncle.
“That might be my spot for the ’51 Bowman (set),” Oliver said. “I wouldn’t mind keeping that in the family, if I could. And he would be a natural for that.”
Oliver has heard from a few Miami-area collectors who have some interest in his collection. He’s always keeping an eye out for private collectors who post advertisements in the Miami Herald looking to purchase cards. But Oliver would love to hear from any collector who has interest in any of his items. He can reached at email@example.com or 305-822-9680.
“I’m very negotiable, because my key concern is to get it in good hands to someone who will enjoy it as much as I did, and then turn those funds over to the foundation,” Oliver said.