Learning a Lesson from Mom
In recent years, Baby Boomer mothers have been getting a lot of flak for being dream busters. They have been charged with tossing out their sons' baseball card collections when Junior wasn't looking, or when the young boy's fancy turned from baseball to love, or when he left home. Said mothers stand accused of dispatching to the “ash heap of history” the very cards that are today termed vintage (worth a nice piece of change). The verdict in the court of public opinion: guilty as charged.
There's no getting around it. Mothers (and some fathers, too) have, in effect, thrown thousands and thousands of dollars worth of cards into the trash along with decomposing banana peels and coffee grinds. They may just as well have set ablaze a stack of government T-bills and maturing municipal bonds.
The proof is in the pudding … or landfills and incinerators, in these inauspicious instances. To further illustrate this point, I need you to traverse the time barrier and travel back with me to a very good year: 1958. (I promise that you'll be home in time for supper.)
World War II hero Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower is the President of the United States; the most popular program on television is Gunsmoke; a first-class postage stamp costs four cents; and Friskies is marketing the first-of-its-kind dry cat food. The perennial World's Champions New York Yankees are managed by a non-sequitur-spouting senior citizen named Casey Stengel.
The American pastime is baseball, when it truly is a game — unsullied by artificial turf, domed stadiums, mega-million-dollar player contracts, sky-high ticket prices, and eardrum-piercing rock music blasting between innings at the old ballpark. Kids collect baseball cards, relishing the mystique of the game most of all. Topps cards are the tops, and they aren't competing with a mob of card companies for a share of the collector's market. The ten-year-old wide-eyed boy of 1958 opens his packs of cards containing such star players as:
1969 Topps Deckle Edge Roberto Clemente baseball card
Ted Williams (valued today, in near-mint condition, at $500)
Willie Mays (valued today, in near-mint condition, at $225)
Mickey Mantle (valued today, in near-mint condition, at $800)
Hank Aaron (valued today, in near-mint condition, at $200)
Roger Maris (valued today, in near-mint condition, at $400)
Roberto Clemente (valued today, in near-mint condition, at $300)
We're back. It's the twenty-first century again. Now it's time to do a little math. In this teeny-tiny sampling of six cards, many parents tossed away $2,425 in today's dollars. And in mint condition, the same cards are worth a whole lot more.
In his fifties now, Junior is getting a little long in the tooth, contemplating his own retirement. With all his money tied up in the whims of the volatile stock market, he watches as those discarded cards of his continue to appreciate in value. It'll haunt him to his dying day.
George Washington commemorative hanging plaque (1930s)
True, this little case study ignores a couple of meaningful variables. Namely, the cards that were kept in a kid's not-so-gentle care aren't likely to be in pristine condition these many years later, even without shortsighted mothers.
And, had every kid held on to his cards, there would be a whole lot more of them in today's marketplace. The law of supply and demand teaches us that the cards would be much less valuable had parents left the cards to rest comfortably in their shoeboxes for a Rip Van Winkle siesta. It's called dilution, and it happens when too much of a particular item is available. The law of supply and demand applies to every collectible imaginable.
Seeing How Kids Have Changed
Enough mom bashing for the time being. The truth is that kids, prior to the late 1980s or early 1990s, focused on collecting things for the sheer allure of collecting. It was fun. Their eyes weren't fixed on the future worth of their baseball cards, comic books, and Barbie dolls.
Pay Toilet metal sign (early 1970s)
Young boys flipped their cards on concrete city sidewalks and fired them against brick walls. They attached them with clothespins to the spokes of their bicycles, generating breezy, whirring sounds only a kid could love. These sorts of normal juvenile behaviors scratched, scuffed, creased, and chipped their cards. Some youngsters even marked them with crayons and pens. Ouch! Kiss that future value goodbye!
A 1969 collector of baseball cards, for instance, could not possibly have foreseen that Topps card #260, of a then unknown rookie player named Reggie Jackson, would be worth over $5,000 in mint condition three decades later. Nor did he much care. From a penny to $5,000.
That's a 500,000 percent return on investment—a little better than even the vaunted Kaufmann Fund's thirty-year average return.
Since her birth as a teenager in 1959, Barbie has worn a billion pairs of shoes and had over 500 professional makeovers. Barbie has also been dating Ken for over forty years with no marriage plans in the offing. And, believe it or not, Barbie has been a very controversial figure during her lifetime, offending everyone from women's groups to peace groups to child psychologists. Dr. James Dobson has dubbed Barbie a “role model for anorexia.”
Meanwhile, little girls of that same year played with their Barbie dolls, twisting thousands of arms and legs in the process, doing to their doll set-ups what the boys were doing to their baseball cards. Countless Ken and Barbie dolls met the same fate as did Tom Seaver and Nolan Ryan baseball cards.
And today there's a considerable Barbie doll collector's market, with many highly coveted vintage dolls (1959–1966), as well as some of the contemporary, limited editions, doing a brisk trade.
George and Martha Washington salt and pepper shakers
Being a kid nowadays really is difficult—and a lot less fun. Boys and girls are inundated with mixed messages on television, in the movies, and on the Internet. Childhood itself has been considerably shortened. Collecting things for pleasure as an innocent, non-jaded kid is harder to do.
The passion of youth is worth a whole lot more than any inflated dollar figure put on their Pokémon cards and pogs. Yet, many of today's young kids are acutely aware of the money value of things that they're collecting, and they're more than happy to discourse on the subject.
True, a little financial savvy goes a long way. Little Scotty and Melissa should be taught the meaning of a dollar. (It's worth about 35 cents in 1974 dollars, by the way.) However, eight-year-olds talking about Ken Griffey Jr. being a great baseball player is one thing; deliberating on the latest market price of their Ken Griffey Jr. baseball cards is quite another kettle of fish—and not a positive development.
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