Baseball cards have existed for just as long as the game has been played. From 1869 until the 1930s, cards were packaged with chewing tobacco, gum or any other product that hoped that these collectibles would boost their sales. However, production came to a stand-still during World War II because of a nationwide paper shortage. The Bowman Gum Company began production again in 1948, which is what collectors recognize as the beginning of the card collecting industry, as we know it today.
Looking for a place to buy cards is an easy proposition for buyers, as there are many avenues collectors can take to find the cards they want at the prices they want. Here are a few places serious and casual collectors alike can find baseball cards.
* '''Hobby Shops'''-More often than not, hobby shops are independently owned by extremely knowledgable card enthusiasts. Shopping at a hobby shop gives you the opportunity to find sets of cards that aren't available through most retailers. However, because these are independently owned, prices tend to be a little higher than a collector would come to expect.
* '''Retail stores'''-Some toy and department stores carry baseball cards, which come in boxes priced anywhere from $10-$40. However, the packs in these boxes tend to have fewer, less desirable cards. Going the route of retail, though, is a cheap way of starting a card collection.
* '''Card shows'''-A card show is a day (sometimes multiple day) long event where vendors and collectors can wheel and deal. These shows take place in various places, including the wings of a mall, a hotel ballroom, or an open-air flea market. Dealers sell individual packs of cards, boxes, complete sets and valuable individual cards. Generally speaking, this is a collector's opportunity to haggle with dealers in hopes that he/she can get a deal. At the very least, collectors are surrounded by large numbers of collectors just as eager and interested in the hobby as they are.
* '''The Internet'''-Internet retailers tend to offer discounted prices on cards, whether it's through their own site or on eBay. Though it's becoming a popular way of adding to your card collection, the uncertainty that the internet brings makes it absolutely necessary that you do your homework and make sure that the person or retailer that you are buying from is a reliable and trusted source.
* '''Trading with other collectors''' -No matter how much money you spend on cards, and how often you buy them, there will always be one or two that always seem to elude you. One of the easiest, and most fun, ways of finding cards that you can't seem to find in packs or boxes is to trade with another collector. Odds are good that you have something someone else wants, and he/she may be able to reciprocate with something that has driven you up the wall. Plus it's a great way to make friends in the card collecting community.
Different card categories to look for
When the idea of collecting cards seems as if it's already too complicated, it throws you for an even bigger loop. There is a huge variety of the types of cards that can be had, whether it be through unique sets or individual cards. However, most collectors are more concerned with individual cards, which can be found within each set, in unique variations.
* '''Rookie Card'''- In very simple terms, a player's rookie card is his first baseball card. More often than not, rookie cards are produced while the player is still in the minor leagues, yet that same player can be seen wearing the team's major league uniform. Rookie cards of more popular players tend to be scarce, and tend to be the most valuable individual card a collector can own.
* '''Error Card'''- An error card is exactly what it implies. Manufacturers have released cards with some noticeable error on either a certain player's card or an entire set. Once this is corrected, the cards with the error skyrocket in value, even cards of the most obscure player.
* '''Insert Card'''-Insert cards are placed into packs based on a ratio set by the manufacturer. When a manufacturer does this, they will print the odds of finding insert cards on the back of a pack underneath the flap where the foil meets and on the box. Insert card ratios can be anything from 1:2 to 1:1,000,000.
* '''Serial Number Cards'''- On occasion, manufacturers choose to print a specific amount of a particular card. In this case, a collector lucky enough to find one of these will see a serial number on the back of the card, most likely saying something along the lines of "1 of 1,000," depending on the number of cards printed.
* '''Memorobilia Cards'''- Recently, manufacturers have struck deals with the MLB and the MLBPA and have produced memorobilia cards. These cards include either a swatch of a jersey worn in a game by a player or a piece of a game used bat. These have garnered lots of attention and are worth obscene amounts of money.
Building a collection
There are no rules as to how to go about starting a card collection. Some collectors choose to focus on the players on their favorite teams. There are also collectors who focus on specific players, whether it be their favorite players or ones that the collector feels will be worth the most money in the future. Many people choose to focus on complete sets produced by manufacturers each year. Certain sets tend to be more valuable than others, so some collectors maintain many, if not, all sets produced within a year in hopes of landing one that has value in the future, due to either defects or scarcity. Regardless, there are many ways to fit card collecting into the budget of even the most casual baseball fan.
Maintaining your cards
The image of that little boy riding his bike with a Whitey Ford rookie card in the spokes of his wheel haunts card collectors to this day. To this extent, third party manufacturers produce a variety of cases, books and sleeves to keep your cards safe and looking as good as they did when they came out of the pack. Thin plastic sleeves are the cheapest, yet sometimes most ineffective way of protecting your investment. However, a company called Top Loader produces a line of hard plastic cases that are tougher to bend and extremely easy to store. Card collectors books, complete with 3x3 sleeves, are also available in a variety of styles, but tend to be bulky and hard to store.
In terms of knowing the value of your collection, your best bet is either Beckett's annual price guide or Becket Monthly , which are the most respected and widely used price guides today. Beckett also offers an online service, complete with message boards, for a small service fee.
Collecting baseball cards can be fun for everyone, young or old, rich or poor. It's all just a matter of how you approach it, just like the game of baseball itself. Enjoy!