When Dave Jamieson's parents sold his childhood home a few years ago, forcing him to clear out his old room, he happily rediscovered a prized boyhood possession: his baseball card collection. Now was the time to cash in on his "investments," but all the card shops had closed, and eBay was no help, either. Cards were selling there for next to nothing. What had happened?
In Mint Condition, Jamieson's fascinating history of baseball cards, he finds the answer, and much more. Picture cards had long been used to advertise household products, but in the years after the Civil War, tobacco companies started slipping them into cigarette packs as collector's items. Cards featuring famous generals and Indian chiefs, flags of all nations, and comely actresses all achieved success with boys, but none were as popular as cards featuring the heroes of the new American pastime. Before long, the cards were wagging the cigarettes, and a century-long infatuation had been born.
In the 1930s, baseball cards helped gum and candy makers survive the Great Depression, and kept children - many of whom couldn't afford a ticket to the game - in touch with the great stars of the day. After World War II, Topps Chewing Gum Inc. built itself into an American icon, hooking a generation of baby boomers on bubble gum and baseball cards during the game's golden era. In the 1960s, royalties from cards helped to transform the Major League Baseball Players Association into one of the country's most powerful unions, dramatically altering the business of the game. And in the '80s and '90s, cards went through a spectacular bubble, becoming a billion-dollar-a-year industry with an estimated eighty-one billion cards produced a year at its peak, before all but disappearing.
Mint Condition is brimming with colorful characters, from a destitute hermit whose legendary collection resides at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, to Topp's mad genius designer who created the company's most famous card sets, and from the professional "graders" who rate cards and the "doctors" who secretly alter them to a larger-than-life memorabilia specialist whose auction house is under investigation by the FBI. A rollicking, century-spanning, and extremely entertaining history, Mint Condition is a must-read for anyone who has ever collected, flipped, or traded a card. Sorry, no gum included.
-- from Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
What people are saying:
“Engaging, informative, and full of unexpected pleasures, Mint Condition deserves a spot on any baseball fan’s bookshelf. Dave Jamieson has hit it out of the park.”
—Cait Murphy, author of Crazy ’08: How a Cast of Cranks, Rogues, Boneheads, and Magnates Created the Greatest Year in Baseball History
“Mint Condition kept me spellbound and couch-bound for two days. Its pages are redolent of basements, bubble gum and bachelorhood. They teem with artists, innocents and charlatans. Dave Jamieson fit a century-and-a-half of Americana on the back of a baseball card, a remarkable achievement.”
—Steve Rushin, author of The Pint Man and The Caddie Was a Reindeer
"Dave Jamieson has written a definitive history of both a pastime and an industry. For those of us who grew up collectors—and still feel a sentimental attachment to those seventeen utterly worthless Dan Plesac rookie cards gathering mold in our basement--this is the book that explains everything."
—Michael Weinreb, author of The Kings of New York and Bigger than the Game
“This is a fascinating history that encompasses not only the nuances of serious collecting but also the business machinations and card-marketing strategies that contributed significantly to the rise of the cigarette and gum industries. Superbly informative and entertaining.”
—Wes Lukowsky, Booklist (starred review)
“In this compelling book, journalist Jamieson tracks the history of baseball cards from their late 19th-century beginnings to the present, covering the controversies (e.g, card forgeries), the rivalries (e.g., between companies issuing cards, and between rival collectors), and baseball cards as investments…. This very satisfying account of the development of baseball cards and our attitudes toward them is highly recommended even for those casually interested in sports or collectibles.”
“Jamieson got interested in the history of baseball cards when he rediscovered his own adolescent stash only to find that its value had plummeted in the mid-1990s. His loss is our gain. . . . It’s a fun read.”
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