The room was already filled near capacity when I entered through the rear double doors. The aged security officer eyed me with indifference, as a young woman handed me my auction booklet and bidder’s number before pointing me to an empty seat in the back row. As I sat, I perceived a lack of definition to the objects in the room, which was awash in a soft early morning light. Faceless patrons stared forward with little interaction.
The silence was broken by the striking of the auctioneer’s gavel. The auctioneer, a tall and lanky man, spread his boney arms out over the podium and beckoned the patrons to take their seats, as the auction was about to begin.
I could make out the 1909-1911 T206 Honus Wagner baseball within its protective glass case at the front of the room; to the right of the auctioneer. The case was set upon a red velvet covered table, which rightly established an air of royalty. A spotlight highlighted the case from above. The Wagner card or just “The Card,” as it was known in collector circles, was the sought after crown jewel of all serious collections. Bidding started at $1 million.
Bid numbers flashed up and down non-stop as the bid price increased. The auctioneer’s bid calling rose to a cacophony. From the right of the podium, auction representatives called out bids from phone-connected patrons. The bid price approached $2 million before slowing; a signal of its imminent climax. I raised my number to identify my bid of $2 million, which brought a hush and then silence to the room. Time slowed as the auctioneer called out for final bids…once, twice…before a lone arm rose to my far left. “What is your bid, sir” asked the auctioneer? An anxious pause separated the question from the response. “$2.1 million!” I heard nothing more until the gavel dropped to signify the sale. “The Card” was out of reach; my collection would never be complete!
The man to my far left had collected his prize and was now skipping down the aisle. Years of age had been erased from his face and a 12-year old boy now peered back at me…the face of my brother. In his right hand, removed from its case, was the Honus Wagner card. He continued past me and out through the double doors. I followed silently as he exited the building and moved out onto the sidewalk toward a gold-colored bicycle. I watched as he reached into his pocket and pulled out a wooden spring-loaded clothes pin. He kneeled and pinned “The Card” to one of the spokes of the bike’s rear wheel. I continued to watch as he moved the bike back-and-forth; adjusting the card until he was satisfied with the sound. Once accomplished, he straddled the bike and with a slight push and kick, peddled down the street leaving only the fading sound of the flapping card and a whisper of dust for me as I continued my slumber.
My brother and I both collected baseball cards in the 1960s and ‘70s. Topps brand cards were our favorite. For the price of 15 cents, each purchase added 8 to 10 cards to our respective collections. We also collected the 3D cards, which were found at the bottom of Kellogg’s cereal boxes of that era. Our trips with our dad to the local Acme grocery store were often rewarded with one or the other or both! The gum and cereal that accompanied the prize were added value! Over time, we amassed hundreds of cards.
I admit that I was just as guilty as my brother in using our cards as a “cheap” way of giving our bikes that cool motorcycle-like sound. “Cheap” is a relative term. Accounting for inflation and cost of living increases through the years, an appropriate spoke card selection in 1972 would have been…say…Jim Merritt, a left-handed pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds. With apologies to Mr. Merritt, his Topps’ card is currently valued at only $5.99, but made the same “chopper” sound in 1972 as Harmon Killebrew’s card. Harmon played first base for the Minnesota Twins; his 1972 card is now valued at $98.99. I had two…one for each bike wheel! In 1972, without the counsel of an investment banker, all I knew was that the sound of Harmon flapping in the spokes was sweet; just the right accessory for my metallic green stingray bike with the ape-hanger handlebars, banana seat, and sissy bar. What’s the loss of two cards when you have hundreds!
At a base value of approximately 1 1/2 cents per card at the time of purchase, it was cost-effective for us to find alternative uses (or owners) for many of the cards within our collection…you can only stare at them for so long! Give us credit for inventiveness, if not for patience. We were especially good at ridding ourselves of any future auction-worthy cards! While I am not certain we owned any of the cards listed below, it is entirely plausible given the number of trips we made to the grocery store. Current sale values and past dispositions are noted.
- 1968 Topps’ Aaron/Clemente Card – $3500 (bike spoke replacement card)
- 1968 Topps’ Nolan Ryan Rookie Card – $500 to $3000 (traded to a friend for two sticks of gum)
- 1968 Topps’ Joe Morgan No. 144 – $1359 (bike spoke replacement card)
- 1970 Kellogg’s Luis Aparicio – $125 (given to a friend; I had multiples; remaining ones cut into pieces for a baseball themed collage)
- 1970 Kellogg’s Frank Howard – $90 (cut into pieces for a baseball themed collage)
- 1971 Topps’ Bert Blyleven No. 26 – $4000 (ditto)
- 1974 Topps’ Hank Aaron Special No. 6 Card – $1,999 (card stock for homemade playing cards)
- 1974 Topps’ Mike Schmidt No. 283 – $4,300 (ditto)
If we had any high-caliber, auction worthy cards, I am certain they are no longer in our possession. I am also certain that within our collection were many more cards comparable to Jim Merritt…apologies again to Mr. Merritt! Using today’s Walmart business model, selling many items at low prices still results in a large number. $5.99 multiplied by many Jim Merritt caliber cards is a good return on investment. It’s simple economics.
What’s not simple is the art of selling; the ability to get someone to buy Jim Merritt (as opposed to Honus Wagner). But for the sake of my kid’s inheritance, I will give it a try. I am willing to let Mr. Merritt go at a 10% friend discount. That’s $5.39…makes the same Harmon-like chopper sound at a much lower price…I’ll throw in a clothes pin. Now that’s value! Going once…
P.S. Pass the deal on to a few hundred friends!