40 cards for Del En­nis — a prized base­ball card deal

Times Chronicle & Public Spirit - - NEWS - By the end of the 1950s, an amaz­ing 89 per­cent of Amer­i­can boys were col­lect­ing base­ball cards. I was one of them. By 1959, there was just one ma­jor man­u­fac­turer (Topps of New York City) and a mar­ginal one (Fleer of Philadel­phia). On the macadam play­grou

card of Del En­nis and told me to “name my price.”

It was a hard de­ci­sion. Del was my fa­vorite Phillie. He was a lo­cal guy (Ol­ney), a slug­ging out­fielder and, if the truth be told, they don’t win the 1950 pen­nant with­out him. (In 153 games, he bat­ted .311, hit 31 home­runs and was league RBI leader with 126.) In later years, I learned that the card com­pa­nies of that era made sure that cards of lo­cal fa­vorites were in short sup­ply. (I’m guess­ing in New York and Bos­ton you’d find an En­nis in ev­ery other pack.) This short­age, of course, en­cour­aged kids to buy more packs. Bob bought a lot of packs and didn’t have an En­nis.

Name my price? Hmm. I did. I told Rob I wanted my pick of any 40 cards from his col­lec­tion.

To my amaze­ment, he went for the deal. I’m not sure what the value of those cards would be to­day (I don’t re­call even who I se­lected), but a large card com­pany, Dean’s Cards out of Ohio, prices the Del card in ex­cel­lent con­di­tion (and all my cards were in that shape, no bi­cy­cle spokes or flip­ping for me) at $76 and even com­mon 1950 Bow­man cards at $15 to $20 each (low num­bers more). In to­day’s dol­lars, I swapped $76 for $800 worth of cards.

Base­ball cards were kid cur­rency in those days, and that was the way we han­dled our com­merce.

The irony of this story is that, a few days later, I wan­dered down to Ron­nie’s 5&10 in Glen­side, bought a cou­ple of packs of cards and got a Del En­nis. (I didn’t tell Bob that un­til years later.)

I still have most of my cards from my child­hood — mostly up to 1959 and not count­ing the ones I as­sem­bled while work­ing as a vice pres­i­dent at Fleer in the 1990s. (The value of those cards, mass pro­duced at the time, won’t kick in un­til my grand­kids are col­lect­ing So­cial Se­cu­rity.) My 1950 Bow­man set, graded VG to EX, has a pur­chase value of be­tween $7,000 and $9,000. I never plan to sell it, of course.

The key sets of the card decade of the ’50s were the 1951 Bow­man (it in­cludes rookie cards of Mickey Man­tle and Willie Mays), 1952 Topps (also the Man­tle rookie, a big ticket), 1953 Bow­man (the first real photo cards, pure pic­tures, no writ­ing on the card face), 1954 Topps and 1957 Topps (a more sub­dued ver­sion of the ‘53 Bow­man).

About two months ago, a neigh­bor con­tacted me with a ques­tion. In his closet rested two shop­ping bags of vintage base­ball cards col­lected by his late fa­ther who had passed away 20 years ago. He wasn’t sure ex­actly what years they were or even what to do with them. He knew that I was a col­lec­tor and some­thing of an au­thor­ity on the sub­ject (three of my 11 pub­lished books are on col­lect­ing cards, ran a ma­jor hobby show, wrote a hobby col­umn for a Philly daily for a dozen years, etc.). I told him to bring them over and I’d have a look. At the same time, I wasn’t ex­pect­ing much.

A few weeks later, he stopped by the house — and what a sur­prise. Most of the cards he brought spanned the key years 1952 to ‘69. Cards pro­duced in the ’70s, be­fore the mar­ket ex­ploded, had some value, and he had some of them, too.

Oddly, he didn’t have cards from ev­ery year. I sus­pect that his dad had sold some of them be­fore he died. But the cards he did have were in good to great con­di­tion, clearly col­lected by some­one that loved them with the eyes of a col­lec­tor, not as an in­vestor. There were al­most com­plete sets of 1957 and 1967 Topps, two very collectible years, and heavy num­bers from other years, too - lots of Mickey Man­tle, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Stan Mu­sial and other star cards. It was a good as­sort­ment. There were also some foot­ball cards from the early ’50s and even some non-sports cards.

It took me close to a week to sort them all out. But it was week of pure joy for a col­lec­tor like me. I have a friend who runs an auc­tion house and has done so for many years. I took the cards to him, and my neigh­bor’s “bags of cards” ended up al­low­ing him to bank $2,100. I’m sure his fa­ther would have been pleased. I know that I was.

There’s still money to be had in sports col­lectibles, just fewer buy­ers. The key is that you have to know what you are look­ing for. But 40 cards for a Del En­nis in 1950 still ranks up there among the best deals I ever made.

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