40 cards for Del Ennis — a prized baseball card deal
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.