I bring to you The Throwback Machine’s very first reader-requested entry, found in the Nov. 23, 1992, Journal Gazette, a business page article about the grand opening of Elliott's Sports Card Shop, formerly known as C & C Card Shop, once located at 1604 Broadway Ave. here in Mattoon.
Given my subject matter in previous columns, it’s not beyond the pale to assume that I’d have box after box of old Topps and Upper Deck cards to rifle through for research before writing this. Elliott's was right up the street from my beloved Cosmic Blue Comics (RIP), so logic would dictate that I would have found time on those glorious Saturday afternoons to stop by there to get my card collecting on like I know a lot of my friends did. Well, sometimes logic fails us, because my time collecting sports cards as a kid was brief and unsuccessful.
I wanted to be a card collector for sure. The friends I had in grade school sure made it look appealing. I remember furious back-of-the-bus trading discussions going on, punctuated by just-as-furious page flipping through that month’s dog eared copy of the Beckett’s Price Guide, which for those that may not remember was the sports card equivalent of the Wall Street Journal…or, let’s say, the Overstreet Comic Price Guide for us nerdy comic book fans.
Unfortunately, and this ends up being a crucial point, you’ve got to know at least something about sports for card collecting to make any sense. My sports knowledge extends from the Chicago Bears to women’s Curling during the winter Olympics, and that’s about it. I’ve just never had the mental patience for keeping track of obsessive statistics about players the way a lot of sports fans are, a strange admission coming from a guy who can still remember the extra-life codes to 30-year-old video games.
And this is why my brief stint as a sports card collector was such a flame out. I tried though. While I had a few piles of baseball cards tucked away in some random drawers -- my chosen brand was “Donruss” which I’m guessing was the Betamax of card collecting -- football cards were probably what I had the most of. And one fateful afternoon, I discovered just how unprepared I was for a real card-trading session with one of my grade school buddies.
I remember we sat down on the living room floor, he pulled out his meticulously organized binders, while I, get this, seriously just dumped out my entire collection into a concave plastic sled he had nearby. I’m pretty sure he rooked me on every trade, as he rightfully should have, sucker that I was.
He’d fan out a whole fist-full of players, wave them in front of my face and with a devil’s smile would say, “I’ll give you all of these, and all I want for them is just one card! I’m the one taking a loss here!” and like an idiot, I’d agree. And that’s how Mr. Dan Fouts exited my collection and how I ended up with an old Velveeta box full of unknowns who probably split the NFL for the Canadian League that year and then left that to work at their respective fathers’ Nissan-Subaru dealerships a year after that.
This is not to say that card collecting and I never crossed paths again; let those jocks on the back of the bus have fun spending all their money over at the Card Shop trying to pick up the next “Johnny McGunderson” or “Dick Stubauer” (athlete names simulated). Me and my dorky buddies were prowling places in town as diverse as the White Hen Pantry that’s now the parking lot for the Circle K, or the Walgreens in the mall that’s now JoAnn Fabrics or Icenogle’s Grocery which is just a row of storage sheds, to pick up, from fine folks at the now-defunct Impel card company, the one-two punch of “Star Trek 25th Anniversary” and “DC Comics Cosmic Crisis” trading cards. Now that was the kind of card collecting I could deal with.
Collector’s trivia: I only got rid of my Star Trek and DC Cards just a few years ago, donating them to a friend’s yard sale for MS relief. According to her, they were among the first things to sell. Enjoy them, whoever you are. Sorry I didn’t have a full set for you. I stupidly gave a competing collector all my extras. And I kept the “Gates McFadden” card for myself. She was a redhead, after all. See, I told you I was bad at card collecting.
Comic books have managed to rebound as an industry somewhat after the collectors boom of the 1990s bottomed out, although the idea of them being “worth” anything has long since come and gone. Sports cards on the other hand appear to have been relegated to the bottom drawer of the collecting universe, somewhere down there where coin enthusiasts and NASCAR hoarders lurk.
But there’s something sort of touching and sad about imagining someone deciding to part ways with their hard-earned card collection, only to be told by some guy on a folding chair at a flea market booth here at the mall that they aren’t worth a thing anymore, at least monetarily.
But what do I know? It’s quite possible that card collecting is still a viable hobby for those who just like the process, all that hunting and trading. This is just my guess, but I’d like to think the appeal lies in what a meticulous hobby it can be, and the tactile experience of card collecting; there just wasn’t anything like the feel of that waxy paper in your hands before you’d tear into a new pack.
It’s the kind of question I’d probably take to a local establishment like Elliott's Card Shop this very Saturday if I could, but, like my beloved comic book store, I can’t. Which leaves another question dangling for the ages: Why didn’t anyone bother to collect the gum?