In my “This Month on PostWarCards – April 2022” article, I had written that I had picked up a few older hobby catalogs. In sharing the pickups on Twitter, I found that old catalogs are pretty popular among collectors. In this article, I thought I would share a few more reasons why I’m into collecting old sports card catalogs, guides, and magazines.
First, the obvious, older hobby publications are excellent references for articles here on the blog. Many writers in the late 70s or early 80s were closer to primary sources in the hobby who produced a lot of early post-war cards. For example, if I were to write an article about the 1954 Johnston Cookies Braves baseball set, this article from Baseball Cards Magazine’s Autumn 1981 issue would make a great reference.
Next, there are sets that Beckett Marketplace, PSA, or TCDB (for example) don’t have much information about (or entries at all), but some old catalogs do. The E-136 and E-137 Zeenuts sets are pretty popular, and there is modern hobby history on them, but this entry from The Sports Collectors Bible (1975) has a bit more detail than we get in a lot of modern write-ups.
I’m fascinated by the financial aspect of hobby history, and it’s cool to look back at hobby cycles and trends to see what was popular during different eras. For example, this advertisement from a catalog in the early 1980s shows that you could get 100 different 1952 Topps baseball cards for $135. While given today’s prices, that seems dirt cheap, it still parallels today’s market in that the 1952 Topps cards were the most expensive group of cards to buy.
And while I’m not looking to grow my card library to hoard and have a cool-looking office (though that is happening), having more sources helps me dive deeper and deeper into niche hobby topics. Having all these catalogs, guides, and magazines gives me access to more generic information about a ton of collectibles, particularly hockey and non-sport, which have the least information online.
Another collector had told me that they use old catalogs as physical checklists to carry around shows and that it’s easier than using their phone. Take this photo of the 1934-35 Sweet Caporal set; it even has boxes to check off! And when you consider pricing is so variable and often changes the moment a price guide is released, those values aren’t valuable, other than relative pricing between cards in the same set.
Many collectors aren’t looking for card information for sets made any later than the years these catalogs were published. And, again, the older the book, the closer the author is to primary sources, which is a HUGE deal with vintage unopened products where people are constantly making fake packs. How can a hobbyist know if Topps made a rack pack or grocery cello in a particular year? Start with a catalog, of course!
I’d love to hear other unique use cases for old sports card catalogs, guides, and magazines, so if you have a different reason for buying them, please let me know in the comments or over on Twitter, and happy collecting.
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