by John Andreula
Edited by Kodid Laraque-Two Elk
The other day I decided it was time.
Down the carpeted stairs, around the corner, and through the door, I found myself standing in the room that used to be my man-cave.
This room used to be a special place in my home. Formerly it was where I went when I wanted to disappear from the world for awhile.
In it I could find comics, graphic novels, old posters, some nun-chucks, and a heavy punching bag with a pull-up bar on the back-side of it. I would spend hours in this room organizing long boxes, or training my fighting skills.
Some time ago my wife convinced me to give up the room. She felt that if we had anyone visiting from out of town it was important that they have a comfortable place to rest, store their stuff, and sleep.
Even though I was perfectly content with these perspective interlopers sleeping on the floor, or better yet, in a hotel room, my man-cave became our house’s spare bedroom. My punching bag was moved out and a bed was purchased and moved in. Some of my old nerd paraphernalia is still stored in the room, yet it never again held that same air of my space.
In the back corner of this room sits a bookshelf. The upper shelves of the bookcase hold my many notebooks and journals. Below those are my graphic novels. On the bottom two shelves are various sized boxes. These white and tan boxes are the remnants of one of my favorite childhood past-times. This is where my collection of trading cards lays at rest.
As soon as I turned eighteen and became an “adult” I moved across the country. It was almost twenty years ago now, that I upended myself from New Jersey to what would become my permanent home here in Colorado.
In the years that followed I had grown detached from many of the relics of my past. Girls, music, and pot filled the space in my life that was formerly occupied by LEGOs, comic books, and action figures.
Snowboarding and partying supplemented the hole in my heart where the antiquities from my childhood used to reside. At that time, I could never imagine that one day I would be playing action figures with my daughter, and I would want to give her some of my old toys. The possibility hadn’t dawned on me that I may also have my own online reseller business, and having access to these items could produce some serious income for me later on.
The list of toys, board games, video games, and various collectibles that became misplaced and lost in the next decade or so is endless. I know of at least one yard sale where my mother put out all my 1990’s X-MEN action figures and my 1980’s rubber wrestling figures and priced them a quarter a piece.
It took me about ten ungrateful years to accept the fact that it was my own fault for not retrieving my property earlier. My mom is the best mother in the world. I should never have expected her to lug those cumbersome boxes of toys through multiple housing moves, or to take up valuable storage real estate in her homes for those many years.
I have no clue whatever happened to my TRANSFORMERS, TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES, VOLTRON, THUNDERCATS, and HE-MAN action figures. Ditto for my HOT WHEELS, LEGOs, and MICRO MACHINES.
Recently my mother-in-law discovered some old MICRO MACHINES’ play-sets in her attic. She promptly gave them to my daughter. These were some sweet sets, but unfortunately they were only equipped with two cars. I knew it was shame and a waste to only have two mini-cars to play with on the awesome fold-out structures, and so did my girl. She asked me to buy her some more cars and I could not refuse. So, I went to the internets to find her some more.
Low and behold, I was able to find some MICRO MACHINES selling on eBay. Even though the line hasn’t been produced since 2006, there was tons to choose from. There were even some still in their original packaging from the factory.
The going rate per each car was approximately five to seven dollars. Being the tight-wad I am, I reluctantly purchased for her a set of five cars for $11. This was a steal compared to most of what was out there. She was ecstatic with my selection.
In the end I was pleased as well. I got a good deal, and my daughter was happy. Still, I cannot help but think that I have about fifty of those miniature cars somewhere. But I know that I will never locate them.
I recognize that my toy story is not unique. Nearly everyone has a similar tale of valuable items lost to yesteryear.
I had abandoned many things that were valuable at my mother’s house when I migrated west. It was as if I expected her to store and care for them indefinitely. I figured if and when I was ever ready to retrieve them, I could just go back, waltz on in, and say Hey, ma. How’s all my old toys? I’m here to get them.
Some of my other treasures ended up at my dad’s place as well. I have two younger brothers with collections of their own, so it stands to reason that some of my things got absorbed into their possessions as well. Some of that stuff may have been traded, given away, or possibly even sold or pawned.
Fortunately, over the years I was able to retrieve some of my formerly prized belongings. A handful of my old X-MEN figures are displayed on a wall ten feet to the right of my writing desk. When I’m stuck searching for a word, sentence, or idea, I gaze over to my shelves and lose myself in reminiscence. Several of my previous Quarters Worth columns were born and polished in moments such as these. Nothing gives me more pleasure than occasionally allowing my daughter to pick one of the little guys off the wall. She’ll play with it for a bit, and then add it to her own bin of figurines.
During a few of my visits to New Jersey to see my old stomping grounds I’ve uncovered some of my lost treasures. Between time spent reconnecting with my oldest and dearest friends and family, occasionally I get lucky enough to stumble upon a random cache of forgotten goods.
Once I uncover the odd box of comic or magic cards, or the increasingly more rare toy, I freeze in momentary retrospect and process the memories and emotions attached to the objects. Then the moment passes. I box up the items and run to a local post office where I spend obscene amounts of money shipping my past self’s things to my present address here in CO.
One of these scenes played out on recent a trip to visit my mother. The chances of finding treasure is becoming more and more slim as I age, but on this particular visit my tenacity was rewarded.
Hidden deep in the back of a closet in my mom’s basement I saw a large cardboard box. It was unlabeled and unsealed, so I decided to snoop. Immediately upon opened the brown top flaps of the box I realized I had dug up some gold.
Unfortunately, and much to my chagrin, the inside of the box was in a state of disarray. Some of the cards were loose in the interior of the large carton. Baseball, football, and hockey cards were folded in half. Others had bent corners. More still were stuck together with some mystery substance that was probably spilled inside the box long ago.
Once I separated out and disposed of the damaged cards, things were looking much better. This was a huge haul. There were small boxes inside the large box that served to protect their contents adequately over the decades. Even the large slotted box with a handle seemed to have held up well over the past twenty years, despite its contents getting jostled around inside.
I organized the box quickly, but something was off. The more I went through these strange cards from the 1990s and early 2000s, the more I realized this box wasn’t my own lost treasure. It was my younger brother, Matt’s. I confirmed my suspicions when I saw a handwritten label with his name on it, as well as our childhood street address. I phoned him immediately to tell him what I had unearthed.
After a brief chuckle and a shared moment cruising memory lane, Matt told me he didn’t have the time, interest, or space to deal with the cards. He told me to keep the box. He knew I am still just nerdy enough to not decline. He just made me commit that if I sold any of it that I would put the money away for my daughter, his niece.
I agreed. The box was shipped via USPS the following day.
Fast forward to one week ago. Recently I had become unfocused in my online selling. Maybe it’s due to my always selling the same type of things. Primarily, I have been listing clothing, comics, and music.
Quite possibly it’s because of my increasingly frenetic schedule of work, family time, writing, and exercise. My selling has fallen far down my overall list of priorities.
I needed to reinvigorate my passion for my selling game. I had to shake things up a bit.
And what better way to do that, than to try something new? I have had a lot of luck with selling MAGIC THE GATHERING cards in the past, so I pulled out the baseball cards to see what I had stored away on that bookcase. I needed to assess value and prep anything worthy of selling. One at a time I grabbed the short and long card boxes off the shelf and began my process.
It took the better part of an hour to go through a 1995 UPPER DECK factory set of 545 baseball cards. It was interesting seeing Michael Jordan’s Chicago White Sox card. It reminded me of that farce, and the frenzy it caused within the greater sports world. There was a bunch of ridiculous mullets, future hall of famers, and some of my old childhood favorites as well.
Disappointingly, the box was missing its Ken Griffey Jr. card, as well as two of the fifteen gold insert cards. I set that box to the side, hoping the other cards would show up in one of the many random boxes in a future sorting.
Next I grabbed a long box. This one obviously used to be white, but age had faded the color to somewhere between eggshell and urine.
This collection was from 1992. It was a FLEER ULTRA baseball card set. A bit more than another hour later and I felt like I had hit the jackpot. This set was complete. All six hundred cards were in the box. I high-fived myself, and then brought the box to my desk, so I could assess the value later online. I had to get back to the cards. I was in the zone.
I grabbed another slightly shorter white box. The crisp whiteness of the cardboard led me to believe I had recently arranged this set previously. Yet I had no recollection of it.
It was another FLEER baseball card set. This one was from 1991. There was a bunch of team logo stickers on either end of the card stack. They were all still on their backers. This box looked promising as well.
Like the previous two sets, I attacked this one from back to front. I didn’t even get through the checklists before I discovered my first missing card.
There should have been 720 cards in the box. What I was missing filled a small notebook page. I didn’t even bother trying to catalog the lost cards past their card numbers. Like the UPPER DECK box, I would be wishing to recover more of the FLEER ’91 set when I tackled the boxes that weren’t as well organized. It was getting late. I rubbed my eyes and decided to call it a night.
The following day I awoke early. Although I hadn’t yet created any new item listings, I felt proud of myself for putting in work on my entrepreneurial endeavor. After I finished my morning routine I powered on the computer and logged in to eBay.
The search for the complete set of 1992 FLEER ULTRA cards came back with quite a few hits. People were definitely selling the set, but for only a meager eighteen dollars. I lifted the box to assess its approximate weight. It felt like it was between three and four pounds. After shipping, and the fees charged by eBay and PayPal, I would probably only see a profit of a couple of dollars. It wasn’t worth selling. Cue the disappointing melody.
I knew I could still list the set for more money and hope to get lucky. But, that method hasn’t produced results for me with my sets of comic books. If I did list the cards, the set would just become another of those items I seem to store indefinitely and become resentful of the time and space it has taken up.
The battle was lost the night before, but certainly not the war. Many, many more baseball, football, basketball, LOONEY TUNES, MARVEL, DC, and MAGIC THE GATHERING cards still sat on those two bottom shelves of the bookcase. I even had a handful of POGs.
Not all of them would be valuable. I am well aware of how this collector’s game works. I only need a couple of home-runs to make the work worthwhile, and I knew I had couple of those sitting there on the shelves. I’d proven it before, and I will do it again.
When quantifying the value of the cards the first thing to consider is the original monetary cost.
I may have spent money on all these cards, however I don’t remember spending it, and I certainly don’t remember how much I spent. Today, I only perceive my investment as the cost to ship the sets to me from New Jersey. That and the time I spent futzing around organizing them.
The first of these has actual monetary value. The second, the time aspect, could be calculated monetarily, but nostalgia and a hobbyist’s enjoyment cheapen that cost significantly. Of course, this is counter-effected somewhat by considering the other more important/valuable things I could, and should, be doing with my time.
The next item concerning value is the relative valuation of the cards in today’s market. For instance, I used eBay as a sampling of what the market value was of the 1992 FLEER ULTRA set. One may ask oneself Why are these cards so cheap? I don’t ask myself that because I understand many of the reasons.
Kids today don’t care about baseball, let alone baseball cards. If you’ve been to a game in the past few years you can spot children playing on their tablets or parents’ cell phones instead of paying attention to the action, or lack thereof. It’s almost as if the parents are just waiting for their young ones to get hit in the side of the head with a foul ball. That will be their home-run, as they can sue their home team, and the entirety of Major League Baseball.
This is as much baseball’s fault as it is society’s as a whole. Baseball has done nothing to speed up the game and make it more entertaining. The NBA and the NFL have seen tremendous growth due to their own modernizations. This is in inverse proportion to the decline in baseball’s popularity throughout the past few decades.
Even if the kids today did care about baseball, and even if they did buy baseball cards—which they don’t—they don’t know any of the players from yesteryear. My thirteen year old nephew knows about Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, and even though he is intimately aware of the Jordan brand, he likely doesn’t know that Michael Jordan played baseball. He definitely doesn’t know who Deion Sanders, Bo Jackson, Jim Thome, or anyone else in my card sets were.
People in general don’t buy baseball cards anymore. The ones that do are only looking for bargain-basement deals. The rest hit the snooze button due to lack of interactivity and excitement found in the cards.
When I was a kid it was exciting to open a baseball card pack. I remember the pure ecstasy the first time I open a box of packs. I would chew the stale, chalky, pink gum and thumb through the cards looking for my favorite hometown heroes.
Today’s kids are too busy with the internet, their hair and socks, coding, and Pokemon GO, or whatever else it is they do. Occasionally, some recognizable brand will piggy-back a trading card licensing deal with their video game, movie, or television show, but much of those are short lived. The ones with real staying power, and relative inherent monetary value, are the sets that offer interactivity, such as MAGIC and Pokemon cards.
Truthfully, age and the lenses of hindsight can be confusing when I attempt to place value on these cards I possess. In most cases I can’t tell if the players were great, or their numbers were artificially enhanced by P.E.D.s. I can’t even tell if I remember the players from way back then, or if I just know of them due to more recent announcing careers or appearances on sports talk TV and radio shows.
Like anything else, the value of the cards comes down to what I’m willing to accept to sell them, as what someone else is willing to part with to acquire them.
Anyone want to trade?
John Andreula is a geek & a reformed collector residing in Westminster, Colorado.
Reach him for commission work or media requests at: