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Mint Condition: How Baseball Cards Became an American Obsession Hardcover – Bargain Price, April 6, 2010

53 customer reviews

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Hardcover, Bargain Price, April 6, 2010
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

It's a form of megalomania, of course, one famous card collector once said of his hobby—and, as Jamieson explains, there are plenty of people willing to cash in on collectors' obsessions; the secondary market for baseball cards may be as much as a half-billion dollars annually. It used to be even stronger: Jamieson got interested in the history of baseball cards when he rediscovered his own adolescent stash only to find that its value had plummeted in the mid-1990s. His loss is our gain as he tracks the evolution of the card from its first appearance in cigarette packs in the late 19th century through the introduction of bubble gum and up to the present. The historical narrative is livened by several interviews, including conversations with the two men who launched Topps (for decades the first name in cards) and a collector who's dealt in million-dollar cards. Jamieson also digresses neatly into curiosities like the Horrors of War card set, the legendary Mars Attacks, and a profanity-laced card featuring Cal Ripken's little brother. It's a fun read, but it also shows just how much serious work went into sustaining this one corner of pop culture ephemera. (Apr.)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Every time a rare baseball card brings a million-dollar price at auction, thousands of aging former collectors wistfully recall shoeboxes full of rookie cards and wonder if they lost a fortune when Mom cleaned out their rooms. The answer, according to Washington-based, award-winning journalist Jamieson is . . . probably not. Jamieson doesn’t supply lists of valuable cards (there are collectors’ journals for that); rather, he chronicles the history of collectible cards, profiles a few unique collectors, and tracks the development of the hobby and ponders its future. He profiles Jefferson Burdick, an almost forgotten man who donated what was probably the greatest collection of baseball cards ever assembled to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art over the course of a decade before his death in 1963. In tracing the history of collectible cards, Jamieson shows the extraordinary lengths to which the early cigarette and card companies went to separate young boys from their money, a penny and then a nickel at a time. A not uncommon tactic was to issue incomplete sets to keep collectors fruitlessly buying in search of a card that didn’t exist. This is a fascinating history that encompasses not only the nuances of serious collecting but also the business machinations and card-marketing strategies that contributed significantly to the rise of the cigarette and gum industries. Superbly informative and entertaining. --Wes Lukowsky

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Monthly Press (April 6, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802119395
  • ASIN: B004H8GM4Y
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (53 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,546,215 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Larry Underwood on April 1, 2010
Format: Hardcover
As a kid growing up in the '50s & '60s, collecting baseball cards was a natural part of our existence. Abusing our prized possessions was also a part of the process; a '56 Yogi Berra made my Schwinn sound like a Harley (not really). At the time, I didn't realize that was a very costly sound effect; who knew that shoebox full of Musials, Williams, and Mantles could someday pay for junior's college education, if the owner of those gems had sense enough to keep them in "mint condition"? Needless to say, I didn't catch on until twenty some odd years later; and like everything that has a "market value", baseball card portfolios have been whacked in recent years; just like everything else.

Dave Jamieson has compiled a wonderfully researched history of the baseball card phenomenon, which brought back many memories for me; not only of my innocent youth, but of my not so innocent adulthood, when I tried to grab the hottest cards at the best possible prices. I used to buy 'em by the set, and horde them like a miser, hoping they'd increase in value. Naturally, I now keep my collection in mint condition, and I'll spend hours gazing at baseball's not so distant past, and wonder why Roger Maris isn't in the Hall of Fame.

If you're a baseball fan, regardless of your obsession with collecting cards, you'll certainly enjoy this book. It's a home run.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By patcamperino on March 28, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Gran Torino left me thirsty for Pabst; this book left me jonesing for gum, smokes and a '52 Topps Mickey Mantle. Mint Condition wonderfully explains the incredible journey of the baseball card from its early tobacco days to the wax packs of today. It provides a unique education in American history by showing how tobacco, MLB & chewing gum owe a huge debt to baseball cards and the kids who bought (or forced their parents to buy) them. But my favorite thing about reading Mint Condition is that it caused me to pull out my own stash of prized cards from 20yrs ago which evoked so many great memories.
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18 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Hal Jordan VINE VOICE on April 21, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
If, like me, you are a baseball fan who collected baseball cards as a kid, you will find this account of the history of the baseball card industry to be a good read. It occurrs to me that there are characteristic differences between how a journalist and an academic approach a book like this (I'm assuming from his bio on the flap of the dust jacket that Jamieson is a journalist). With an academic, you are likely to get a rather dry discussion, but one that is thorough. With a journalist, you are likely to get a lively discussion, but one that leaves some holes in the narrative. Jamieson's discussion is certainly lively. He spends considerable time on some of the oddball characters who have been involved in the baseball card industry over the years. Getting to know something about these people makes the story more interesting, which is why journalists always include the "personal element" in a news story. If you want to write a newspaper article about an increase in foreclosures, you start the article with an account of the Smith family being forced out of their home. Only then do you give the reader the big picture. Jamieson takes this approach.

An academic is more likely to be concerned with nailing down all the facts, and adds color only as an afterthought. In a book like this, the journalistic approach is probably the better way to go. But there were a number of points where I wished Jamieson had taken more trouble with the facts. For example, he spends some time on the boom and crash in baseball card production and in the prices of collectible cards during the late 1980s and early 1990s. But I didn't feel I was getting the complete story. It would have been nice to have had some more details on how high the prices of particular cards went and how far they crashed.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By M. Lewis on April 11, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This is a remarkable and singular achievement. The author makes reading who makes the business and history of baseball cards much fun as collecting them once was. For fans of baseball and sports collectibles it's a must -- but even those who discarded their shoe boxes of cards long ago will delight in the author's portrait of an industry's obsession. As with all manias, it's magnetic.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Nations Attic on May 9, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a kid growing up during the last height of baseball cards (late 80's early 90's) this book was a real insight into what was really going in the industry at that time. Not only did the book cover this period, it also did a great job of describing how and why baseball cards got huge during the early 20th Century and the 1950's - 60's. I thought I knew a lot about the hobby growing up, but this book really was fascinating and a great read. I encourage anyone that ever collected, bought, sold and traded cards to pick this book up!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By RckyMtnColo on October 14, 2010
Format: Hardcover
This book is a fantastic read. It gives you an in depth and colorful history of baseball cards from the beginning to the present. The history of the baseball cards and card collecting laid out in this book brings back a nostalgia that makes you want to be a kid again looking for that perfect card. It made me look at my old collection and remember how much fun it was collecting, organizing and trading cards as a kid. The history on cards from the 1800-early 1900 is fantastic. Laying out how the old Tobacco and Gum companies started putting cards in their products as a selling point. How Other cards such as Horrors of War and the Mars Attacks cards were put out. You will learn about the famous Wagner card and the history of the card as it moved from owner to owner and eventually sold for a record $ amount. The book even touches on cards that are altered and counterfeit.

Again, a great read for collector and non-collectors alike. I loan this book out to whomever is willing to give it a try.
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