Before there were cards with pieces of game-used memorabilia embedded in them, before there were variations that sparkled in your eye, even before there were Super Chrome Die-Cut X-Fractor cards, there was the base card--the much maligned, often over-looked, mostly disregarded, common base card. You know, the base card that has proven to be the foundation of an entire hobby.
I was a part of a group box break not too long ago. This is an event where several card collectors contribute money to a single individual who then purchases a large quantity (usually a hobby box, collection of boxes or even a case) of an agreed upon trading card product. The break host then distributes the cards to the contributors based on their chosen teams. The coordinator of this particular box break made it clear that only the “hits" (autographed cards, memorabilia cards, serial numbered inserts, etc.) would be divided up among the participants and that the base cards were going to be discarded.
DISCARDED? I couldn't believe my eyes as I read the terms of the break. What was going on? What had happened to the base cards that made them so undesirable?
Was it the introduction of shiny new Refractors that devalued them? Or could it be the game-used memorabilia cards that brought about the downward spiral of base card values? Will there ever be another base card that draws the interest of collectors like the 1952 Topps Baseball Mickey Mantle, or the 1911 T206 Honus Wagner? Should I just throw all my base cards out? Why bother collecting them, right? If everyone feels the same as the collector from my box break did, why should companies even make base cards anymore?
The fact of the matter is that without base cards we wouldn't have all the fancy derivatives that you see on the market today. Don't get me wrong--Chrome Refractors have their place. I own several of them myself. But the base cards are the original collectables in this hobby of ours. When you look back at the history of trading cards, you don't see all the shiny cards with the bells and whistles that occupy the shelves of stores today. What you see are the vintage cards from the 50s, 60s, and 70s with images of ball players from a by-gone era, an era that is preserved on the cardboard that bears their images. These base cards are what built this hobby. They are the cards our fathers and grandfathers collected when they were young. They are they cards that continue to recount the history of our hobby. Some might say these cards belong in a museum.
While it's true that many of them are, in fact, displayed in museums, the overwhelming majority of these vintage base cards cards are in the hands of collectors who enjoy learning about their history and sharing it with others.