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Old 01-27-2017, 02:35 AM
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David Kathman
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Default Hobby history: Card dealers of the 1960s: James T. Elder (+ hobby drama, 1968-69)

In my most recent hobby history post, on Gar Miller (here: http://www.net54baseball.com/showthread.php?t=234348), darkhorse9 asked if I could write something about another mail-order dealer, Jim Elder of Odessa, Florida. Elder frequently advertised in hobby publications of the mid-to-late 1960s (as James T. Elder), and one of his ads sparked an exchange that in many ways epitomized the collecting culture of the late 1960s -- when the hobby was starting to grow more quickly and prices were rising, but card conventions had not yet arrived on the scene, and it was still a fairly insular subculture in many ways.

First, let me give a little background before I post any of Elder's ads. Throughout the 1950s and most of the 60s, the hobby of collecting baseball cards was dominated by kids and teenagers, with a relatively small number of adult men, most of whom felt a need to keep a low profile because it was considered weird. The main hobby publications of the late 1950s and early 1960s were mostly published by men born in the early 20th century: Card Comments (1958-1961) by Gordon Taylor and The Card Collector (1959-1964) by Woody Gelman, both aimed at children and teens, and Sport Fan (1951-1961) by Bob Jaspersen and Card Collector's Bulletin by Charles Bray, both aimed at adults. The one exception was The Sport Hobbyist, founded by Charles Brooks in 1956 when he was in high school, and containing a mixture of serious hobby research for adult collectors and articles aimed at younger collectors.

All of these publications struggled to stay afloat, whether due to financial reasons (as with Card Comments and The Card Collector, as I detailed in this post: http://www.net54baseball.com/showthread.php?t=233392) or due to personal problems (for Sport Fan, Bob Jaspersen's health problems; for The Sport Hobbyist, Charles Brooks and Laverne Isenberg's military service). As I mentioned in the post linked immediately above, the hobby went through a period of stagnation in the early to mid-1960s, and a whole series of hobby publications launched during this period, only to fold within a year or two. Unlike the earlier publications noted above, these were mostly published and edited by young men, primarily high school or college age. (I've posted articles from some of these publications, and may write more about some of them sometime.) One publication that lasted longer than most was The Sports Trader, launched by Richard Burns in September 1964, which quickly grew to have the largest circulation in the hobby. James T. Elder was a regular advertiser; below is his ad from the April 1965 issue (volume 1, no. 6), as an example. At this point he was mostly dealing in publications, and he had a 20-page price list that he would send to anyone who asked, as seen in the ad.



But even this successful hobby paper ran into problems. In April 1966, Burns changed the format of The Sports Trader from typewritten and mimeographed to typeset and printed on newsprint, but the costs proved to be more than he had anticipated. Then he was called up by the Army National Guard and had to suspend publication for several months, since it was a one-man operation, like basically all the hobby papers at the time. (Military service was a common threat to hobby publications, given the demographics of the publishers. In July 1967, Sports Collector's Journal was launched by Steve Mitchell, a member of this board (hi, Steve!) right after he graduated from high school, and it published a lot of great articles before folding a couple of years later when Steve went into the military.)

Richard Burns changed The Sports Trader back to a mimeographed publication with the September 1967 issue, and for a while it did very well, with some issues surpassing 50 pages. James T. Elder continued to advertise pretty regularly, now with a wider variety of material. Below are the four full-page ads he had in the January 1968 issue of The Sports Trader, including one devoted to his set of 950 postcard photos and one devoted to baseball cards, including T3s for $4 each, E105s for $2.50 each, T206s at 10 for $3.50, and T210s at 10 for $20. He had several different price lists, which he was now charging for.






In February 1968, one month after the above ads appeared, a new hobby publication launched: Sports Collectors' News, edited by Mike Bondarenko, who was 16 years old but wrote like someone older than that. SCN was mimeographed like The Sports Trader, and the two papers became significant rivals, both of them regularly publishing letters to the editor that could often get lengthy and opinionated. Bad blood soon developed between Burns and Bondarenko, partly because SCN had an anonymous columnist named "The Old Prospector" who wrote snarky commentary about rival publications, including The Sports Trader, and got under Burns's skin. But the two men also had different philosophies: Bondarenko didn't like rising prices in the hobby and made a point of saying that he operated SCN on a non-profit basis, while Burns saw himself as a capitalist running a business, and thought that sellers should be able to charge whatever prices the market would bear. It didn't help that Burns tended to take offense easily at perceived slights. This resulted in a lot of drama between the two publications in 1968-69, with a good illustration being an exchange stemming from one of James T. Elder's ads.

In the November 1968 Sports Trader, Elder had three full-page ads: one for back issues of sports hobby publications, one for cards and publications (including T206s and 1940 Play Balls), and one for his baseball postcard photos, which now numbered 1400 different. Note that he was selling T206 Hall of Famers for $1 to $2.50, as opposed to 35 cents for commons. He also had several smaller ads for autographs (which I didn't scan), and on the back page he had an ad for his Sport List #34, for publications, and his Sport Card List #86 and his Sport Card Auction #7.






Collector John Gondek saw Elder's ad for old hobby publications and got very excited. He made a list of the ones he wanted, but when he totaled them up, it came to $159.75, way more than he had bargained for. Suffering from sticker shock, he wrote an indignant article and sent it to Mike Bondarenko, with a copy also going to Richard Burns. Burns wrote a reply defending Elder's pricing practices, sending it to both Gondek and Bondarenko, and Gondek then wrote a rebuttal to Burns's reply. Bondarenko published all three letters in the January 1969 Sports Collectors' News with some commentary framing it as "The Great Debate".





In retrospect, it's not too hard to see here the seeds of the issues that would lead to the hobby's explosive growth in the following decade. The baby boomers who had collected baseball cards as kids in the 1950s were now older, many of them in college, with the oldest of them now (in 1968) graduating from college and earning money, if we define the start of the baby boom as 1946. That resulted in gradually increasing demand for cards and rising prices, and that trend would accelerate in the 1970s as nostalgia for the 1950s became popular (see: Happy Days), and more people who had collected cards back then had money to spend. Of course, that wasn't the only reason for the collecting boom and rising prices of the 1970s (and then the 1980s), but it seems pretty clear to me that demographics played a part.
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Old 01-27-2017, 02:46 AM
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Richard L.
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Great reading, thanks for posting! T206 Cobb 1.25
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  #3  
Old 01-27-2017, 03:02 AM
Andy Sandler Andy Sandler is offline
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Default Jim Elder

I bought my first T206 baseball card from Jim Elder of Odessa, Florida in 1973 as a 13 year old. It was an Otto Knabe and it cost me 50 cents. I bought (5) T206's for $2.50 but I guess Jim only had one in stock so I got $2 credit. I remember my Dad teasing me that I would never get the credit in the future.
He was wrong!
P.S. I still have the old mimeographed for sale lists that Jim Elder sent me---many fond memories!
Regards, Andy Sandler andy@allsportsauctions.com
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Old 01-27-2017, 09:24 AM
Hot Springs Bathers Hot Springs Bathers is offline
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About two years ago I noticed some really great older college football programs for sale on eBay from a pair of seller IDs with Elder1 and Elder2 or something close to that. They were from Odessa, Florida. Is Jim still going or is/was this family selling off material?
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Old 01-27-2017, 10:17 AM
darkhorse9 darkhorse9 is offline
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Andy

I'd love to see some of those 1970's price lists. That's where I got my first "vintage cards" (1951 Bowman Johnny WyrosteK).

I remember he was always pushing the Pacific Coast league Popcorn Cards. Never got any of those. I wondered for years what those were.
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Old 01-27-2017, 10:28 AM
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David Kathman
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hot Springs Bathers View Post
About two years ago I noticed some really great older college football programs for sale on eBay from a pair of seller IDs with Elder1 and Elder2 or something close to that. They were from Odessa, Florida. Is Jim still going or is/was this family selling off material?
I neglected to mention in the original post that Elder appeared in the 1958 Sport Fan Who's Who as a 16-year-old student. That means he was born about 1942, and could very well still be active in the hobby. I bet that's him on eBay.

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Old 01-29-2017, 08:27 AM
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More great hobby history. Thanks David!!
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Old 01-29-2017, 09:56 AM
jsq jsq is offline
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David, very good research, thank you for posting. here is one of your quotes:

"Throughout the 1950s and most of the 60s, the hobby of collecting baseball cards was dominated by kids and teenagers, with a relatively small number of adult men, most of whom felt a need to keep a low profile because it was considered weird. "

that is spot on, clear into the mid 1970's anyone over about the age of 13 or 14 who collected baseball cards was considered very strange and "suspect" it was not normal nor allowed in the society of that day for an adult to collect baseball cards, both kids and most adults thought an adult collecting baseball cards was VERY unusual. todays hobbyists who were not collecting back then can not imagine the looks one got if they said they collected bb cards as an adult. it was only when it appeared you could make money buying and selling cards that it became acceptable in society for adults to collect cards.

i believe what we witnessed back then in terms of adults collecting cards being viewed as very weird was the non collectors envisioned 35 and 50 year old men cheating 10 year olds out of the current years cards somehow. this of course was the exact opposite of what was occuring. the adults wanted little to do with the current cards and certainly did not want a bunch of kids bugging them about todays big star. (in the 1970's you had such future hall of famers as vida blue, mark fidrych and sure to be for sure to be perenial all stars like ron lefore ....oops something happened on the way to the hall of fame) the collectors were first and foremost fans of baseball history and the players who already had their career finished or near finished and had proven they deserved to be in the hall of fame, thus old cards were the focus as were publications in a BIG way. kids were seen purely as a nuisance but the outsiders could not envision the baseball history aspect of the hobby focusing only on older cards.

i was fortunate to hang out with several of the biggest card collectors of any era. 2 of which sold their collections to al rosen and the third who co-founded what became mastro net. all agreed on one thing in 1974, do not bother with cards mfr after 1961, if you want a set for curiosity fine, but so many were printed they would never be worth anything. that was straight from the horses mouth from people who at the time were some of the most advanced collectors in the hobby and had been in the hobby for 20 years plus, ie don steinbach, mike keasler.

this avoidance of cards mfr after 1961 seems profoundly stupid looking back from today. however that was very logical at the time, the hobby had almost zero growth, and all the people in it had the current sets issued up to 1974. so who were you going to in the future sell your 1969 set to? look at the advertisements for hotel buying groups from those mid 70's years, they almost all advertised that they wanted only cards pre 1961 or 1964. the old saying you can't judge a man unless you walk in his shoes highlights the difference of how cards are viewed today and how they were viewed then and likewise how collectors are viewed today vs pre 1978 or so. the beckett guide really changed how the hobby was viewed.

also, note the complaints by gondek in the above segment, he is mentioning as his focus, buying lots of old sports publications. this is where he sees great cards advertised at what we now know are great prices, yet he focuses on publications, not the cards. i do not know when the shift occured but sports publications were more cherished then baseball cards for a very large number of hobbyists in the early days. once again to compare to today, many people collect old sports publications but relatively few as a % focus on the sports publications over the cards. this was very different back then. the collectors of sports publications with a minor in card collecting so to speak was quite normal.

maybe it had to do with the stigma of collecting cards as an adult. collecting old sports pubs did not have the stigma attached to it.

amazing what peer pressure can do to a group of people. also give some thought to the fact that the adult card collectors of that bygone era were somewhat immune to the existing peer pressure might be an accurate conclusion.

Last edited by jsq; 01-29-2017 at 06:39 PM.
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Old 03-07-2017, 12:44 PM
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That is a really great write up, or summation, and I hadn't seen it until rabbit-holing something else just now. Early hobby pubs are still a great collecting niche for me and a few others. And of course, post-1961 cards are hotly collected today, many years later.

Quote:
Originally Posted by jsq View Post
David, very good research, thank you for posting. here is one of your quotes:

"Throughout the 1950s and most of the 60s, the hobby of collecting baseball cards was dominated by kids and teenagers, with a relatively small number of adult men, most of whom felt a need to keep a low profile because it was considered weird. "

that is spot on, clear into the mid 1970's anyone over about the age of 13 or 14 who collected baseball cards was considered very strange and "suspect" it was not normal nor allowed in the society of that day for an adult to collect baseball cards, both kids and most adults thought an adult collecting baseball cards was VERY unusual. todays hobbyists who were not collecting back then can not imagine the looks one got if they said they collected bb cards as an adult. it was only when it appeared you could make money buying and selling cards that it became acceptable in society for adults to collect cards.

i believe what we witnessed back then in terms of adults collecting cards being viewed as very weird was the non collectors envisioned 35 and 50 year old men cheating 10 year olds out of the current years cards somehow. this of course was the exact opposite of what was occuring. the adults wanted little to do with the current cards and certainly did not want a bunch of kids bugging them about todays big star. (in the 1970's you had such future hall of famers as vida blue, mark fidrych and sure to be for sure to be perenial all stars like ron lefore ....oops something happened on the way to the hall of fame) the collectors were first and foremost fans of baseball history and the players who already had their career finished or near finished and had proven they deserved to be in the hall of fame, thus old cards were the focus as were publications in a BIG way. kids were seen purely as a nuisance but the outsiders could not envision the baseball history aspect of the hobby focusing only on older cards.

i was fortunate to hang out with several of the biggest card collectors of any era. 2 of which sold their collections to al rosen and the third who co-founded what became mastro net. all agreed on one thing in 1974, do not bother with cards mfr after 1961, if you want a set for curiosity fine, but so many were printed they would never be worth anything. that was straight from the horses mouth from people who at the time were some of the most advanced collectors in the hobby and had been in the hobby for 20 years plus, ie don steinbach, mike keasler.

this avoidance of cards mfr after 1961 seems profoundly stupid looking back from today. however that was very logical at the time, the hobby had almost zero growth, and all the people in it had the current sets issued up to 1974. so who were you going to in the future sell your 1969 set to? look at the advertisements for hotel buying groups from those mid 70's years, they almost all advertised that they wanted only cards pre 1961 or 1964. the old saying you can't judge a man unless you walk in his shoes highlights the difference of how cards are viewed today and how they were viewed then and likewise how collectors are viewed today vs pre 1978 or so. the beckett guide really changed how the hobby was viewed.

also, note the complaints by gondek in the above segment, he is mentioning as his focus, buying lots of old sports publications. this is where he sees great cards advertised at what we now know are great prices, yet he focuses on publications, not the cards. i do not know when the shift occured but sports publications were more cherished then baseball cards for a very large number of hobbyists in the early days. once again to compare to today, many people collect old sports publications but relatively few as a % focus on the sports publications over the cards. this was very different back then. the collectors of sports publications with a minor in card collecting so to speak was quite normal.

maybe it had to do with the stigma of collecting cards as an adult. collecting old sports pubs did not have the stigma attached to it.

amazing what peer pressure can do to a group of people. also give some thought to the fact that the adult card collectors of that bygone era were somewhat immune to the existing peer pressure might be an accurate conclusion.
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Old 03-07-2017, 04:50 PM
Rich Klein Rich Klein is offline
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Originally Posted by Hot Springs Bathers View Post
About two years ago I noticed some really great older college football programs for sale on eBay from a pair of seller IDs with Elder1 and Elder2 or something close to that. They were from Odessa, Florida. Is Jim still going or is/was this family selling off material?
The last I heard it was still Mr. Elder

Rich
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