Hall of Fame to Salute Fans’ Timeless Love of Baseball Cards in ‘Shoebox Treasures’

(COOPERSTOWN, NY) – For generations of fans, their love of the National Pastime can be traced to simple pieces of cardboard with an image on one side and numbers on the other.

They were our Shoebox Treasures. And this spring, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum will celebrate them with a new exhibit dedicated to the story of baseball cards.

The exhibit, spanning more than 700 square feet of space on the Museum’s third floor, will examine the history, design and production of cards, the 1980s boom that turned a child’s hobby into a multi-million dollar industry, and the joy and camaraderie that so many collectors have found in the hobby. As part of the festivities at Hall of Fame Classic Weekend, a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Shoebox Treasures will be held at 9:45 a.m. on Saturday, May 25, featuring Hall of Famers participating in that afternoon’s Hall of Fame Classic.

“We heard from hundreds of Museum visitors who said they wanted to see an exhibit on baseball cards,” said John Odell, the Museum’s curator of history and research who serves as the lead curator for Shoebox Treasures. “We knew that when we created this exhibit that it was going to be a deep dive, not just rows of cards in a case. We wanted visitors to see and learn about cards from the early days of 19th century tobacco cards to today’s glossy keepsakes. Finally, so many of our visitors have a passion for card collecting, and we wanted to acknowledge and celebrate their passion for these pocket-sized gems.”

A fundraising campaign to design, build and maintain the exhibit has already reached its goal thanks to generous donations from Ken Kendrick, Glenn Doshay and Bill Janetschek, with additional support from Tony and Nanar Yoseloff, and an outpouring of generous gifts from hundreds of Museum Members. The grassroots support has allowed the project to expand to include future cataloguing and conservation work on the Museum’s collection of cards, which numbers nearly 200,000.

The exhibit will be divided into four primary themes: An exploration of the long history of baseball cards; the evolution of baseball card design; how and why fans of all ages collect baseball cards; and those cards that are considered “Holy Grails.” Shoebox Treasures will feature more than 2,000 cards on display in vertical drawers that will allow visitors to explore a selection from the Museum’s vast baseball card collection. Visitors can take a trip back in time by spinning a bicycle wheel with baseball cards in its spokes, and can make their own virtual baseball cards with six historic designs.

“For so many fans, including myself, learning to love the game came directly from our fascination with baseball cards,” said Jeff Idelson, President of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. “Shoebox Treasures transports us back to the thrilling days of opening packs of cards, looking for our favorite players, devouring the gum, and absorbing every morsel of information on them. It’s an exhibit that tells the story behind one of the most effective marketing campaigns ever conceived.”

Shoebox Treasures examines the beginnings of card production, when baseball was not the only subject for collector cards but quickly became the industry standard. Starting in the 1880s, tobacco companies used baseball players’ likenesses on cards to promote their product. A wide range of companies produced cards throughout the first half of the 20th century, but it was the entrance into the market of the Topps Chewing Gum Company in the 1950s that was the game-changer. With the release of its second full set of baseball cards in 1952, Topps – aided by the work of pioneering designer and marketer Sy Berger – conquered the market.

Topps maintained its industry dominance into the early 1980s before a court order opened the market to competitors such as Fleer and Donruss. What followed was a baseball card boom that saw the creation of a market for old cards and a voluminous demand for new ones.

In addition to baseball cards from the Museum’s collection, Shoebox Treasures will also feature cards from the PWCC Vault. PWCC, which has provided buyers and sellers with a marketplace for trading cards since 1998, created its Vault to serve the trading card community with a secure and affordable archival storage option for sports card collections.

Shoebox Treasures will be a major part of the continuing Museum lineup and is included with regular Hall of Fame admission. For more information, please click here.

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