Card Catalog: Preserving baseball cards at the Hall of Fame

Written by: Sue Mackay and Craig Muder
Learn about the Museum’s efforts to preserve baseball cards, along with countless other artifacts, at Care & Conservation Workshop March 14-15

Baseball card collecting has been a part of the National Pastime since the early days of baseball, around the time of the Civil War.

But it’s fair to say that 150 years ago, no one thought these pieces of colorful cardboard would become incredibly valuable – and a part of our national fabric.

The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum collection contains more than 140,000 baseball cards – along with 40,000 unique three-dimensional artifacts, 250,000 photographic images and three million Library documents.

And while caring for all of the pieces, the Museum’s Curatorial Team always has one eye on the clock. Because inevitably, every one of those items will fall victim to decay.

Father Time, as they say, is undefeated.

But through determined conservation efforts – made possible through the support of fans around the world – that erosion can be significantly slowed. That process is maintained every day in Cooperstown, and the Museum’s new Care and Conservation Workshop gives visitors a glimpse at the Museum’s dogged efforts to preserve the game’s history – including the beloved cards that have enthralled fans for decades.

A Museum experience like no other

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The inaugural Collection Care and Conservation Workshop, a program that offers both exclusive access to the Hall of Fame collection and an enriching look at how Museum staffers care for cherished baseball artifacts, will be held March 14-15 at the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. The workshop includes an artifact spotlight featuring several items from the Museum Collection and a tour of the Library Archive that contains hundreds of thousands of photographs and historic documents, along with more than 14,000 hours of recorded media.

Hall of Fame vice president of exhibitions and collections, Erik Strohl, gives the backstory on artifacts from the collection during an Artifact Spotlight. (Milo Stewart, Jr. / National Baseball Hall of Fame)

Two unique seminars, in which participants can learn how artifacts are properly stored and preserved, will follow the tours. The seminars hosted by the Hall of Fame’s staff charged with caring for the Museum Collection and Library Archive will give participants a better understanding of how to care for their personal baseball collection, including equipment, autographs and photographs. Topping off this unforgettable two-day experience is a private catered dinner in the Hall of Fame’s iconic Plaque Gallery.

Almost all fans of the game collect something to preserve our baseball memories and share them with our friends and family. Now you can learn from the experts at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum how to care for these special items and ensure that they are preserved for future generations of your family. This workshop will give you the knowledge you need to care for your own collection, using the same techniques developed by the professionals who care for the collection in Cooperstown.

Available for purchase exclusively through select Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce accommodations, these two programs offer once-in-a-lifetime experiences and make for a great get-away for individuals, couples and families, or a unique gift for a special baseball fan in your life. For a complete list of local accommodations, please click here or contact the Membership department via email or call 607-547-0397.

A History of Cards

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Before modern printing techniques developed, a picture card was called a cabinet card or carte de visite (CDV). This type of card depicted an individual player or team that was placed on a hard thick cardboard backing and often exhibited in a cabinet. These cards were produced as snapshots in time and had no commercial purpose at the time of their production.

The first commercial cards were produced in the late 1860s and used for product advertisements. These color lithographs on cardboard were known as trade cards and were given away to promote a product. Collecting trade cards of all types (animals, comics and presidents) and placing them in scrapbooks became a very popular pastime before 1900.

Many trade cards that you find today will still have the remnants of glue on the back because they were affixed to the scrapbook for safe keeping. This residue can be removed by a professional conservator. Cards were also commonly stored in shoeboxes but this is not recommended due to the acidic nature of the cardboard box.

In the mid 1880s, baseball cards were mass produced and distributed nationally in tobacco packs. These cards were much smaller than the cards of today because of the small size of the packaging. Most of the tobacco cards were distributed by the American Tobacco Company. There are many examples of tobacco cards and they are highly collectible. Early cards include “Turkey Reds”, which are larger than their contemporaries, along with Fatima, Mecca, and Hassan to name a few.

In the early 1900s, candy companies emerged to distribute cards along side the tobacco companies and produced some very colorful and popular cards that are still coveted today. Many other companies entered the mix such as bakeries and clothing manufacturers. With the beginning of World War I, candy and gum cards became popular and more affordable. The DeLong Gum Company, Cracker Jack, and the American Caramel Company all produced visually appealing sets.

The 1930s saw another round of new cards being produced and these became the most popular cards to collect. They pictured all of the superstar players of the era, such as Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig and later featured Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams. The Goudey Big League Gum Company produced a very colorful set in 1933 that remains popular with collectors today.

At the time of World War II, paper became a precious commodity, so few cards were produced during the mid 1940s. In the late 1940s, production began again and exploded when Topps Chewing Gum Company issued their first set in 1951 and the modern era soon followed with a number of other companies such as Fleer and Donruss entering the production market.

Today there are thousands of card sets and the hobby is still going strong. New production techniques, such as plastic 3-D cards and the insertion of pieces of bats and uniforms have made cards more unique and marketable.

Sue Mackay is the director of collections at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum; Craig Muder is the director of communications at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

Workshop Schedule

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Day 1

9:30 a.m. - Check-in
10:00 a.m. - Greeting and Welcome
10:45 a.m. - Library Archive Tour
12:00 p.m. - Break / Lunch on your own
1:15 p.m. - Artifact Spotlight
3:30 p.m. - Seminar Session I
5:00 p.m. - Extended Museum Access
5:30 p.m. - Cocktail Reception
6:00 p.m. - Private Group Dinner in the Hall of Fame Plaque Gallery

Day 2

10:30 a.m. - Seminar Session II
12:00 p.m. - Self-Guided Tour of Museum/Time in Cooperstown


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The event is only available for purchase through the select Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce accommodations noted below:

August Lodge
Holiday Inn Oneonta
Landmark Inn
The Inn at Cooperstown
The White House Inn

More Special Experiences

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