This past Sunday my brother and I hit the local flea market for a few hours. I hadn't been in a long time, and I have to say it was a pretty fun experience. I wasn't expecting much in the way of cards, which was fine since I had only $50 on me. Turns out my expectations were about right, there were only three card tables in the entire gigantic two-story mill that houses the flea market. I did make a purchase from each of the tables though, and I couldn't have been much happier with my pickups given the limited selection and my limited budget.
The first table consisted largely of coins and stamps. There was just one small display case of cards which basically contained your run of the mill junk wax selection. If you wanted to pay $1 for a pack of 1988 Donruss this was your place. One item on his table did catch my eye though, a small binder full of tobacco cards. They weren't exactly in prime condition, but they were cheap enough that I decided to add my first ever Tobacco card to the collection:
My fiancee and I have had a pug, named Eli, for the last 7 years or so. He's a great dog, so this seemed like a very fitting first tobacco card. The back of the card provided some information, but I'm still not sure that I can identify it:
There is no year specified, as you can see. The card was issued by John Player & Sons, a branch of Imperial Tobacco (of Great Britain & Ireland). The painting itself was done by Arthur Wardle, and the card is number 25 in a series of 50. I found that there was a 50 card set released in 1929 called "Dogs by Wardle (Heads)", so I'm assuming this card is from that set. Can anyone confirm this? There are other Wardle dog sets, but I'm thinking this is the one. In any event, this instantly becomes a favorite. It's got a bit of a crease across the middle, but it still looks great, and besides creases and pugs kind of go hand in hand. Best of all, this cost me just $1, my cheapest pickup of the day.
The second card table was run by a very strange man, who mumbled a lot and looked like he hadn't showered in a few days. He was nice enough though, and had a ton of vintage baseball. Much of it was lower condition stuff that was a little too beat up for my liking, but I did manage to pick out two cards I wanted:
Recently, the majority of my card budget has gone towards the 1970's Topps run. 1970-1973 is where my collection is weakest, so I snatched up this '72 Gibson for $4. It's slightly mis-cut and there's a bit of wear on the lower right corner, which you can see in the scan. Sure, I probably could have found this card cheaper elsewhere, but oh well. The way I look at it, it's still a Hall-of-Famer from a great set for less than the price of many hobby packs nowadays. I've spent $4 on much dumber things before. Here's the other card I grabbed from this "dealer":
The Gibson was sort of a last minute addition, but I knew I wanted this card as soon as I saw it. I love the 1967 Topps design, and '67 was also one of the most memorable seasons in Red Sox history, so I've been working on the Red Sox team set for quite some time now. This is also just my second Conigliaro card.
While many of this gentleman's cards were in pretty rough shape, this one is in unbelievable condition. It's slightly off-center, but is crease-free with vibrant colors and sharp corners. My cost was $5.
Now, I've saved the best for last. After my first two stops I had spent just $10. I was prepared to leave a happy patron with $40 in pocket but my gut was eating away at me. Earlier in the day, I had run across a third table with some cards. This was by far the most bizarre setup I encountered. The guy had some very nice cards, nearly all vintage baseball. Many of the cards were in great shape, but he was not doing himself any favors with his presentation. In fact, I nearly walked right by his table without even looking because his cards were literally strewn about (in penny sleeves and cases) within his display case. It looked as though he had literally dropped a pile of cards in toploaders into his case years ago, and simply left them where they had fallen. They were crooked and piled on top of each other to the point where you couldn't even tell what many of the cards on the bottom of the pile were. I wish I had thought to take a picture with my phone to show you just how bad it was.
Anyway, near the bottom of the pile was one card, barely visible and encased in an old-school screw-down holder, that caught my attention. It's one I've had my eye on for a long time now, a white whale so to speak. On the case was a sticker with "$125" written on it. This guy was so excited to have someone actually express interest in his cards, probably because his display was so messy that I'm sure most collectors don't even bother asking him to sift through it. He let me know to "pay no attention to the price on the front". I asked him what he'd part with it for, and he came back at $65. This was outside my budget, and I wanted to look around at other tables before offering what I had left, so I returned the card and politely thanked him. I briefly debated an absolute mint 1963 Topps Bob Gibson, but ultimately moved on.
As my brother and I walked around, I kept going back to the card in my mind, so once we were ready to leave and I hadn't purchased anything else, I returned and made a low-ball offer for what I had left in hand, $40. To my surprise, he hesitantly accepted, as long as I promised not to sell the card on eBay. Here's what I came home with:
I don't think I need to explain why I was so excited to add this card to my collection. It's one of the most iconic Topps cards out there, and was recently selected as one of the 60 greatest Topps cards of all-time (deservedly so in my opinion, unlike some of the other selections). I've come close to pulling the trigger on one of these numerous times, but what finally got me was the amazing condition this one is in. I've held dozens of these in hand, and watched many on eBay over the years. This is by far the nicest example I've actually seen in person, and it rivals any I've seen recently on eBay. Vintage collectors know that clean examples of 1971 Topps are hard to come by, this particular card especially. The black borders chip away extremely easily, and good centering is often a tall order to fill. This one has it all though, next to no edge chipping, corners that are very nearly sharp, and almost perfect centering. I've inspected the card over and over, from top to bottom, looking at it from every angle and in every different light, as well as comparing it to other '71 Topps in my collection. I can say with confidence that no Sharpie was used to hide any chips in the border, and that the card has not been trimmed or modified in any way. Here's the back:
To me, the best cards are the ones that are accompanied by a story or memory. Every time I look at this card, I'll remember a great day spent with my younger brother. I'm also happy to have saved this card from where it's been neglected for years, under a pile of other vintage and dust in a messy display case inside an old mill. It now sits proudly displayed on the bookshelf in my office, and will be appreciated as a find like this should be!
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