When I was doing my recent collection clean-out, it dawned on me that the oldest part of my collection (meaning the thing I’ve owned the longest, not the oldest thing overall) was something that I never even considered to be a part of my collection at all. Indeed, this item might be the single solitary ‘thing’ of any kind that I have owned longer than anything else. Are you ready? Can you even handle this excitement?
No, it’s not a set of 1987 Topps. It is the box that once held that set. Back in probably about 1990, my dad took me a card show at a local bowling alley (oh, those go-go ’90s!). One of the dealers was an old friend of his, a former co-worker at the Milwaukee Sentinel distribution building in Manitowoc (my hometown and YES that Manitowoc). My dad, being under the impression this hobby of mine could be something like an investment opportunity, asked the dealer for a set of cards with a good potential to increase in value and, it being 1990, he recommended the rookie-loaded ’87 Topps set. If I recall correctly, my old man paid about $30 for the set – a friend price, mind you – that came housed in this 800-count box.
Oddly enough, I never bothered to put the set into pages, or ever to removed from this box. But I looked at it endlessly, filing through the cards and MARVELING at the Bo Jackson and Mike Greenwell and Will Clark rookie cards. I even kept a spare George Bamberger card in the box (with the Brewers checklist on the back), so I could pull up the Brewer cards without needed to search for them. I loved this set to death, literally, rounding the corners and denting them all to hell from the constant handling. I even wrote my name on the end of the box, just in case I took it out of the house and lost it or it was stolen during a robbery or a tornado tore the roof off our house and blew the set through a tree truck three blocks away. I was prepared for anything.
Yes, I was even prepared to sell it. “50.00” firm, my man, no friend discounts here. I even decided to charge “5.00” for a “sneek peek” of my treasured cards. That’s right, folks, just $5.00 to LOOK at my 1987 Topps cards. I am sure I planned to end the sneak peek right before the Pete Rose manager card came up, just like the old peep shows that cut off right before the woman’s clothes started coming off. Another $5, of course, will get your all the way through the All Stars, I promise, maybe even to the Turn Back the Clocks.
Some time after I got this, an uncle of mine who also collected cards gave me his 1987 extras (1,571 of them, if my math was correct… I’m sure my math was not correct), which I put into a couple of other boxes. That made this the “A” box and the others “B” and “C.” I was now building an ’87 Topps empire.
And still, I was fully prepared. I would be able to identify this as the A box from any angle, even it it was partially or mostly obscured. Even if I didn’t have my glasses. Even if the room was dark as pitch. Even if it were on the face of the goddamn moon!
The thing of it is, I don’t even remember what happened to the cards this box once held. I’ve considered throwing it out multiple times – that’s actually what I was thinking about doing when I realized that I’d owned this box for 27 years – or turning it inside out to lessen the embarrassment of all the stupid stuff I wrote on it. One old girlfriend, probably the first I’d ever had the courage to let see this box, used to mock me for it all the time. I’d get some cards in the mail and she’d go, “Oh! Did you buy them or just get the sneak peek?” But I’m glad to still have it. It’s a beacon for my collecting goals. A reminder to keep what I like and forget about the rest.