Interview with Anson Whaley
By: Shane Salmonson
I would like to think that I know quite a bit about baseball cards. I am no expert, by any means, but having collected now for over twenty years I am pretty knowledgeable. Baseball cards I don’t know much about? Pre-war baseball cards. That is something that certainly can’t be said about Anson Whaley. In addition to being a contributor to Sports Collectors Daily, Anson is the owner/operator of Prewarcards.com, an incredible resource on everything pre-war cards. What exactly are pre-war cards? Let’s leave that explanation to the expert.
BU: How were you introduced to the trading card hobby?
AW: I first got into cards as a kid back in 1986. My grandmother bought me a 1986 rack pack of Topps and those were the first cards I had. A short time later, I went to a card shop and as a big Mets fan, my first ‘big’ purchase was a Dwight Gooden 1987 Topps for $2.25. In hindsight, seems like a bad deal. These were the pre-internet days so collecting then wasn’t nearly as easy. You were mostly relegated to trading with friends and your local card shop and shows were a lot more important.
BU: Can you explain, for readers who may not know, what exactly pre-war cards are?
AW: So, pre-war cards are defined a lot of ways these days. Many consider them to be any card printed prior to 1945, the end of World War II. Others have a really loose definition and say anything prior to 1948, when Bowman’s first set was printed. To me, the truest definition is any card printed prior to 1940. 1939 was what most consider to be the start of World War II so I use that as the benchmark. Pre-war by its very definition is anything before the war so issues that were created during a war aren’t really pre-war. I consider any card to be printed in 1939 or earlier to be a pre-war card.
Tobacco Card Insert
BU: How were pre-war cards distributed?
AW: There were some exceptions but in general, you didn’t buy most cards then as standalone products. They usually came along with something else, which was the primary product. The earliest cards were trade cards, which were a sort of advertisement for businesses. They would print or stamp their name on cards picturing different subjects and give them away.
Some of those had pictures of baseball players on them and are considered baseball cards. After that came tobacco cards, which were distributed in things like packs of cigarettes. Seeing their popularity with children, candy companies began giving cards away with their products and gum companies started doing the same shortly after that. Cards were also distributed with things such as food/beverage products as well as magazines and publications, but tobacco and candy/gum were the two primary products used.
BU: How did you decide to focus your collecting on pre-war cards?
AW: It was just really hard to try to keep track of the latest issues and it got to a point where every time I’d go to a card shop, I couldn’t even recognize the products. It was kind of a rat race. I wanted to still collect without worrying about having to keep up. So I started selling off my newer singles and buying as much vintage as I could. It began with the early Bowman sets and then 1930s Goudey cards. During that time, I bought my first T206 card and soon after, I decided to collect only pre-war stuff. My initial concern was not finding enough things to collect but I soon found that wouldn’t be an issue. I’ve got somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000 sets cataloged on my site (from the four major sports, alone) and there are even more things like individual issues, etc. That doesn’t even include all of the other stuff out there like boxing, etc.
BU: Any favorite cards from your collection that you’d like to share?
AW: I’m mostly a set collector so I don’t have any one card that’s outrageously expensive. The cornerstone, if there is such a thing, of my collection are probably my T205, T206, and T207 set run. The T206 set are the 520 cards minus the Big 4 rarities, including Honus Wagner. My T207 set is missing about 20 cards I’m still working on. But those are the things I’d have the hardest trouble parting with.
BU: What would you consider to be the Top 5 pre-war cards ever made?
AW: This one’s tough, obviously, because it depends on the criteria. The Honus Wagner T206 has to be No. 1 on any list and it’s the most important card in the hobby, hands down. After that, in no particular order, I’d probably say something like the 1914 Babe Ruth Baltimore News pre-rookie, the 1869 Peck and Snyder trade card (considered by many to be the first real card), Cap Anson N172 Old Judge uniform card, and the Nap Lajoie 1933 Goudey short print. Seems odd to leave Ty Cobb out of the discussion but those five are at the top of my list in terms of importance.
BU: Do you have a favorite set?
AW: T206 is probably it for me when you take everything into consideration but aesthetically, I think the N28 Allen & Ginter set is my favorite. It’s a multi-sport set with only ten baseball players but the baseball cards are fantastic. If it was a full, baseball-only 50-card set, I couldn’t give up my money fast enough. It’s got baseball’s earliest stars and, along with the Old Judge set, really sort of at the birth of baseball cards.
BU: For a new pre-war collector, could you suggest a set that you consider to be a bargain?
AW: For a new collector looking to assemble a complete set, I always recommend the 1936 Goudey set. It’s short (25 cards), painless, and can be completed in low-grade condition for around $350 with some patience. If looking only for a few singles to get your feet wet, the best advice I can give is to start with low-grade commons and see how you like the look/feel of the cards. Start with some low-grade examples of things like T205, T206, or 1933 Goudey and see how you like the look/feel. If you prefer the T-cards, focus more on the earlier tobacco cards. If you like the Goudey set, start with other 1930s sets, which have a similar look/size. Most collectors would be astonished at just how much pre-war is available for $10 or less.
BU: What is your favorite thing about the hobby?
AW: For me, it’s always been how cards connect generations. When I was a child, I was able to connect with adults that collected just by discussing cards. I was your typical adverse-adult teenager and remember meeting a guy at a game. I’m sure we probably had next to nothing in common. But once I learned he collected cards, we talked for about a half hour on the madness that was created by the 1993 Drew Bledsoe SP rookie. Cards can be a pretty great way to connect generations.
BU: Anything else you’d like to share?
AW: Just a motto I’ve tried to focus on this year. We all spend a lot of time looking for the next great buy for our collections but we don’t spend enough time actually enjoying the cards we have. Make conscious time to flip through your binders, look at your toploaders, etc. Be thankful for what you have, no matter how insignificant it seems and remember collecting isn’t just about acquiring new cards.
Toploaders – Tobacco Cards