Monday, September 17, 2012

How Do You Handle a Collection that’s Impossible to Complete?

What’s a collector to do? What happens if you’d like to start a collection, but you know right from the start that you’ll never complete it? Is that too much to even bother starting?

I’m currently working on completing one set, the 1975 Topps. The set, obviously, has several good qualities. But, one of the ones that appealed to me most was that it had a lot of stars, without any white whales. There was no Nolan Ryan rookie that was out of my price range. In fact, I already had a low-grade copy of the Brett rookie, making it even easier. Just the Yount rookie was out there. With the access from the internet, even that card isn’t all that scary. So, I felt comfortable working on the set. If there was a Hank Aaron rookie in the set, I doubt I would have even started it.

I’m not really taking about collections that are “daunting” either. My goal of getting every Topps produced Red Sox base card is extreme. I doubt I’d ever finish it. But…I could. There’s nothing really stopping me. Offhand, I can’t think of a card that would cost me $100, if I’m not worried about condition. It’s just a matter of putting in the time to get it done.

But, what if I went deeper back in time? Say, I decide I want to collect the 1939 Playball Red Sox team set. Can I even begin that quest knowing that the Ted Williams will never be in my collection? Can I go after a set knowing that even if it’s torn in half, the Williams is too rich for my blood?

I know that just about every player collector has a similar problem. With all of the 1/1 cards being produced, the chances of getting every card of a player is zero. But, you could create a wantlist for yourself that avoided the issue. Decide you want all the base cards of Jacoby Ellsbury. Or, you’d like to add at least one 1/1 card of Dustin Pedroia. But, what if the checklist is already made for you? I know which Red Sox cards are in the 1915 Sporting News set. I know that there will always be a big empty space in my binder where the Babe Ruth rookie should be. There’s just no way around it. Will that bother me every time I turn to that page? If I fill it in with a reprint version, will that help? I don’t know.

So, what’s your remedy? Do reprints make you just as happy? Do you avoid sets with impossible cards? Do you go with the “best I can” approach, and be happy with some holes?

How do you get an impossible collection to work for you?


  1. Interesting question. Very few of my collections are started with completion in mind. I decided to collect the '59 Topps and knew that I could finish it because a) I had some of the tougher cards (Gibson rookie, Koufax, Clemente) and I knew that if I was patient I could get the Mantle, etc a a decent price if I waited and didn't care much for the condition. I have collected Orioles yearbooks and knew going in it would be tough to get the very early ones at reasonable prices but I keep at it.

    OTOH I collect Topps '51 Ringside boxing cards, presidential campaign pins, t206s and vintage putters knowing that I'm simply going to find affordable ones that I like and that there is no way I could collect a complete set even if I wanted to. I just enjoy those that I own and never worry about anything else.

    So to answer your questions... I don't care for reprints, I don't avoid sets with impossible cards and for the most part I go with the 'this is the best I can get' approach.

  2. Myself I'm after every base Red Sox card of every manufacturer. Will I get them all, no way. I know there are some cards I just will never get doesn't mean I'm going to quit. I found that patience eventually pays off lots of times. Ted Williams cards are expensive I knew that going in. I now have almost all the Topps ones by setting a price limit and waiting for them. I set a price limit of $25 and over the years I have aquired enough that I only need a 54 and a 58. All the rest of them, I got for under $25 each. Patience will eventually pay off and I will get them too. Eill it eork for 54 Bowman, no, but I still have a partial team set.

    The next kinda big one I am after is a T205 Speaker. My limit is $40. (saw one go for 38 once but bid too late) One day it will happen.

  3. It is all about how you define the set. I set out to collect the T206 set and set my set number at 518, knowing I would never get a Wagner, Doyle, Plank, Magee, O'Hara (STL) or Demmett (STL). Once you set out, you will waver. You will see a card at a show and consider going outside of your set, but stick to your parameters.

    And avoid reprints. Reprints look so horrible next to the real thing, that they just bring disappointment and a want for the real thing.


What people are reading this week