Thursday, April 22, 2021

Cardboard for the Ages - Defining the Ages and Periods within Baseball Card hobby

It's been awhile since my last post, at least on here.  Lately I've been mulling over the hobby in general. Especially this past year with the pandemic and ensuing craziness that has been the sport cards market and collectibles in general.  I also collect other things, but my other main hobby would be my comic book collection.  Comic books have these great Ages associate with them, the Golden and Silver ages, my personal favorite is the Bronze age of the 70's and early 80's.  And baseball cards also have their labels and divisions in their 150 year or so history, although some of them aren't always so clear.  

So as a thought exercise I decided to try to put together my own baseball card timeline and definition of the ages up to present.  

First let me say this is just my attempt to put the hobby, specifically to baseball cards, into some order.  There is no official governing body over baseball cards or the hobby and what I may think is a logical start or stopping point for a historical period in baseball cards might not be what you would choose, but I welcome the feedback.

First let's start at the beginning.  In my opinion and for the purpose of this exercise I'm going to start the hobby at what I consider to be one of, if not the, first baseball card, the 1869 Peck and Snyder Cincinnati Red Stockings ad card.

The term vintage gets thrown around a lot and by some people standards vintage can start as recently as 1985.  That leaves a lot of room in the vintage category and let's face it a 1985 card and 1948 Bowman are not the same breed.  

So let's start at the beginning and work our way forward from 1869.

Victorian/Edwardian/Pre-WWI Period 1869-1917

Officially the Edwardian Period ended in 1910, but I wanted to encapsulate the T206 production period into this category.  I also was going to end this period at 1912 for that reason, but after thinking about it it makes sense to push this to when the US entered World War I  in 1917.  It also gives us a pretty nice break for the next period.

Pre-War (WWII cards) Period 1918-1947

I know what you're going to say what you end the Pre-War era in 1947, but the US joined WWII in 1941.  Yes that's true.  But there also were no major baseball card product produced until after1948 with a few oddball and minor league exceptions, and the next period would be Post WWII so it doesn't make sense to leave a 6 year gap when almost no baseball cards were produced.  If it makes you happy we could call this Pre-War/Wartime but you get the idea.

Post-War (WWII) Vintage Period 1948-1985

I know what you're going to say, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, that's a huge time span.  And didn't you just say you don't think all vintage is created equal and really you think 1985 is the end of the vintage era?"

Indeed I said all that, but we are going to break this Post-War Period into some sub-groups. Eras or Ages if you will. Because while I'm not super comfortable putting the early 80s in the vintage category, mainly because it makes me feel old.  The term vintage is kind of a moving target.  And 1985 is an easy stopping point for the next Period after this.  

So let's break down the Post-War Vintage Period

1948-1959 The Golden Age or Era of Baseball Cards

1960-1969 The Silver Age of Baseball Cards

1970-1979 The Bronze Age of Baseball Cards

1980-1985 The Modern/Aluminum/Zinc (whatever) Age of Baseball cards (edit: The Age of Expansion also as suggested)

Here it's just easier to group the post-war categories using time.  Also in the this Age we get to see Topps' monopoly end.

The Junk Wax Period/Era 1986-1994

Some may argue when to start the Junk Wax Era.  I've seen 1987 as a year people like to use, but up until recently you could find loads of 1986 Topps unopened product for cheap and for me that really is the start of the Junk Wax Era or Period..  Also I put the end of the Junk was Era at 1994 when the MLB strike almost killed the baseball card market.  We also see the start of the Great Expansion at the end of this period.

The Modern Period 1995-2009 (The Age of Consolidation)

The first inserted baseball autograph, and I think the first one in any card product, was the 1990 Upper Deck Reggie Jackson and inserts really started popping up before 1995, so there is going to be some overlap.  But for the most part the modern period of baseball cards ushered in a couple eras, first was the insert era, this started in the early nineties, but really matured in the mid to late 90's.  Next up the rise of hits.  While 1990 may have seen the first inserted autograph they were still pretty rare up until the early 2000s, and the first baseball relic was put into packs in 1997 Upper Deck.  Of course guaranteed hits in a box would be come the norm till the last part of the 2000s.

Also during this time we saw what would be the end of the expansion of the sports card market, where lots of brands and companies entering the market and we get start seeing the Great Consolidation, where companies were going out of business or getting bought, properties and brands were being acquired by other companies and by 2009 when Panini acquired Donruss and all it's brands we pretty much have the trading card industry we have today except for one thing..

The Age of Exclusivity 2010 - Present

So here we are, the Age of Exclusivity.  Topps became the sole MLB license holder in 2010 and hasn't let go of it.  As a matter of fact Panini started it off with their exclusive NBA deal, then Upper Deck took over Hockey, and in 2016 Panini became the sole NFL licensee.  

Within this Age we also can break it down into things like, the dawn of digital cards, online exclusives, print on-demand, and just a few days ago NFT (Non-fungible tokens).  

Well there you go.  What do you think?  How would you divide baseball card timeline?


  1. Oh, I like the Exclusivity era, that's a good point. I would consider vintage '48 to 1979. The eighties are really separate (the age of Expansion maybe since Donruss & Fleer joined up in '81 and then everyone else by the end of that decade or so.) I'm old enough to think the 80's weren't long enough ago (since my collecting was just getting rolling then) to be considered "vintage" or antique. You even call it the "Modern" section of "vintage".... Otherwise, you have it pretty well spot on.

  2. This is fantastic - good job! The only thing I would think of doing is putting 1980 in the Bronze Age and dubbing 1981-1985 "The Expansion Age" to reflect the introduction of Donruss and Fleer better.

  3. I consider vintage as being pre-76'. Nothing for me to say for 77-79. 80's & 90's Junk Wax era (mass overload). 2000-2009 Sort of the precursor to what we have now although I prefer those cards from that decade than the cards since then. My favorites are the vintage hands down.

  4. I think for years Vintage was until 1973 - the last year before all the cards were released at once

  5. Works for me...but yes, having vintage stretch til 1985 makes me feel old too.

  6. The vintage moniker doesn't apply to the 80's, at least not for baseball. And isn't everyone just calling the current age "Junk Wax 2.0"? I feel like I've seen that all over the place in recent years.