What is a card?

Published by Robert Lifson on Tagged Uncategorized

As incredible as it might seem, the definition of what is and what is not a “card” can sometimes get collectors into a heated debate. Different collectors can have different personal opinions on what to them is a card based on their personal collecting preferences or any other factor. To some, if it’s too big, it’s not a card. To others, if it falls better, in their opinion, into another collecting category, such as “tickets,” or “Carte-de-Visites,” or “photographs,” then it can only be defined as that. At REA, we believe that items can often fall into more than one category of collecting.Years ago REA researched the 1863 Jordan Marsh CDV photograph of Harry Wright, and found this photo was actually part of a set of four cards produced for sale for fifty cents each. Each CDV photo entitled the buyer admittance to a special series of games held at the St. George’s Cricket Ground in Hoboken, New Jersey, to raise money for the clubs. Regular tickets were 25 cents but the “CDV tickets” were 50 cents. We found this information to be of particularly great significance, as a case could be made that this was the first baseball card because this was a card picturing a baseball player printed for the purpose of promoting the sale of a product (in this case, admission to a series of games). Is it also a ticket? Absolutely! Is it also a photograph? Of course it is! It’s also a great nineteenth-century item, a great Harry Wright item, an extraordinary St. Georges Cricket club relic, and probably a lot of other things as well.

Some collectors have expressed outrage that we have called items that fall into more than one category a “card.” Another recent example: the 1914 Baltimore News Team Card that was sold in the April 2007 auction (to a very happy buyer!). Here’s a link to the lot:


This item was previously unknown and was one of our favorite newly-discovered finds.

Is it a card? Is it a photo? In our eyes, it is most certainly both, but we’d like to think there’s plenty of room in this world for differing opinions about the word “card.” If someone does not happen to agree with REA (as well as PSA, the grading company in this case) about the definition of the item, we can live with that, but some collectors who disagree have attempted to characterize this identification as a “transgression” and as “deceitful.” As incredible as it seems, we’re not making this up. When we hear things like that, we sort of feel like we’re in the Twilight Zone. Of course, in a competitive world the motivation to try to undermine the business interests of others can take many forms. We can’t read minds. We appreciate a good debate about what is or is not a card as much as anyone, but the idea that if we use a term to describe a given item, if it is not agreed to by all, or by a given individual(s), that it can in any way be called “deceitful,” “a fraud” or a “lie” is so over the top and ridiculous that we are speechless. Speechless though we may be, I did write and email the following joke essay about the issue to a friend, which of course is pure satire, and which we hope you will find amusing:   

The improper use of the word “card” to describe items is really weighing heavily on me. So I did the only thing I could think of - I went to visit with spiritual leaders - true holy men - to ask forgiveness for my transgressions. I’m just back. Things did not go well. No forgiveness! I’m going to Hell! In fact, they made me sit with the shill bidders and card doctors.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Lifson, calling this item a card is just over the line. I’m afraid we can’t forgive you on this one.”

“But it is a card too! Can’t it be both? Please, I didn’t mean any harm. I just thought, well, that it could be described as a card too, and it was a really cool one, and PSA agreed with me, and so, I don’t know, it just happened. I called it a card. I now know I should have just called it a “thing” or an “object” or something else, but I went with “card” - Is there any way this could be worked out?”

“No, I’m sorry, we had a meeting here, all of us holy men - and this one really riled everyone up. I’ve never seen anything like it. You are now, well, universally despised by all of us, and furthermore, you will not be invited to any more parties here. Now go sit over there.” 

It was terrible. I had to sit next to a guy with an M113 Sporting News premium. They’re huge - about ten by seventeen inches. He was there for the same thing - calling it a card, but in that case, I really had to agree with the guys in charge. There’s no way that’s a card. It’s more like a poster. As far as I’m concerned, he does not deserve forgiveness, trying to pass that monster off as a card. That takes nerve. There was another guy who had a T200 Fatima team card. Very funny story with this guy, I felt really bad for him. As you know, T200 Fatimas are very much like photographs, but they’re also considered cards. He’s a noncollector, and apparently he offered his Fatima for sale as a photograph. He just didn’t know. I’m thinking that because he didn’t know, maybe they’ll give him a break. I have no idea what most of the other people were there for, a few others were holding items.

Before it was over I was still hoping to get another audience to plead my case. But just before we were dismissed, an oldtime collector, I think he was a friend of Jefferson Burdick, stood up, silenced everyone, and announced: “It was at the old Detroit show in 1980. I asked Lifson for a piece of candy. He gave me a Razzle. Just because you take a piece of gum and compress it real hard into the shape of a piece of candy, doesn’t make it a piece of candy. It was definitely gum. And the worst part of all? He knew. The bastard knew. How low can you get? He is a very bad guy.”

This was like the worst thing that could possibly happen, and really made any further discussion a moot point. The timing was terrible. So I just left.

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