LUCKILY, JEFF FIGLER’S MOM NEVER THREW OUT HIS BOYHOOD CARDS
By Pamela Y. Wiggins
COLLECTORS REMINISCING ABOUT “what ifs” often lament childhood possessions kicked to the curb after they left home. When it comes to guys, those reflections frequently lead back to a big box of baseball cards mom couldn’t wait to toss.
They imagine going through them one by one years later reliving memories of great Hall of Fame players like Mickey Mantle, Stan Musial and Willie Mays. Oh, what they might have been worth.
If you’re a lucky guy like Jeff Figler, who grew up to be a bona fide sports memorabilia expert, you can count rediscovering a boyhood baseball card collection as one of the fortuitous turns in your life. Figler jokingly says his mother, Millie, now 96, will tell you she had a premonition way back that those cards would be valuable someday. “In reality, there were bags of cards and I think she just never got around to throwing them out.”
By the time his collections resurfaced, Figler’s own son was about 8 years old, and the fun began all over again. Together, father and son pored over the cards, procured price guides and enjoyed figuring out how much each was worth. The value of some of the rare examples, however, never exceeded the good times they shared studying those old collections and starting new ones.
Figler’s son, now 28, still has an interest in sports memorabilia all these years later. When he was young, the collecting duo visited trade shows looking for things of interest while thoroughly relishing the time they spent together.
Recalling those good times makes Figler think back to how his own father helped him get started collecting in his hometown of St. Louis. Even as a kid, good fortune came his way when his dad got to know a number of baseball players through his work in a specialty men’s clothing shop. His favorite players on the Cardinals would come in and share an autograph or other memorabilia with Figler’s dad while he outfitted them with a new suit.
The personal contacts didn’t stop there, though. Figler’s dad encouraged his hobby in numerous ways, including helping him write letters to his favorite players. Together they’d wait excitedly for those team members to send back a reply, often with a nifty signed photo. “The key was doing things with my father as he tried to make sure that we did some of that collecting together,” Figler recalls with fondness.
With both dads and kids leading such busy lives today, it’s hard to make time for something new to add to the mix. Figler suggests making it a priority, just like his dad did with him. “The main thing is to collect what interests you the most. Spending a certain amount of dedicated time together each week on that focused collecting is a good way to grow a hobby. You can also learn to work within your budget.”
Figler still encourages young collectors to write those old-fashioned hand-written letters to players if they’re really inspired by them, but that method of collecting memorabilia is decidedly not as common as it was decades ago. Players now know their autographs have the potential to become valuable, so they frequently charge a fee for signing a photo or baseball at sports shows. That doesn’t mean getting a signature is beyond a kid’s budget.
“Most players are not superstars, so autographs might be $10 to $20 each,” Figler adds. At that price point, saving allowance or chore money to visit a sports show with an adult mentor can easily lead to bringing home a collectible for many youngsters. Attending a spring training game of a favorite team, if that’s feasible, also offers an opportunity to get photos or baseballs signed by favorite players.
In his book, Picker’s Pocket Guide – Baseball Memorabilia: How to Pick Antiques Like a Pro (Krause Publications, $14.99), Figler asserts that new baseball cards are still a great option for starting a collection. They hit their peak of popularity in the late 1990s and early 2000s when values were going through the roof. But Figler notes that even though they haven’t bounced back in value to those levels, they’re still as neat to collect as ever. Complete sets are available each year as well as individual packs. Once the packs are open, the cards are often sold individually, and quite affordably, at shows.
Kids can still have a great time trading cards with their friends, too, just as Figler did when he was young. Buddies on little league teams can trade cards with one another, and there are even online forums for trading sports cards that can be useful with the guidance of an adult. Trading cards is also a great way to narrow a child’s focus so that collections are more manageable.
“If you don’t focus on teams and players that interest you the most, you end up getting burned out,” says Figler. “The sheer volume of memorabilia available today can be overwhelming.”
So what else is available beyond photos, cards and baseballs?
In his book, teaching “how to pick like a pro,” Figler includes chapters on different baseball memorabilia that might appeal to a kid. From bobbing head dolls and statues to pennants and posters, the book covers all the major categories along with a few fun things young enthusiasts might overlook, like jewelry and board games. This pocket-sized wish book with tips for collecting focuses on everything from dream-find rarities to reasonably priced lots previously sold through various sources, including Heritage Auctions.
It’s also interesting that “a tangible connection to one’s childhood” is at the top of Figler’s list for main motivations to collect baseball memorabilia. “I listed the connection to childhood first because after interviewing scores of collectors over the years, that’s the dominant theme that comes up time and again,” he shares in the book.
So even if mom didn’t save your baseball cards, it’s never too late to start another collection. Just don’t forget to follow Figler’s lead and encourage a young person to join you in your collecting pursuits. Oh, the fun you’ll have.