Seeing decades’ old high-grade vintage baseball cards “out in the wild,” is the highlight of any baseball card collector. If that’s not possible, head to “The Old Ball Game: New York Baseball 1887-1977” exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
The exhibit includes nearly 400 cards from the Jefferson Burdick baseball card collection. These cards exclusively feature New York baseball clubs dating back to 1887 and many are on display for the very first time.
Burdick, known as the “founding father” of baseball cards, saw the pieces of cardboard as historic artifacts and not for investment purposes.
In 1947, he advised the Museum of Metropolitan Art of his intentions to donate every card and piece of memorabilia in his collection of more than 30,000 cards to the museum. Over the course of 15 years, Burdick frequently visited the museum and painstakingly glued each card into albums and also inventoried his entire collection, which will be digitized by 2020. Burdick pasted the final card from his collection into an album at the Met on Jan. 10, 1963. The next day he checked himself into a hospital and died March of 1963.
I walked the exhibit with the fine curator of this specific exhibit, Allison Rudnick. “The joy in seeing people look at the exhibit organized around a specific theme, New York baseball, is very special,” Rudnick confided in me.
Many card collectors think the idea of bubble gum being inserted into packs of baseball cards originated from Topps in the early 1950s. But it was Goudey Gum Company in Boston was that first paired gum with baseball cards in 1933. There are numerous Goudey gum cards on display. The set is littered with hall of famers, including Babe Ruth. Ruth has four different cards in the set. Card #53 has a yellow background and is the most difficult card to find from the set. Rudnick did a great job of doing research and choosing exactly which cards to display for the maximum impact. It was no accident that Ruth #53 was chosen to be on display.
A few passersby in the exhibit were very familiar with the early 1950s Topps and Bowman card issues. These gentlemen remember going to the five and dime stores in the 1950s and buying the cards on display. One of the men told me, “This collection reminds me of my childhood. It was so great and much more simple back then.”
This high-quality exhibit is just one of the many exhibits at the Met. If you are in the New York area, stop by and see the cards yourself. Seeing the cards in person will leave you with a smile on your face and memories of yesteryear.
The Burdick exhibit, “The Old Ball Game: New York Baseball 1887-1977,” is on display in New York through Nov. 13 2016.