“Game Faces: Early Baseball Cards from The Library of Congress”
The author: Peter Devereaux
The publishing info: Smithsonian Books/Library of Congress, 168 pages, $24.95, released in Oct., 2018
The links: At the publisher’s website, at Amazon.com, at BarnesAndNoble.com, at Powells.com
“Baseball Card Vandals: Over 200 Decent Jokes on Worthless Cards!”
The authors: Beau and Bryan Abbott
The publishing info: Chronicle Books, 224 pages, $18.95, released March 5, 2019.
The links: At the publisher’s website, at Amazon.com, at BarnesAndNoble.com,
at Powells.com. And we’ll even throw in: At Target.com.
The review in 90 feet or less
It is the best of baseball cards. It is the worst of baseball cards.
“Game Faces” is in the history section of book stores and on the publisher’s austere website.
“Baseball Card Vandals” is in the humor section of book stores and the publisher’s whimsical website. Often, right across from the shelves of sports books. Laughing at them. It’s based off a website of the same name, making this book a “best of” collection.
“Games Faces” had almost little to no publicity when it came out. Those in the know knew about it. It’s almost as if it was kept a secret.
“Baseball Card Vandals” is listed as a No. 1 best seller on Amazon.com under Antique and Collectible Sports Cards.
“Game Faces” gets into the famous T206 series of cards, which gave Honus Wagner a whole new cultural definition and Wikipedia status based on how much collectors valued this particular artifact. It continues to make headlines every time someone else plunks down millions for one in the marketplace.
Most often, it’s just known as “The Card.”
“Baseball Card Vandals” includes its own version of the Wagner card. Don’t get up in arms about it.
“Game Faces” is compiled by Peter Devereaux, who works at the Library of Congress’ Publish Office. He said in a recent story for the Library of Congress Gazette:
“This book was a great opportunity to tell the story about an unheralded, yet extremely important, part of libraries—the card catalog—one of the most versatile and durable technologies in history. I wanted people to see what a massive and unprecedented undertaking it was, so I hope the book sheds some light on its history and the continued importance of cataloging here at the Library of Congress.” “Game Faces” includes a forward by the game’s esteemed historian, John Thorn.
“Baseball Card Vandals” is from two brothers living near each other in Culver City for the last four years. They work together freelance as a creative team (copywriter/art director), born in Springfield, Missouri and raised in St. Louis. Beau is married; Bryan is single. Beau Abbott’s bio on Amazon.com: “One of the two weirdos responsible for internet art/comedy thing Baseball Card Vandals. I went to art school for seven years only to end up drawing on baseball cards with Sharpies.” Bryan Abbott’s Amazon.com bio: “I find no greater pleasure than turning a Mark Langston 1988 Donruss Diamond King into a K.D. Lang joke. I hope you agree.”
“Game Faces” is a showcase, an explanation about how this 2,100 cards exist from the Benjamin K. Edwards Collection from the late 1880s to the early 1900s. The artwork is magnificent for its time — intended to promote the use of tobacco in most cases but objects of cardboard that were often given by fathers to sons, who had no real idea about what players in that era even looked like outside an etching in a newspaper column or story. These are cultural touchstones, just Smithsonian Books’ previous 2016 book: “Game Worn: Baseball Treasures from the Game’s Greatest Heroes and Moments.” This is probably something that should be read after skimming back through Lawrence Ritter’s “The Glory of Their Times.”
“Baseball Card Vandals” is an experience of what you do when you have too many “common” cards laying around in shoeboxes and idle time to use creative writing skills to make them more uncommon. Says GoodReads.com: This book will be a hit with sports fans, art lovers, memorabilia collectors, pop culture watchers, Internet geeks, comedy connoisseurs, and permanent marker sniffers everywhere.
The book is in line with others published by Chronicle Books, based in San Francisco, whose library has delighted us over the years with titles such as “How To Speak Baseball: An Illustrated Guide to Ballpark Banter” (2014, $14.95) and “Lineup for Yesterday: ABC Baseball Cards from Ogden Nash” (2013, $12.99) based on a 1949 Sport magazine piece about Nash poems that celebrate baseball.
At this point, it might be prudent to introduce a few more books here to provide some more context.
* In late 2018, the independently published “Confessions of a Baseball Card Addict: The Story of the Man who Acquired Ten Million Cards and Managed to Stay Married” by Tanner Jones shows a lot more practicality of how to continue a card collection as an adult who may still have a way to advance the business without coming unglued. It has led to his website, www.TanManBaseballFan.com, reveals more of his mischievous side, an obsession with Jose Canseco, and other cards that he has created for the love of the game.
* We might conclude this is a natural offshoot from the 2010 classic, “Cardboard Gods: An All-American Tale Told through Baseball Cards,” by Josh Wilker.
It seems ridiculous now that it wasn’t included in that year’s book review list, or on the list of books we were looking forward to but wasn’t able to scoop up in time. It’s worth revisiting this (out in paperback since 2011) because of how Wilker relates his life to his cards in a sort of “Wonder Years” sort of narrative. It was endorsed by everyone from Rob Neyer to xxx
Also that year, and about the same month, came “Mint Condition: How Baseball Cards Became an American Obsession,” by Dave Jamieson. Again, missed our list. It explains the evolution of the card industry.
Add to that the 2007 book, “The Card: Collectors, Con Men, and the True Story of History’s Most Desired Baseball Card,” by Michael O’Keeffe that explains the history of the Wagner card.
We will never relate to owning cards that belong in the Library of Congress. Nor did we find the creative energy or even the thought of marking up cards that otherwise could have been put to better use in the spokes of our bike tires.
We are far more in the middle ground. We have many cards in plastic binders. We take them out and appreciate now the artwork that has lasted.
Nostalgia is a toxic drug, and these cards provide that.
Yet we can appreciate all entry points to this hobby we hope to someday pass on to our grandkids.
How it goes down in the scorebook
Don’t tell my wife, but I was at The Bullpen Card Store in Westchester the other day and was emotionally caught up in spending $50 of my lunch money on what can be called a rather commont T206 card – Fred Snodgras from the New York Nationals. With a Polar Bear tobacco logo on the back. Store owner Mitch Guttenberg told me the cards in the set are holding their value, between $35 and $70 each, so even if its not some crazy investment, it’s a connection made. I have not yet been tempted to deface it.