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Lukas: Inside the Metropolitan Art Museum's surprising baseball card collection

From SABR member Paul Lukas at ESPN.com on May 22, 2013:

Quick quiz: Where can you find the largest publicly available collection of baseball cards? If you said the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, give yourself a pat on the back. You're right!

But here's a trickier one: Where can you find the second-largest collection of baseball cards?

The answer, surprisingly enough, is the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Yes, really!

Here's the back story: Long before the existence of baseball card conventions, memorabilia shops, eBay or chalky pink bubblegum, there was a guy named Jefferson Burdick. Burdick, who was born in 1900, was an electrician by trade. On the side, he was the most obsessive collector geek of his day, assembling history's greatest collection of early American printed ephemera, including more than 30,000 baseball cards, some of them dating back to the 1880s. In those days, of course, baseball cards were mostly giveaways with tobacco products, and they didn't yet have stats and other data on the back.

Anyway, as Burdick was moving into middle age, he began thinking about where he wanted his collection to end up. Baseball cards weren't yet hot collectibles, so the idea that his cards might have commercial value never occurred to him. Instead, he proposed giving his collection to the Metropolitan Museum, which basically told him, "Sure, we'll take it -- as long as you catalog it and organize it first." So Burdick spent years making daily trips to the Met, where he painstakingly put all his cards into albums. He gave each series of cards its own alpha-numeric code -- sort of his own Dewey Decimal System -- that's still used by baseball card collectors today. That includes the code that has become the most famous shorthand in the card-collecting world: T206.

Read the full article here: http://espn.go.com/blog/playbook/fandom/post/_/id/22048/inside-the-mets-surprising-card-collection

This page was last updated May 22, 2013 at 10:36 am MST.

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