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  • Writer's pictureDouglas Dreier

5 and 5 Baseball books

It’s time for another “5 and 5.” I think this could become a regular Friday event. This time, we talk to Max, a Canadian collector.

5 Questions On Your Collection

1. What do you collect?

My collecting focus is on pre-1970 baseball books, both fiction and non-fiction.  As well, I have a strong interest in early Western Canada baseball ephemera.

2. Why do you collect this?

As a child, I had a strong interest in baseball ever since I answered the advertisement for Strat-O-Matic baseball in the back of a comic back (It was either that, or the ad for the amazing sea monkeys).  My first contact with baseball books was thus not as a collector, but in purchasing The Sporting News “Batting and Earned Run Averages at a Glance” and “Ready Reckoner” so I could compute averages for my leagues.  However, the old-timer Strat-O-Matic cards did inspire an interest in the history of baseball.  As a twelve year old, I recall reading Harold Seymour’s first two volumes on the history of baseball, and being amazed by the rich fabric of the game.  The other book that was even more enthralling was Robert Peterson’s Only the Ball Was White, the first modern history of the Negro Leagues.  As a young boy in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, it was an eye-opener, especially since I only had to that point a vague understanding of Jackie Robinson and what he had accomplished.  Finally, I remember the amazing feeling of opening Macmillan’s Baseball Encyclopaedia for the first time in my high school library, and finding full details of the statistics of years long gone by, and for the years of those stars where they did not have a Strat-O-Matic card.

As a youth, I didn’t really collect baseball books, other than to buy a few titles that were of interest.  The bookshelves were filled with successive editions of the Macmillan encyclopaedia and Total Baseball.  In the 1980s, Bill James and the Elias Baseball Analyst were purchased.

My collecting interest was spurred around 1990 by a discovery of an old fiction title on the shelves at my in-laws in rural Nova Scotia.  It was a copy of The Grip of the Game by Burt Standish, whoever he was.  There was no dust jacket, but it had a gripping notation that it was part of “The Big League Series”.  After that trip and a return to Vancouver, we were on a holiday in Oregon.  We were in a used book store, and I was gently meandering through the baseball section of the store.  The owner noted my interest and asked if I was on the mailing list for Bobby Plapinger’s Baseball Books.  He passed my the catalogue and I was amazed by the seemingly endless list of titles, and more impressively, the listings of a number of books from before World War II.  I spent a number of hours with the catalogue and then ordered a couple of titles.  I don’t recall exactly what I ordered, but I do know that I began to correspond with Bobby by mail and phone and he greatly assisted me in the transition from a raw collector to a somewhat seasoned one.

From that point, on every holiday and spare moment on a business trip, I made the point of searching every used book store in the area, and the collection grew.  Unlike a number of baseball book collectors, I collect both fiction and non-fiction.

As for the Western Canada focus, we live in Vancouver, British Columbia and I’m from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.  As such, I’ve developed an interest in all types of baseball ephemera from Western Canada.  Vancouver in particular has had a number of baseball card sets including Obaks, Vancouver Senior Amateur Peanut Cards of the 1930s, Vancouver Capilanos Popcorn cards of the 1950’s and finally Chevron Vancouver Mounties cards of the 1960s.

3. Is it displayed?

The books are on display.   Unlike cards, books take up a tremendous amount of space to display.  I have one room dedicated to books, and the basement seems to be filled up with books as well.

4. Do you have a “Holy Grail” or “White Whale?”

There are perhaps two.  As book collectors know, much of the value in early 20th century looks lies in the dust jacket.  Most early readers discarded the jackets, and this means that for most early titles, you will see many copies before finding one in dust jacket.  In over twenty years of collecting, there are two books which should have dust jackets but I have never seen them.  They are Christy Mathewson’s Won in the Ninth and Frank Chance’s The Bride and the Pennant.  The absence of a Mathewson jacket is particularly perplexing, because it is a relatively common book to find without a jacket.

5. Any great stories or experiences as you’ve collected this?

There are numerous stories of bargain purchases along the way, followed by an equal number of over-payments.  One story that stands out was when I was buying a book.  Like many books, it had a gift inscription in it.  This inscription read something like “Happy birthday, Johnny from Grammpa.  There’s something in this book that I’m sure you’ll enjoy”.  Aside from the inscription, the book was in fine condition, appearing unread.  As I approached to pay for the book, I opened it up and noted there was a crisp $5 bill inside.  When I showed this to the bookseller, he laughed so hard and said if he was just as stupid as Johnny to never open up the book, the $5 was mine to keep–with the purchase.

5 Questions On Collecting

1. How do you acquire your material? Auctions? Trades? Dealers? Shows?

In the early days of my collecting, used bookstores and antique stores were a tremendous source, but required much leg work. With the internet and such sites as ABEbooks and ebay, almost all my buying is now done that way.

2. Do you have any collecting philosophies? Strategies?

In any area of collecting, it is important to purchase what you like.  If you’re looking to collect baseball books as an investment, it has not been a great decision in the last twenty years.  As with many areas, the internet has made certain titles plentiful which were once thought difficult to find, and has caused a reduction in those prices.

3. What’s your favorite/least favorite part of collecting?

My favorite part of collecting is finding a new dust jacket or a new title which I haven’t seen before.  While many people ask me whether I’ve read all the books I collect (I haven’t), the main reason for collecting is the aesthetics of the book.  As well, I’m met a few good friends along the way and those friendships transcend collecting.

I’m not sure there is a least favorite part, except perhaps having to deal with all the duplicate titles I’ve acquired along the way through up-grading my collection.  As well, the set of baseball book collectors is decidedly small, and it would be nice if there were more new collectors entering the scene.

4. Did you collect anything as a child?

Not really.  I bought a few hockey and baseball cards, and my mother didn’t throw them out. The only card that is missing is my Bobby Orr rookie card, which as an eight year old Montreal Canadiens fan, I proudly improved with devil horns, rimmed glasses and a goatee added to Mr. Orr.

5. Any advice on collecting?

Make sure you have an understanding spouse and collect to enjoy.

This is Max’s understanding wife Jennifer, in front of the original artwork for the book The Speed Boy (Shown below). Max notes that, if he did not already have this artwork, it would be his holy grail. Also, Jennifer is an amazing artist, and has some some amazing sports pieces.

Thanks, Max. Incredible collection.

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