There have been some truly beautiful baseball cards released over the past few years. Tim Hudson’s Topps base card from Series 1 this year is one of the great cards in recent memory for instance. Still, compared to the vintage Topps cards of the 1950s and 1960s, today’s cards are sterile and boring. The glossy white card stock used by Topps for their base sets today simply doesn’t feel as good in the hand as a card of worn cardboard. The abundance of foil stamping tends to distract more than enhance the design of a modern card. It doesn’t help that today’s players suffer from an over-abundance of exposure. Thanks to television and the internet, we know the face of almost every player in baseball without the help of a baseball card. Modern cards are simply inferior.
Of course, investing in quality vintage cards simply isn’t cheap, especially if you prefer cards in better condition. Even though every kid in the country seemingly collected baseball cards in the 1950s and the 1960s, many of them didn’t survive. At the time, collectors weren’t concerned about the value of their cards. They simply collected because they loved baseball. It was considered a kid’s hobby and collections were put away as kids got older, and then, they were often thrown out by Mom’s looking to free up a little storage room. The cards that did survive are often in poorer shape. It wasn’t unusual to store a stack of cards with rubber bands wrapped around them. A kid back then might carry his cards around in his pocket. They would write on them. They’d stick them in their bicycle spokes.
So, with fewer cards surviving and with few of those in decent condition, the cards are simply more expensive. If you want to collect vintage Braves cards, you have to be prepared to spend some money. If you want to collect the best players, like Hank Aaron, Warren Spahn and Eddie Mathews, and you don’t have money to spend, you have to look to cut corners. One obvious corner you can cut is with regard to condition. The poorer the condition, the cheaper the card will be to acquire. Personally, I prefer older cards with a crease or two. I like them best with soft rounded corners. A pin hole makes me happy. I’m a collector, not an investor, and I like to get my hands on vintage cards that were handled and loved.
Of course, even poor condition doesn’t mean you can pick up that vintage Hank Aaron card you want cheap. One more affordable method of acquiring a vintage baseball card of a great player is to look for multi-player cards including the player. It wasn’t uncommon for Hank Aaron to be featured on these cards. The two most prominent Hank Aaron multi-player cards aren’t exactly affordable though, unless you grab one in awful condition. Perhaps the finest of his multi-player cards is his 1958 Topps #418 “World Series Batting Foes” card featuring Mickey Mantle alongside the hammer. It’s one of the great Topps cards of the 1950s. Mantle and Aaron look impossibly young and the dual batting stance pose is absolutely perfect. The premier multi-player Hank Aaron card of the 1960s is the 1964 Topps #423 “Tops in the N.L.” card featuring Aaron with his long time rival, the great Willie Mays. This is another of those cards that seems to capture the personalities involved perfectly. Mays looks to be joking and Aaron looks to be staring off to space wishing the other guy would just leave him alone. If you can find it in really awful condition, you might pick up the Aaron/Mantle card for fifty to a hundred bucks. The Aaron/Mays card can generally be picked up for around twenty-five bucks in poor condition. Be prepared to pay in the hundreds for better condition examples of either card.
Considering that those two cards feature the three most prominent players of a generation, you can understand why they fetch the prices they do. An easier method of getting affordable Aaron cards is to look for multi-player cards featuring Braves players only. The 1959 Topps #212 “Fence Busters” card features Hank Aaron with the single teammate with whom he is most readily identified, Eddie Mathews. They are one of the most formidable duos in modern baseball history and rank alongside Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth as the greatest offensive long-time teammates ever. The card is wonderful for any Braves fan, even if it isn’t perfect. (Is Mathews falling asleep or looking at Aaron’s bat?) With the 2008 Topps Heritage #212 “Fence Busters” card, Topps paid tribute to the Aaron/Mathews card featuring the second best set of offensive teammates in Braves history, Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones. While Topps appears to have cropped Andruw and Chipper from separate photographs, it’s still an effective card and an amazing tribute to the Braves powerhouse combo of the late 90s and early 2000s. You can pick up the Heritage card for just a buck. The original can be found for as little as ten dollars in lesser condition.
There was another Hank Aaron Braves multi-player card that Topps titled Fence Busters. The 1958 Topps #351 “Braves Fence Busters” card features not only Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews, but also includes slugging first baseman Joe Adcock and catcher Del Crandall. The card is remarkable to me, because Crandall already looks ancient in 1958. He’s also the only one who looks natural in his pose. His teammates look like they are straining to act normally, and failing miserably. This card is an opportunity to acquire four Braves greats at a price as low as eight bucks or so in poor condition.
Of course, a great Braves multi-player card need not include Hank Aaron. Aaron and Mathews may have been the offensive forces that led the Braves to the 1957 World Series championship, but it was the pitching of Warren Spahn, Lew Burdette and Bob Buhl that anchored the team. Not only were the three greats close friends, they were also fierce competitors. The 1960 Topps #230 “Mound Magicians” card immortalizes the pitching trio that won the Braves their second world championship. The card can be found for as little as two to three dollars on eBay. At that price, I don’t see how any fan can say no.
There are two other Braves multi-player cards I want to mention. The 1963 Topps #211 “Midway Masters” card features the Braves slick double-play combo of Frank Boling and Roy McMillan. The card is certainly a relic of its time and features just about as generic a post as you can imagine. I have to say that both men look nearly elderly on the card. You can find this one for less than a dollar, sometimes in excellent condition. Of more interest to fans near my own age is the 1986 Fleer #635 “Braves Dynamic Duo” card featuring Dale Murphy and Bob Horner. Murph and Horner were the two most prominent offensive players on display when the Braves too the country by storm in the early 1980s on WTBS. It’s a shame there aren’t more cards featuring the two of them. I’d pay out the nose for a certified dual autograph. As is, you can find this card for a quarter. A nice bargain for sure.
I'd like to thank Talking Chop user dalemurphyforcooperstown for inspiring this post.