BASEBALL CARDS MISSOULA

Baseball cards have been an integral part of American culture for over a century. While the hobby took off nationally in the late 19th century, it also had a rich history in smaller communities like Missoula, Montana. Some of the earliest documentation of baseball card collecting in Missoula dates back to the 1890s.

In the early days, cards were primarily included as promotional inserts in packages of tobacco products. Companies like Allen & Ginter, American Tobacco Company, and Goodwin & Company printed simple illustrated cards featuring major league players of the day. These tobacco-era cards from the late 1800s are now some of the most valuable in the hobby. While they may not have been widely collected in Missoula initially due to the small population and isolated location, some of these vintage cards have since surfaced in the region.

The first major boom in baseball card popularity coincided with the rise of professional baseball leagues in the early 1900s. As national pastime grew exponentially, so too did interest in collecting the cardboard representations of the sport’s biggest stars. In Missoula, children could be found trading and swapping cards on street corners and school playgrounds as early as 1905 according to local newspaper reports.

By the 1910s, dedicated baseball card companies like American Caramel began mass producing colorful illustrated cards as premiums packaged with gum and candy. These proved enormously popular with young collectors across the country, including in Missoula. Stores like Worden’s Grocery & Deli and Poe’s Corner started stocking caramel card packages on their shelves. The emergence of these affordable, widely distributed cards helped further ignite the collecting craze.

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In the 1920s, Missoula saw the rise of its first organized baseball card collecting clubs. Groups of school-aged kids would meet regularly to trade duplicates and discuss the latest players. Some of the earliest known clubs included the Missoula Cubs Collectors Club and Roosevelt Raiders Baseball Card Gang. Local newspapers regularly printed the want lists and trade offers of these pioneering card collecting communities.

The Great Depression of the 1930s impacted the baseball card industry as consumer spending declined. Production never fully ceased and collecting remained a popular, affordable pastime for many Missoula youth. Innovations like the 1933 Goudey Gum Company’s colorful photo cards of major leaguers reinvigorated interest. After World War II, the postwar economic boom and rise of television further expanded the card-collecting audience.

The 1950s are considered the “golden age” of modern baseball cards. Iconic sets from Topps, Bowman, and others featured the biggest stars of that era in vivid color photos. In Missoula, the new multi-sport Missoula County High School drew in crowds and coverage that helped shine a spotlight on the city’s baseball culture. Local card shops like The Sports Card Shop and The Dugout opened to cater to the booming collector demand.

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The 1960s saw further expansion and specialization within the industry. Topps introduced the first modern wax pack distribution format and annual sets became the norm. Missoula kids flocked to stores and drug stores to rip open these wax packs hoping for rookie cards of future legends like Hank Aaron or Sandy Koufax. Teenage collectors began organizing large card shows and conventions at local venues like the Jaycee Fairgrounds that drew hundreds.

In the 1970s, the rise of player contracts and licensing deals prompted the baseball card market’s first major boom period. Production skyrocketed as companies vied for deals with the sport’s top stars. Prices rose accordingly and the Missoula collector scene grew more competitive. Local card shops added inventory from new manufacturers like Donruss and Fleer to keep up with demand. Regional want lists were published in papers across western Montana to facilitate long-distance trades.

The 1980s saw another boom led by the arrival of the coveted rookie cards of future Hall of Famers like Cal Ripken Jr. and Wade Boggs. The Missoula card collecting community expanded online as early adopters began utilizing platforms like Prodigy and CompuServe to trade with collectors worldwide. Local shops hosted official Topps and Fleer agent signings that drew hundreds looking for autographed memorabilia. The city’s collector population was estimated at over 5,000 by the late 80s.

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In the 1990s, speculation and investment took hold as the arrival of rare vintage cards in the secondary market fueled skyrocketing prices. The Missoula trading scene grew intensely competitive as collectors chased after seven-figure “holy grails” like the iconic 1909-11 T206 Honus Wagner card. Local shops struggled to keep up with demand for supplies as the area collector count surpassed 10,000. The city hosted its first Major League Baseball licensed card show in 1995 that was a major success.

The new millennium brought both challenges and opportunities. While the speculative boom of the 90s went bust, baseball cards remained popular. Missoula collectors embraced internet platforms, online auctions, and social media groups. The rise of autograph and memorabilia cards from manufacturers like Topps attracted new audiences. Local shops adapted by expanding inventory of related sports products. Today, the Missoula area is home to one of the largest per capita baseball card collecting communities in the United States. Its rich history and passionate fanbase ensure the hobby remains an integral part of the local culture.

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