HISTORY OF BASEBALL CARDS INDUSTRY

The baseball cards industry has undergone significant evolution since its earliest origins in the late 19th century. Some of the key events and developments that have shaped the industry over time include:

In the late 1880s, American Tobacco Company started including cards featuring baseball players in their cigarette packages. This is seen as the first major occurrence of modern baseball cards being mass produced and distributed. Initially it was meant as a marketing gimmick to help sell more cigarettes, but it ignited public interest in collecting profiles of their favorite ballplayers. Between 1868-1869, different companies started up that solely produced packs of baseball cards as their product rather than including them in cigarette packs.

In the early 1900s, the baseball card industry was still in its infancy but started to gain more commercial traction. Companies like American Caramel began solely dedicated to making cards rather than pairing them with other products. They inserted them randomly in caramels to be discovered. Production and distribution expanded during this time. The T206 tobacco card series, issued between 1909-1911, is considered one of the most valuable collections today due to the rarity of finding cards in mint condition from over 100 years ago.

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The modern baseball card boom is traced to the late 1950s when Topps Chewing Gum purchased the rights to produce cards bearing active players’ pictures and stats. They became the dominant issuer for many years. In the post-World War 2 era, as the sport became more popular on television, there was immense growth in the collector market for cards through the 50s and 60s. Topps released annual sets becoming a lucrative part of popular culture, particularly for younger boys.

In the late 1980s, the market became saturated with too many similar card companies that lacked differentiation. There was an overproduction of cards which flooded the market leading to a collapse in secondary market prices that tanked the speculative bubble among investors. Many companies went bankrupt such as Fleer and Donruss who could not compete with Topps’ brand dominance. This period marked a downturn until renewed interest emerged in the early 1990s.

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A major turning point occurred in 1990 when Upper Deck entered the market and revolutionized card quality, design, and rarity scales. They utilized technological advances in printing higher resolution photos on thicker card stock. Upper Deck paid top players more for likeness rights and incorporated autographs and memorabilia cards appealing to collectors. This helped reinvigorate interest among casual and serious collectors. Their innovation forced Topps to also improve their product to better compete.

The sport’s players’ strike impacted the 1994 season which negatively impacted card sales that year. Renewed interest from collectors of vintage cards from the 1970s fueled a market resurgence. Speculators bid up rare rookie cards like Ken Griffey Jr Upper Deck rookie to high prices. This in turn attracted investors to the industry once more, especially in the late 1990s. Memorabilia relic cards with jersey swatches also grew into their own niche collecting segment.

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In the internet age of the 2000s, online trading platforms like eBay emerged allowing collectors worldwide to buy and sell cards easily across distances. Sites like COMC and Beckett expanded coverage of industry news, prices, and card conditions which added transparency. They also enabled the proliferation of reprint/counterfeit cards on a global scale, devaluing authentic vintage rarities. An emerging issue is the lack of protection for intellectual property rights of living players whose likenesses are widely used.

The modern industry sees competition between mainstream brands like Topps, Upper Deck, Panini and smaller independent companies. Parallel high-end issues with autographs, memorabilia, and limited edition parallel cards target serious investors. Digital platforms like Topps BUNT allow virtual collecting. While the paper card market has declined, newer entertainment platforms could engage young fans differently. Through various cycles, the baseball card industry has shown resilience by evolving its business model to fit changing consumer interests over more than 130 years of history.

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