My girlfriend got me an awesome present last Christmas - a Nook Color from Barnes & Noble. She also got me a couple gift cards to download some books right away, and she helpfully put together a short list of baseball related books she thought I might enjoy. One of those books was "Mint Condition: How Baseball Cards Became an American Obsession" by Dave Jamieson. I finally got around to reading that one over the past month, and it was really a fun read!
The book begins with Mr. Jamieson telling the story of how he discovered that his childhood baseball card collection (from the junk wax era) was not worth as much as he thought. He then discovers with horror that baseball cards are no longer anywhere near as prevelant as they used to be when he was a kid (one of my favorite lines in the book came from when he went to a drug store and asked where the baseball cards were, and he gets such an odd look that he "might as well have asked where the gun aisle was." Sad, but so true....) This starts him out on an investigation to find out what happened to the baseball card industry, and ultimately he ends up telling the entire story of how baseball cards came to be in the first place.
And as it turns out, the history of the baseball card is actually quite interesting! Jamieson takes the reader from the card's humble (and slightly unsavory) beginnings involving scantily clad women and pushing cigarettes, all the way through the very early days of Topps and Bowman, the rise and fall of the Topps monopoly, the beginnings of Upper Deck, the crash of baseball cards as "investments," and finally the card grading industry and the ultra high-end collectors of today. Along the way we are introduced to several people that many of us have probably never heard of, but who played absolutely key roles in shaping the history of the hobby.
I really enjoyed this book, and I think anyone who loves the hobby will too. At a time when "vintage" style cards are the rage, this book gives insight into where names such as Allen & Ginter, Goudey, and Turkey Red really came from. I recommend it to anyone looking for a fun summer read!