28 February, 2012

It belongs in a museum?

Two recently released, very limited products feature cut signatures from US Presidents and other historical figures inexorably linked to said office - such as significant others, running mates, campaign opponents, and Cabinet members, etc.  As you probably guessed, I am speaking of 2012 Leaf Cut Signature - Oval Office Edition and 2012 Famous Fabrics Ink - 1600 Pennsylvania Ave NW.  These boxes run for about $1400+ each retail at both brick-and-mortar hobby shops and online stores.  In fact, my friend just sold a case of the Famous Fabrics release at his card shop.  So, for around $1400 a box you are pretty much guaranteed an autograph card of a US President.  My question is: how do you put a price on history?

President Abraham Lincoln.

We have all seen cut signature products before.  From baseball or football themed products to movies and celebrity centered releases, there is something quite alluring about owning a piece of history.  After all, collecting cards is just that - hoarding history.  As well, sports and entertainment cards are (sometimes) one of those rare things that appreciate in value over time.  We collect cards in part because those small rectangles of cardboard mean something to us.  They are individually significant in myriad ways and come to symbolize some sort of facet of time, whether the card bears meaning to a moment or place in the collector's memory or even if it serves to represent an event or achievement in the life of those depicted.  We also collect cards in part because we hope they will be worth more, some day.  None of this is a surprise.  What bothers me about certain cut signature releases though - especially something like Leaf Oval Office, Famous Fabrics Pennsylvania Avenue, or last year's Horrors of War - is that it does not seem quite right to essentially desecrate and cut up documents with incredible historic value for a consumer product.

James Monroe, 5th US President, 1817-1825

Now, I almost purchased one box of Horrors of War a few months ago.  Price was the smaller factor of why I did not go through with the purchase.  In the end, it just felt wrong for me to support a product that chops up significant historical items.  A hobbyist with means and morals?  Yetis, unicorns and dragons!  The world is ending!  I kid though.  I do not deem to place myself on such a pedestal.  Nevertheless, I am still tempted to buy a box of Horrors of War every time Blowout Cards lists it in their weekend deals.  My thoughts and desires have betrayed me... I want to own that piece of history!

President Franklin D. Roosevelt signing the Declaration of War

In the end, who am I to judge others who may also want to own and enjoy a piece of history, to sell a historical item for monetary gain, or both?  Sports card collecting is just as stalwart an American institution as capitalism.  However, now that I think on it, I will take a stand.  If you buy these presidential cut signatures for the sole purpose of reselling them for monetary gain, shame on you!  I do hope these cards eventually go to people who will comprehend the true worth of what they own.  After all, I guess even a cut-out chunk of a historical document - without the rest of it to provide context - still proves an affirmation of the lives of men and women who perhaps accomplished greater, momentous things than any of us will ever achieve.  These card companies could maybe stand to do their reverence of history in a less invasive, more dignified manner, though.


  1. I'll play devil's advocate here. All documents are not the Declaration of Independence and are not created equal. Just because a President (or future President at the time?) signed it doesn't mean that the document had a lot of significance. I'm going to assume that the card companies are cutting up the least significant (or possibly worst condition) and therefore cheapest documents they can find. So maybe it's not as bad as it seems.

    1. I understand what you're saying, but the counterpoint is that I don't think any thought is actually given by the card companies to the historical worth or importance of whole documents they purchase - only monetary. Indeed, they probably do find the cheapest and most damaged (and thus, likely the least important) documents to cut up. However, it's not so much the fact that they are cutting up the documents, but that they have the mandate to judge their significance from a solely monetary point of view. And who are they to determine that? I guess the value of historical importance sort of straddles that line between objectivity and subjectivity anyway. In the end, I'm not saying that the companies can't sell their product, as they have a right to, because they technically own the documents... I'm just saying that it seems wrong and ignorant of them to do what they do. I think we can learn much from a document, even a check for groceries or a humble to-do list. We only have to look at the sell sheet for Leaf Oval Office to realize where their priorities are, though - in hyping a product and making money, with no mention of history. It is not lacking in candor, but it is pretty disrespectful nonetheless.

    2. As I prefaced my comments with, I was playing devil's advocate. In a lot of ways I agree with you. I've thought about it more in terms of sports memorabilia. For instance, if I buy a Stan Musial jersey relic card it means they cut up a real Musial Cardinal's jersey and if my card is meaningful (and the jersey wasn't from an old-timers game), the jersey was a vintage piece of baseball history. That goes for a Ty Cobb bat, etc. How about they have a redemption for the actual item the signature is on or would card collectors turn up their noses at that? Upper Deck once ran a promotion like that where they gave away vintage jerseys and bats.

    3. Yeah, personally I wouldn't mind a whole vintage jersey or bat. A game-worn Pee Wee Reese jersey or game-used Joe DiMaggio bat would be amazing to own. Though I feel like a good chunk of collectors would surprisingly balk at that. Memorabilia in card-form I guess is easier to quantify and to trade or sell.


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