“Top-left corner, second pack from the bottom,” my friend told me. He didn’t remember where he had heard it from, or why it worked. All we knew is that he was the proud owner of the Holy Grail of baseball cards: the 1989 Fleer Bill Ripken error card, the one with the expletive bared on the bottom of the bat for all the world to see. It was the ultimate taboo, a premature interruption of adulthood into our adolescence.
Of course, there were plenty of Holy Grails in that era of baseball cards, enough to occupy our feeble attention spans. There were the Gregg Jefferies rookie cards, the Dale Murphy reverse negative, and later, Ken Griffey, Jr. We looked at the numbers next to the names in our Beckett Baseball Card Magazines and dreamed our stock market dreams, anticipating the envy of a new generation the way we envied the adults whose collections hadn’t been thrown out.
It didn’t happen, of course. We became adults, and the forbidden terminology of Bill Ripken’s bat became just another everyday word in the lexicon. Meanwhile, a generation of parents, chagrined by the tales of zealous mothers past, saved those baseball cards in pristine condition, and the supply outpaced the demand of a dwindling base of collectors. Given the wide production of the late 80s baseball card sets, it isn’t a stretch to claim that there’s a Bill Ripken error card out there for everyone who wants one. They currently go for a couple of bucks on eBay.
This didn’t kill the collector’s spirit, however: the search for errors and variations has long lived in the human heart, and is not limited to the baseball card. Witness the 1955 Philadelphia Double Die, or the Inverted Jenny. The search just goes deeper, now.
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