Jefferson Burdick’s tombstone reads “one of the greatest card collectors of all time,” and yet the grand poobah of baseball cards never even liked baseball. He was into history and pictures at a time when no one had a TV or radio. Movies were silent and newspapers were just a bunch of words.
I’d like to take a trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and see the Jefferson Burdick collection on display. According to the Museum’s website, “The Burdick exhibit is the most comprehensive collection of baseball cards outside of the Baseball Hall of Fame.”
But then there’s George Vrechek. He’s written six articles about Burdick and says, “He donated his entire collection of 30,000 baseball cards and some 300,000 other card types to the Museum in 1947. The collection is still there today. You may have heard that it is possible to arrange a visit. Don’t believe it!”
Well, the exhibit ran from October 10 to December 16, 2012 so maybe it’s still there, but tucked away behind some Russian Matryoshka dolls. If I’m ever in NYC, I’ll pick up a phone and ask.
On January 10, 1963, Burdock walked away from that very museum and apparently said, “I shan’t never go back.” Two months later he died. But before that happened, he not only mounted all those cards into binders. He completed a classification system that included Tobacco cards from the late 19th and early 20th century. Burdock is the one who gave them a name-T-206 , T-207 and so on. The bible he left behind goes by the name America Card Catalogue or ACC.
Burdick spent over 15 years on that Museum project right up until his death in 63. He suffered from arthritis, never married and had no kids. Sounds like a winning formula for an obsessive collector of American relics.
I love the fact that he didn’t preserve the cards in protective glass or wear surgical gloves when handling them. He simply stuffed them into albums. It might seem strange that a man so enraptured by baseball cards and so aware of their precious cultural value would run the risk of them getting moldy or smudged from human hands. I think he did it on purpose, sort of a quiet statement against his biggest fear-baseball cards turning into a business.
Of course that’s exactly what happened, but I don’t think Burdick is rolling over in his grave or whatever. Yeh, there are more card sets issued than ever before and yeh, it can get confusing at times and there’s no more satisfaction at having collected all the 2013 cards because there’s too many of them and yeh, buying cards bleeds a wallet, but an etymologist struggles with the same diversity. There are close to 400,000 species of beetles on the planet and I bet there’s some high-priced ones among the lot.
There’s even a card of Burdock himself these days. It was issued in 2010 by Tristar Obak. It’s only a pose, but an action photo of a baseball card cataloger would be a challenge. “Oh, look at the way he slides that Goudey 1933 Hack Wilson card into the upper left hand corner. Get a picture of that.”