Dr. Seymour Stoll was generous. He did not need to share his historically significant collection of Jewish baseball cards with us, let alone do so in his home, although it was always quite clear that he was quite happy to do so. He did not need to let Jorge and me carry his couch clear across the living room and stick it in front of a fireplace, where a couch in no way belongs, because it better suited what we were trying to do, although he was fine with that as well. Speaking only as and for myself, I would absolutely be happy to show strangers my baseball card collection but would probably start to have some serious thoughts once they got to rearranging my furniture. But Dr. Stoll was generous.
He was so generous, in fact, and his collection so vast, that we couldn’t fit all or even most or really honestly all that much of what he shared with us into these videos. We have already been over the star-crossed playboys and serendipitous designated hitters and sideburn aficionados of the 1970s portion of his collection, and we have met the forgotten Jewish ace Barney “The Yiddish Curver” Pelty. Just that covered some bizarre 19th-century baseball cards—cards printed on silk, cards that were actually stamps, things of that nature—and also some sublimely skanky 1970s ones. But there was a lot more going on in his collection than that. These cards span a century and a half, after all, but also I would like to underline this further: there was so much more than that.
And so, in our third and final installment, we endeavor to make a speed run through some of the stranger cards—and non-cards, and crypto-cards—and more obscure players in Dr. Stoll’s collection. In the case of Long Levi Meyerle, a Jewish shortstop born before Abraham Lincoln became a Republican, that card came in the form of a tintype made in 1867 whose plastic case alone was worth thousands of dollars. In the case of Jonah Goldman, his cardboard immortality arrived as one of four people on the front side of a 1930s advertisement selling various things ostensibly of interest to kids—a kazoo, a “noisy nose blower,” a 7x10 photo of Western actor Tom Mix. In the case of Billy Nash, who might not have been Jewish at all, his classic tobacco card and ancient baseballer aesthetic were much more unambiguous than the rest of the story. There were cards we saw that didn’t make it into the video, and many cards that never made it onto the coffee table, which now that I think of it Dr. Stoll also allowed us to move. But this video should give you a sense of how deep these waters truly are.
One thing I like about the broader Let’s Remember Some Guys project is the chance to write a different sort of ending for the cards we look at. This is especially true for the ones we tend to look at most often—the ones produced during the orgiastic glut of the baseball card boom of the late 1980s and early 1990s, which still rate as some of the most slapdash and cynical shit anyone has ever tried to sell for money—but virtually all baseball cards ever made were produced to be lost, or at least forgotten. The baseball stuff on the front and the back is just the hook, and if you like that sort of thing, they’re very much the sort of thing you’d like. Some people have always liked them a lot, and some of those people have kept them. They found another use for something that the people creating them couldn’t have been bothered to find.
Years down the line, it is easy to see cards like the ones in Dr. Stoll’s collection as real pieces of art, which many of them are. They were produced in earnest, by people who either forgot or didn’t care to know much less work they could have done on them, and sometimes the result really is beautiful. Others, though, are nothing much more than the usual: simple and not especially beautiful things, professionally but not especially carefully made, that existed mostly to exist and bring back a buck, not necessarily in that order. The cards—just big rectangles of paper jammed with text and tossed-off nicknames—in the Hollywood Stars set are barely cards at all. It’s hard to imagine what purpose they served to anyone.
But also they have a purpose now, as part of Dr. Stoll’s collection and as part of whatever it is we’re doing here. That purpose changes, and the possibilities of what the thing in question might mean deepen, once it’s freed from the pack and delivered into the hands of someone who cares. The shitty 1990s cards we open weren’t really made to be kept, and yet I’ve kept them all the same—in dusty leaning stacks and old sneaker boxes in my childhood bedroom, but also in my mind. I didn’t really sign on for that, officially, and lord knows I’d love some of that space back for other purposes, but also I like that they’re there. They’re part of me if only because they’re part of what I keep around.
Even silly or cynical things can become meaningful in this way. The beautiful and historically significant cards that Dr. Stoll owns mean more than the disposable junk we open, and many are worth exponentially more on the marketplace than the spent packs piled up in our office. But to the extent that either he or I or anyone else ever get to choose this sort of thing, I think we value them in the same way, and for some of the same reasons. Anyway, the value of a thing is not necessarily synonymous with what people are willing to pay for it. What Dr. Stoll has is worth a lot, but it is also valuable. I think that’s probably why he seemed so happy to share it.