Skip to content. | Skip to navigation

Personal tools

Navigation

A House of Cards

Baseball Card Collecting and Popular Culture

1997
Author:

John Bloom

A House of Cards

Explores the connection between baseball card collecting and nostalgia among men of the baby boom.

From interviews with collectors, dealers, and hobbyists as well as analyses of the baseball card industry and extensive firsthand observations, John Bloom explores what this hobby tells us about nostalgia, work, play, masculinity, and race and gender relations among collectors. “An important exploration of the persuasiveness and meaning of commodities in American life.” --George Lipsitz, University of California, San Diego.

Compelling and well written. An engaging and original exploration of an emerging area in cultural studies. Bloom demonstrates the complex power struggles and contradictions within baseball card collector culture through a tempered, nuanced, and always interesting argument.

Lynn Spigel, University of Southern California

Baseball card collecting carries with it images of idealized boyhoods in the sprawling American suburbs of the postwar era. Yet in the past twenty years, it has grown from a pastime for children to a big-money pursuit taken seriously by adults. In A House of Cards, John Bloom uses interviews with collectors, dealers, and hobbyists as well as analysis of the baseball card industry and extensive firsthand observations to ask what this hobby tells us about nostalgia, work, play, masculinity, and race and gender relations among collectors.

Beginning in the late 1970s and into the early 1990s, baseball card collecting grew into a business that embodied traditional masculine values such as competition, savvy, and industry. In A House of Cards, Bloom interviews collectors who reveal ambivalence about the hobby’s emphasis on these values, often focusing on its alienating, lonely, and unfulfilling aspects. They express nostalgia for the ideal childhood world many middle-class white males experienced in the postwar years, when they perceived baseball card collecting as a form of play, not a moneymaking enterprise.

Bloom links this nostalgia to anxieties about deindustrialization and the rise of the civil rights, feminist, and gay rights movements. He examines the gendered nature of swap meets as well as the views of masculinity expressed by the collectors: Is the purpose of baseball card collecting to form a community of adults to reminisce or to inculcate young men with traditional masculine values? Is it to establish “connectedness” or to make money? Are collectors striving to reinforce the dominant culture or question it through their attempts to create their own meaning out of what are, in fact, mass-produced commercial artifacts?

Bloom provides a fascinating exploration of male fan culture, ultimately providing insight into the ways white men of the baby boom view themselves, masculinity, and the culture at large.

[Excerpt:]
“Collectors often decried how money had ruined their hobby, making it hard for them to form meaningful friendships through their cards. Money, however, made the hobby not only profitable but also more serious, more instrumental, and therefore more manly. The same collectors who complained about greed often bragged in the same interview about the value of their cards. Yet money, in turn, made the hobby less akin to child’s play and more like work: lonely, competitive, unfulfilling, and alienating.”

A House of Cards

John Bloom is assistant professor in the Department of American Studies at Dickinson College.

A House of Cards

Compelling and well written. An engaging and original exploration of an emerging area in cultural studies. Bloom demonstrates the complex power struggles and contradictions within baseball card collector culture through a tempered, nuanced, and always interesting argument.

Lynn Spigel, University of Southern California

Bloom examines the ways in which baseball card collecting relates to the construction of white male, middle class identity, showing how subcultures can serve conservative ends and reinforce rather than reduce social isolation. In addition, Bloom offers us a study of postmodern practice-the infinitely renewable past in the present. An important exploration of the persuasiveness and meaning of commodities in American life.

George Lipsitz, University of California, San Diego

His purpose is to examine adult sports fan culture as it relates to male gender identity and the concept of masculinity. Readers interested in the interrelationships among advertising, sports, and masculinity will be amply rewarded by Bloom’s study.

American Studies International

Brief, informative, and provocative. I found Bloom’s narrative informative and his interpretations thought-provoking.

Society of Baseball Research Newsletter

Like many American Studies devotees, Bloom plays amateur statistician, journalist, sociologist, psychologist and anthropologist to learn why some of his fellow white, male middle-class Americans can’t put their boyhood hobby away. Fans of this particular discipline will not be surprised at Bloom’s conclusions: men collect cards because they are oppressed in the work force; wish they could return to a boys’ club brand of intimacy with other men, before the competition of dating sets in; and are trying to define themselves in a time of social and economic change. Fans of baseball and baseball cards will drool over Bloom’s quotes from the Topps Company’s annual reports-in which the manufacturer first concludes that the card market isn’t just for gum-chewers any more-and will eat up the personal essay-style details of the shows and collectors’ habits.

Publishers Weekly