A Journey Through Time: The History of Trading Cards

Jessie Larouche
By Jessie Larouche October 13, 2023 14:43

A Journey Through Time: The History of Trading Cards

By Jessie Larouche


A number of historic cards being sold for thousands. Photo by Jessie Larouche

Trades and sales are happening daily, with people acquiring their assets of choice.Some hold extreme value, being sought after by many. People are flipping a profit of over hundreds of thousands of dollars. Now you may think I’m talking about the suited up business men on wall street, or even some real estate tycoon. But no, what I’m talking about may seem a bit more childish and odd. What I am talking about is a 2.5 inches wide and 3.5 inches tall piece of thin cardboard – the trading card. 

Trading cards have become an iconic part of popular culture, enjoyed by collectors and enthusiasts of all ages. These small pieces of cardboard often feature images of athletes, fictional characters, historical figures, or even animals. But where did this tradition of collecting and trading cards begin? 

The origins of trading cards can be traced back to 17th-century Europe, where they initially served as educational tools. In the late 17th century, small, hand-painted cards known as “cartes à jouer” emerged in France. These cards were used to teach various subjects, including geography, history and morality. Over time, they evolved into educational games and began to feature more diverse subjects. 


The Seller 

In todays world, cards aren’t ever used for educational purposes unless you’re trying to deep into a players stats or a certain game cards powerful spells. Instead they are used for profit money, be laminated graded and put on display in the man cave friends to come by and see or used to simply duel your friend in a card game. 

Brian Wentz with the historic deep blue 1952 Mickey Mantle. Photo by Jessie Larouche

Now to get your hands on these cards. There are many ways. You can hit up ebay auctions, check out a store or go to a convention. If you do any of those, there’s a good chance you may run into Brian Wentz.

Wentz is the owner of BMW, a sports card store in Wisconsin which also travels throughout North America selling cards at conventions and across the world online. Although many people may get into the hobby as kids because of their love of sports or watching Pokemon, Wentz was brought in by something else. 

“In 1975 my parents bought their first house, I was eight years old and we had two neighbours down the road who were real friendly but not in a weird way,” said Wentz. “They were antique dealers, they had coins and cards and comics and me and my brother would go over and see all these things and oddly enough what got me into it was circus animal cards.” 

Circus animals may have brought Wentz into the hobby, but sports cards kept him around. Wentz has an extensive catalogue from hockey legend Jaques Plantes rookie to baseball icon Mickey Mantle’s legendary 1952 Topps.  

His multi-million dollar collection changes daily as he buys and sells cards everyday, making a profit and growing his collection. 

“You have to sell these cards at the right time,” said Wentz. “A card that’s worth a million today could be twenty-thousand tomorrow.” 


The 19th Century: The Birth of the Baseball Card 

Now back to the history. The 19th century marked a significant turning point in the history of trading cards. Baseball cards, in particular, played a crucial role in popularizing this hobby. In 1863, P.T.

Jaques Plante rookie card with the selling price of $125,000. Photo by Jessie Larouche

Barnum, the famous showman, produced a set of baseball cards featuring prominent players of the time. However, it was the tobacco industry that ultimately launched baseball cards into mainstream culture. 

“Cards from this era are hard to come by, so they have great value,” said Wentz. “If you can find a set in good shape, that can bring you in some good money.”  

Tobacco companies in the late 1800s started including trading cards in their products as a way to boost sales. These cards often depicted baseball players and they quickly gained popularity. The most famous of these early baseball cards is the T206 Honus Wagner card, which is now considered one of the most valuable trading cards in history with the last sale of the card being for $7.5 million. 


The Golden Age of Trading Cards (1900s-1940s) 

T206 Honus Wagner. Photo courtesy to Goldin Auctions

The early 1900s saw the emergence of various trading card sets featuring a wide range of subjects, from movie stars and comic book characters to historical figures and world events. One of the most notable examples from this era is the Goudey Gum Company’s baseball cards, which were produced in the 1930s and featured baseball legends like Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. 

During this period, trading cards served multiple purposes. They were included in food products, such as cereal and gum, as incentives to boost sales. These cards also served as marketing tools for movies, comics and various other forms of entertainment. Collecting cards became a popular hobby among children and adults alike. 


The Decline and Resurgence (1950s-1990s) 

The popularity of trading cards waned in the mid-20th century, but it was revived in the 1950s with the introduction of the Topps Baseball Card sets. Topps became a dominant force in the industry and is still a major player in the trading card market today. 

These cards are heavily collected today. Some people just chase and collect one player in particular. That the case with Josh Mueller, a sports card collector who’s been collecting since he was five years old. Mullen’s main attraction in a card is one thing, it has to be Nolan Ryan. 

“I have abought 3000 Nolan Ryan cards,” said Mueller. “He’s the greatest pitcher of all time, my favourite player and it’s something I love.” 

Josh Mueller at his stand at Northen National. Photo by Jessie Larouche

The 1980s and 1990s saw a trading card craze, with sets featuring everything from sports to cartoons to pop culture icons. Companies like Upper Deck, Fleer and Donruss competed fiercely for collectors’ attention. This period also marked the rise of collectible card games like Magic: The Gathering and Pokémon, which combined trading cards with gameplay and kids, adults and more around the world fell in love. 

Boxes of pokemon cards stacked up and for sale. Photo by Jessie Larouche

“It honestly all started when I was a kid,” said Stephanie Hoec, Pokemon collector. “You watch the show and then you see the cards in person and you go right to your mom and ask her too buy it.” 

While it may be a fun hobby, there is still profit to be made within these game cards. 

“Honestly, about 75 per cent of the cards I buy I profit off of,” said Hoec. “Once I found out I can make money of them, I got straight to selling cards I had doubles of or just wasn’t attached to.” 


The Modern Era and Digital Trading Cards 

In the digital age, trading cards have found a new life in the form of digital collectibles. These digital trading cards can be bought, sold and traded on

Stephanie Hoac at the Northern National convention. Photo by Jessie Larouche

online platforms. Companies like Topps and Panini have embraced this trend, creating digital versions of their physical cards and introducing blockchain technology to ensure card authenticity and scarcity. 

“Its a fad that I can’t see lasting,” said Wentz about digital cards. “There’s just something different about actually getting to hold and feel the card and showcase it.” 


Final Quarter 

Hundreds of boxes of cards waiting to be bought, unwrapped and collected. Photo by Jessie Laoruche

The history of trading cards is a fascinating journey that spans centuries. What began as educational tools in 17th-century Europe has evolved into a global phenomenon enjoyed by millions of collectors worldwide. From early baseball cards to modern digital collectibles, trading cards have continued to captivate the imaginations of people young and old. Whether you’re a sports fan, a movie buff, or a gaming enthusiast, there’s a trading card set out there for you, waiting to be collected and cherished. 

Jessie Larouche
By Jessie Larouche October 13, 2023 14:43

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