Vintage sports collectors come in all varieties. Some collectors love collecting trophy cards or rookie cards. Some collect multiple players on their favorite teams. And some vintage collectors collect anything and everything they can about individual players. There may be no such thing as a perfect collection, but there are many that come close — and Ted Williams is one of baseball’s greatest players of all-time.
Collectors Dashboard has had the honor of finding a collector who is on the chase of building the perfect Ted Williams collection. This was not just limited to baseball cards, and it’s not just about owning those elusive PSA 8 grades and above. It’s all about the perfect representation of a player’s career via a personal card collection that features (almost) every issue of that player.
The man on this quest is Matthew Walker of New Castle, Delaware. I am honored and humbled that he was willing to share his story (and his collection) about his quest to build the perfect Ted Williams collection. And for the record, Mr. Walker is not the one who refers to this as the perfect Ted Williams collection.
This has been written and sourced with permission and these photos used herein have been taken by the owner of this Ted Williams collection.
Collectors Dashboard evaluates high-end collectibles as alternative assets. One aspect about The Hobby of sports collectibles is the notion of pure collecting and passion without looking to flip it for a small profit at the next card show or via an online store/marketplace. Let’s just say that Mr. Walker’s Ted Williams collection is what should be admired about deep collecting. It is also a testament for how dedicated some collectors can be in this great hobby.
First and foremost, I just had to know all sorts of “inside baseball” details about how this Ted Williams collection all came about. It has to be a regional issue, right? Ted Williams is such a storied player. And it just feels like many of his cards are underappreciated compared with some of the other greatest players.
Well, Matthew Walker gave us the answers about this quest (and then some). He has also shared some key photos which may confirm that this is or is close to being the perfect Ted Williams collection. If anyone decides they have to go down this same path, just don’t think it can be done on the cheap — probably at least $20K, a few years of hunting, a few years of trading up and trading down, and dealing with the frustrations of being out-bid in auctions, and even missing the great additions by minutes at local card shops and at sports collectibles conventions.
What is it that you like about Ted Williams so much that inspired this awesome set of Ted Williams cards?
MW: I grew up in Delaware, but a Red Sox fan during the Boggs/Clemens era so Ted Williams was this legend everyone talked about. I took an interest in him during the 90s when my biggest strength playing baseball was hitting. I wanted to be the best hitter I could be and knew that he was the greatest hitter who ever lived.
I really didn’t take a huge interest in collecting him until the past 5-6 years. I would pick up a card here or there, but it wasn’t my only focus. As I started to discover more cards that were not Topps, it took my collection to a new level. To be honest, when I started to use Twitter for cards instead of just sports news, I found a whole different world of collecting, especially Red Sox players.
Ted was more than colorful in his career, so there has to be a “favorite Ted story”…
MW: I’ve read multiple books on Ted, so there are plenty I could bring up but I loved the story about the last game of the 1941 season. Going into the last game of the season (doubleheader), Ted was hitting .3995 which would have been rounded up to .400, however he insisted on playing to ensure there was no doubt about his record. In the first game, he went 4-for-5 raising it to .404, then played the second game going 2-for-3 raising it to .406. He could have not played in those games, but he decided he wanted to show up and play. Crazy to think after 80 years, it still is the last over .400 batting average.
Building sets is a form of dedication, but this had to go back for quite some time…
MW: I started out (collecting) in the late 80’s, I want to say, building the 1987 set with my dad. I opened hundreds of boxes in the junk wax era, putting together sets. I collected all the way until roughly 2001 when I was in college and collecting took a backseat. I picked collecting back up around 2010 just buying a few cards here and there, but I had the itch to open boxes. Shockingly, the boxes I was opening up were football and hockey. That ended around 2014-15 as I was tired of chasing hits and wasting money. So, I started to focus on single cards.
And the start of Teddy Ballgame?
My first Ted Williams purchase was his 1992 Upper Deck Heroes Auto around 2015-16. As previously mentioned, I started to pick up cards here and there, but I really think it took off around 2017-2018. I remember going to the 2018 National in Cleveland and seeing the 1954 Wilson Franks thinking “What is that card, I need it!” At that time, I probably had six Ted cards at the time of the National.
When did this goal of “I have to have all of Ted’s cards!” materialize?
MW: I’d say within the last few years. I realize that some cards are never for sale and the rarest of rare Ted’s are already in Ted William PC collections. I will on occasion look through PSA website just to see those rare cards. My collection is small compared to some of these collectors. Therefore, I decided I would collect “other” Ted items i.e. Red Sox Photo Pack pictures, advertisements, Sears sponsored items, and autographs.
Many modern era collectors only think about Topps when it comes to baseball cards, but the reality is that there are so many other companies and brands which have produced cards over time. This will show some of those.
MW: I have roughly 50 of what I would consider his playing day cards. I’m not a big fan of retired players in new card products, so I only have a couple of those. Maybe I’ll pick them up at another time, but not a focus at all.
When collectors find a new passion, you can bet there are going to be some elusive cards or items.
MW: Cards I don’t have that I want include 1939 Goudey Premium, 1939 Playball (lowercase name on back which I just discovered (it was apparently included in the 2nd series when they changed the printing), 1955 & 1956 Topps Hocus Focus (never seen for sale). The ultimate grail would probably be the 1959 Fleer Box in great condition. They are very hard to find in any condition.
On a side note… If you want to know why those scarce cards are so hard to come by, PSA has only ever graded a total of 20 cards of the 1939 Goudey Premiums. The 1955 Topps Hocus Focus has only seen 1 graded by PSA in its population reports, and the 1956 Topps Hocus Focus only has a PSA graded population of 6 cards.
Having a deep passion can be costly, and “timing is everything!”
MW: I would say the most valuable card I have of Ted Williams would be his 1939 Playball PSA 4. Luckily I had purchased this in 2019! I have a few that are probably worth between $1000-$1500 i.e. 48 Leaf PSA 2.5 (see image below), 54 Bowman PSA 3 (see image below), 54 Wilson Franks PSA 1 (See image below), 67 Venezuelan Retirado PSA 3 (see image below).
Are there any other favorites to collect?
MW: I do collect vintage HOFers, rookies or early years if I can find a deal. I also look for Yaz, Tony C, Pedro, Ortiz, mainly Red Sox pre-2000….After Ted Williams, my next favorite player is Mario Lemieux then Larry Bird. I currently have about 200+ Lemieux cards that I really haven’t added to outside of his rookies recently. I have started to think about getting back into collecting him.
And there is one last addition here, a favorite card of Ted Williams that has absolutely nothing to do with the cost or the value (even if it breaks the bank in the high-grade examples that are so hard to find)…
MW: The 1954 Wilson Franks!
After looking at population reports and chasing quality you will know why this 1954 “hotdog card” stands out so much. These were inserted into hot dog packages so they could get stained, wrinkled, punctured and torn quite easily; and the centering was known for being rather cruel to high-grade collectors. PSA’s total graded population of all cards in the 20-card set was less than 2,100 — and PSA’s total base grades (without + and Q grades) was only 157 for the Ted Williams cards on last look. These cards do not come up for auction all that often and the last card that was graded a PSA 1 still fetched over $2,000 — preceded in late 2021 with a PSA 6 sale above $23,300 and a mid-year PSA 4 example still fetched $9,000…
That’s a very brief summary of the pursuit of the perfect Ted Williams collections. As most collectors find out, there are always more things to collect from more previously unknown issuers and then there becomes the challenge of upgrading or unlocking more capital in a downgrade to buy more. This is one of those pieces that could have involved 50 or even 100 more questions and stories.
Let’s give this for a try for a basic checklist of the early cards of Ted Williams: The black and white 1939 Play Ball (rookie), followed by the 1940 and 1941 Play Ball cards. There is the 1948 Leaf and Swell Sport Thrills, the 1950 Bowman and 1951 Bowman… and in 1954 collectors got 1 Bowman card (briefly), 2 Topps cards, and the Wilson Franks. Then in additional Topps cards there are the years of 1955, 1956, 1957, 1958 and the 1958 All-Star cards.
Let’s not forget about the entire 1959 Fleer set dedicated to Ted Williams’ career (which created a large imbalance of his vintage cards). And, of course, we skipped over some of the inserts, exhibits, Red Man, team cards, and multi-player cards.
As for what drove my own interest in this ultimate Ted Williams collection, I have written about how undervalued Ted Williams cards seem. Imagine what his hitting stats would be had he not missed three seasons for World War II and had he not missed almost all of 1952 and most of 1953 due to the Korean War. This is also not a sales pitch that Ted Williams’ cards will only rise in value because some have come off their highs. The value here is relative to other great players of the 1940s through the 1960s. In that report I outlined how card populations should come into play, and how one set may have flooded the market that may have kept Ted Williams cards in high supply. As was noted in an August 2021 report:
Collectors and investors alike should never assume that the value of any collectibles will rise over time. In fact, many collectibles will lose value over time. Those major price gains seen in late 2020 and early 2021 were followed by some significant price drops in the first half of 2021.
Below are more photos of The Splendid Splinter!
If you have individual key player collections in sports you would like to see featured (or even non-sports), please feel free to email us at email@example.com and we will reach out if it fits within our strategy and parameters. We have already begun the process of starting more of these features.