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Card collecting: The house of cards

Card Connection in Newhall survives while other shops have come and gone

Posted: August 9, 2010 9:13 p.m.
Updated: August 10, 2010 4:55 a.m.

Eleven-year-old Jeremy Espinosa, of Newhall, asks Card Connection owner Mike Manning about a gaming card Wednesday.

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It’s the last of what some might consider a dying breed.

Back when stale sticks of bubble gum rested inside of packs of baseball cards with simple frills, they were abundant.

Now, in a time when cards are produced with dead bugs, pieces of dead baseball player’s jerseys and the hair of a dead president inside of them, there is only one in the Santa Clarita Valley.

The sports cards industry has certainly changed over the past two decades, and the lone local sports cards shop is Card Connection on Lyons Avenue in Newhall.

Card Connection has been in the same unassuming location since 1992, managing to stay in business despite a changing market and slow economy.

“We have a really good core of collectors,” says owner Mike Manning on how his store keeps going.

That loyal base of collectors has driven Manning to give some of his customers nicknames.

There’s “No. 1” — the guy who spends the most money.

There’s “Stat Man” — the guy who collects players who put up big stats.

And there’s “Haircut.”

The reason Jason Conn is “Haircut” is he pulled a George Washington card out of a pack. The card has our first president’s signature and a strand of his hair inserted into it. The card wasn’t actually in the pack. A redemption card was in the pack and the card was later sent to Conn, who said he has turned down $25,000 for the card.

Inserts have helped keep the card collecting industry exciting, notes Manning, adding that some impressive inserts have been pulled at his store.

Customer Gordon Rubendall pulled a Babe Ruth card that had pieces of the Sultan of Swat’s bat and jersey inside of it.

He also purchased a pack made by the Upper Deck Company called Champs Hockey and pulled a card that had a dead Rednose Chinese Lantern Fly inserted into it. Champs Hockey also had cards with pieces of a woolly mammoth femur and a Tyrannosaurus rex tooth.

“It’s like gambling,” Rubendall says on purchasing packs.

He drives all the way from Palmdale to go to Card Connection, saying the social atmosphere brings him back.

Nowadays, Manning said there are two types of collectors — set builders (who are old-school collectors) and those who hunt down the insert cards.

Because of those inserts, some packs reach mind-boggling prices.

The Panini company released a pack called “National Treasures” in 2006 and has continued to do so every year. The suggested retail price for one pack has been either $400 or $500. Upper Deck’s Exquisite Collection also sells for $500 per pack.

Topps still makes a pack that sells for $1, which appeals to those people who want to build sets.

Card Connection still carries packs from the early 1980s and 1990s for those nostalgic collectors as well. Just don’t chew the gum inside the packs.

Back in the early 1990s, there were approximately 5,000 card shops in the country, according to a 2009 story by, which got the numbers from Sports Collector’s Digest. The same article said there are only 500 card shops in the country now.

Sports Illustrated did an article last year on the 1989 Ken Griffey Jr. Upper Deck rookie card with the headline, “The Last Iconic Baseball Card.”

“It experienced huge growth in the late ’80s and early ’90s and fell off for quite a few years,” said Clay Luraschi, the director of product development for sports cards and collectables giant Topps. “It’s not hitting those numbers in that height, but definitely there has been a resurgence in collecting and trading cards.”

If one stopped collecting during that height and stepped into a card shop like Card Connection today, some similarities remain. But the differences in the cards are far greater.

On the far left section at Card Connection, gaming cards — such as Magic the Gathering and Pokemon — bring in the younger audiences. Manning said kids are still collecting sports cards, but at a smaller rate than 20 years ago.

Football cards, he said, have rivaled baseball cards for popularity.

And there has been one other major change in baseball cards — it’s Topps and nobody else.

Major League Baseball gave Topps exclusive rights beginning with the 2010 baseball cards.

Just 15 years ago, the market was flooded with products by Fleer, Donruss and Score, to name a few companies.

“There was a lot of clutter, and they realized and the entire industry realized the clutter was causing confusion and not allowing new users and kids to enter into the hobby,” Luraschi said.

The Internet has also had an effect on the card-collecting industry because it has in itself become a baseball card shop.
Manning said the shift to Topps only hasn’t hurt business. The Internet has.

Yet he still keeps going and his loyal base of customers keeps the store moving toward its 20th year in business.

And as long as there’s a Stephen Strasburg to come along, the industry will keep going.

“Everyone loves their heroes,” Manning says. “This is a way of getting closer to your heroes.”


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