Under-Valued Sports History: Collecting Vintage Game Day Programs

A program from the 1926 World Series, when the St. Louis Cardinals defeated the New York Yankees four games to three in the best-of-seven series. Among the players listed in the program include Babe Ruth, Rogers Hornsby and Grover Cleveland Alexander.

Throughout the history of sports, the game day program has connected fans to their team and has served as a permanent archival recording that the event took place. Regardless of sport, the program and its accompanying score or roster card have become a common staple of souvenir for fan and collector alike. As with any potential collectible, age, rarity and condition all play a role in determining value.

I’ve often thought that programs have been under-appreciated and, therefore, undervalued in the sports collectibles marketplace. After all, while it is true that many are printed, I believe far fewer have stood the test of time and survive from a condition standpoint. Whenever you are dealing with collecting ephemera, the storage and preservation of the paper is essential to overall condition, quality and value.

When it comes to paper collectibles, one needs to be very wary of reproductions and counterfeits. Easy accessibility to printing technology, paper types, aged inks and all manners of contrived paper aging contribute to a marketplace ripe with bogus printed material. Because programs fly under the radar from a collectibles standpoint, they are often overlooked by even the most discerning collector for traits of authenticity.

Without going into a detailed and laborious explanation of paper and ink usage through the last 100 years, suffice it to say that the old saying “if it looks too good to be true, it probably is” is very apropos when it comes to purchasing vintage sports programs. Unless a dealer comes highly recommended, I suggest forgoing online purchases altogether unless the source has an ironclad return policy.

Paper yellows over time and is generally caused by acids in the manufacturing process, the largest source of acid is the wood pulp used to mass produce paper. It has only been in the last 20 years or so that manufacturing methods have incorporated anti-yellowing technology into the process. Therefore, be very wary of printed programs that appear too white. Even stored in acid-free holders, the paper would have yellowed over time.

A scorecard from a 1902 baseball game between Harvard and Yale. The yellowing of the paper is generally caused by acids in the paper manufacturing process. If something purporting to be a vintage program isn’t yellowed, it very well could be a fake.

Offset and letterpress printing had been a standard process for years prior to the digital age. The printing method isn’t subject to dot matrix printing or laser printing, all of which will reveal pixels under magnification. An excellent tool used for examining vintage documents of all types is a jeweler’s loupe. Highly sophisticated loops with UV and LED light and 50-times magnifications can be had for as little as $5 on eBay and are an excellent tool for examining items in person for dot patterns and pixels, which are tell-tale signs of reproduction.

A program from a 1957 game between the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers. Neither team has great seasons that year, as the Packers went 3-9 while the Bears were 5-7.

When it comes to what specific programs to collect, that is obviously a personal decision. However, if you are looking at investing in vintage sports programs, those featuring iconic teams in championship games are always a safe best. It should also be noted that programs from games in which individual records were achieved or broken are also highly collectible.

Rob Bertrand has been an active collector of sports cards and memorabilia for more than 20 years. His involvement in the hobby community is well documented, having been the content manager for the Card Corner Club website before the company’s merger with CardboardConnection in 2011, where he is now a staff writer and multimedia content producer. Rob is also the co-host of the sports collectibles hobby’s only live and nationally broadcast radio show, Cardboard Connection Radio. He is the author of the highly respected and trafficked blog, Voice of the Collector and you can follow him on Twitter @VOTC. A dealer himself, Rob runs an online business through eBay, and is frequently asked to consign collections.


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