7 million cards and counting: A Central Texas man’s quest to catalog baseball collections

Williamson County

ROUND ROCK, Texas (KXAN) — Lowell Christensen’s wife has one rule: no baseball cards in the house.

So Christensen’s garage is packed, stacked floor to ceiling with boxes labeled by brand and year, each one containing hundreds or thousands of baseball cards he’s collected over the last 35 years.

“When we had them in Iowa, I had probably a couple hundred thousand cards and they took up a shelf in our bedroom,” Christensen said. “I was thinking, ‘Wow, that’s a lot of cards.'”

Nineteen years after moving to Central Texas, his collection continues to grow.

“I looked this morning and I see it’s like 6 million, 900-and-some-thousand.”

He sorts all of the cards he gets by maker, year and series, and keeps a record of his full sets — all the cards a company prints in a series, typically hundreds of pieces of cardboard.

Binders and boxes in his garage contain about 2,000 full sets, most of them duplicates.

Unlike a lot of collectors, though, he doesn’t care about the value of what he’s collecting. In fact, the vast majority of the cards he has aren’t worth anything at all.

“I don’t want to get into that game,” he said. “That’s a whole different mindset.”

In the ’80s and ’90s, spurred by the high sale prices of cards saved from the 1950s, kids and adults alike started buying up and storing sets of new cards, hoping for a payday down the road.

That created a supply-and-demand problem on the secondhand market; too many people already have the cards that everyone now wants to sell. Except for a few rare cards featuring well-known players, the collections are largely worthless.

Christensen’s son was among the kids in the mid-1980s who wanted in on the craze. Christensen began sorting his son’s messy collection and found he enjoyed it.

“I’m not a particular sport fan. The baseball just happened to be the ones that we were sorting to begin with.”

There are other sports cards boxed up among the stacks, but he estimates 95% of the collection is baseball.

Eventually he started collecting collections from other people — a surviving spouse not sure what to do with her husband’s boxes of cards, a husband who had to choose between his collection and his wife. Christensen’s batch of cards started growing by the thousands and hundreds of thousands, and he sorted all of them.

It’s been his hobby, an escape, through the decades.

“There’s no stress, no anything else, and it’s the kind of thing you can do when you want to do it, and if you were tired of it, just stop,” he said. “It’s not like you have to have them done at a certain time or they’re going to spoil, or anything like that. They’ll just sit here and wait forever.”

His current source for new additions is Card Traders of Austin, a shop that for the last 24 years has sold central Texans trading cards and other memorabilia.

“I never thought there would be anybody doing what he does,” co-owner Walt Case said.

Several times a day, people call or stop in to try to offload their boxes of common baseball cards, hoping their childhood collections are worth something.

Case offers $1 per 1,000 cards, only because of Christensen’s standing order for any and all common collections.

“I sure wouldn’t be buying them if it weren’t for him,” Case said.

Christensen buys them in bulk, sorts them, and instead of turning around the sell them, gives them away to people who want specific sets or individual cards to complete their own sets.

“It’s not like I’m giving away something that’s a precious type of thing. It’s just a card,” he said. “And if I were to go through and sort it, then I’ve already gotten my pleasure from it.”

His garage is filling up fast, and he’ll soon need to find more room to expand his collection. He plans to send boxes of football cards to his son in Iowa, and he estimates that’ll give him a few more years of sorting space.

After that, he hasn’t sorted out what’s going to happen. “When I can’t see anymore, can’t sort them anymore, then I’ll just quit.”

“If I give it away, that’s fine. If I get tired of it, that’s fine. I don’t look at it as any loss,” Christensen said. “I’ve enjoyed them. But for right now it’s fun to go through and sort them. Just keeps me out of trouble.”

“It’s a hobby like anything else.”

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