Cigarettes, Bubblegum & Greenbacks: An Afterward
The baseball card is, along with comic books, one of the most ubiquitous and instantly recognizable American pop culture artifacts. A staple of American youth culture in the 1950s and '60s, the baseball card has become in recent years not only the locus of intense baby-boomer nostalgia but also an object of currency, with some cards fetching astronomical prices. The baseball card as object has given rise to the use of the card format to depict an array of other subjects, from politics to music. Economic interest in baseball cards reached its zenith during the 1980s as collectors and speculators drove the prices of these small bits of cardboard to absurd heights. This phenomenon helped launch innumerable private card issues and special interest sets designed to cash in on the card boom. As noted elsewhere in this exhibit, the earliest cards were manufactured and distributed as advertising mechanisms for tobacco products. Born as by-products of capitalism, baseball cards have come full-circle: they are now capital itself.
Of course, young Dick Russell had no idea that his baseball card collection would amount to anything more than a testament to his boyhood love of the game and its players. The joy of the cards came in their collecting. Ironically, this activity that gave him such pleasure as a youngster would ultimately contribute to his death, also in ways that he would not have imagined. Richard B. Russell, Jr. was a lifetime smoker, beginning approximately at the time he began his tobacco card collection until his death from emphysema in 1971. It is a sobering thought, indeed, to consider this when viewing the marvelous collection of vintage cards he left as part of his legacy.