Graduation is near as the school year inches ever closer to an end. Kids are restless, staring out windows instead wistfully and wishing they could be outside carousing in the increasingly summer like weather (or playing Fortnite, whatever kids do these days). Teachers are just trying to keep it together, crawling across the finish line as they try to guide these students to summer break. In just over a week, the 2017-18 calendar will officially conclude, as children and teachers alike celebrate surviving yet another school year. The end is nigh!
Accordingly, many teachers in our building have begun to straighten up their classrooms in order to get ahead on the upcoming, yearly clean-out . While summer break is a joyous occasion for student and teacher alike, the latter definitely does not enjoy having to pack up their entire workspace each and every June. With that in mind, oftentimes, staff will attempt to cast off anything they don't absolutely need for the sake of sparing space and time; those items usually end up in the teacher's lounge, free to a good home. This week, the tables of the staff sanctuary have been well-stocked with knick-knacks, books, and old teaching resources... a sort of educational yard sale.
Yesterday, while stuffing my lunch in the lounge refrigerator, I noticed what looked like an old card catalog on the microwave counter, next to a stack of worn workbooks. As a noted cardboard fiend, anything even remotely resembling cards will always catch my attention and this box was no exception:
The "Story of America," eh? In card form? Color me intrigued, Uncle Sam.
The note that was tucked under the box stated that the previous owner had these cards tucked away for several years. Having not taught history for nearly a decade, she decided to finally cut ties and dispose of her former historical teaching tools. I suppose these bad boys wouldn't be of much use i Algebra, would they?
So, with plenty of other important, graduation-centric tasks to be done, I - of course - dropped anchor and immediately flipped open the lid. Well, after stashing my sandwich in the fridge, anyway.
Wow - that's a lot of colorful cards! I suppose it takes a lot of paper to cover over 200 years of history.
A little cursory research tells me that these reference cards were produced by Grolier, Inc. Before the days of instantly attainable information on the internet, these sorts of encyclopedic card catalogs were a popular learning tool. People of a certain age might remember Sportscaster Cards, Safari Cards and Greenhouse Cards which were all pumped out via subscription service. Groiler's Story of America cards were no different, produced from 1994-2001, updated in yearly fashion. This particular box appears to date from 1997, as several specific events from that year are referenced throughout the set.
As a former aspiring history teacher, these 4x6 cards might have come in handy had I continued down that path. However, as a current trading card collector, these intended educational tools turned out to be of use to me on my current path, as well. As you can see, our massive history is broken down in to several, more easily digestible categories - America at War, Famous Places, Important Events, etc. Seeing as we are a nation of sports fiends and athletics have often played a key role in the development of our country, it should come as no surprise that they show up fairly often in these cards of America, mostly as part of the "Life in America" subset:
I mean, how can you tell the story of America without discussing, America's national pastime... am I right?
As for the cards themselves, each subsection is color-coded, with "Life in America" being assigned green. On the left, we have a timeline which dates the event or person spotlighted on the card. In the middle we have a photograph or artist's depiction; in this particular case, we have a lovely 1887 Aquarelle print titled “Base Ball" - by L. Prang & Co. - representing the gestation of baseball. Lastly, on the right ,we have the "who, what, when, where" and a visual indicating where in the country this event/person achieved notoriety.
All in all, I can see how these would make for a great source of quick information in the days before every man, woman, and child had a tiny computer in their pocket at all times.
Baseball shows up a few times in Grolier's box. Not only is the game covered in the broad sense, but it's also showcased through some of the larger figures in the sport's history... names so notable that they crossed over from the world of sports into the larger cultural zeitgeist. For instance, like the Hank Aaron which rests at the top of this post.
Or, Babe Ruth and Jackie Robinson - two names that even someone with the most minimal knowledge of baseball would most likely recognize. The Jackie Robinson card, in particular, would have come in handy back in February, as several classrooms in our building did group projects centered on the Hall of Famer in honor of Black History Month. Colloquially, Jackie appears to be one of the most popular subjects, year in and year out, at least as far as I've noticed.
As important as the game is to the USA, baseball wasn't the only sport covered by Grolier in this box:
Of course, hockey is a distinctly Canadian invention, but I suppose America has played a strong hand in it's modern development. The team depicted is the 1917 Seattle Metropolitans, who became the first American team to win Lord Stanley's Cup. Speaking of the Stanley Cup, how about those Golden Knights? Will they pull off the historically improbable feat of winning a major sports championship as an expansion club?
Speaking of topical sports, the month of May is traditionally associated with a certain, specific one-day event:
And I was just blogging about how little cardboard representation the Indy 500 and open wheel racing gets too. The 102nd running of the most famous event in auto racing will be taking place this Sunday and I cannot wait!
On that note...
NASCAR and Jeff Gordon are both repped by this card describing what occurred during the 1997 running of the Daytona 500, another one of motorsports' crown jewels. That February, "Wonderboy" became the race's youngest victor, at the tender age of 25 (a record since eclipsed by 20-yr old Trevor Bayne in 2011). This May, Gordon was elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame, at the age of 48. Time flies, doesn't it?
Sidenote - Billy (from Cardboard History), would this count as a NASCAR card for the purposes of your collection?
So far, we've seen Babe Ruth, Jackie Robinson, Jeff Gordon, etc., some of the most recognized names in the history of North American sports. All in all, this box does a pretty good job of covering the "who's who" in our sporting lineage. With that said, there's no way that Grolier was going to exclude what may be the BIGGEST name in our sporting history;
After all, in 1997, "Air Jordan" and his Bulls were coming off their fifth of six NBA Championships, with five NBA Finals MVP awards for MJ. In short, the legend was in the prime of his notoriety when these cards were printed and distributed. This oddball will make a fine addition to my small, but growing Chicago Bulls collection.
Now, there were many other cards with sporting connections to be found in the "Story of America," but I've chosen to only showcase the ones that appealed to me and my collecting interests. You better believe, after flipping through the massive deck and finding these awesome oddballs, that I took them home to add to me collection. After all, they were on the house and my official duty as the school IT person is to do anything I can to help our educating staff. Sometimes, that goes beyond computers and includes getting rid of stuff for the teachers...well, at least it did yesterday. Gotta clear that counter-space!
Before I go, I'm left wondering, does anyone else have a stash of these oddities in the collections? Do you consider educational sets like these to be collectible trading cards? Have ever used a set of these (or similar products) in your classroom, either as a professional or as a student? Please feel free to weigh-in on these matters in the comment section below.
In the meantime, here's hoping that more cool stuff shows up in the teacher's lounge as summer break dawns!