Almost every boy, at some time or another, has collected trading cards. The most common of these better trades cards are from the world of baseball. It is possible to collect cards bearing the images of football, basketball and hockey players, although most of the better trades involving trading cards has come from the world of baseball.
Trading cards are made of cardboard or thick paper. On one side there is typically a picture of the athlete in involved, either a head-and-shoulders mug shot or an action photo of some sort. The reverse of the card will usually have some trivia about the player and their career statistics.
Better trades cards began in the late 1800s as small cloth strips bearing the names of the players. In the early 1900s the first baseball cards were printed and distributed as a premium with tobacco, bubble gum, candy, hot dogs or cereal.
The most famous card company is New York-based Topps, which was founded in 1938. The company developed Bazooka Bubble Gum and in 1950 added better trades cards to its product line. The Topps cards first appeared in 1951 and continue to be the most widely traded card.
Kids often sat around and made better trades with the cards. Anyone who had a card bearing the image of a superstar (Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron) could command almost any price in return. Those cards today are worth hundreds of dollars, depending on the condition of the card and the scarcity of the product.
In the 1980s other companies joined the better trades race to join the trading cards market. Donruss and Fleer went into the market on a big-time basis and mixed it up with Topps for market share. The result was a renewed interest in the cards, but the market soon became glutted with too many cards. Much like the technology stock bubble, the trading card bubble soon burst. Many collectors were left holding their cardboard prizes, unwilling to part with them at must lower prices.
You can still find trading cards for sale on the Internet. Ebay typically carries a lot of various trading cards, but there is no clearinghouse that determines the condition of the card (which is often left to the interpretation of the seller) and values are hard to pin down. There are still shops that sell trading cards, but they rarely specialize in cards. These days the cards and mixed into stores that also deal in memorabilia such as autographs, used equipment, game-day jerseys, and oddities like seats from old ball parks.