Monday, July 13, 2020

Big League Collectibles: Stephen and Linda Mitchell

I mentioned on Saturday that I reached out to eBay seller The Baseball Hobbyist and Gram, who was the produced of the Big League Collectible cards.  I sent several question, hoping for a response.

In less that 12 hours I had a response to every one of my questions.  eBay's messaging system has a 2000 character limit, so he sent me two responses because of the detail he went into with his answers.  Awesome!

Big League Collectibles was truly a family run, mom and pop business,  Here's how he describes it:

You didn't ask but this was really a family enterprise: My mother painted the photos, I wrote the backs of the cards, my wife did nearly everything else (packed and shipped, kept the books, etc.) and our children (then approaching their teenage years) helped assemble sets - usually with stacks of each card on our ping pong table.

I'll continue with my questions and his answers.

How did you decide on an era for your sets and the players in the sets?
Many of the players were still living in 1982-85 and were willing signers through the mail. Starting in 1973 I had met a fair number of these old-timers and grew to appreciate their era more than the modern eras.

Who did the artwork for you?
My mother, Evangeline Mitchell, hand painted the photographs provided in postcard format by Berwyn, IL collector-postcard seller Jim Rowe.

Did you need to contact the players for permission to make the cards?
In those days most players (there were exceptions) seemed quite agreeable to have cards of themselves published without remuneration. We did a limited edition autographed series of the then-15 living 1933 All-Stars in 1983. Those players were paid for their autographing a limited number of sets.

How did you advertise and sell your sets? 
Mainly through the hobby publications of the day: Baseball Card News, Baseball Hobby News, Sports Collectors Digest. We were dealers at the first 5 Nationals and the promoters of the 5th National graciously placed our full page advertisement on the back cover of the show program. We also advertised in the 1983 National program and did a few regional shows as well as the Nationals. The '83 National (Chicago) was our most successful although we actually sold out everything we brought to the '82 National (St. Louis). We didn't bring enough!  We also produced an advertising card which debuted at the '83 Chicago National. (that's the card I showed in my post on Saturday.) We handed out hundreds (perhaps a couple of thousand) at that show alone - and others which followed.

How successful were you? 
Everything eventually sold and for the past five years I have been repurchasing sets for sale in my eBay store. We did not sell only to individual collectors but wholesaled to several dozen dealers (5, 10, 25 sets, occasionally more) including people with retail stores (which were popping up everywhere about that time). We moved cross country in 1986 and at that time sold much of the remainders to two collector-dealers, retaining just a case or two of each set.

Why did you stop after the 1985 set? 
MLB contacted dozens (I believe the number was close to 100 persons, companies) of us threatening suit because they stated the logos appearing on player uniforms were exclusive property of MLB.

I later followed up with a question, based on a comment by Fuji in Saturday's post......Do you still have the originals artwork that your mom did for the cards?
No, my mother sold most of them to a Kentucky collector more than a decade ago. A few pieces were sold or otherwise distributed but the vast majority went to the collector in Kentucky.

So there you have the story behind Big League Collectibles. Thank you so much to Stephen Mitchell for taking the time to answer my questions!


  1. Thanks for sharing this. I really liked the part about the kids helping to assemble the sets on the ping pong table. A great family hobby tale!

  2. Very cool. Love that it was a family business with everyone playing a role. The autographed series sounds especially neat. Thanks for going out of your way to interview them... and include my question. Much appreciated.

  3. Awfully nice of them to respond to your questions!