COLUMBIA — After scanning a set of Mickey Mantle baseball cards on a glass table at Itchy's Flea Market, Gordon Craig zeroes in on just one.
It is a shiny 1967 Mantle card that he bought 10 years ago. It is in tip-top condition, and the New York Yankee power hitter's cards hold their value.
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This one is Craig's prized possession.
"I like the 1967 year because it has a nice head shot of him, and it reflects the player and it reflects the man," he said.
Craig, 53, began collecting baseball cards at an early age, but Mantle cards in particular caught his eye about 30 years ago, leading to a pursuit of the collectibles.
Though Craig has more than 600,000 baseball cards, his 20 Mantle cards are favorites.
Finding them requires both dedication and time, and he loves the challenge of a good chase. Mickey Mantle cards can also be profitable — in 2010, a 1952 Mantle card sold for $130,000.
"I try to find something that's just not common, but (cards) that are a little bit harder to find," Craig said.
He spends eight to 10 hours a week organizing the cards in his collection and searching for new ones to add.
He resorts to buying them online only when he feels it's absolutely necessary. Instead, he prefers antique shops and baseball card shows where he can negotiate with dealers face-to-face.
"I like the interaction with the people," he said. "I like going out the old-fashioned way."
Craig stumbled across his first Mantle card at Cornerstone Antiques, his family's shop in Columbia, about 30 years ago. He soon realized how quickly a Mantle card's value could skyrocket depending on its condition — a card can range from a low of $200 or $300 to a high of $50,000, he said.
For the collector, Mantle cards have a personal connection — Craig was born during the 1960s, at the height of the player's career.
He might not always be able to make every potential purchase that catches his eye, but he still pursues the hunt.
"Because the cards can be so expensive, it's not something you usually do, but (collecting) makes me feel like I'm reliving my childhood again," he said.
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