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Old 09-22-2016, 01:41 AM
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David Kathman
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Default Hobby history: Preston D. Orem

Those of you who are students of baseball history, especially 19th-century baseball history, may recognize Preston D. Orem as the author of "Baseball (1845-1881) From The Newspaper Accounts". This book is pretty much what it sounds like, a history of baseball from 1845 to 1881 based exclusively on Orem's exhaustive reading of contemporary newspaper accounts. That might not seem like that big of a deal today, but nothing like that had ever been done for 19th-century baseball, and Orem's book is still cited today by baseball historians, along with the much harder to find followup volumes covering the years 1882 to 1891. According to Buck Barker's obit (scanned below), Orem had also written a manuscript continuation of his history up to 1902, but if so, it was never published and seems to have vanished.

What a lot of people don't know is that Orem was also an important early baseball card collector, a contributor to the 1960 American Card Catalog, and a member of the Baseball Card Hall of Fame (as announced in Irv Lerner's 1971 "Who's Who In Card Collecting"), even though his time as a serious collector lasted less than a decade. During that decade, he compiled a massive card collection astonishingly fast, in the process driving up prices, and did pioneering research, some of it in collaboration with Buck Barker, before losing interest and selling his card collection to focus on his baseball history work.

Orem was born in late 1894 in Los Angeles, where his father, the composer Preston Ware Orem (once credited with co-writing "Happy Birthday") was the organist of St. Paul's procathedral. When Preston was a baby, the family moved back to his father's hometown of Philadelphia, where Orem grew up alongside at least one brother, Bill. As a kid, he collected stamps and baseball cards -- he would have been about 14 when T206 came out -- but he eventually lost interest in such things. He went to law school, ended up back in California (Pasadena), and apparently became fairly well-off through his law practice. During World War II, he got back into stamp collecting as an escape, and went all-out, plowing $4000 (a huge sum in those days) into his collection. But then he lost interest and began to sell his stamp collection, and searched for something else to occupy himself. In late March 1956, he found the only T206s remaining from his childhood collection, 7 Southern Leaguers, and got the collecting bug in a big way. (I remember seeing one article that specified that he started collecting on April 1, 1956, but I can't find it right now.) With the proceeds from the ongoing sale of his stamp collection, Orem began buying up all the vintage baseball cards he could find, outbidding anybody who went up against him. He made such a splash in the hobby that in August 1956, just four months after he started collecting, Charles Brooks put Orem's picture on the cover of Sport Hobbyist, the only photo I've ever seen of him. Here is an enlargement of that photo, which was in the lower left corner of the cover:



Orem had an article in that issue, "Another Sports Card Drought", which I'm pretty sure is the first thing he wrote for a hobby publication. He continued to write semi-regularly over the next couple of years for Sport Hobbyist, then one of the two main hobby publications (the other being Sport Fan). Here is an article he wrote for the November 1956 Sport Hobbyist, describing his background as a stamp collector and explaining why the thought cards were a better thing to collect. (The title, which is cut off here, was "CIGARETTE, ETC. CARDS VS. STAMPS (with apologies to Grace Kelly)".)



In the September 1956 Sport Hobbyist, Orem had written an article about the N321 cards from the collection he describes buying here; I posted that article in this thread, along with several others: http://www.net54baseball.com/showthread.php?t=225081. He wrote about the T212s from that collection in the February 1957 Sport Hobbyist, which I posted here: http://www.net54baseball.com/showthread.php?t=225026, and he wrote about the Zeenuts in the April/May 1957 issue, which I haven't posted yet. Amidst all this he wrote some very interesting articles about tobacco cards more generally, two in the January 1957 Sport Hobbyist and one in the March 1957 issue, based on his experience buying thousands of T and N cards over several months. I posted those articles last year in this thread: http://www.net54baseball.com/showthread.php?t=217334. There's good info there about the relative scarcity of different sets, card prices in the 1950s, and the rise in prices since the early 1940s. Similarly interesting is his article "Sleepers" in the June-September 1957 Sport Hobbyist, in which Orem highlights some sets that he had never seen an example of, even though the American Card Catalog showed low prices for them. He offhandedly mentions that he had over 25,000 cards; this was a little over a year after he had started collecting.



After that issue, Sport Hobbyist began to be published much more erratically, because publisher Charles Brooks had graduated from high school and gone away to college. So Orem began to publish his articles in Card Collector's Bulletin. For the August 1, 1958 CCB (#115), he collaborated with Buck Barker on a long article about Old Judges, announcing their discovery of the Player's League cards and much else. He wrote a followup article of his own on Old Judges for the June 1, 1959 CCB (#120). I posted these articles in this thread: http://www.net54baseball.com/showthread.php?t=225081. In between these articles, he had written an article about T216s for the February 1, 1959 CCB (#118), which I posted here: http://www.net54baseball.com/showthread.php?t=218274.

In the course of his research into these 19th-century card sets, Orem had done a lot of primary research on the players, going through old newspapers, because in the 1950s the only baseball encyclopedia available was the rudimentary (and error-filled) Turkin and Thompson encyclopedia. This is especially apparent in his article on N321s and his second one on Old Judges, to which I linked above. All that research inspired him to write his histories of 19th-century baseball. For the November-December 1959 Sport Fan, Orem wrote a rather detailed article about where and how he had done his research up to that point, including a visit to Buck Barker in St. Louis, and a visit with Charles Bray to visit Jefferson Burdick as he mounted his cards at the Met. Here is that article:




Orem's interest in baseball history eventually became so all-consuming that he got tired of the cards and sold his collection. This seems to have been going on in 1964, when nearly every issue of Card Collector's Bulletin has ads from Orem with the cards he had for sale. As noted above, he compiled material to continue his baseball history past 1900, but the manuscript was never published and is presumed lost. Orem died in December 1971 at the age of 77, and a couple of years later, Buck Barker wrote an obituary for him that was published in the December 1, 1973 Card Collector's Bulletin. Here it is. Only the first half page is by Barker; the rest consists of Orem's stream-of-consciousness response to the question "The Game I Wished I'd Seen", for George Robert Martin's Ballcard Collector. It's kind of hard to read, but it includes a lot of interesting tidbits from Orem's life.


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Old 09-22-2016, 02:09 AM
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That's funny. Mr. Oren's office address is about 100 yards from the health club I belong to in Pasadena.
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Old 09-22-2016, 08:06 AM
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Default Thank you.

I appreciate knowing more about Orem. When I stared collecting baseball books, his was an early acquisition, and great reading. Years later I found 50 copies in one location, and I notice that they seem to be readily available still.
I no longer have my supplements but still refer to the original frequently. Thanks again, great information.
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Old 09-22-2016, 10:25 AM
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David, thanks very much for this excellent overview of Orem's career.
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Old 09-25-2016, 03:09 PM
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It's a small world.

David, thanks again for posting these publications.

Quote:
Originally Posted by oldjudge View Post
That's funny. Mr. Oren's office address is about 100 yards from the health club I belong to in Pasadena.
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Old 09-26-2016, 11:16 PM
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Default bgar

were the copies signed? While a bit out of my wheelhouse I bought one off eBay a few years ago as the price seemed right. Always curious about the number of signed copies......
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Old 09-26-2016, 11:24 PM
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what's #321 t212 series 150?
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Old 09-26-2016, 11:50 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by 1880nonsports View Post
were the copies signed? While a bit out of my wheelhouse I bought one off eBay a few years ago as the price seemed right. Always curious about the number of signed copies......
I'm not sure what you're asking. What's "bgar"?

Quote:
Originally Posted by ullmandds View Post
what's #321 t212 series 150?
Are you talking about the article where Orem wrote that he had "350 of T212, ten of no. 321, and about 130 Zeenut cards"? "No. 321" here means N321, the color S. F. Hess California League cards. Those 10 N321s that Orem had would probably be worth well over $10,000 today, depending on condition.
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Old 09-27-2016, 07:55 AM
bgar3 bgar3 is offline
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Default Signed?

None of the very large group of Orem's was signed. I have only seen a couple in 40 years.
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Old 09-27-2016, 08:12 AM
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Default OK

thanks.....
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