Shop Visit: Freeport’s Jennings Cards and Coins

Courtesy: Google Maps

It’s obvious that there aren’t many long-running stores around that have been in the sports card business for decades. Jennings Cards and Coins in downtown Freeport is one of the rare ones, a business that is all about investment: Buy, wait, and sell when it’s hot.

I have heard of the store for years, and it’s been around sine 1964. Its founder, the late Dr. Steven Jennings, was a professor at Highland Community College in town, a place that I spent a year studying journalism at. That was 15 years ago, and just now did I finally make a trip there.

Jennings only has been in the sports card business since the 1980s, with the rise of Fleer and Donruss making cards more popular than ever at that time. It always has dealt with coins and stamps, as Dr. Jennings was a member of several professional clubs of enthusiasts in those hobbies. Another store of his opened in Rockford. Sadly, Dr. Jennings lost a battle with cancer last year, and the business now is run by his son, Matthew. A large picture of Dr. Jennings hangs from one of the storefront windows, in the design of an Allen and Ginter card.

Sports card stores have popped up more in recent years, these days doing business with graded cards and the like, but Jennings is one of the grand survivors of the sports card hobby business. It’s kept up with the times, especially as card values have gone up in value during the Covid pandemic.

I drove to Freeport last week during my vacation time, not knowing exactly what Jennings had, but figured I needed to check it out to see if they had something that could cross some cards off of my Want List.

If it’s particular singles you’re looking for, it’s a good idea to know what you are looking for before you walk in. Several boxes of several hundreds of thousands of cards take up much of the store. My Want List is kind of all over the place, but the general area is 1960s and 1970s. A couple of boxes of them were taken from a shelf and set on a table for me to sift through. Trying to find everything I want was going to last forever, and the store was to close in 2 ½ hours, so I limited by search to just those boxes.

I found 17 cards total that I wanted. I was told a price and it worked out for me.

Prior to visiting, I had expanded and overhauled my Want List to my Top 100 cards, and Top 20 minor league cards. This trip saw me get a few Top 100 finds, including a Top 20 find of a card which reminds collectors of a pivotal story in baseball history.

Top 50 Want List Finds

1970 Topps, Curt Flood: While this card only has the value of the minor star tier, this card is noteworthy for hints of Flood’s fight against baseball’s reserve clause. As per practice, Topps used the “hidden cap logo” version of Flood’s picture since he was not going to be in St. Louis anymore; he is pictured in a Cardinal uniform with the bottom of the cap lid showing to hide the “STL” logo. The team written on the front of the card is the Phillies, which, as baseball enthusiasts know, Flood never played a game for them. He refused to report to Philadelphia, and the lawsuit began.

I also recently purchased Flood’s 1971 Topps card, which has him as a member of the Washington Senators. That card has zeroes in his stat line for 1970 since he refused to play. While the 1971 documents proof of Flood’s absence from the 1970 season, it does not explain why. The 1970 card at least has the two teams that were the major players in the situation.

1975 Topps, Tim McCarver: Going along with the Cardinals legends theme, this one actually has him as a Red Sox player, backing up young future hall of fame rookie Carlton Fisk in that 1974 season. McCarver also played briefly for the Expos in 1972, but is shown as a Cardinal for his 1973 card. So this caps my McCarver career ark.

1977 Topps, Dave Duncan: Another figure in Cardinals’ lore, Duncan was Tony La Russa’s pitching coach for many years. On this card, Duncan is pictured as a member of the Chicago White Sox, the team that both he and La Russa began their long association with. The interesting thing about this card is that Duncan, who was a catcher in his playing days, actually never played a game for the White Sox. The card, you guessed it, was airbrushed to include the word “Sox” on the cap, as well as the black shirt collar worn by the team at that time.

1970 Topps, Charlie Manuel: Referred to as “Chuck” Manuel on this card. At first glance, it looks like a simple card of a rookie-year player. Manuel went on to manage the Phillies to a World Series title decades later, so that bumped the value of this card up on pricing tier. Look closer, though, there is a player with uniform No. 36 in the background. This card became a recent “hall of fame cameo card” since the person in the background is none other than Jim Kaat.

Other cards of note:

1966 Topps, Don Drysdale: The first original Drysdale in my collection, regardless of value. This leaves just six hall of fame players with service time in the 1960s missing from my personal collection: Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Gil Hodges, Duke Snider, Stan Musial and Ted Williams.

1961 Topps, Tracy Stallard: Who? He’s the guy who gave up Roger Maris’ No. 61. This is his rookie card.

1966 Topps, Jim Grant: Better known as “Mudcat.” The first of his cards to show him winning 20 games in a season (in 1965), the first Black player to accomplish the feat – which is the subject of a book he later wrote.

1966 Topps, Billy Herman: Better known as a hall of fame player in the days before World War II, Herman later managed the Red Sox before being replaced by a future hall of fame skipper, Dick Williams.

1967 Topps, Tony Cloninger: This common is in my collection to tell the story of a feat he accomplished in 1966: He’s the only pitcher to hit two grand slams in a game.

1970 Topps, Lowell Palmer: Who? Palmer didn’t really do anything noteworthy in his baseball career, but is noteworthy in the history of baseball cards. In fact, Palmer isn’t even the first player to be pictured in sunglasses, but this card saw a rise in “interestingness” after Pat Neshek recreated the image on his 2019 Topps Heritage card. Now I want that Neshek card to compliment this one. (Side note: I had originally thought this WAS the first sunglasses card, but it turns out that the distinction belongs to Ryne Duren of the Orioles on his 1963 card; and he also is pictured in error on the Eli Grba card in the same set). [UPDATE: I bought the Duren card at the Schaumburg show recently.]

1970 Topps, Hoyt Wilhelm: Wilhelm bounced around between plenty of teams late in his career, which happened to be late in his 40s. Included is a stop in Atlanta, per the writing on this card. My Wilhelm career arc is missing a couple of teams, such as the Yankees, Cardinals and Indians; but also the Dodgers (where his 1972 card is at the last of the high series), and his 1969 Topps Stamps (details on this one will come on my updated Want List coming soon).

1970 Topps, Bill Stoneman: Shown as a Montreal Expos player. This set is not the first to feature the uniforms of the four 1969 expansion teams, as the late series cards of the ghastly 1969 set has them. Expansion teams don’t get a whole lot of love in that first year, but Stoneman gave the Expos its first moment in the sun with an early season no-hitter against the Phillies on April 17, 1969. It’s the earliest no-hitter performed by a fresh expansion team. By the way, the fans in Montreal really miss their baseball; could we see a new Expos come back in the future? If the Senators can be resurrected, like it did in 1961, it could happen now.

I may make it back to Jennings one more time to go through some more of what’s there.

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