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What happened to kids collecting and trading cards?

People have been collecting baseball and other sports cards since the early 1900’s. What used to be a casual hobby has since turned into a multibillion dollar industry. Gone are the days where kids would trade their favorite player cards with friends or put the lesser known player cards in their bike spokes to make a cool sound. In fact, kids collecting sports card have almost been squeezed out the picture by the adults. We now have major sports card companies releasing yearly products under several different brand names that cost them millions of dollars to produce. You can find autographs, game used bat cards, game used jersey cards and/or combos that have autographs and jerseys on the same card. This means that the packs of cards cost quite a bit more than they did even 20 years ago. The packs have gone from around $0.50 - $2.00 to something in the range of $1.00 - $25.00 (or much higher).

If a company has to spend millions of dollars producing their product and getting it to market, it means that the consumer is going to have to pay a high premium for the product. So, if you decide to drop $25 on a super premium pack of cards, does that mean you will get your money’s worth? Absolutely not! It basically works the same way as buying a scratch-off lottery ticket. The majority of the cards in the pack are going to be worthless duds and chances are you will not find that $1000 autographed card that you wanted.

So why do people spend such money on cards if there is a good chance they will not find what they are looking for? The reason is simple. The true sports card collector gets something akin to a rush of adrenaline while hunting for that rare card. It is like being on a hunt for one of those truly great cards. You display and/or show off the card you hunted down just as a hunter displays his hunted animals that he took to the taxidermist. It might not be a perfect analogy, but rabid sports card collectors are always after the top prize being offered by the sports card companies.

How do you get started collecting?

The easiest way to get your collection going would be to start with small lots of cards on an auction site such as eBay. It does take some knowledge on exactly what you are attempting to purchase, as well as knowing who the good sellers. Once you get the hang of it you can easily spot the good deals. You should always check the sellers feedback before bidding on any lot of cards on eBay and never bid with your emotions. A good rule of thumb is if you think you are paying a little too much for the cards, you probably are.

If you hate the auction route, another way would be to pay a set price for the cards from an eBay store. Sellers often have the “make an offer” button up on items they are selling for a fixed price and they will usually offer combined or discounted shipping. You should be aware that sellers that have fixed prices have to sell the cards at a higher price. This is due to the fact that they need to cover all the eBay and Paypal fees . This means that you could probably find the item cheaper in the regular auction format instead of the fixed price format.

Who are the major sports card companies?

Topps - One of the oldest and most respected sports card companies. They put out product for all sports under many different brand names.

Fleer - Fleer first produced bubble gum cards as far back as 1885 and were family owned until 1989. They usually cover the entire sports spectrum with products just like other major companies. The company went bankrupt in 2005 and all of their assets were bought out by Upper Deck. They now continue to produce quality products under the Fleer name.

Donruss - Is owned by Panini America and produces cards for most sports under several different names.

Upper Deck -They started in 1989 and immediately made a big splash because of the popularity of their Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card. They currently put out product for almost every sport played in America and even some in Europe.

ebay search terms to help you locate cards

Should you get your cards graded?

This option is not for the casual collector…

There are companies out there who specialize in grading cards for you (usually on a 1 to 10 scale) which can increase the value of the card. You send the card to them, then once it’s graded, they send it back to you encapsulated in a hard plastic case. They usually have several things on the label to help identify the card.

A graded card case usually contains

  • A bar code
  • A unique number never used again by the company
  • A description of the exact type of card you have (i.e. manufacturer, year and player)
  • A grade of the card (usually on a 1 - 10 scale with 10 being the best)
  • The name of the grading card company
  • Some type of unique holographic image to prevent counterfeit

The main problem that people have with getting their cards graded is cost. You have to pay for the card, shipping to and from the grading company as well as the actual grading process itself. You pretty much have to have your cards graded using the economics of scale. Meaning, you will have to submit several cards at the same time to make it worthwhile for you.

Does grading a card mean that it will be worth more?

Absolutely not. If you think that you are sending in a card that will grade at a 9 and it ends up being graded a 7 or 8, it could actually reduce the value of your card. This means you need to have a good screening process of the cards before they are sent in. This usually involves at least a 10x magnification lighted lens so that you can see the cards imperfections. If the surface of your card has a scratch, you will not get it graded at a 9. It will probably start at an 8 and then go down from there, depending on if there are other problems.

You should also know that not all sports card companies are created equal. There are only three or four major ones that the sports card industry has accepted as valid. If you get your card graded by a subpar grading company, not only do you have a grade that no one believes, you have a graded card that can’t even be proven to be authentic. The major grading companies will never encapsulate a card that is counterfeit or has been tampered with.

If you are wanting to start a graded sports card collection it would be wiser to simply win auctions on eBay (or other auction sites) and cut out the middle man. You get to have graded sports cards and don’t have to pay the high fees to have them graded.

Major sports card grading companies

If your card isn’t graded by one of the companies listed below you are probably getting a card that has been graded by a second rate grading company. I am not saying that there no good grading companies besides the ones listed below. Rather, I am simply stating that the sports card community has most likely not accepted them as quality graders.

Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA) - The oldest and one of the most respected grading companies. They have a standing in the industry that is second to none. If PSA says that the card is a 10, then your card is a 10.

Sportscard Guaranty Corporation (SGC) - They have never had the popularity of PSA but they are also known for their renown grading skills, especially for the older cards. They use a 10 - 100 scale (instead of 1-10) and have subgrades such as 92 or 88. They are even sometimes known to be tougher graders than PSA.

Beckett Grading Service (BGS) - The makers of the Beckett Baseball Card Monthly also have a grading service called BGS. They are known as one of the big three in the sports card grading industry and their graded cards usually fetch the same price as BGS and PSA does. They offer a thicker and heavier holder for the cards, but they are sometimes prone to chipping and cracking. (F.Y.I. - If your graded card case gets chipped or cracked, it could reduce the value of the card inside even if the card itself isn’t damaged.)

Global Authentication International (GAI) - This grading company was started by some former executives at PSA and is generally considered a high quality grader. They are no longer grading cards, but many of their already graded cards can be found on ebay.

There is still room for the small time collectors

If you are a child or an adult with a very limited sports card collecting budget, there is still room for you to begin your collection. You can often find lower end packs in the $1.00 - $2.00 range that still have some interesting chase cards (autograph, game used etc). Sure, you may never find a cut autograph of Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron but you could still find some excellent cards great for starting your collection. The key is to keep your expectations on what you will find reasonable, and always stay within your budget…no matter how tempting those more expensive packs look to you.

Hobbies | Collecting


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