Land ~ Sea Discovery Group Staff
Much like a stone skipping across the smooth waters of a pond, I flipped
my 1960 Topps All Star card of Hank Aaron across the slick pavement
of the tennis court. It made the crucial skip and careened up to a
height of six inches above the ground forward to the chain link fence
where it stopped, slid down, and came to a halt in a leaning position
against the base of the fence.
A gasp went up from the crowd of kids around me. A gasp
of disappointment because I had just won the pot of over
250 baseball cards scattered around the playing field with
that toss. I plucked up my lucky Hank Aaron card first and
tucked it away in my shirt pocket. Then I gathered up the
rest of the cards and took the long walk home.
I had struck cardboard gold. The kid with the most cards
wins they say, but I didn't feel like a winner. I felt I
disappointed most of my friends by taking their prize possessions
in a game of leaners. When I got home I put the cards into
a shoe box along with my other previous winnings, taped
it shut and tucked it into a corner of the attic. That was
1962 and I was twelve years old.
Sports memorabilia treasures can be found in many
forms. Shown are a variety of sports cards, a 1915
Spalding Baseball Guide and an autographed Sandy Koufax
1985 my mom came to visit and she brought along the two
dusty shoe boxes full of old baseball cards that had been
stashed away for 23 years. Imagine my surprise! Much to
my amazement though I had an even bigger surprise yet to
come as I sought out to learn their value. Many things came
into play such as condition, volume, and unscrupulous dealers.
What I will attempt in this article is to show you how to
proceed when you find that box of cardboard gold.
First of all, even with all the hype of the last twenty
years about baseball cards, many surprises are still found
every day in attics, garages, and barns. In some older towns
in middle America little drugstores have discovered cases
of cards from the sixties unopened! You've heard that someone's
trash being another's treasure? Well, believe it! You simply
must know the product you're dealing with. If you've just
been handed a box of cards or at a yard sale you bought
a box of cards for $10.00, here are some steps to take to
understand you're newly acquired treasure.
Appreciation. First take the cards out and look at
them. See them for what they are, pieces of cardboard that
have weathered the years and have passed through countless
hands to finally come to rest on your coffee table. These
cards have given some youngster a great deal of pleasure.
The cards picture their heroes from baseball, football,
hockey or basketball. For me, like an old wine, I take a
whiff of the box to get an appreciation for the age of the
cards inside. I look at the design of the card, the coloring,
and the condition.
Sorting first by type and then by number. Shown are
1959 and 1960 Topps baseball cards.
Sorting should be done by type and then age. Lay the cards
out and put them in stacks according to the type of card
that they are. Usually they will be one of the four major
sports or a non-sports card. Then pick a stack to work on
and set the others aside. Now you want to put them into
year categories. With most sports cards the back of the
card will have stats from prior years of playing for that
particular player. In most cases you add one year to the
last year of stats and you have the year of the sports card.
If you find an odd one in the group with no stats you can
match up the design or the style of the back of the card
to find the year. Many times the backs are the same color
for the year. Once you have done this you'll note that each
card has a number on the back. Put them in numerical order.
Cards are issued in sets from 1 to however many are in the
A few things come into play on pricing like availability
of the card and condition, both of which I'll discuss later.
As I found out when I first went out to price my cards,
you will find honest dealers, dishonest dealers and those
that simply don't know what they're talking about. I got
offers of $200.00 up to $1000.00 for my cards. I couldn't
understand why there was such a difference. Then I got smart
and bought a price guide so I could see for myself. There
are many guides available but I recommend Becket Monthly
or Tuff Stuff. If you have a variety of sports in one box
you may prefer Tuff stuff as they list all the sports in
one publication as opposed to Becket having a magazine for
each sport. Once home, you can take your stack of cards
and card by card see the value. The price guides list cards
by year and then card number. They usually list the more
important cards of the set individually and the common cards
separate. The prices are arrived at usually by dealers that
submit buying and selling prices for cards nation wide.
Availability plays heavy. For example cards pre 1980 were
produced in smaller quantities than the 1990's and they
in most cases are more desirable. In Los Angeles, Dodger
cards are at a premium because so many collectors want them.
Also a new player, someone on a hot streak, or a newly deceased
player will cause price fluctuations. The cards are priced
also by condition.
Condition. A $100.00 card can be worth from $10.00
to $150.00 based on condition. Most price guide list cards
in Vg (very good) or NM (near mint). NM - Means a near perfect
card. The card looks new and near perfect without going
under closer examination. Cards in NM condition usually
get the full book price. Cards in M (mint) condition are
perfect in every way. Corners are sharp and the cards are
well centered. They command up to 150% of book. EX (excellent)
cards usually have some blunted corners or may be a little
off center. VG cards may have wear but are still attractive.
A small crease may show or a corner may be dinged but all
in all it's a nice addition to a collectors set. If you
have a card in lesser condition then this, like it may have
a hole, a piece missing, or a stain, the card may be worth
only 10-20 % of the book price.
Now that you know pretty closely what your finds are worth
you must decide if you truly want to sell. Some cards are
destined to increase in value like Mickey Mantle and Nolan
Ryan. Others may reach a peak and you need to gauge when
to sell. Strawberry cards were once a hot item and now you
can't give them away.
Keep in mind that when you sell a card to a dealer that
he or she needs to make a profit when they resell the card.
Most dealers will pay up to 60% of the cards value in a
good market. That allows them to sell the card at book price
or a little below and make enough profit to hopefully cover
their overhead. Card dealers can be found in the yellow
pages under baseball cards, sports memorabilia, or collectibles.
Many operate stores but you may also find them at conventions,
weekly shows, and through newspaper ads. You might want
to sell the cards to a collector yourself and get a larger
percentage of profit. To do this you must advertise your
name and number. A word of caution on newspaper ads whether
buying or selling, be careful. Remember if a deal seems
too good to be true it's probably not true. You can also
get a resale license and sell at flea markets, swap meets,
or trade shows yourself.
As for myself and my two boxes of cards, I found out early
that there were unscrupulous people out there. The first
place I went offered me $200.00 for all my cards. To me
the memories alone were worth more than $200.00 so I passed.
Then I answered an ad in a newspaper. The guy spent two
hours of my time picking through the cards separating them
into piles that he might or might not want. Finally he offered
me $100.00 for one card! He said he'd like to buy more but
didn't have the money. He educated me a little on the cards
and to thank him I sold him the card, which I later found
out, was worth $300.00, but I was learning. The dealer I
went to next offered me $1000.00 for the whole lot, saying
that most of the cards were commons and the condition was
poor. I asked if he sold price guides and he said yes and
that maybe he could go a little higher. I passed on the
offer and bought a price guide.
For a full month I had a ball learning about my treasure.
I realized nearly $5,000.00 in value for my cards and through
trading doubles I bought new sets and broke them down to
sell singles, and by 1986 I owned my own card shop called
Fun Zone. The store was profitable, and a fun place for
me and others that enjoyed cardboard gold.
note: Although this was written in 1990 much of the
information is timeless. New arenas like Ebay Auctions for
buying and selling, have opened a whole new set of doors
for the lover of cardboard gold to go through. Young and
old can play on the same field internationally.
author owned and operated a baseball, comic book, and
collectables store called Fun Zone from 1986 to 1994 in