My Sports Card Collection
IS IT REALLY WORTH ANYTHING?
By: Lee Defibaugh | February 6, 2018.
Do you own a shoebox or cardboard box full of random sports cards? Has it been tucked away in your closet for years? Or perhaps you recently inherited a card collection as a family treasure passed down? Do you have any idea what they’re worth? If not, you’re probably not alone. Keep reading.
WORTHLESS, OR WORTH MUCH?
Just yesterday (Monday, February 5) on eBay alone, 21 individual sports cards sold for over $2,000 apiece. Many of these fetched more in the range of $5-7 thousand. While most of us would believe that these must all be 1950’s-era Mickey Mantles and Babe Ruth’s, we’d be surprised to find that 11 of the 21 cards were POST-1970. As a matter of fact, six of the 21 cards were from the year 2000 (thanks to Tom Brady)! Could you be sitting on a rare Tom Brady card?
EVOLVEMENT OF THE SPORTS CARD INDUSTRY
Around 1988 the sports card hobby experienced a profound resurgence in interest. As a result, the number of card makers and the number of cards produced between roughly 1988 and 1992 grew significantly. This resulted in much higher supply than demand. Cards from most of the producers (Topps, Score, Fleer, Donruss and Upper Deck) during this time span are plentiful, thus lack for demand and in turn, lack of value. To this day it’s still relatively easy to purchase unopened packs, boxes and even cases of cards produced during this time period. -I just wouldn’t recommend chewing the gum.
Nonetheless, there are a few somewhat-valuable rookie and star cards from this period. Additionally, rare “error cards” began popping up. For example, in 1989 Fleer produced a card of second baseman, Billy Ripken, holding a baseball bat with an expletive written on the bat handle. (Note: Billy Ripken is the brother of Hall of Famer and Baltimore Oriole great Cal Ripken, Jr.). Some of these cards were released into circulation before Fleer managed to correct the flaw by placing a black box over the expletive. Interestingly, there is also a white box version and a scribble-through version, thus four variations of the 1989 Fleer Billy Ripken card in existence today. Amazingly, a graded GEM/MINT Billy Ripken Expletive Error card is currently listed on eBay for $84.95. In comparison, a 1989 Fleer card of Hall of Fame brother Cal can be had for a dollar.
Traditionally a rookie card, or a player’s first card produced by a company, is the most valuable. Rookie cards are much more sought after in the hobby particularly for star players who go on to have distinguished careers and accomplishments. However, card sets today include a variety of special insert cards such as individually numbered-limited edition, autographed, game-used materials, sewn-in uniform patches and swaths, and other interesting and attractive designs and cutouts. It’s never been more fun and challenging to keep pace with card styles and values.
CUT, CLARITY, AND COLOR
Without argue, one critical factor in determining value is the condition of the card. Like a diamond, collectors are looking at cut, clarity, and color. To this level, developments in card collecting include the actual grading of cards, whereby three or four reputable companies in the industry began grading cards based on a strict set of evaluation criteria. Sharp corners and edges, color, centering, smoothness and lack of surface scratching all come into play. In turn, grading subsequently helps contribute to determining the card’s value. And there’s no mistaking a graded card when you see one. The graded card is sealed in a hard-plastic case with the grading company’s logo and grade provided on the case. The case includes serialization for verification.
So, here’s hoping you have that 1989 Fleer Billy Ripken error card somewhere in your collection. Just understand that card condition is extremely important for fellow collectors and hobbyists in the event you someday want to sell. Don’t feel bad though, as over the years we’ve all stored them loosely-thrown in boxes, while others we’ve sorted and kept in plastic bags or bound together with rubber bands. My wife still cringes when I remind her about my 1972 Topps rookie Julius Erving basketball card with the $500 thumbtack hole.
Happy collecting and assessing! -Lee Defibaugh.
(NEED A PORTFOLIO REVIEW?)
(Lee retired in April 2017, which has given him time to sort and assess his collection. A true sports card hobby and industry enthusiast, he has provided assessments for others. If you have a collection and would like an assessment please contact him at email@example.com. For a $20 fee, he will come to your location (within the Locust Grove area) and provide a 2-3 hour general assessment and evaluation from which you’ll know, whether your collection is worthless, or worth much.)