Personal Business: Collecting
CASHING IN ON THE MVPs IN THAT OLD SHOEBOX
Collecting baseball cards is one of those innocent childhood hobbies that can turn into a lifelong passion. I should know. I started hoarding cards from bubble gum packs at the age of 9, and nearly two decades later, my collection numbers over 140,000. Jefferson R. Burdick became obsessed at age 10, and when he died in 1963 at 63, he owned more than 300,000 cards. On July 1, some of his most prized items went on public display for the first time at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Like most devotees, I didn't start saving cardboard images of my baseball heroes to make money. But my collection has been good to me: Selling a small part of it helped pay for college (although I gave up my 1968 Topps card of pitcher Nolan Ryan for $50 in 1984, and it's worth $1,500 today). I still pick up extra cash by unloading select cards as the need arises.
TOPP SELLERS. Pre-1980 cards in mint condition demand top dollar and are generally appreciating about 10% a year. But the market is soft for cards and sets printed after 1980. Collectors blame overproduction for the price weakness. Still, an astute trader who watches the stats can make money on recent editions. If a player appears headed for the Hall of Fame, his cards sell well and gain value. The same goes for current players the year they win a major award, such as Rookie of the Year or Most Valuable Player. But an off year or an injury will dry up the market in those cards, as happened with Texas Ranger outfielder Jose Canseco and White Sox designated hitter Bo Jackson (table).
If you still have your old collection stored away in boxes, you might be surprised at what some of the pieces are worth. But consider some advice from a war-scarred veteran before you plunge into the market and make a move you will regret. If you have a large number of cards, don't try to sell them all at once, unless they're all 1952 Topps numbered 311 or higher in perfect condition, which are the most sought-after and go for $200 each. You should pick out the ones of value, such as rookie cards of Hall of Famers, and only the ones you can bear to part with. If you idolize a player, whether it's Babe Ruth or former Mets outfielder Cleon Jones, don't sell his cards, unless you have duplicates. Take it from someone who still misses his 1967 Carl Yastrzemski: It's a decision you will mourn later.
Leave the dog-eared cards in the box, even if they depict Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays. Collectors only want mint or near-mint cards. Display your treasures in individual plastic sleeves. Using nine-card plastic sheets is a more economical way to store your collection, but the implication to a buyer is that you're trying to sell the whole sheet. To remove one card might damage it and is bad form for any card trader.
LOCAL HEROES. When you take the cards to a potential buyer, the first question will be, "How much do you want?" So you should first determine what the cards are worth--and the minimum price you will accept. Beckett Baseball Card Monthly (614 383-5772) or one of the card magazines from Krause Publications (715 445-2214) contain the most in-depth price listings. Make sure you grade your collection fairly. Calling a card mint when it has corner wear or creases won't bring a mint price. If you have a good relationship with a local dealer, you might ask for an assessment.
For maximum return, try selling to another collector. It may take longer, but fellow collectors are more likely to pay near 100% of guide prices. Place an ad in Sports Collector's Digest, a Krause publication, or list your cards with its computer card-buying and -selling service. Detail what you have to offer by condition and price. Membership to the "electronic card shop" costs $79.95 and includes a subscription to the magazine. Members pay $15 an hour for time on the computer system.
If you need cash quickly, sell to baseball card shops. They'll buy, but at only 55% to 75% of market value, depending on age, condition, and marketability of the card. Call around, ask if they would be interested in what you have, and check the publications. Many dealers advertise what cards they will buy and at what price.
If those options don't pan out, put your cards on consignment at a store. Or rent a table at one of the many shows held each weekend. Show schedules can be found in collector magazines. Selling prices are higher in regions where players performed, so I try to sell Atlanta Braves cards when visiting my parents in Georgia.
Remember that while childhood heroes can sometimes bring cash, they weren't intended as investments. If you make money, great. If not, you still have your memories.THE ROLLER COASTER
IN CARD PRICES
June June June June June
'89 '90 '91 '92 '93
UPPER DECK Ken Griffey Jr. 1989
$4.00 $13.50 $40.00 $65.00 $55.00
TOPPS Bo Jackson 1987
$1.50 $4.00 $4.00 $2.50 $1.00
DONRUSS Jose Canseco 1986
$55.00 $60.00 $100.00 $80.00 $60.00
TOPPS Rickey Henderson 1980
$30.00 $85.00 $185.00 $150.00 $100.00
TOPPS George Brett 1975
$65.00 $100.00 $160.00 $200.00 $225.00
TOPPS Sandy Koufax 1955
$500.00 $800.00 $900.00 $1,175.00 $1,350.00
DATA: BECKETT BASEBALL CARD MONTHLY