Baseball Card Dealer’s View: Building Inventory
I Wish All Shows Were Like This
These past two months have been a hectic time for me as a sports card dealer. The end of the baseball season has no effect on baseball card consumption. New sets and updates come out throughout the fall and holiday season. The 2014 Topps set is due out in a few weeks so there is really no break. I do have other problems though. The biggest one being: patience.
You see, I have patience for many things but dead inventory isn’t one of them. The way I do business is to buy everything in bulk if I can, and for as little as possible (of course). This isn’t rocket science, the “Buy Low, Sell High” concept isn’t new, but I’ve tried to perfect this to a fault – and sometimes it works.
Other times, not so much – but I usually don’t get hurt by it because of the Buy Low part of that concept. Here’s what I mean.
1971 Topps Commons
Big Box of Early 70's Commons
Earlier this year, I traded for a huge box of commons from 1971-74. The black-bordered cards from 1971 are hard to find in great shape and this lot had lots of them from all different series, in really good shape. I also have half a dozen buyers trying to fill in that set so trading for this lot worked to my advantage. What did I trade, you may ask. A 1960 Topps Willie McCovey RC that I bought for $40, a Hank Aaron signed baseball certified by Shop-at-Home (in 1998) that I bought for $20 and a stack of Derek Jeter cards valued in the $200 range (that I accumulated over time). I received nearly 700 1971 Topps, 300 1972 Topps, and about 100 each from 1973 and 1974. At the time I was very pleased.
Over time, I have sold lots of the 1971 commons, semi-stars, and high numbers and made my money back several times over. I used the 1972 cards in a huge trade for about 50 1950 Bowman cards (most of which have already sold). The 1973 and 1974 cards largely went into my dime and fifty cent boxes. So here I sit, with about 400 1971 Topps cards left and nobody left who needs them. I tried to trade them, I tried to lower the prices, I did everything I could to move them – but they sat there.
I had finally had it and blew them out to one of my better customers for $40. Now this isn’t terrible. I DID make a fair amount of money on this deal. I DID make my customer very happy. I DID sell the cards for a little extra profit. But due to my impatience, I essentially gave them away and these are cards you shouldn’t do that with. This sort of thing happens quite a bit. I get into a good deal. I make a nice profit off of everything I sell out of the deal. And then I’m stuck looking at what’s left for too long and eventually sell it for nothing. My rationale??
I HATE DEAD STOCK!!
Various 60's Commons
More Dead Stock Blowout
So I found myself at the end of September having blown out a lot of vintage commons as dead stock at various shows. The 1971 commons went in the deal outlined above, the 1972’s went in the trade for the 1950 Bowman lot, lots of other low-end vintage commons I blew out at 40 and 50 cents to my really good, consistent buyers. It was time to move dead stock and get other “stuff”. This usually is not a fast process. I do not own a store where people can just walk in and offer me stuff. The only phone calls I get are from people trying to sell off “Junk” wax era products that I have in my attic. I do not visit many flea markets, swap meets, auctions or garage sales looking for the stuff either. I should, it would make things easier, but I just don’t do that. I buy out cards from other dealers and crawl through auction sites online to find good deals on cards I think I can turn a profit on. I love finding lots of vintage cards – usually very cheap. It just isn’t easy to accumulate inventory this way – it takes time.
Huge 1970 Topps Pickup
A Very Different Type of Month
At one show, I picked up a 3-row shoebox full of 1970 commons, with some 1971 and 1972 thrown in. The 1970 cards were in all states of condition. There would be 6 of the same card in a row but 2 would be awful, 2 were ok and 2 looked like they were just pulled from a pack. It was absolutely weird. This allowed me to separate cards into the Dollar, Fifty cent and Dime boxes. There were some better cards of teams and league leaders. The 1971’s were even more weird. There were maybe 200 of them but 160 of them had a huge red mark on the back (probably so the child who owned them could identify his cards during games of War or Colors). The other 40 were absolutely gorgeous, and they were all semi-high number cards. I actually tossed the damaged cards into the dime box with a note to potential buyers that the cards were damaged (oddly enough – at a dime - nobody minded). This box cost me $40 but the box was stuffed with 2000 cards.
The next week at a show, I found the same dealer with a 300-count box of vintage commons. I take one look and see some 1950’s and lots of 1960’s. I love this, but these cards are all commons and some are just not in great shape. Much of this box will become dollar and fifty cent cards. I waited. What he asked for initially I had no intention of paying. There were roughly 225 cards which I eventually got for $25. After getting those cards separated, I was absolutely right about most of the lot. There were some gems in there and some awfully bad cards that I had to throw away. I’m not a big fan of that but cards that are completely damaged I usually just toss.
1970's Star Cards
The No-Look Buy
At the beginning of November, I went to one of my local stores. He just opened up a few months ago but he knows me from the shows so he knows I’m a dealer and that I like vintage cards. He pulls out a shoebox and tells me to make an offer. I have no idea what’s in the box and I don’t want to look. I offer him $20 and when he counters with $30, he states that he knows there are some really good vintage cards in this box. I don’t argue. He’s a dealer so he knows what he’s looking at. He also knows I know what I’m looking at. I got it home and he was right – I don’t know why he didn’t ask for more.
In the box are roughly 80 vintage cards from the 60’s. Most are in great shape. Many are semi-stars, league leaders and a few are high numbers. There are another 50 cards that are stars of the 1970’s which is still vintage. This includes players like Dave Winfield, George Brett, Nolan Ryan, Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Eddie Murray, Johnny Bench and Thurman Munson. This was an absolutely spectacular box. This all happened very quickly making rebuilding the vintage inventory much easier this time around.
1978 Tops Eddie Murray RC
What Else has been Happening?
Well, as I pick up stuff, I accumulate a lot of cards I don’t really care for. I’m not a huge fan of jersey cards – at least not regular plain old white and grey swatches of material from marginal players. Nevertheless, I wind up with this stuff almost by accident. I live in New York so any NY-themed jersey/bat/autograph card sells. All of the others I can easily do without. That’s not saying that I don’t look for certain players when I can, but I don’t make a habit of looking for this kind of thing. So at the last show in Rahway, NJ, I packaged all of the jersey/bat/autograph cards I had to one of my regular buyers for about $1 a card. He was happy – there were some good players in there like David Price. But a David Price jersey card from Allen & Ginter books for $8 and it won’t sell for anything near that in NY. At the same time, one of my fellow dealers at that show wanted to trade for a few Manny Machado cards I had floating on the table. What did I get for them? A Roger Maris Retired Numbers manufactured jersey card. That card sold at the end of the show. Got to know your audience right?
On eBay I have several searches saved. One looks for lots from the Post-war era, the other one looks for any baseball cards, priced under $1.99 and it’s called my Cheapie search. I use this search to look at all listings in Baseball Cards for under $1.99 and I have found some extraordinary cards here. Again, “Buy Low, Sell High”.
How about Eddie Murray Rookie? That’s right, I found an $80 1978 Topps Eddie Murray rookie card for $1.34. A lot of late 1970’s TCMA Stars of the 50’s and 60’s cards with Mantle, Mays, Clemente, Aaron, Di Maggio and others worth about $65. More often than not, it’s something like a David Wright jersey card for $1 which I can sell all day long, or a Brett Gardner jersey card which sells well too. I’ve found Vintage lots in there as well. How about 5 1957 Topps cards in decent shape for $1.25 and $3 shipping? Each card is at least a dollar card before they even show up at my door and better condition cards go into my Vintage box. I’ll go for any lot that looks good but the last few have been Mets-driven if only because I have a lot of Mets fans concentrating on vintage players so a 5 card 1966 Topps lot of Mets cards for 99cents along with a 21 card 1975 Topps Mets Minis at $2.14 made perfect sense.
1951 Topps Wrapper
Strangest Items to Come In
I absolutely try to stick to baseball cards. I have been asked over the years to carry autographed baseballs, bats and other memorabilia like magazines and figures. I simply won’t do it. I don’t have the space, I don’t have the money and I have almost no interest. I’m a baseball card guy – that’s what I collect. There isn’t anything wrong with people who collect the other stuff, I just don’t do that. So I don’t carry any of it. That being said, I do wind up with some strange card-related stuff anyway.
In my cheapie search, I found a 1951 Topps wrapper. There are wrapper collectors out there and these really old wrappers are just as rare as the cards from that time. The cards were kept, the wrappers were largely thrown away adding to their relative scarcity. I also picked up a 4-coin lot of 1990 Mets Bandai coins. I have NO IDEA where these came from or what they were packaged with. I’m not even sure how to sell them – but they are Mets so I’m sure they’ll sell to someone. I recently had 1950 American Nut and Chocolate Pennants which are small felt pennants that had players and team logos. Those were very cool and expensive and they sold very quickly.
2013 Topps Update Inserts
How About the New Stuff?
Well, I just don’t buy packs too much anymore. I do buy blaster boxes on occasion but not the big expensive boxes. I do not have the money for that and there is too much risk involved. As a dealer, it is rare to pull enough value out of a box to make buying one worthwhile. So I troll through the auction sites and through the boxes at shows and my local stores. They all know I’m a card dealer so they offer me deals to blow out stuff. I always listen – it’s also how I fill my fifty cent box.
I won the cards shown at right, actually 2 of each card, for a sum total of $3.25. So the Puig/Kemp cards are $5 Each, the Machado/Ripken cards are $6 each, and the Ryan/Darvish cards are $5 each make this an easy buy. The Harvey/Wright cards book for $2.50 each but instantly sold at $2 each and the Cespedes/Henderson cards went into my Fifty cent box. Can't argue with that kind of return.
Beginning 2014 - Starting Over
At my last show of 2013 I decided to move the rest of the vintage dead stock and it all sold except for some of the truly odd and expensive stuff on the table itself. All of my Vintage $1 cards and even the better stuff I just blew out to other dealers and my better vintage customers. So I have to do it ALL OVER AGAIN!!!
Yep, that's the fun part of being a dealer for me - finding the good buys!!
If you've read this, you are no doubt a baseball card collector. I hope you enjoy the upcoming season and all of the great cards that will soon start to hit the stores. I'll see you at the show!