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A Former Dealer's Tips: Read This Before You Buy Sports Cards

Updated on April 16, 2009

When I was 12 my three closest friends were boys. I was bored with video games. If it wasn’t Tetris, Dr. Mario, or a racing game I was left out of the loop. So I picked up their interest in collecting sports cards. I was lucky enough to be earning money helping my father out with his side business. He was selling canopies at the local swap meet at the time and I was able to purchase these $1, $2, sometimes $5 packs of sports cards pretty frequently.

Quickly my collection was growing large and the entrepreneur in me got the idea to start my own little business. With the help of some Beckett price guides and months spent trading and learning from my 3 best guy friends what made a card worth more than another I set up shop next to my dad at swap meets and shows and was selling in no time. I sold for a few years and was making really good money. I learned a lot and now want to share with you a little that I remember to help you when purchasing sports cards as gifts or for yourselves so you make the best possible choices.

Learning The Value Before Your Buy Sports Cards

The Beckett Price Guide
 If you have any intention to buy sports cards whether it be football, basketball, or baseball; you must get yourself a current sports card price guide magazine. The standard for setting the price to buy sports cards is called Beckett. It’s a monthly sports card magazine that lists prices of all valuable and common (everything else) cards, old and new. Every dealer will go by these prices. They may not charge the Beckett price, but when they buy their cards even at a highly discounted price, they will always consider what Beckett says the card is worth.

You may be wondering how sports card prices are chosen. This works much like the stock market. What people pay is the worth at that time. They pay a high price; it’s worth a high price. Same goes for any decrease. The card is really only worth what people will pay; otherwise it’s just a piece of card stock with a picture on it.

Sports Cards as an Investment? What You Need to Know

What make’s a Card Worth $2 and Another Worth $7?

You may think that because a player is awesome at what he does his card should be worth much more than another player whose skill is rather lacking. Nope, value of a sports card has very little to do with skill. There are some really good players out there whose card value is very low. Others, who seem to have no skill, have cards with astronomical values to them. It’s all about public perception.

Some guys stir up a lot of publicity outside the field or court and this causes people to take notice. All of a sudden their sub-par playing ability is overlooked and their card goes from $1.50 to $5. Everyone wants his sports card so the price goes up even more. Here’s the catch. You may jump on the bandwagon and purchased his card at $2 thinking now your ahead $3+ and it was a good investment. Wrong! A few months later everyone will forget his fame and remember his game. His card will go down to $.70 and maynever rise again.

Rookie Cards

A Rookie Card is the first card put out for a player their first year. I strongly advise caution when purchasing Rookie cards. Other than special edition cards which I will discuss later, Rookie Cards are usually the most valuable of the regular set. Not all Rookie Cards all the same. Different brands have different prices. One of the most famous examples of this is the Ken Griffey Jr. Upper Deck card. Upper Deck is a brand and their Rookie card for this player is worth around $100. (It’s been awhile since I picked up a Beckett so bare with me on specifics.) On the other hand, the brand Fleer also has a rookie card for Mr. Griffey with a value of around $5. This is a rarity and other that this example, I know of no other cards that that this much difference in prices from the regular set. More commonly the difference will be just a few dollars.

$100 for a rookie sounds exciting doesn’t it? If you can purchase these for $1 to $5 at your local sports card store you could make quite a pretty penny with an investment like this. Unfortunately this rarely happens. The closest example of making a profit on investing in sports cards is my own collection I still have. I have a few Alex Rodriguez rookie cards. I paid $3 when they were first produced. Now their worth around $10 last time I checked. (Before he left the Mariners). You get the picture though. The same can go the other way. Rookie cards that I was once selling for $5-$15 bucks a piece now are worth only $1-$3 each.

Special Edition Cards

Outside of the regular set consisting of 70 to 200+ cards. These companies producing the cards add in hard to find limited edition cards into their packs. These cards can be come very expensive when purchased in the store and have very high values in their first year. It may be exciting to see their values go up with inflation but it will come down just as quick. I highly advise not purchasing these until a year after they’ve been out and the value has evened out to where it might stay for awhile.

So, Investing in Sports Cards is a Bad Idea?

As you can tell I don’t recommend buying new sports cards for investments. Though it may seem like a great idea it’s a hit and miss kind of savings plan. Usually more missing than hitting. Those who saved their Michael Jordan rookie cards will be handsomely rewarded years from now if they ever go to sell the more valuable ones. The even older generations that have been passing down Mickey Mantle or Babe Ruth cards have a pretty profitable piece of card stock in their possession. These are the minority though. Fifty years may increase the value of your card investment but only if these cards stay in awesome condition and can make it that long. Many of the older cards of even the no-name players are worth so much because many more didn’t survive.

What if My Cards are Worth Money Now? Should I Sell or Hold on Longer?

The choice is ultimately yours. If you chose to make these purchases in order to one day cash out then maybe that day has come. If that card of yours that you’ve been keeping for years is worth big bucks now consider this. A card that is more than 10-15 years old and has gained in value enough to be worth selling may be one of those lucky cards that will continue to gain in value. It may be another Mickey Mantle or it may never increase any more than it is worth now. If you really want to let go then place it up on EBay. You’ll get the best price for it there. If you don’t need the money and you don’t mind holding on to it for longer than keep it. After 10-15 years if the card is still worth good money chances are are it will only increase.

So Why Should I Buy These For Myself?

Buy them because you like them, because the player is a favorite of yours. Collect them because it’s a fun and enjoyable hobby. Make smart purchasing desicions and maybe you will get lucky and find some that do increase a considerable amount in value over the years. The best advice I can give is to remember Beanie Babies. Some of the old ones are worth tons. So many that was going for so much are worth so little now. But, take away the money and you still have an enjoyable collectable bear. The same goes for sports cards.

What about Gifts

So why should you buy that card $5 card for your brother, husband, son, etc. It’s just a card right? $5 bucks could buy a couple packs of many cards. But, he’s been asking and asking and really wants it. Should you turn him down? No Way. Obviously being a girl I know that the femme’s can enjoy these too but young boys and men seem to love these things. Truthfully the value doesn’t mean much more than a number to a 10 year old boy. He only uses that number when trading with his friends to get cards of the same value. Otherwise it’s meaningless. The 10 year old probably isn’t going to be selling it on EBay. Buy the card he wants because it’s the card he wants. Simply Put! Even if he trades it, he’s using it to get more cards he wants in his collection. It’s a good way for a young boy to learn value in a fun way, if only in numbers and not dollars.

Where to Get Them
Speaking of EBay this is the best place to buy sports cards. You can get some great deals here and find exactly what you’re looking for. Otherwise check out your phone book to find a dealer in the area. Your best bet though aside from EBay is to check out a flea market. Bring you Beckett and NEVER PAY FULL PRICE. Flea Market dealers are the best people to make big deals with. They may charge a bit more than beckett price for local team players but otherwise the prices will be very fair usually. Just remember to trust your Beckett Magazine and always ask for at least 10 percent off. If a card was $10 I’d offer $7 or $8. If it was $2 I’d offer $1.50. If I was spending $80 on cards I’d offer $60 for the lot. And so on. Ask what you want to pay. It never hurts.

Buying by the Packs
Something I haven’t really brought up but should be a big part of expanding anyone’s collection is card packs. Some can have only a few cards in them and others 15 or more. Find a store that offers them at a decent price and purchase the ones that are made by your favorite brands such as Fleer, Upper Deck, or Topps. Choose the ones you want based on what they have to offer. Do they have a card you’re looking for? A Special Edition card you want. Do you want to make an entire set? Enjoy the excitement and discovering what treasures you just purchased. Just remember if you do find a card that’s selling for say $50, you may want to consider letting go of it and cashing in ASAP.

High value cards in new packs may not hold that value long. As soon as you think the value won’t get any higher sell it. If it’s your young son’s card and he just got something of high value help him store it away. If he wants to sell it for more cards, or put it towards a new bike help him with this. The worst thing would be to leave it to be trashed in his room, stolen or misplaced. If he really likes it and wants to keep it I suggest purchasing a display holder. They screw together and protect the card like nothing else can from being bent or torn. Remember cards become almost worthless if they are bent, torn, or ruined in anyway.

Does My Son Have a Small Fortune in His Bedroom

If you’re not sure what is in your son’s collection pick up a Beckett, some coffee and find some free time. Go through his cards and look up what you think might have a value. Become familiar with the brands, their special cards, and the players. If you don’t know much about sports find some \one that does who can help you. Anything worth more than $3 and that’s in good condition put in some sort of protecting case or binder. Anything worth more than $15 consider putting in a more protective plastic case.

Have fun and remember it’s just a hobby. Sometimes profitable but meant to be fun and enjoyable.

Places to check out online


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