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Do You Buy Cards? Uhh… Maybe

Updated on March 21, 2014

Overproduced Era

1991 Donruss - right in the middle of this very overproduced era of cards
1991 Donruss - right in the middle of this very overproduced era of cards

Do You Buy Cards Too?

Oh man. This comes up all of the time. No matter what show I’m at, no matter where the show happens to be, I get this question a lot.

Do you buy cards?

Well, yes, of course I do. What do you think I’m selling? The real question is do Iwant to buy YOUR cards and the answer to that depends explicitly on what you are selling and how much you want for it. The sports card industry is different than it was 20 years ago, very different. Much of the stuff printed in the late 80s through the early 90s was completely over-produced. As such, it isn’t worth a whole lot on today’s market. The main problem is that everyone is looking to sell that stuff and I don't need it.

Nice Set - Way Too Much of It

Know What You Have - and What It's Worth

I went onto Craigslist looking to see what people are selling, and to see if there was anything even remotely interesting to buy. What I have found so far are people trying to make big money on cards that are essentially worthless. My advice, do some homework before you try to sell it. If you were going to sell your old car, you would go find out how much similar cars were selling for either in the classified ads or online. Well if you are trying to sell 1990 Pro Set Football cards, go online and look to see what others are selling them for. Please do not ask me if I buy it before knowing what it’s potentially worth.

In this case, not much.

The 1990 Pro Set Football card set was designed well and is a nice looking set but they printed a lot of it, way too much of it. In fact, if they had printed half of the suspected print run, that would still have been too much. The problem is that Topps, Upper Deck, Donruss, Fleer and Score did the same thing. This was done for every product, from every sport, for many years. I had a guy call me two weeks ago about selling his collection. I asked what era of cards he was discussing and what he was looking for. His reply:

“It’s all late 80’s to early 90’s and I was looking for $2000.” - stop laughing

1986 Topps Howard Johnson

I can sell 80s Mets - but how many??
I can sell 80s Mets - but how many??

Supply/Demand is Everything

I don’t care if this guy had warehouses full of the stuff, none of it is worth that kind of money. I had to diplomatically explain to him that those years were heavily overproduced and they are not worth much on the market at this time. He asked what I would offer and I said that honestly, I already have a lot of it and that I wouldn’t make an offer. I hate doing that but I’ve busted my fair share of this stuff recently. I can sell the nostalgia of Mets and Yankees from the 80’s and 90’s so I don’t mind busting a box of packs or a set, assuming it’s really cheap. But how many Mike Pagliarulo and Howard Johnson cards can you sell?

Two-Row Shoebox Full of Cards

Just the supplies were worth the deal...
Just the supplies were worth the deal...

Buying from a Customer

I had a guy walk up to my table at the last show I did asking the same question. He handed me a two-row shoebox FULL of cards in top-loaders, clean top loaders. I asked what he was looking for and he said $5.

Yeah, really, $5?

Guess what? I don’t even care what cards are in the top-loaders. A brand new 2-row shoebox and roughly 350 clean top loaders is about $30 - $40 in supplies I can use. I bought that and had a great time going through the box. I found about 50 cards that went straight into the $1 box, nearly $100 in $5-$10 cards (including many inserts and a few rookie cards), 100 cards that went into the 50 cent box and then the rest is stuff that will go into the Dime box. There was even a perfectly mint 1977 Topps Andre Dawson rookie card which is valued at $20 to start with. I wish I had deals like that walk up to me more often.

And do you know what the real kicker here is? That customer spent the $5 with me on other cards on my table.

1977 Topps Bruce Sutter RC

Valued at $15.00
Valued at $15.00

Buying from a Dealer Dumping Stuff

I was able to do a little shopping at this last show. There was a dealer with all sorts of weird stuff just sort of dumping it cheaply. He had a team bag full of 1954 Topps cards that were just destroyed. Yep, destroyed. But I love throwing that into my dollar box because I have customers who love the cards, not looking for value. There were 25 creased cards that I bet go quickly at $1 each. I bought the lot for $5 because it had Billy Herman (Brooklyn Dodgers) and Heinie Manush (Hall Of Famer) in it. This dealer also had a binder that had been picked through but still had some interesting stuff in it. At $15 I decided to jump on it since it immediately had 2 1977 Topps Bruce Sutter rookie cards in it. That would pay for the binder by itself.

The binder had some other stuff in it mostly mid-70’s semi and minor stars, some early 70’s cards. It was a completely weird book though. There were 30 Mickey Lolich cards, 30 Tug McGraw cards (all 1975 -1981), stuff like that but then there were some commons sprinkled in to like Paul Lindblad. I’m not sure I can sell 4 1975 Paul Lindblad cards, but I do know I don’t usually have this to offer to my customers so I pulled all of the early-mid 70’s cards and put them into the fifty cent box with a max of 2 of any card. I had to cap the number as I had 13 1978 Craig Swan cards and 15 1978 Sparky Lyle cards and while my Mets and Yankees collectors will appreciate them, I don’t think I need to bring that many of them with me.

1957 Topps Trade

Trades Work Well Too
Trades Work Well Too

Trading Helps Too

I even made a nice trade with one of my regular customers. He was looking for 1971 and 1972 cards and was willing to trade his 1957 common doubles. I just happen to have some of that so I was able to trade for 20 1957 Topps cards in mostly VG-EX shape and I took the names I know. They are still commons and semi-stars but I’ll pull the guys I know first, Del Ennis, Ike Delock, Daryl Spencer (for the odd NY Giants fan), Vern Law, guys like that. And wouldn’t you know it, a customer comes up to me late in the show and asks if I have 1957 cards and he bought three of them off me.

1971 Topps Pete Rose

Charlie Hustle remains very popular
Charlie Hustle remains very popular

Back to The Original Question

So What Do I Look For

Actually I’ll buy almost anything if the price is right and as the seller, YOU SHOULD KNOW WHAT YOU WANT. My job is to pay as little for it as possible. There have been a few times when I have dealt with people who simply had no clue and they had great stuff to sell but that is exceptionally rare. It is far more common that the person selling knows exactly what it is and went online to find a price for it and wants to sell it to me at retail. That will never work, ever. I don’t even sell it at retail. That 1990 Pro Set box of Football Cards you have retails at maybe $7-$10. I have no interest in it at that price since I can’t make any money off it at that price. The general rule for dealers is that they want to pay, at most, 20% on cards they think they can sell and perhaps as high as 30% on cards they KNOW they will sell (like vintage cards). This is so there is a cushion of percentage for the dealer to actually make some money for the card. Remember, he’s buying it to resell it and , at a show, there are 20 other dealers doing the exact same thing so competition, supply and demand, scarcity all play a part in what gets bought and sold.

So Do I Buy Cards? Yes, of course I do. Do I buy overproduced cards that don’t have much value – no, I don’t. Do I buy cards at extreme discounts – like the $5 deal from the customer? I’d love to do that at every show. Do I buy cards, even low end cards from other dealers who are just trying to move product – I’ll do it every time. It's key to remember that I'm selling it to - as much as I love collecting cards - I rarely keep anything except my Keith Hernandez collection and some choice Mets cards from the 1980's. Everything else is for sale so I have to get it at the right price. Top rookie cards, yes. Steroid-player cards - depends on who:

McGwire = Yes Sosa = No

A-Rod = No Roger Clemens = Yes

Barry Bonds = Yes Rafael Palmeiro = No

Manny Ramirez = Depends on the card - Rookie cards yes, everything else, no

Jose Canseco = Yes - he has a huge following though I don't know why

None of the other steroid-connected players matter. They weren't very collectible to begin with. How about Pete Rose? Absolutely yes, sells like crazy. Game Used cards are a maybe - depends on who it is. Yankees/Mets cards - you bet - all day long. Autographs - only certified and even then I need to get it dirt cheap. Stars of the 70's yes -stars of the 80's not unless it's really inexpensive, almost nothing from the 90's but ask anyway.


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