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Card Collecting 101 :: CardsFX
Welcome to CardsFX.com or .de We have a huge card community of German and American trading card, sport card and non sport card collectors. You are invited to join in on the discussions in our forum and get involved in the latest and the greatest conversations or visit us personally at one of our Trade Card shows that we regular hold throughout the year!
We are located and work out of the the Mannheim and Kaiserslautern communities in Germany. We are a multicultural group of collectors. Our primary language is English however we have members that speak German and other European languages. Our mission is to meet new people, grow our community and have fun while expanding our collections. (Karte Sammlung)
Feel free to send any related comments, suggestions and or news reports that you run across to info@cardsfx.com We are always interested in hearing your comments and will post any new media you send forward. Thank you for visiting the site and we look forward to growing the community here in Germany (Deutschland) and in all of Europe!

Card Collecting 101

All you need to know to get started in this wonderful hobby!

Sports card collecting is a hobby that attracts a wide audience, with substantial numbers of collectors of all ages. One can start and build a collection for relatively little or one can spend millions of dollars and possess some of the greatest cards every made. There is room in the hobby for everyone.

Most sports cards were originally promotional items given out by tobacco companies to promote their products. In the 1930s, the tobacco was replaced by gum and the cards became more of the focus, as companies such as Goudey and Play Ball produced cards. It wasn’t until after the Second World War that cards began to be produced by companies on a regular basis, first with Bowman in 1948, then with Topps in 1951. Topps was the only card company from 1956 through 1980 after it acquired Bowman. In 1981, Fleer and Donruss entered the market, as did Upper Deck in 1989. Since the late 1980s, there has been an explosion of card sets, with each of the four card companies producing dozens of sets in each sport under a variety of labels and set names http://www.knoltoday.com/wp-content/uploads/2008/09/sport-cards.jpg

What to Collect
Prior to the late 1980s, deciding what to collect was a simpler affair. One could afford to buy most new sets that came out and spend their time collecting older items to fill in their collection. Since the explosion of new sets, however, collectors must be a lot choosier. Many people only buy one or two new sets per year. Some only collect individual players.

Some of the most popular type of cards to collect are:

  • Rookie Cards
    The first card of a particular player is usually the most valuable card of that player.

From the 1940s through the 1970s, it was easy to decide which particular card was the “rookie” because in most cases there was only one card of a particular player produced each year. Over the last 20 years, however, there has usually been more than one card and often dozen, even for a new player in their first year. Generally, most of these cards will be considered “rookies” and be worth more than an average card, but will differ between each other in price based on the quality and scarcity of the set and the quality of the card, among other factors.

Invariably, there is one card for each player that is the most desirable for collectors, both in terms of price and quantity sold and that card is generally considered to be the “rookie” for a given player.

  • Inserts
    Inserts The latest fad to take over card collecting has been the insert. These limited edition cards, sometimes containing signatures of players and sometimes containing pieces of jerseys, bats, gloves, bases, and other sports equipment, are put into packs in limited quantities. These individual cards can sometimes sell for thousands of dollars the moment they leave the pack. In addition, there is a recent trend to take older cards and insert them into packs as well, many cards worth thousands in the secondary card market.

This practice of inserting cards has come under some scrutiny from attorney general’s office in some states because of the perception that it is really gambling, spending a small amount of money to get a really big prize, but so far it doesn’t seem to have diminished interest in insert cards.

  • Complete Sets
    While it is harder than ever for new cards, many collectors started out by collecting complete sets and many still do today. This is particularly prevalent in cards before 1981, but also with several newer sets (such as Topps Heritage) that have particular interest for collectors.

Starting in the late 1980s this became more more difficult due to the explosion in the number of sets, as well as the explosion of insert cards. Since inserts are limited production cards, completing a newer set that has inserts can be very expensive. For many vintage collectors, however, it is still the norm.

  • Unopened
    Unopened packs have always had the allure of the unknown. While new packs once were relatively cheap unless they contains a key rookie, that is not the case today, due to the prevalence of inserts. New unopened packs can range anywhere in cost from $1-$100 and vintage unopened packs from the 1950s and earlier can easily go for thousands of dollars.

Player/Card Desirability
The biggest key to card prices, invariably, is the player on the card. While scarcity and condition are key things to consider when determining prices, it is ultimately the desirability of the player on the card that is the determinant of price. Player desirability is a product of many factors.

Just like stocks, the most important thing in determining the attractiveness of a player is numbers. Above all else, it is the attaining of career and individual records and enshrinement in the Hall of Fame that drives prices. Beyond this, players with special significance or special regional identification will generally attract more money

Also just like stocks, the newer the player (or the company), the riskier the investment. Rookie cards of players with little or no major league experience are extremely volatile and can lose a high percentage of value in a very short time. However, they can also result in your biggest gains.

The biggest key to card prices, invariably, is the player on the card. While scarcity and condition are key things to consider when determining prices, it is ultimately the desirability of the player on the card that is the determinant of price. Player desirability is a product of many factors.

The most popular baseball player to collect from the 1950s and 1960s is Mickey Mantle. Mantle’s cards in a given set can sell for more than double what any other card in the set sells for. While Mantle is universally acknowledged as a great ball player, it was his time playing in New York and becoming the idol of most every American boy that has accounted for his longevity. In baseball, there are more collectors of the Yankees than any other team and it is the number of Yankees collectors, compared to other teams, that has propelled Mantle prices.

The second most collectible baseball player of the 1950s and 1960s, interestingly enough, is Roberto Clemente. While Clemente was a great ballplayer, it is surprising that he ranks above players like Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, particularly given their numbers in relation his. But there are other factors at work with Clemente. First of all, there was the tragic story of his death in 1972 on a relief mission. More importantly, there was his role as the first great Latin ballplayer, leading the way for many of the game’s finest players in future generations. Clemente is more valuable than Mays and Aaron because he is considered more than a baseball player (although he was a sure Hall of Famer on the field). He is considered an icon for Spanish speaking ballplayers.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the most popular player to collect is Nolan Ryan. Ryan is an interesting case of another player who broke the mold. While many would argue than Ryan was not the most effective pitcher of his generation, his 5,000+ strikeouts and, more importantly, his 7 no-hitters, 3 more than anyone in history, are the stuff of legends. Ryan pitched his 6th and 7th no-hitters while in his forties, a time when he astounded most observers by his effectiveness at such an advanced age. For his truly unique accomplishments, Ryan stands alone and commands a price like few others.

The hottest players of the 1980s and 1990s have been Cal Ripken Jr. and whomever has been hitting the most home runs (Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey, Jr., Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa). Ripken’s cards owe much of their value to “The Streak”, but there is another aspect to Cal’s career that makes him a long-term hold, namely his redefining of the shortstop position. Long considered a defensive position, Cal turned it into the most important position on the field defensively AND offensively. If it were not for Cal, Jeter, A-Rod, and Nomar might have all been outfielders. While all three may put up better career offensive stats than Cal, they would not be there without him.

The home run attraction first began in 1991 when Cecil Fielder became the first man to hit 50 home runs in a season since 1977. It really took off in 1998 with the McGwire-Sosa chase and again in 2001 with Bonds’ monster season, but may be seeing its end with the recent steroids scandal. Nevertheless, the cards of Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, and Griffey have been driven by one thing, their chance to break Hank Aaron’s career home run mark. Of the three active players (McGwire having retired), it is the one who breaks Aaron’s record that will ultimately attain the top price and be the benchmark card of the period along with Ripken. If none of them do it, then one should take a long look at A-Rod (or buy more Aaron cards.)

In football, there are quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, and everybody else. Quarterbacks are usually the most valuable. Young active quarterbacks like Donovan McNabb, Daunte Culpepper and Peyton Manning drive prices among under-30 players. However, the two most valuable veteran players are not quarterbacks. Emmitt Smith will likely become the all-time career-rushing leader in 2002. That, along with his Super Bowl rings (and the fact that he’s a Dallas Cowboy), makes him, at least for a while, the key running back card of the 1990s. However, the key card among active players is currently Jerry Rice, who is establishing himself as one of the greatest offensive players in history, and his rookie card will likely stay at or near the price level of the key quarterbacks of the 1980s and 1990s (Montana, Marino, Elway).

Ultimately, player desirability is a combination of numbers (i.e. their career statistics), regional factors, and a certain intangible quality. In most cases, offensive players who are considered the best in their sport will be those of the greatest value (the only defensive players of value are strikeout pitchers and the occasional goalie, like Patrick Roy.)

More factors affecting price include scarcity and condition.

In many collectibles, the phrase is used that “condition is everything.” This is true of card collecting as well. There are very few rare sports cards. Most can be had relatively easily for a price. What is rare, however, is older cards in good condition and newer cards in “perfect” condition.

In cards, condition has to do with 3 major factors:

  • Any defects to the card when it was printed
  • Any defects to the card when it was cut
  • Any defects to the card after it left the pack

Most of the damage to cards that affects the decision is the result of handling of the cards after they leave their initial packaging. Prior to that, however, defects can occur when the cards are printed onto large sheets (such as a double image) or when the sheets are cut into individual cards (problems which result in centering issues.) Ultimately, everyone wants the most attractive card. A clean card with good centering and color, sharp corners and edges, and a focused picture, is the goal of almost every collector. Since cards are so relatively plentiful, it is condition that is the big purchase decision on a particular card. As one would expect, the better the condition, the higher the price (sometimes exponentially so.) Cards are graded on a scale from Poor (the worst) to Mint (the best).

When future Hall of Famer Honus Wagner, lifelong hater of smoking, learned that a tobacco card has been produced with his likeness, he took action to have the card withdrawn from distribution. Only a handful remained in circulation. It is currently the most valuable baseball card in existence due to the desirable of its subject and its great scarcity, perhaps the ultimate example of the scarcity principal at work.

Modern card companies have taken scarcity to a new level with insert cards, cards specifically limited in their production to drive pack sales. It is the scarcity of these inserts (sometimes only 1-5 are made) that ultimately drives their price and the price of their packs and sets.

Profesional Grading, Is it Worth it?
Companies such as Beckett and Collectors Universe provide professional grading services; that is, an independent organization that will, for a fee, grade your card (either through a hobby shop, by mail or at a show) and provide a rating of your card. Most grading services are identified by a 3 or 4 letter anagram (Beckett Grading Services – BGS, Professional Sportscard Authenticators – PSA) and most have a rating scale of 10 (some have a scale of 100) ranging from Poor (1) to Gem-Mint or Pristine (10). In addition, these companies add additional codes to indicate other defects, such as “OC” for off-center cards. Most grading companies issue “population reports”, which tell collectors how many of a given card have been given a certain grade, so a collector can see how scarce a card is in a given grade. http://www.beckett.com/grading/images/services_grading.gif

Cards that have professional grades of 9 or higher are often listed at prices that are substantial higher than the “Mint” grade listed in a sports card price guide. For a card graded 10, the price can sometimes be 10 or 20 times the price of the “Mint” grade. Due to the extreme prices differences between grade, sellers often will have a card graded by two grading services, allowing them to sell the card at whichever grade their think will be more profitable.

Whether or not you should have your cards professionally graded depends on the reason you are collecting. If you are collecting for the enjoyment of it, you probably don’t need professionally graded cards (although they would help establish a reliable price if you were looking to insure your cards.) Regardless, cards below $20 do not generally need to be professionally graded, because the return on their sale is too low to make the investment in grading worthwhile.

If you are selling cards in the $20 and up range and look at collecting as a speculative investment (in which case it really is just speculating, not collecting), then you should take a look at professional grading. If you want to sell in online auctions, professional grading is essential as a means of relating condition information about your cards to potential sellers. If you have a professionally graded card, you can, with relative accuracy, estimate the price a given card might fetch in the marketplace and sell at the appropriate time.

Where to Buy Cards
There are two primary ways to buy cards, one is in unopened packs or boxes, and the other is in the secondary market as an individual card. Obviously the first method can be the cheapest if you get lucky, while the second method is the only guarantee of getting the card you want but you will pay close to market value.

At one time baseball card packs could be purchased in any corner grocery store, this has largely changed. While larger chain stores, such as K-Mart, do carry a limited selection of new cards, it is specialty hobby stores, focused only on sports cards (or sometimes another collectible like comic books as well) that do the majority of the serious card business. There is even a difference between the unopened packs and boxes bought in a retail store and a hobby store. The hobby store packs sometimes have inserts that are not included in the retail packs. Hobby stores also, unlike retail stores, are places to buy older cards and sets.

Outside of stores, there are a number of venues for purchasing new and older cards. There are thousands of sports card shows around the country each year, primarily in convention centers and shopping malls. Some of these are large, prestigious events, including past and present stars, while others are simple affairs with the same groups of dealers and collectors meeting on a regular basis. Sports card auctions are another good venue, whether they are held in person, over the phone, through the mail, or online.

Buying and Selling Online
There is a large, thriving online auction market for sports cards on almost all major auction sites, and there are many dedicated to just sports cards, giving collectors a wide variety of options to choose from in terms of price. http://www.artworldsalon.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2008/02Feb08/online_auctions.jpg

Large auction sites such as eBay and Yahoo sell almost everything, but have a large audience devoted to sports cards and memorabilia. Price guide companies like Beckett also have their own auctions, as do a number of sports card only auction houses. They provide auctions not only online, but over the phone and in person as well.

Finding Prices
Beckett (www.beckett.com) is the industry leader in sports card pricing, publishing an annual price guide, monthly publications for each major sport, and an online price guide service. Krause Publications (www.collect.com) publishes Tuff Stuff magazine, a price guide, and Sports Collector’s Digest, a weekly for hardcore collectors containing ads and show and auction information.

Bottom Line
Sports card collecting is a hobby that has undergone a tremendous amount of change over the past 20 years. Although the number of sets produced each year is staggering, the flip side is that there has never been more variety for collectors. Whether you are looking to spend a little spare cash or your life savings, sports card collecting can fit your needs.
Guest author John Cook has been a collector and dealer of sports cards for the past 25 years. He founded and was the President of Fanatic Collector, a web site that was devoted to online sports card auction pricing gathered from the major auction houses.

At CardsFX.com we want to see this hobby grow here in Europe, spcifically here in Germany. We look forward to meeting people with the same interests and expanding our community with fun and exciting events. Please check our site often for updates¬† concerning¬† sports card and trading card hobby events and get together’s.


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