08 November 2019

A surprise in the sports trading card marketplace

I'll begin with the backstory.  In the 1950s I rode to school with three classmates in a car driven by one of our teachers (I have no doubt he earned some well-needed cash by saving our parents from driving us).  If we "behaved" during the week, on the Friday trip home he drove us to a candy store and gave us I think 10c or 25c to buy candy.

My choice was always baseball cards or football cards, depending on the season.  I saved them all, unfortunately never trading my duplicates for Bart Starrs or Johnny Unitas ones.  By the time I got to be a young adult I discovered that old trading cards were rising in value, so I stored everything away.  Now I'm sort of elderly and presenile, so it's time to do some döstädning and sell the cards on eBay to reap my rewards.

First step was to go to the library to check out the Beckett price guide for football and baseball cards.  I was a little surprised to see how little prices had changed in recent decades.  I knew of course that the cardmakers had absolutely flooded the marketplace with product in the 1980s-90s and thereafter, to the extent that modern cards can be purchased in bulk for pennies or less.  But I thought the "legacy" cards from the early days would have held their value.  Not so in most cases (actual sale prices tend to be well below the "catalogue" prices).

Upon further reflection I surmised that basically nobody remembers these players anymore.  The "stars" are still valued, but who remembers Art Spinney or George Preas?  Even the minor stars (Alan Ameche, Lenny Moore) are familiar only to old men like me, and our demographic group is in rapid decline.

So to save time, I've boxed up groups of 25-50 cards to sell in bulk and will move on to my comic books next.

But the reason I'm posting this today is circled in red in the embedded image.  The prices of the wrappers is higher than even for the star players.  It's obvious why: in those years nobody ever saved the wrapper.  You chewed the gum (maybe), saved the card (or not), and tossed the wrapper.

What's circled is a price guide price.  Do the wrappers actually sell well?  Here's a recent transaction on eBay:

I should have tossed the cards and put the wrappers in a safe deposit box.  You learn something every day.


  1. I collect books about mountaineering and exploration. Their value has dropped about 50% in the past 10-20 years. I attribute it to the ease of finding old books on the internet. Finding a certain book used to take a lot of patience time and sleuthing. Today I can find pretty much any book anywhere on the planet with a simple search of bookfinder.com. It also does seem that the millennial generation (my kids) aren't interested in collecting. Want to buy some books?

    1. I'm getting ready to sell my first edition John Dickson Carr mysteries on eBay in the coming weeks. So, no thanks...

  2. I think it is well documented that the highest-value collectors' items almost always undergo a period of "negative value," essentially become garbage for a period of years. So it is not surprising that even obscure baseball cards are worth less, since they've been held in large numbers by thousands of people, while almost no one held onto wrappers.

  3. Consider that a true collector WILL know those old stars, and may pay a premium for them.


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