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What Are They Worth? Understanding the Value of Your Sports Cards

Most collectors believe that their cards are worth more than they really are

No surprise here. Sentimental value is involved. There's plenty of psychology behind this. People tend to value things for more when they own them as opposed to when they're thinking of purchasing them.

We get numerous requests for sports card appraisals every day. Whether we are contacted by telephone, via our website, by email or at a trade show or a convention; people always want to know what their collection is worth. When we tell them, they're often disappointed, they don't believe us or they're insulted.

Many collectors believe that because their cards are old, in reasonably good condition, have been safely tucked away for a long time or are similar to other specimens that have fetched high prices that they must be sitting on a small fortune. This is very rarely the case. Why? Because far too often, then cards are not in the condition of the examples that are garenering record prices. Condition still trumps all!

Vintage cards aren't really scarce. But high-grade vintage cards can be. That's why they command such a premium.

Don't be like this guy. Do some internet research and set reasonable expectations for the value of your cards and you won't end up disappointed.

A case in point

A gentleman collector has a pretty nice looking 1958 Topps Jim Brown rookie card. He does a little research and finds a story about a beautiful PSA 9 that recently sold through a major auction house for over $300,000.00 Yes, that's right! THREE HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS! He realizes that his card isn't quite as nice, but that it still looks pretty good for being almost 60 years old. So, while he realizes that it isn't worth $300 grand, he assumes that it might be worth half that. So maybe $150,000.00? He thinks that he's being very realistic and that he should be able to sell it to a dealer for 10% of the PSA 9 value and net himself $30,000.00.

If the card were to grade PSA 8 NM/MT, just one grade below the incredible PSA 9 MINT that was researched, it is worth approximately $10,000.00. Why such a difference? Because condition predicates the value and a scarce PSA 9 or PSA 10 may be worth exponentially more than a PSA 8.

As a further example, a slightly better than average Jim Brown is usually graded in PSA 4 VG/EX to PSA 6 EX/MT condition. What do these sell for? Between $300 and $800, respectively. In the case of the Jim Brown rookie, a PSA 4 card sells for about 0.001% of the PSA 9! Even a stunning PSA 8 sells for about 0.03% of the PSA 9. Therefore, using percentages to understand the value of your cards is not a reliable way to determine an accurate valuation.

Understanding the condition of the cards in your collection, and not just thinking that they are in "nice condition" will have a huge impact on being able to get a reasonable ballpark of the potential value of your collection.

Finding someone that will honestly and accurately evaluate your collection based upon condition and current market value is of utmost importance. Just because a friend says you should get "a hundred thousand . . . EASY!" for you collection, doesn't mean that the friend is right. And we're pretty sure that friend won't pony up $50K to buy your collection for an "EASY!" double-up.

We are proud to offer top dollar for all of the sports cards we buy. We offer more than other national dealers, and especially more than local antique shops or small baseball card outlets. We painstakingly walk our potential sellers through our valuation process. We base our valuations on condition, past sales, market trends, years of experience, and publicly and privately available data. We're not trying to change anybody's mind, but we will provide real time, accurate valuations.

We use a subscription service, vintagecardprices.com, as well as sales information from our own database, eBay and all of the major sports memorabilia auction houses.

A quick story

Last year we purchased a collection of T206 cards from a gentleman who had acquired them 25 years ago at a charity auction. The cards had been glued to a poster board so they were not in particularly good condition. We made the man an offer and he accepted. When we submitted some of the group for grading, one card came back as an authentic "blank back" version. We initially thought that perhaps it had been skinned.

This blank back designation meant that the card was significantly more rare (and more valuable) than initially expected.

Upon this discovery, we immediately contacted the seller and paid him an additional sum to account for the additional value in the variation. This is the level of service we strive to provide and include in as part of our WIN/WIN mission statement.

Key points:

If you understand and appreciate the following nine concepts, you'll be way ahead of the game.

• Figure out if your emotions and sentimentaliy are clouding your judgement. If so, selling them will be difficult until you're able to separate yourself from these feelings.

• Don't rely on traditional printed price guides. They tend to be obsolete and rarely provide a realist overview of the current market.

• Honestly assess the condition of your cards.

• You're probably not the best judge of condition.

• Remember, top condition cards will often trump scarcity in terms of value.

• Buyers are usually extremely particular when it comes to condition and that cards in top condition are worth far more than cards in average or lesser conditon.

• Research the NET return that you will receive for your cards. Calculate the actuial price that you will receive rather than the gross value. As an example, auction house prices to the seller are usually less than 80% of the final price and you have no control of what your cards will sell for.

• You can sell through the mail. Check references, years in business, and make sure that you're comfortable.

• Getting your cards graded isn't necessarily going to be worth it.

An example of lofty and limited expectations

Two men each have a relatively similar baseball card collection that they're looking to sell.

One thinks his collection might be worth thousands, or even tens of thousands of dollars.

The other is unsure if his collection even has value. He thinks he'd be lucky to get $100 for the whole thing.

In most cases both men are wrong. But as you might imagine, the second man is much easier to deal with. He doesn't have an extremely inflated view of the value of his stuff, like in the Jim Brown example above. He will likely be excited that his collection is worth more than he initially thought.

Related reading:

Warning, sensitive readers might find some of this info hard to swallow!

Why Your Sports Cards from the Early 90s Are Worthless

I thought my baseball card collection had value. It did, but only to me.

Dealing With Those Piles Of Old Baseball Cards In Your Closet

We stand by our free appraisals/valuations.

If you would like one, or you have any questions about how we arrive at the numbers we do. Please reach out. We'd be happy to explain in great detail exactly how we research, evaluate, and price our purchases.

Our Vice President, Scott Alpaugh was a senior grader at one of the major grading services for several years and is widely regarded as one of the best at authenticating and grading in the industry. He and our other experienced staff members are always happy to guide you through how we determine condition, rarity, recent sale results, and ultimately value.

Thanks for reading.