What to Expect When Selling a Vintage Baseball Card Collection

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When the time for collectors, or relatives of collectors, to sell a vintage card collection, most have no idea of its true value or how much money they should expect to receive. Some sellers who inherited collections and are not familiar with the hobby end up being taken advantage of by dealers trying to buy their cards at the lowest possible price, while others expect unrealistic returns for their collections. Hopefully, this article can help clear up some of the confusion and make you a more knowledgable seller.

Why Your Cards Won't Sell for "Book Value"

If considering selling your cards, it is important to have somewhat realistic expectations on what they are really worth. As said in the Dean's Cards guide to selling your card collection (Everything You Need to Know About Selling Your Collection), valuing your cards is the first step in the process. However, valuations for a collector's own cards are usually all over the place. Misleading "book value" prices are a major culprit behind why some sellers end up disappointed by the offers they receive for their cards.

The term "book value" refers to the suggested or the "pie in the sky" price. All too often sellers are surprised to learn that no one will offer them anywhere near the book value that they looked up for their cards. Here are the reasons why this is the case.

1) Written Price Guides Are Often Obsolete

First off, it's important to clarify that written price guides are no longer the most reliable source for pricing baseball and other sports cards. Up until a decade or so ago, collectors were forced to consult Beckett's yearly Baseball Card Price Guide and other similar publications to find out a card's estimated worth. The Beckett price guides would list a baseball card's "book value", which was basically an informed guess of a select number of "experts". These guides were the best source collectors had to go on at the time, but with some cards they were never accurate.

However, the hobby has evolved tremendously. Today, with the help of online reporting and more consistent grading standards, written price guides are totally obsolete. I do not personally know of any professionals in the hobby that still consult traditional price guides to determine the value of vintage baseball cards or other sports cards.

2) Book Values Assume Pristine Condition

The term “Book Value” usually refers to cards that are in Near Mint condition. Cards that grade "NEAR MINT" still have sharp corners, good centering and no gum stains or pen marks on the card. Very few vintage cards (less than 2%) grade as high as NEAR MINT. Since most cards were originally bought and handled by kids, a very low percentage of the cards remain in high quality condition. Most of the cards that I collected when I was a kid would be graded in FAIR to VERY GOOD Condition - which means that the card's Adjusted (for condition) Book Value is worth 10% to 30% of the Full Book Value! Even cards that are graded in "EXCELLENT" condition sell for a fraction the price of the cards in "Near Mint" condition. You can click here to see the Dean’s Cards guide to grading vintage baseball cards.

The reason that the book value of some cards is so high is that so few vintage cards remain in pristine condition. The Book Value of a card never really had much value to collectors. It is the Adjusted Book Value that is much more relevant to a vintage cards actual value.

Few collectors are willing to pay the book value price for cards. On the Dean's Cards website we list the Adjusted Book Value as the price of the cards, but we are forced to discount this price in the way of several discounts to remain competitive. Many cards will sell online for a fraction of their Adjusted Book Value.

Online Price Guides can also be very deceptive because of different grading standards. Even Professionally graded cards vary greatly from card-to-card, when they were graded and who submitted them for grading. Any business, that hopes to stay in business, provides special treatment to its best customers. Why would professional grading companies be any different?

It is very common for a novice card seller to contact us and state "My cards are in MINT Condition". Very seldom does this turn out to be the case. Dean's Cards will certain buy vintage cards in almost any condition, but it is important to realize that the condition affects the value of the card.

Non-Collectors almost always tend to over grade the condition of cards. Card Collectors can be very picky! You can read about grading vintage sports cards by visiting the "Dean’s Cards Guide to Grading Vintage Baseball Cards, but please realize that card grading takes years to perfect.

3) Retailers Don't Mark Up Prices as Much as You Think They Do

Another reason that vintage baseball cards do not sell at full book values is that Card Dealers need to make a profit on the cards to cover their time and expenses. Most card dealers have the expense of renting a table at a card show or in the case of Dean's Cards - the advertising, labor, and hosting expenses of a website. Not to mention it takes months (or years) to sell the cards that we have in inventory.

Before Being Disappointed, Consider Return on Investment

The good news is that - if you bought your cards as kid - you are going to make a great return on your investment. How many of your other childhood toys can you say this about?

To help put this into perspective, I have a great story about a Financial Investment Advisor that sold us a collection of his cards from the mid 1950's. This guy made a lot of money in his profession and his expectations were that he was going to make a fortune selling this collection. After all, he had read the stories of people making tons of money selling their collections. He checked a half a dozen dealers or so and told me, although Dean's Cards (by far) offered the most for his cards, he was still a little disappointed in the bid.

First, I suggested that if he was still emotionally attached to the cards - then he should not sell them. After all, they are his cards. But I also wanted to help him put this in perspective so I broke it down into terms that he was familiar with. First, we figured out the original purchase price for the cards. We figured that he bought these 2000 cards in the 50's for a penny a piece (5 cards came in a Nickel Pack) to get the gum. That was a $20 investment.

I forget the actual figures, but let's say that we offered him $1000 for the collection. This would be a return of 50 times his investment or 5000%! He was shocked. His comment was "I wish that I could get that return on my client's investments. We are doing great if we can average 15% per year for my clients!"

The bottom line is that they are your cards and you certainly do not have to sell them. Many collectors never do sell the cards, until there is a special event which encourages them to do so for the money. Typical examples include: weddings, sending kids to college or paying off a big bill. Most collectors keep the cards until they die and then let their heirs worry about what to do with the collection.

Often there is too much of an emotional attachment for the seller to part with his "boyhood memories". The cards often sit in a closet until the original collector dies. I certainly understand this sentimental attachment and will probably never sell my personal collection. But if you have not looked at the cards in years, it may make sense to do something useful with the proceeds that you could get for the cards

It is often the family member that inherits the collection that ends up selling the cards. If you come to the point where you feel that the value of the collection could be put to better use then please contact us. You have my word that you will be treated fairly and honestly and that we will pay top dollar for your collection. 

Modern Cards: The Exception

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