How Much Are My Baseball Cards Worth?
How Much Money to Expect When Selling Your Baseball Card Collection
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 knowledgeable 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 often found on published price lists. All too often sellers are surprised to learn that no one will offer them anywhere near the book value that they see their cards priced at. Here are the reasons why price guides are often incorrect and not a good resource for estimating how much you will receive when selling your sports card collection.
1) Price Guides Are 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. 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.
However, the hobby has evolved tremendously. Today, most vintage baseball cards are sold online. Much like prices in commodity, real estate, or stock markets, the prices of sports cards can change rapidly depending on the current supply and demand of a particular card in a particular condition.
2) Prices Depend on Condition
The hardest part about placing a value on a sports card, especially older ones, is determining a card's condition, or grade. 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 from my childhood collection would be graded FAIR, GOOD, or VERY GOOD at best, which is only 1.5, 2, and 3 on the 10-point grading scale! Sports cards in these conditions typically sell for 5% to 25% of the same card in pristine condition.
There are dozens of minor details that go into evaluating the condition of vintage sports cards. Grading takes years to perfect, but learn more by checking out this page: Dean’s Cards Guide to Grading Vintage Baseball Cards.
Basing your expectations on the prices of similar sports cards listed online is tricky due to varying grading standards among collectors. Most cards listed on eBay are "graded" by the seller, and the experience of eBay sellers ranges widely from amateur to expert. We find that cards listed on eBay are often over graded by two or three grades! Even Professionally graded cards vary greatly from card-to-card based on when they were graded and who submitted them for grading.
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 certainly buy vintage cards in almost any condition, but it is important to realize that the condition GREATLY affects the value of the card.
3) The Price A Card is Listed For Online Can Be Misleading
People often say to us, "This card is selling online for X amount." In actuality, that is often the price that the card is NOT selling for, at least for now. The overpriced cards are the ones that sit online for long periods of time, as many sports cards listed online will eventually have their prices reduced. Baseball cards can take a long time to sell, with some never going out the door.
Most card dealers have to factor in the commission expense of selling on online market places or auction houses into their prices. In the case of Dean's Cards, our prices must include labor, advertising, and expenses of hosting and maintaining a website and massive database. Not to mention it typically takes years to sell the cards that we have in inventory, so just like at any retail store, the cost of sitting on the shelf is considered as well. We have a staff of over 15 employees that provide the support and expertise which makes DeansCards.com the #1 eStore for vintage sports cards, an endeavor which is not cheap.
If You Bought Your Cards as a Kid, Consider the Great Return on Investment
The good news is that - if you bought your cards as a 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-1950s. This gentleman was used to making a lot of money in his profession and had expectations of making a fortune selling this collection. After all, he had read the stories of people making tons of money selling their childhood baseball cards. He checked a half a dozen dealers or so and told me that even though Dean's Cards offered the most (by far) 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 by breaking the situation down into terms that I knew he was familiar with. First, we calculated the original purchase price of the cards. We figured that he bought these 2,000 or so cards in the 1950s for a penny a piece (five cards came in a nickel pack) to get the gum. This came out to 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. He commented, "I wish that I could get that return on my client's investments. We are doing great if we can average 15% per year!"
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.
For more information, check out our page: Why Sell to Dean's Cards?