Everything You Need to Know About Selling Sports Cards
Selling your card collection?
You have come to the right place.
Dean’s Cards sells over 1,000 vintage cards each and every day. Since we are the largest online retailer of vintage baseball cards, we are also the largest BUYER of vintage baseball cards in the hobby. We purchase hundreds of collections every year, dealing with dozens of sellers each week. Many people encounter the same issues you may have, so here are the answers to all your questions straight from Dean himself. Based on our vast experience of buying and selling vintage sports cards, this page will equip you with enough knowledge to sell your sports card collection with confidence and ease.
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Fill Out Our Form
If you are interested in selling your collection to Dean’s Cards, please fill out the form below for a free evaluation of your collection. We have over 1,000,000 cards in our database and are the largest online vendor for vintage cards by far. We pay more than our competitors and make the process as painless as possible, stating our best offer up front to avoid sleazy bargaining and wasting your time. We buy ‘loose’ baseball cards from 1969 and older ONLY; however, we do purchase complete sets through 1985. We also buy vintage football, basketball, hockey, and non-sports cards.
All inquiries are answered within one business day. Please give us a general idea of how many baseball cards you have and from what years. We check our e-mails throughout the day and will answer you back within a few hours. We will then send you more detailed information on how we buy baseball cards and what we pay. One of our team members would be happy to speak to you on the phone to answer any questions you have concerning our buying process, but PLEASE fill out this form as the first step.
Everything You Need to Know About Selling Your Baseball Cards
Dean's Cards primarily buys baseball cards from 1969 and older. We also buy and sell vintage football, basketball, hockey, and non-sports collections from these vintage years. Keep in mind that this information applies to all types of vintage cards, even if our examples largely relate to selling baseball cards.
Whether you built the collection in question yourself, inherited it from a relative, or even stumbled upon a box of old baseball cards in an attic, selling vintage sports cards should not be taken lightly because bottom line—they’re cool, plus they often hold sentimental value. If you are looking to sell, you must first determine the realistic value of the cards. Once you know what your cards are worth you can then decide whether you want to sell them. If you decide you are ready to part with a collection, the final task is finding the best way to liquidate your collection so that the return is worth your time and effort.
How to Determine Value
STEP 1: Identify the Cards in Your Collection
Before you can even begin to pin a value to your collection, identifying what you are working with is a crucial first step. Trying to sell cards without knowing any details will either get you nowhere or warrant a low offer, as buyers take a risk when bidding on the unknown. The more you know about your cards the better.
Every vintage sports card can be valued, ranging from a few pennies to thousands of dollars. The most expensive card, the famously rare T206 Honus Wagner (1909) sold for $3.12 million in 2016. Just because Dean’s Cards or another dealer is not interested in buying your collection does not make it completely worthless, although this would be a sign that your baseball cards are not worth as much as you thought. However, we sometimes turn away collections simply because we already have too many cards from those years or there are not enough valuable cards in a collection to be worth extensive effort.
Rarity and Popularity
Value can be oversimplified to two components: the rarity of the card and the popularity of the player depicted on the card. The most important factors affecting rarity are (1) the year the card was printed, (2) the manufacturer who printed the card, and (3) the condition of the card. These considerations weave together to make value extremely situational, which is why asking about the value of a card will initially warrant this answer: “it depends.” For instance, a baseball card featuring a popular player may be worthless if easy to find (the case for most modern cards), and cards normally bringing in a fair amount of cash might be as good as trash if in bad shape. All these reasons make valuing sports cards a meticulous process, so we’ll break this down it down step by step.
Some of the most valuable cards in the hobby include:
Determine the Print Year
The best place to start when determining the value of your cards is to identify what year they were printed. The earliest baseball cards were produced in the late 1800s, with sizable batches first printed in 1909 and the first legitimate set rolling out in 1948. The cards holding the greatest value are typically from the 1960s, 1950s, and older.
To find out what year(s) your cards are from, you can conduct a simple online search by typing the player name indicated on the card, as well as the card number (turn the card to its backside and look in the upper right or left-hand corner). We recommend using the Dean’s Cards search bar, as the search results will show a picture of the card along with the year and manufacturer. We have almost every vintage baseball card in stock, but if your search does not return a picture matching your card then none are currently available in the Dean’s Cards inventory. If this is the case, type in the same information on Google.
Another simple way to determine the year a card was printed is by examining the information on the back of the card, such as by looking at the last year of reported statistics. The stats usually provide information from a few consecutive seasons i.e. The most recent year before the card’s production. For example, if you have a card that lists batting statistics from 1961, 1962, 1963, and 1964 – you can conclude that the card is from 1965, as the card series was printed and sold in stores following the end of the 1964 season. In addition, some trading cards list the year in which the copyright was established at the very bottom on the back, another detail indicating print year.
The Four Eras of Baseball Cards
Baseball cards are generally classified into four eras. Although the exact definitions of these eras may vary from expert to expert, you will find the Dean’s Cards parameters consistent with almost any other source of knowledge. Since the year of a card heavily influences value, cards from certain eras are treated differently and you should adjust your expectations for financial return accordingly. Click on these links to read more about the era, or eras, in which your cards fall.
Why Are Most Modern Cards Worthless?
Many people are shocked to learn that most cards issued after 1980 have little or no resale value. For detailed information, please click on the ‘Selling Modern Baseball Cards’ link above. In short, baseball cards became extremely popular in the 1980s and 1990s, which led to the market becoming extremely saturated. Millions of cards were printed in hundreds of different sets each year. Buyers became overwhelmed and grew tired of the hobby, which caused even vintage prices to drop in aftermath of this baseball card boom. Since everyone became aware of their value, cards were made to be more durable and moms stopped throwing them away, which is why most modern cards will not accrue value in fifty years anywhere near the level witnessed with vintage cards.
A few 80s and even fewer 90s rookie cards hold value, plus many rookie cards or special edition items from the late 2000s and 2010s are picking up steam. For example, the 2011 Mike Trout rookie card consistently sells for $200 - $300 on eBay and an autographed Tom Brady rookie card sold for $250,000 on eBay in February 2018. The past few years have been encouraging, but many of these modern rookie cards see extreme price fluctuations as a player’s career unfolds. Plus, the sheer number of cards produced these days (there are dozens of different Tom Brady rookie cards) makes this hard to keep up with. This is not our specialty. Other than a few choice rookie cards, we stick to purchasing vintage collections. We do sell modern cards, but we simply buy and break complete sets each year.
Find the Manufacturer
Who printed your cards is important, as cards from the same year but printed by different can be valued very differently. While the baseball card market is currently dominated by Topps (companies such as Panini print cards for other sports), sets were printed by various companies over the years. Brands dominating the Pre-War baseball card era were Goudey and the many different tobacco, chocolate, or candy companies who included cards with their products. Dean wrote a book covering many of these sets titled Before There Was Bubble Gum: Our Favorite Pre-World War I Baseball Cards.
Bowman came onto the scene in 1948 with the first post-war set, only to be challenged by the Topps Chewing Gum Company (known today as simply Topps) once they released their first set in 1952. Topps and Bowman battled it out until Topps purchased the later after the 1955 season. If interested in this fascinating story, check out Dean’s second book, The Bubble Gum Card War: The Great Bowman & Topps Sets from 1948 to 1955. After the 1950s, few challenged Topps until the 1980s when the baseball card scene exploded, leading to hundreds of different sets and an oversaturated market.
To determine the manufacturer, flip a card over to the back and look for the copyright (like how we looked for clues to indicate the year of a card). The copyright should say the company name, such as T.C.G. (Topps Chewing Gum).
Classify Your Cards by Set
Before submitting an appraisal form to Dean’s Cards, or trying to sell your cards in general, separate your cards by year and by set. For example, your collection may consist of cards from 1952 Topps Baseball, 1953 Bowman Baseball, 1953 Bowman Football, and 1957 Topps Baseball. Knowing how many cards you have from each separate set is important.
Trading cards, or any collectibles for that matter, are generally released in sets. Set sizes range over the years, but your typical vintage baseball card set consists of somewhere between 400-600 cards. In the hobby, sets are used to classify and value sports cards, as cards are sold individually or in complete sets. Due to our exclusive buying software, developed in-house, Dean’s Cards evaluates collections on a card-by-card basis, resulting in a more accurate offer.
Sometimes manufacturers release multiple types of sets in the same year. For example, in 1964 Topps released the ‘Topps Giants’ set, featuring starts on oversized cards, in addition to the regular 1964 Topps Baseball cards. Another famous example is Topps Traded, as in 1974 and 1976 Topps released sets at the end of the year featuring players who were traded mid-season in their new uniforms. The cards in these secondary sets often look somewhat similar to those in their corresponding main sets, but the designs are noticeably different. If you have trouble identifying cards in your collection, keep in mind that you may be looking at items from one of these various obscure sets printed over the years. This does not mean these cards are not worth anything, but they are valued completely differently than the mainstream sets.
Beyond Baseball – Other Cards
Dean’s Cards focuses on baseball cards, the most celebrated vintage sports card category. However, we also buy and sell Football, Basketball, Hockey and Non-Sports cards, all popular in their own right. If your collection consists of cards for multiple sports, separate these and count how many you have of each. Although Topps printed baseball, football, basketball, and hockey sets in some years, the sets vary in value.
Non-sports cards can be hard to identify, as many obscure sets were produced with a wide range of themes. However, searching the card name and number will most likely help you identify these sets. Some of the most sought-after Non-Sports Sets in the hobby include 1938 Horrors of War, 1956 Davy Crockett (based on scenes in the motion picture), 1962 Mars Attacks, 1962 Civil War News, and 1977 Star Wars.
STEP 2: Consider Player Popularity
The player, or players, depicted on a card can make or break value. Especially as Topps increased their set sizes throughout the 60s and 70s, players did not have to be good or popular to get on a card. Most cards in each set depict entirely ordinary players, even some of who went on to barely play in the major leagues. This is what makes finding a great player so much fun, whether in a wax pack in 1957 or in a shoebox today. If Topps only printed cards of the best players then kids would not have experienced the excitement of ripping open packs of cards, hoping to find a gem.
The most valuable cards in each set are known around Dean’s Cards as that year’s ‘star cards’, which are usually players who performed well that season or eventually made the Baseball Hall of Fame. Rookie cards for Hall of Famers or superstars are the prime example of star cards. While cards depicting Hall of Fame players are almost always more valuable than most cards in the set, this does not always make them star cards, as there are dozens of Hall of Famers in each 1960s set. The ordinary cards in a set are referred to as ‘commons’.
Pulling aside the star players is a good start to evaluating your collection, as they are the most important cards to value. When placing a bid on a collection, Dean’s Cards focuses on these items since they make or break the final offer. If you do not know a lot about baseball this step may be difficult, but you can use our website as a reference to find the Hall of Fame players for each set. Products featuring these players are labeled HALL-OF-FAME in the Dean’s Cards inventory. You can check the ‘Hall of Fame’ box at the top of a page for a certain year to only see products labeled as such. This applies to cards of all sports, not just baseball.
Baseball Hall of Fame cards featuring Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Cy Young, Ty Cobb, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Stan Musial, Willie Mays, Nolan Ryan, and Ted Williams will almost always have some sort of value even when found in below average conditions. The same goes for Football Hall of Famers, Joe Namath, Jim Brown, Bart Starr, Walter Payton, Gale Sayers, Fred Biletnikoff, and Johnny Unitas. As for Basketball and Hockey cards, Hall of Fame players such as Wilt Chamberlain, Michael Jordan, Bill Russell, Jerry West, Gordie Howe, Wayne Gretzky, and Bobby Orr cards have held their value well over the years. These are just a few well-known examples out of hundreds.
The term ‘rookie card’ is thrown around all the time when discussing the hobby nowadays, as these cards are commonly known to be valuable. A player’s rookie card is their first ever card, usually printed before their rookie, or first, season. One notable exception to this rule is the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle, widely considered a rookie card even though ‘The Mick’ was first pictured in 1951 Bowman. Both cards are some of the most valuable in the hobby, but the 1952 Topps version is worth much more since it is Mantle’s first appearance in a Topps set. As said above, rookie Hall of Fame cards are generally the most valuable in a set. Other popular baseball rookie cards include 1951 Bowman Willie Mays, 1954 Topps Hank Aaron, 1955 Topps Roberto Clemente, and 1963 Topps Pete Rose. Although not quite as electric as baseball rookies, popular examples from other sports include 1957 Topps Johnny Unitas, 1986-187 Fleer Michael Jordan, 1969-1970 Topps Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), and 1979-1980 O-Pee-Chee Wayne Gretzky.
Short Print and Variation Cards
While not necessarily relating to player popularity, short printed cards (fewer were printed than the rest of the set) and variations cards can be some of the most valuable in a set. One famous short print is the 1954 Bowman #66 Ted Williams, as Bowman was forced to pull Williams off the set halfway through production because the slugger signed an exclusive contract with Topps at the last second. The slot for card #66 was replaced Jimmy Piersall, making the Williams variation of card #66 much rarer.
More traditional instances of card variations involve a card being released with two different font colors, one scarcer than the other. A more interesting example is 1969 Topps #151 Clay Dalrymple. The remarkably ordinary Dalrymple started the calendar year with the Phillies but was traded to the Orioles in January. Topps initially printed card #151 with a picture of the catcher in a Phillies uniform, which was most likely taken the year before. They quickly corrected the mistake, substituting in a hatless headshot of Dalrymple (with no Phillies logo visible) and changing the team to the Orioles. The latter is considered the ‘common variation’ of card #151, while the Phillies version is the ‘rare variation’. This variation is by far Dalrymple’s most expensive card, even more so than the 1971 Dalrymple, which is somewhat pricey since the Orioles won the pennant.
STEP 3: Evaluate the Condition of Your Cards
Condition is probably the single biggest factor which affects the value of vintage cards. Some sellers assume that all old cards must be extremely valuable no matter their condition; these folks are disappointed to receive underwhelming bids for beat up cards.
Grading Vintage Cards
Professional Sports Authentication (PSA) is regarded as the grading expert in the hobby, and their grading scale rates cards from 1 (Poor) to 10 (Gem Mint). At Dean’s Cards, we evaluate cards on the same scale but keep Near Mint/Mint (8) as our highest grade. Deciphering whether a card is an 8, 9, or 10 can be highly subjective, as cards of these grades look nearly the same.
Our standards lie at the upper end of the hobby, for we are known as tough graders. We set our standards high to ensure that our customers receive the best and are never disappointed. Our cards come with their grades suck on the back-side of their sleeves, and full scans of EVERY single vintage card in the Dean’s Cards inventory are available to the public eye, so what you see is what you get.
Our Grading Scale
Near Mint/Mint (NM/M) – 8
Near Mint (NM) – 7
Excellent Mint (EM) – 6
Excellent (EX) – 5
Very Good/Excellent (VG/EX) – 4
Very Good (VG) – 3
Good (G) – 2
Fair (F) – 1.5
Poor (1) – 1
Casual sellers are not at all expected to grade the cards in their collection, but obtaining a basic understanding of the shape your collection is in makes you a more educated seller and helps set realistic expectations for a return value. Since today’s cards are printed on higher quality material and people take better care of them, modern cards are expected to be in nearly perfect shape so their condition is generally a non-factor. The exception to this generalization is valuable modern rookie cards, as the prices vary dramatically amongst professionally graded 8’s, 9’s, and 10’s.
Getting Your Cards Professionally Graded
Many people looking to sell their collections are told that getting their cards professionally graded makes them more valuable. While this is true for rare and expensive cards, sending a bunch of mid-grade common cards (featuring ordinary players) to PSA is not worth the expense. With the overpriced shipping and insurance fees the cost comes out to $14 - $17 per common, and much more for stars. At Dean’s Cards, we do not usually advise getting a card graded unless it is old, in great condition, or a star card (depending on the year). We often see people that inherited collections spend far more on grading fees than the collection is actually worth.
Should I Sell My Collection?
Now that you’ve valued your collection, you can accurately assess if you’re willing to part with your cards for your estimated return. The bottom line is that they are your baseball cards and you do not have to sell them, especially if still emotionally attached. If you have not looked at your cards in years then it may make sense to sell them and use the proceeds for something useful. Many collectors never sell their collections until there is a special event which encourages them to do so, such as a wedding, sending a kid to college, or paying off bills. However, it is often the family members who inherited the cards which end up selling them.
What if I am Not Quite Ready to Let Go?
If you are not to the point where you can emotionally part with your boyhood memories then my advice is not to sell. Especially if you do not have any ideas for how to use the money, as you would probably be better off letting your cards continue to accrue value over time rather than putting your returns in a savings account with almost no interest. Many collectors keep the cards until they die and let their heirs worry about what to do with the collection. We certainly understand a man’s attachment to a boyhood sports card collection.
That being said, refusing to sell your collection simply because you’re banking on their value increasing is not necessarily a safe bet. After all, that is what everyone said about internet stock a few years ago and we all know how that played out.
Where and How Should I Sell My Cards?
After deciding you want to sell your collection, the process is not over. You must decide where and how, as this is ultimately the most important part. Trying to sell them on your own does not guarantee you sell them at all and requires hours and hours of hard work. The most painless way to sell your collection is through Dean’s Cards, as we make the process quick and offer much more than other vendors. However, we will list off the other ways to sell your cards.
Selling to the Local Card Dealer
Many people used to ask why they shouldn’t sell their cards to the local card store. Sadly, many of these shops have died out over the past fifteen years due to the hobby’s large online market, but this article written by Dean around 2003 is still interesting.
Selling Your Cards on eBay
Many people wonder why they shouldn’t sell their cards themselves on eBay, and the answer is quite simple: it’s not nearly as simple as you might imagine. Many of the card sellers on eBay are actual professionals, or at least part-time, who have dedicated years to mastering the online marketplace. A few years ago, Dean made a list of the 21 steps Dean’s Cards takes to buy and sell a single baseball card. Our procedures have changed since then, but this list (available in the ‘Why Wouldn’t I Sell My Cards Myself on eBay?’ link) provides a good idea for the large workload of selling cards online.
Selling your cards on eBay can bring you a higher return through diligent work, but as surprising as this may sound, this is not always the case. First-time sellers on eBay are not able to get a large return as it takes years to slowly build up enough credibility to raise prices. Even experienced amateur eBay sellers cannot bring in near the return as Dean’s Cards. Also, keep in mind that our prices are high for a reason. They must be steeper than casual seller since our labor costs are incredibly high due to over a dozen employees, an eight thousand square foot building, managing an inventory of over one million cards, and operating a website running numerous custom-made and technologically advanced programs. Our tough grading, quality insurance and great service make this worthwhile, but it’s taken Dean seventeen years to perfect the process and there is always room for growth.
All in all, we may encourage some sellers to turn to eBay if they are both knowledgeable about vintage cards and e-commerce, but generally we say that Dean’s Cards will take care of you best. You can count on us to offer you our best price upfront when we bid on your sports card collection. We do everything we can to eliminate the hassles, confusion and stress of selling a baseball card collection.
Why Should I sell to Dean’s Cards?
You can count on us to offer you our best price upfront when we bid on your sports card collection. We do everything we can to eliminate the hassles, confusion and stress of selling a baseball card collection. Someone within our Purchasing Department is always available to answer questions or address any concerns you may have. Since purchasing private collections of vintage sports cards is our primary source of inventory replenishment, we take all steps necessary to make sure that every client that decides to sell their collection to us feels as though they have been treated fairly.
If you have further questions or concerns regarding the sale of your vintage sports card collection, please do not hesitate to contact us. A member of our Purchasing Department would be happy to address your questions and concerns. Please send an email to Sell@DeansCards.com, or give us a call at (513) 898-0651.