One of America’s greatest pastimes, collecting sports cards is one of the most intriguing and exciting hobbies. It combines our love of sports along with the hobby of collecting. In my own opinion, sports and collectible trading cards have always been a perfect marriage from the start, as it allows us the venue to follow on the sports we are so passionate about as well as cherish and treasure the sports cards of the players we love!
There are many different kinds of collectors in the hobby of sports cards today. There are of course all the different sports, and then there are also vintage cards versus the modern cards. Since I am no expert at baseball cards or vintage baseball cards, I will limit this guide to football and basketball cards. For the record, I do not consider cards in the 1980’s to be “vintage”.
As a sports card collector of almost 20 years, I like to think that I am a decent expert at modern cards. The debate of whether or not we should be collecting vintage versus modern is a whole different topic altogether. The fact remains, modern sports cards are still very popular and the hobby of sports cards as a whole is not going anywhere.
Here below, I will try to list out the key important factors and contributors when collecting modern football and basketball cards. When purchasing a sports card as a new hobbyist in the market, make sure you remind yourself to check off some of these tips below.
Many sellers will list a card as a rookie card, or (RC) and it is up to the buyer to really be informed and knowledgeable regarding what a RC truly is. Many regular collectors or sports fans, a rookie card may seem like any card that is released or manufactured during the rookie year of the player. While many believe this, and to some degree it is loosely accepted, the more hardcore card collectors and knowledgeable card would oppose this belief.
In the world of sports card collecting, the strict definition of a true RC is a card that is stated to be an RC. What does this mean? If a card has a RC on one of the corners is it automatically then a Rookie card? The answer is No. Which is why the aspect of a true RC rookie card is so tricky and so many sellers can easily mislead buyers. To truly know what an athlete’s true RC’s are, one must either follow card manufacturer sites or forums, or more commonly be a subscribed member of Beckett price guides. Bottom line is, not every card made during an athlete’s rookie year or that says “rookie” or “RC” on the card is a true rookie card. You must know which cards the manufacturers intended to be the RC.
If you do not personally care about what a RC is or the level of significance to the worth of card then it is not a big issue. Again, this is a semi-controversial topic based on many disagreements even experienced collectors tend to have. For example, I personally know that certain RC parallel refractors are not a true RC but at the same time I hold it in higher regard and value to even the RC itself. If I were to see the given card being listed and sold as a RC in the title listing or description I would have no real issue with it. But many other collectors would disagree to a RC parallel refractor/xfractor as being a RC.
most other short print inserts are unlikely to be a RC
most RC’s are common non serial numbered base cards. There are exceptions, and those exception RC’s usually will have premium value.
do NOT let a RC or Rookie on the card fool you into thinking it’s the athlete’s true RC. If it is to you that’s great, but just be aware of the cv/bv/mv etc.. (collector value, beckett value, market value)
2. AUTOGRAPHED CARDS
When it comes to the world of autographed cards, saying a buyer needs to be aware of what is being purchased is an understatement. First, let’s examine all the types of autographed cards. There are:
– Auto Jsy : Athlete’s signature is on a Jersey, which is then cut and manufactured with the card.
– Auto Cut : Similar to above, all it means is the athlete signed something else, and that was cut to make card.
– Auto patch : Again similar to above, the athlete signs something else, and that is then cut, making a patch card.
– auto sticker : Athlete signs blank authenticated autograph stickers and sends back to the card manufacturers.
– auto on card : Athlete actually touches and signs the card, in person.
It is easy to see that logically for most card collectors and autograph hobbyists out there, the optimal kind of autograph is usually the “auto on card”.
When examining the different parallel cards in whichever sets, 99% of the time as the serial # for the given parallel or insert gets smaller, the value of the card is higher. This is usually due to as the serial # gets smaller, you will notice cards may go from “auto sticker”, or “auto cut” to being “auto on card”. Short printed serial # cards and level of autograph exclusivity always go hand in hand.
3. VERIFICATION/AUTHENTICATION OF RARE OR AUTOGRAPHED CARDS
Here we move on to commonly the next step after a card is special enough to be autographed. It definitely should be authenticated!
There are only two real reputable authentication companies known in the industry. Sure on Ebay you will see many companies from GAI to SGC, from PSI to maybe PTI or whatever it is. Bottom line is many grading and authentication companies (or ones that do both) are usually not that professional, or does not offer all the services needed. The ones that are reputable for many many years now continue to be;
PSA/DNA Card Services : This company is legit. They validate whether your card is real or not, they authenticate signatures, and lastly yes they do issue you a grade for the card condition as well. And best of all, you can choose to do any or all 3 of the services I just mentioned. They of course also provide additional services like encapsulating a card/item, and re-encapsulating if you’ve happened to remove from the slab holder to get it autographed like me! In terms of their COA (certificate of authenticity) you can choose to have the coa on the slab holder/encapsulated item or pay a higher free and get the LOA (letter of authenticity).
One thing I do dislike about PSA/DNA is their slab holders were easily tampered with, so purchasing PSA/DNA authenticated items in the past on Ebay for me was a nono. However, recently starting September 2013 they changed their slabs to resemble BGS (Beckett Grading Services) slabs and now I am much more confident in PSA products.
Below is a picture of the new versus old slab holders from PSA. The newer one (slightly larger, does not merge at the middle like it used to, rather the top part of the slab completely envelops the bottom half.
BGS (Beckett) : Next up on the list is Beckett Grading Services, inc. I am a big fan of Beckett obviously due to that I already use their price guides and registry to check cards. Their grading services is world renowned and probably the only real equal competitor to PSA. Beckett services in my own opinion provided much better slab holders. They looked nicer, more modern, more secure, and most importantly they are TAMPER-PROOF!. Noone could mess with your BGS holder without you knowing. It HAS to be opened in such a way that it is cracked open.
On top of offering a better slab holder, BGS also bases its grading scale on 4 concerns, which are Centering, Edges, Corners, and Surface. They have the grade and the 4 subgrades displayed right on the front of the slabbed item, whereas PSA just shows you one basic grade numbered out of 10.
BGS of course also offers most if not all the services PSA offers since it now works with JSA (James Spence Authentication), which deals with authenticating autographs.
One BIG thing I dislike about Beckett is that they have different services, instead of one general service. They make a customer choose Beckett Vintage Grading (BVG), Beckett Grading Services (BGS), and Beckett BCCG service. I can understand that the vintage department is a different group of experts, but the BCCG service is just a joke. It is a MUCH milder grading scale that hands out grades and slabs for a cheaper grading price and fees. It is for a non serious collector who just wants a famous and quality Beckett slab holder and some kind of a general grade. Again, this is a joke to me and they should just axe it out. It allows many people to go sell BCCG graded cards to the unsuspecting public. The ONLY Beckett service I would ever use is BGS. Period.
The other knock I have on BGS is it requires customers’ cards be sent to different places, and there is more of an issue and concern for the welfare of some of the highly expensive cards. Even insured shipping or not, it is a hassle. They do however help expedite the services of each other, such as when you send your item into JSA or BGS, you are able to send in along with your item the submission form for them to ship your item to the other one. But again in my opinion that is a lot of transporting of your precious card. What I mean is, if you send in your item to JSA to be authenticated on its autograph, and now you want it graded to, or regraded or reslabbed etc, you will have to submit to JSA the JSA form as well as the BGS form so they can ship your card over to BGS after your card is authenticated by them.
It is up to you to decide what is a better company for you. Sometimes it takes a few transactions and dealings before you can make a honest assessment on whether a company is good or not, so I suggest give them both a shot. I’ve used both companies for my grading and authentication services for many years. I personally used PSA for my own personal collection, and for the rest of my cards I used BGS and JSA because their slab holders were tamper proof. Again, these days PSA has worked to fix that problem that plagued them for almost a decade and I will personally be sending in many PSA cards to be reholdered. Depending on how things go I may start to exclusively use PSA here on out.
4. SERIAL NUMBERED RARE SHORT PRINT CARDS
Here we will be discussing “Serial Numbered” cards which are now a huge market in modern card collecting. To a beginner collector who is unaware of what this means, a serial numbered card is a card that is limited in its print run. While vintage collectors have their chase for truly gem mint or mint condition old cards, new modern card collectors are often times concerned with the level of exclusivity of a card. How limited is it? The difference in collecting is simply due to vintage cards were not serial numbered (although likely still limited to a certain degree) and so with many copies in existence, but with many years that have passed, the challenge becomes finding a card in great condition.
For the modern collectors like myself, a card that is limited and short printed like serial numbered cards present a big collectable value. If you are holding a serial numbered card that has the lot no. stamped on the card such as let’s say 05/10, this indicates that there is only 10 of this exact card made, and you are holding the 5th one made out of the 10.
This is not to be confused with certain cards that are part of a certain subset from the base set. For example, 1996 Jerry Rice Eye on the Prize has 12 cards in the series. If you are holding one of these cards that says 05/12, all it means is you are holding the 5th version in the 12 card series. In this case the number stamped is not a serial number and does not indicate at all how limited it is. Chances are it is not limited at all.
Here is a picture to my left showing my point. In this case, the 5 of 12 is NOT a serial number and does not indicate its print run. This card is not rare at all.
This is why the topic of serial numbered cards is always so interesting to me, and also why it drives me mad how so many ebay sellers abuse selling serial numbered cards. Below are a few issues I’ve found with many sellers on Ebay and I feel are blatantly wrong. They will say a card is a 1/1 in the title, or even in the listing itself. And they justify it by saying this;
card is 1/1 because of its graded 10 gem mint condition.
card is 1/1 because its pop report shows it’s supposedly the only card with the grade it has
card is 1/1 because it’s the athlete’s jersey number. Such as a Lebron James 06/10 numbered card
card is 1/1 because it’s the only one on ebay..
Simply put, a card that is serial numbered 1/1 indicates that it is specifically the only one of its exact kind in existence. There is none other like it. But this definition applies to the card. Some collectors will take the meaning of 1/1 very far by thinking whatever sets their card apart from every other one in the serial lot will make it 1/1. That would be silly, as I could go find a card that is limited to a print run 10, go do something drastic tot his card and now it would likely be the only one in existence. Drastic such as spill some coffee on it? Cut off a corner or two? or four? Heck this example could even apply to a fleer 1986 Michael Jordan RC then. How far could we take it to say a card is 1/1?
Personally I only believe a card is 1/1 if it is the ONLY one made in existence, by the card manufacturer. For myself, again personally based on collectable value however I will consider a card that is specially autographed or jersey no. matched with serial no. to be a very special card, ALMOST like a 1/1 card. But no it is not a 1/1 card.
It is also debated amongst collectors whether or not the infamous printing plates are considered to be 1/1 cards. There are collectors who do not believe a printing plate is a true 1/1 card. This is due to;
there are 4 different color printing plates that combine to print out the cards in the given set. Each plate is different, (Cyan, Yellow, Magenta, Black). Although each plate is 1/1, some believe they are not true 1/1 since there are 4 plates that resemble the same thing (except for color)
In rare cases, (Bowman Chrome for example), there are actually 8 printing plates, 4 inverse ones and 4 regular.
a printing plate is not really a “card”, so it is not a 1/1 card
To me all these beliefs are incorrect and not consistent. Many of these same collectors will count 1/1 superfractor’s as true 1/1 cards, however MANY superfractors have parallel versions and xfractors that look alike. To say that the card is not a true 1/1 because there are other cards resembling it is incorrect, as once a card is proven to be the ONLY one of its existence then it is a 1/1. Period. A plate is responsible for pressing and printing out hundreds and thousands of cards (depending on what brand/set, and if its base or inserts etc), so yes there will ALWAYS be cards that resemble the printing plate. That is the whole point of its function. Yet the plate itself is the only one made, and therefore a 1/1.
5. VALUE OF CARD
Here we will briefly discuss the concept of the value of card. First, one must understand that the hobby of card collecting cannot possibly label a correct and exact textbook price of each card. There are many variables to a card such as the condition, is it autographed, the rarity and print run, as well as the given athlete. Did the athlete just retire? Did the athlete just kill someone? Many things will affect the value of a card. And these are just the more substantial or long term factors. Many collectors that are short sighted and merely card investors will look to flip (buy and sell) cards of rookies and players daily. These collectors will try to sell you a $20 Beckett valued card for $50 just because the player had a triple double last night. Keep in mind this over inflation usually is for a rookie. I personally don’t buy into all this “hype trading”, but I can’t deny that yes many players were rookies once, and there is no perfect time or place to buy their rookie cards. If you DO believe a rookie is about to break out or blow up, then yes you may want to assess if the inflated rate that a seller is trying to sell is a fair price for you.
Ultimately, the most important thing to remember about the value of a sports card is that it is in the end, a market value type of commodity. Meaning you can only follow what the value that the market is willing to pay. You can think your very precious rare card is worth 1 million dollars all you want, due to all the conditions of the given card, but ultimately the value of the card is the price that someone was willing to pay for the most recent one sold.
If you have a 1/1 card, then in the world of collecting it is true you do have sort of a “name your price” game going, but still you must then factor in what is still a “reasonable” and rational price of the card. Factor in the current market and economy as well. The most important factor in determining market value of a 1/1 card will be the athlete of the card. Collectable value of a 1/1 card is obviously very high as it is, but if you have only a mediocre athlete or someone that nobody cares about then you are holding a card that has high CV, but low MV/BV (market & beckett value) due to the limited amt of people wanting it. You can still try to target the few people that may really want this high collectable card of a mediocre athlete, but just remember the odds are not high.
There you have it. Hopefully I’ve remembered to cover most of the important topics, but if you have any questions or still anything that you are unsure about in the hobby of sports card collecting, please make sure you do your research and you can always send me an email. Thanks for reading.
Article downloaded from http://www.ebay.com/gds/5-Main-Tips-for-Collecting-Rare-Sports-Cards-/10000000177932032/g.html