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Start Building Your Own Baseball Card Collection
Take me out with the crowd;
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jacks,
I don't care if I never get back.
Let me root, root, root for the home team,
If they don't win, it's a shame.
For it's one, two, three strikes, you're out,
At the old ball game!”
Why Topps Baseball Cards
For over 75 years, Topps Baseball Cards have been the renowned source for all collectors and baseball enthusiasts. Their production of cards have created a supply and demand system for collections, full sets, autographed, and rare cards, that has continued to be a source of fun for people today. What makes card collecting so fun is that you never know exactly what you will find. Building a collection can take time and perseverance, but it is immensely satisfying to establish one.
Topps Baseball cards have a distinct reputation and quality. While not the first company to place cards inside packs of gum, they were the first to do so with baseball cards. In 1949, they featured nineteen of the best baseball players on different cards, as freebies in their gum packs. And by 1951, the first true sets of baseball cards to collect were introduced. Ever since then, Topps Baseball Cards have been the leader in this collection industry, and have produced an enormous range of cards that features players, statistics, and game knowledge that has promoted and enhanced baseball culture. Their cards are produced for both the child who wants to play and the serious collector, and are made with advanced technologies so your received card condition is as Gem Mint as possible. Furthermore, their printing choices have often altered what was expected on cards, therefore changing the industry it operates within on multiple occasions.
Top Tips for Baseball Collection
Something that is collected is an accumulation of a group of objects, for the purpose of exhibition—for at least the terms of baseball cards. So as you consider starting a collection for yourself, keep some of these tips in mind:
Choose a Theme
Contemplate selecting a certain theme. To have a truly established collection, there is presumably some goal you are trying to reach, at which point you can say “look at my collection.” Within baseball there are many different themes that you could start with. For instance, you may select cards that were produced during certain years or maybe you are interested in particular teams; you could also search for hall-of-famers or conversely, rookies new to the sport. And what about ability? Maybe you gather cards that feature members from The 500 Home Run Club, or some other pertinent career achievement. No matter what interests you in the sport of baseball, there are sure to be a production of cards, common and rare, as well as autographed, that will allow you to engage with what you find most desirable. Beyond engaging with your personal interests, selecting a goal helps you put your money in the best place. Purchasing baseball cards is not always the cheapest prospect, especially if you’ve found an exclusive and limited production card boasting a scribbled black signature across its front. So limiting where your money goes is a wise choice. Even with boundless funds, you can’t own everything. And having a well-rounded, focused collection can help you and others build an appreciation for what the cards represent. So think about what you want to be able to look through, learn from, show off, and start building a goal-orientated collection.
Don’t Get Overly Emotional
You can help keep your finances in check by managing emotions. It can be difficult to not be overwhelmed by a product, and perhaps spend too much money on it. What do your finances allow? Ensure you’ve set your upward spending limit so that when it comes time to make purchases you do not overspend because of giddiness or excitement. Of course collecting cards should make you feel this way, but purely emotional purchases are not usually the best ones. There are certain questions you should ask yourself before excitement sweeps you away. If you want to put your money towards the institution of an authentic collection, study the reputation of the seller and the quality of the cards.
Determining Card Value
Reputation and quality lead to value. There are two aspects to consider when determining the value of a card. The first lies in what collectors believe comprise value. The second is what makes a card most meaningful to you. So let’s start with that. If a baseball card brings you joy because it features your favorite player, or has a great story about how you found it, or reminds you of a certain time, place or someone, then this card’s value is unmatched. You won’t find another card like it, so know that this card is one to preserve and cherish. No one can determine why a card is special to you personally. Now, if you are looking to potentially earn some money from a card, or your collection goal is to have the most valuable cards ever produced; your definition of value will be expanded.
Baseball cards are acquired, traded, bought and sold on a very regular basis. So whether you are seeking to make a purchase or a sale, it is important to know the value of your card(s) to ensure you get the best deal. However, the value of a card or a collection can change over time, and so you have to evaluate different aspects of the market and the card itself to determine current worth.
When taking a look at the market, you should observe the book value and the market value. There are regularly published price guides that list the low price to the high price of all baseball cards collected. These price guides are most relevant to the time when the book was published. They are primary sources of information for suggested buying and selling prices, and a great place to start. However, the market value is what a card is actually bought and sold for. Let’s give an example. Say you have a card, that when first made and distributed, was considered very common. This card comes in almost every pack, and most people have three or four duplicates. The book value lists the card between $1.00 to $5.00 dollars buying/selling price; however, since the market is saturated with this card, people would actually only pay at most fifty cents. Now, let’s go forward ten years, to discover that this card, while initially available everywhere, was produced for a very limited time. So in these past ten years, the cards have been played with, chewed on, dropped in dirt, crammed into the spokes of a bike wheel, and lost, packed away in boxes. There are very few left that were properly cared for, and so finding a card that is also in good condition has become a challenge. If you were to check the book value, you would still see listed one to five dollars, but now people are willing to pay, and have paid, twenty. The market value is now much greater than the book value. Therefore, before you buy or sell, ensure you contemplate both book and market values.
Determining Card Condition
One aspect of card value that was just mentioned is condition. You may have a card that people are willing to pay a great sum for, but unless it’s in an appropriate condition, you will not receive the top dollar amount. Even a brand new card could have some sign of damage that would decrease its value, so knowing what to look for will ensure you make the best deal. Collectors have determined that on a baseball card, there are four zones or areas to evaluate. These areas include the corners, edges, surface and centering. Mint condition dictates that corners are sharp and well-defined. Anything less such as rounded corners, fraying or tears will decrease the condition. The edges should be evaluated when you turn the card sideways, and look directly at the edge. Damage would be any dents, curving, wearing down of the sides, or breaks/chips in the card’s color or foil. The surface of the card would be considered mint condition if the (modern) gloss or metallic card stock is perfectly smooth, with even glossing and no stains or printing defects. A less than pristine card would be bent, creased, lack or loss of gloss, and have print stains. Centering suggests that the card’s image was printed perfectly in line on the card stock. Centering issues more commonly occur with vintage cards, which were not made with sophisticated printing techniques. A card that is off-center will have lower value than a perfectly centered card, even if there are no other condition issues. To judge if the card has been centered correctly, you can examine if the borders are the same width on all four sides.
As you complete or read about an evaluation, there are certain terms that will be used to describe the condition. This is called baseball card grades, and the grades go from Gem Mint to Poor. Each grade is represented by a number. For instance, a Gem Mint is grade number 10, and would have the description of “almost perfect, with four sharp corners, perfect centering, full gloss and no staining.” Therefore you can see that while this system helps organize conditions, it is fairly general, and so specific grading standards might vary based on seller, company, or collector. There are baseball grading services available, given by professionals who can then ensure that your cards condition and hence its value is suitably recognized by the buying and selling market.
Another aforementioned aspect of value concerns availability of a card. There have been periods in baseball card production where cards were overly produced, which drove down the price. And as baseball card collecting has spanned decades, there are many vintage cards which are now so scarce there seems to be none left! In general, the older the card, the higher the value. Their value increases because of age and scarcity. “Vintage” cards are stated as having been produced before 1979; however, there is no one definition of “vintage” when concerning a baseball card. And as always, condition plays a role; some cards are vintage but common enough that condition matters, while others are so limited that having any available will cause a reaction in the collector’s community.
The rarity of a card can also be determined by several other means. For example, if you have a good condition card featuring a player in their rookie year, this card will generally be more valuable than a card from later in that same player’s career. This is because the longer a person has been playing, the more standard cards will be produced of them, but the card from their first year won’t be replicated in any way. Also, is your card autographed? A relatively new feature of baseball cards are a two to three certified autographed cards that come in your pack. Now of course these are great cards to have, and the number of autographs may be limited which can increase rarity, but before this practice, any signed cards would have been done so by you asking a player after a game. So the signature has to be certified either by the manufacturer, like Topps Baseball Cards, or deemed authentic by an expert. The autograph placement, legibility, and cleanness, along with the player prominence, will affect the value. What if the card is serial-numbered? If a card is printed with the numbers 13/50 on it, you have a fairly rare card as only fifty were produced. Cards with print numbers are limited, and so this makes them more valuable to begin with, but know that the smaller the number, the more rare the card.
As we continue to inspect for rarity, note if the card is a relic. A relic card will feature a certified piece of a game used-item such as a swatch of a jersey, glove, or even a bat. Today’s baseball cards are generally more mass produced than vintage cards, and so scarcity isn’t as great of an issue. Therefore the value of a collection featuring newer baseball cards will be more dependent on inserts and parallels. These limited cards are included in more common packs that are produced sometimes in as few as one to five reproductions, so the rarity can be incredibly high. You will be lucky to find or obtain one of these cards. Often, the boxes will feature the odds of obtaining such a card, as inserts for example, are special cards only sold with baseball card packs. Parallels look almost the same as standard cards (or even inserts) but have been given minor visual element changes. Examine each card closely in every pack you purchase, to see if you have an insert or parallel!
Collection Documentation & Storage
So you’ve purchased a pack of cards, and you’re building your collection. What now? Documentation and storage are going to be important steps to take. Documentation allows you to know exactly what you own, and where it is located. This process will help you create order so that when you are ready to display, or buy/sell/trade, you don’t have to search through stacks of endless cards, or at worst, lose any. One suggestion for documentation is to place your cards in numerical order. You then may want to have these cards listed in some sort of catalogue; there are some online programs which offer to help with this process, but you can do it yourself on a spreadsheet. Many people will catalog what they own into several categories including card number, year, player, team, set, notable features (insert, parallel, relic), etc. The amount of detail you should provide ultimately depends on your intentions for the collection. Do you hope to actively trade? If so, the more detail the better; the faster you can determine what you have, and what you need, the more likely you are to seal a trade deal. However, if you want your collection purely for your own purposes, then just catalog by details most important to you. And if your collection is monetarily valuable, having a catalog is a great way to provide your insurance with necessary information. No matter your reasons, create a catalog that is easy to update as you add or get rid of cards.
As you have hopefully created some sort of database or catalog for your cards, the only way to really fulfill its purpose is to ensure the cards are accessible. It is one thing to say you have a card, but another to find it. Using proper labeling will go a long way. It is recommended to keep cards sorted according to particular collections or types, and then labeled and stored as such. Proper storage will ensure you maintain the card’s best condition. To true baseball card collectors, these are not just images slapped onto nice paper. The card represents a significant amount more than that. So when you are thinking about how to store your cards, there are a lot of details to be aware of. For instance, humidity can ruin cards; in fact, some people store cards in a room with a dehumidifier. Along with being kept dry, your cards should be stored in a cool location with a consistent temperature. If you do not know about these details, the card may warp, or ink may stick or smear. Even light can fade out cards, and so displaying them under bright panels of light is not recommended. Think of your cards like a museum relic and handle them appropriately. This also means that excess touching should be avoided. It may be difficult to not run your fingers along the card, but doing so can affect the gloss, color, edges and corners, which as discussed, can destroy condition ratings.
One of the most common means to store baseball cards is in plastic pages. These are pre-made sheets which can hold up to nine cards on a page, and can be placed in three ring binders. You can double up the cards, by inserting another nine on the back, but remember this could have a direct effect on condition. Cards can stick together and damage one another. So reflect upon the market and personal value here. Do you want to resell or trade the card later? Do you want to read what is on the back of the card? If yes to either or both, only insert one card per slot.
Some cards you will want to keep individually placed, and so there are sleeves, essentially thin pieces of clear plastic, that is designed like a pouch, to which you can insert the card. This sleeve will prevent the card from damages such as rubbed off gloss, scratches and scrapes, and fraying edges or corners. It will be important to keep individual cards, even with a sleeve, organized, because they are still at risk for being bent. Using a box or some other structure will help. You can arrange the cards neatly, even using labels, and create a little filing cabinet. This will help prevent bending and other unwanted damage such as dust. There are some boxes made particularly for baseball cards which you can find online or at hobby stores. One of the best ways to view your cards but also keep them highly protected is known as a top loader, and while it can be more expensive, it offers greater benefits. The top loader is a more rigid plaster cover than the sleeve, usually with screw at the top or bottom, to hold it in place. This will prevent scratches and bending. But the plastic is still clear so you can see the card on display. Top loaders are suggested for cards valued $20 or more, or those with great personal value. Lastly, if your cards are truly expensive and irreplaceable, a fire and water proof safe, or even a bank safety deposit box, along with a top loader, might be the best option to storing your card(s).
Ultimately, baseball card collecting can be taken as seriously as you’d like. You should have fun deciding on a collection goal and then building it. This hobby can lead to new friendships; has the potential to earn you some money; and allows you to learn about and participate within a sport you love!