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Your Collection: Not Worth That Much

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baseball cardsMany of us have dreams of collecting coins, or sports cards, or comic books and then scoring big later on. However, the truth is that there are a number of collections that just aren’t worth that much. Part of the problem is that, in the 1980s, many people made a lot of money because they had older baseball cards in good condition. The same was true of older comic books.

Because generations of kids put sports cards in the spokes of their bike tires, or wore out their comic books, finding these old editions in good form was rare. However, after the news of a few big dollar collections got out, everyone started saving these items. Now, people rarely damage sports cards and comic books — finding something in good condition is easier, and that means supply exceeds demand. Indeed, there are some collections that just aren’t worth much at all:

Stamps, Sports Cards and Comic Books

Unless you’ve got a rare misprint of a stamp, or a pre-1970 baseball card in good condition, or a mint condition first issue of Batman, you probably aren’t going to get top dollar for what’s in your collection. Mass production has helped reduce the value of some items, but the truth is that many of these things just weren’t that valuable to begin with.

Most people acquire additions to their collections by purchasing what’s cheap and easily available. Much of what you get in a pack of sports cards is going to be next to worthless in 10 years. When you scrape a common stamp off an envelope (even if it’s from another country), it’s probably not going to turn out to be rare or interesting. And, of course, few comic book editions manage to rise to the level of epic. Most of the time, the best value you will receive from buying a mass produced comic book from the store is going to be in reading it.

Finding Something Valuable

The main key to a valuable collection — no matter what it is — is rarity. My mother-in-law has a collection of Star Wars action figures, still in their original packaging, from the late 1970s. Just running a quick eBay check of figures out of their boxes informs me that she could probably get more than $500 for what she has. My husband has a Lawrence Taylor signed card that he bought for $20 three or four years ago. It’s worth about $40 now. That’s not bad, but I doubt the card will appreciate to the point that we will be able to retire on the proceeds. Keeping your collection in good condition is a must as well. That’s part of the rarity.

You also need to have your find authenticated, especially if you have sports memorabilia and cards. SCG and Beckett are two companies that can grade sports cards, and Professional Sports Authenticators takes care of other types of memorabilia. There are appraisers and authenticators that can help with comic books, action figures, stamps and coins as well. Before you purchase something for your collection, you want to make sure it is properly authenticated.

Finally, most collections are only as valuable as what someone is willing to pay. What something is worth to you is often completely different from what someone else finds valuable. If you are going to get the “value” you believe is “fair” when you sell your stuff, you have to find someone willing to pay what it’s “worth.”

(Photo: dpstyles)

{ 23 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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23 Responses to “Your Collection: Not Worth That Much”

  1. Echo says:

    I have a sports card collection from back in the late 80’s early 90’s (baseball and hockey). Some of them are rookie cards from popular players but I doubt any individual card is worth much more than a few bucks (maybe $20 at the most).

    Who knows, maybe if I leave them in the attic for a few decades the grandkids will dust them off and sell them for a small fortune 🙂

    • uclalien says:

      Probably not. The time period you are describing is often referred to as the “baseball card bubble.”

      Unfortunately, that’s when most of my childhood baseball cards were collected. For instance, I bought 4 Ryne Sanberg rookie cards for about $5 a piece back in the late 80s. They jumped up in value to $50-60 per card in the early 90s. It has been a while, but last I checked, they were worth less than $10 a piece. And this was after he was elected to the Hall of Fame, which you’d think would increase the value. Same story for a number of other cards I have in a box somewhere.

  2. cubiclegeoff says:

    I always like to try to get kids into baseball cards again. People just don’t care about them now, but if they did, it would make a difference to those who have collected them.

  3. Huskervolleybfan says:

    You mean my McDonald’s beanie babies are not going to come back? Oh, shucks, there goes my retirement.

  4. It always surprises me that people don’t get this. They find a stamp or a baseball card and think it’s going to be worth so much money. That’s just not the way it works. Good article.

  5. echidnina says:

    My dad and uncle are making a pretty tidy profit selling off a lot of their old things on eBay – mainly stamps and baseball cards. But, as you mentioned, these are older things in good condition. Basically, anything that is marketed as ‘collectible’ is not going to appreciate in value. It’s the things that people don’t think to collect and keep nice that end up being worth the big bucks down the line, because of the scarcity. If hundreds and hundreds of people are keeping their ‘ultra-collectible special edition’ comic in its plastic bag, then there’s no scarcity.

  6. Wilma says:

    Bummer. Guess I’ll have to win the lottery then.

  7. Allison says:

    My uncle had a collection of mint comic books from the 50s and 60s… sold them and paid off his house. But still not as much as some people think these things are worth. It was probably less than $100K

  8. Guy In San Antonio says:

    Just some basic Dave Ramsey type advice: “Don’t Collect stuff”. You would be better off putting that money in a high yield growth mutual fund!

  9. DIY Investor says:

    Interesting post. The sports card market today is of course the efficient market in action. Once the idea of collecting cards caught on as a way to make money it became non-profitable. Prices started to reflect market value.
    Card manufacturers caught on quickly and began putting random cards of value in a few packs to create a lottery type situation. Very reflective of trying to beat the market by stock picking. Just like in the stock market individuals rushed in at the peak of the baseball card craze.
    Beanie babies, baseball cards, stocks – they’re all the same.

  10. NateUVM says:

    Now, what about coin collecting? Not bullion, but numismatics?

  11. STRONGside says:

    The only real collection that I have is Hess trucks. my grandfather began giving them to me when I was born in 1985 and I have been getting one for Christmas ever since. He eventually stopped giving them to me, so I sold the entire collection last year on Ebay for about $300. Considering I had over 23 trucks, and they each cost about $30, the ROI was not the best. The only collecting I would consider would be coin collecting. Something that was small, valuable, and easily movable.

  12. Shirley says:

    When our youngest son was born in 1975 my husband started buying boxed baseball team cards (about $6-$10) twice a year as an investment for him.

    The box seals were never broken and 33 years later he sold them for enough to make a good down payment on his first home. That turned out to be a good investment but I don’t see it happening again in this era of ‘instant gratification’.

  13. tbork84 says:

    I know a few people who have worthwhile collections, but they had to spend some serious money in order get them.

  14. Joey Tranchina says:

    You mean something that was intended to be mildly educational with great entertainment value didn’t turn out to be a treasure chest?

    Oh, too bad.

    But you know, selling my baseball card collection from the 1950s, enabled me to take my then 16 year old daughter to Europe for two months… so not all the news about collectable is bad.

    You’ve just gotta know when to hold-em and when to fold-em like every other investment.

  15. poscogrubb says:

    “Appreciation in market value” should not be the primary reason that you collect something. “Love”, or sentiment, or emotional attachment, is what makes you a real collector and appreciator of whatever it is that you are collecting. “Love” is the real value. If you’re in love, then it doesn’t matter what the market value is.

    I’m not against collecting because of potential appreciation in market value, but it’s very hard to do, especially with mass-marketed items.

  16. govenar says:

    Are comic books that were worth a lot in the 80’s worth more now, and just new comic books proabably won’t be worth much in the future? Or did the price of old comic books go down?

    • skylog says:

      i can not say about all in the 80’s, but some series have some value. i have a co-worker who is very into comic books, although he mostly deals with older books, but he does very well for himself with his hobby.

  17. skylog says:

    i agree with this post, but there still is a very active and profitable sports card market out there. there can be a lot of money made with recent releases.

    • uclalien says:

      Profitable for who is the question. It may be profitable for the manufacturers, but probably not for the vast majority of collectors. The sports card market has been heavily diluted since the 80s.

      For instance, I walked by the sports card isle at Target the other day and noticed 15, if not 20, different sports cards manufacturers, all of whom are producing essentially the same items.

      As it currently stand, and has been occurring for more than 2 decades now, supply is outpacing demand by a large margin.

  18. Mike Fox says:

    I’m a comic book collector. I started collecting in the early 90’s when I was about 8 years old. I hoped one day that the comics I bought would have been worth a lot when I got older. The sad truth is that everyone else was thinking the same thing, and those comic books were overly produced (we’re talking 300,00 to 500,00 copies per comic!) so the value was barely self sustainable in the end. Fortunately, all hope is not lost! There are hundreds of comic books that are still worth hundreds and thousands of dollars that can still be purchased to this day. But why the heck would you drop that much on a comic book? Because!!! Because those comic books are still going up in value, and they retain their value! Dont believe me? Do some research on key issue comics of the gold, silver, and bronze age. They are insanely popular, and Hollywood is only jet fueling the potential!

  19. j says:

    Comic book collecting is still profitable as long as your books are CGC/PGX Graded(especially Golden, Silver, and Bronze Age books circa 1938-1984). It’s more profitable then those other hobbies that you mentioned because it appeals to a broader audience(movie go’ers and the like). I have made tons of money on graded comics and this hobby is alive and well unlike the inflated sports card market.

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