This week’s blog comes from a guest writer, Tony L., who has his own baseball card blog: Off Hiatus Baseball Cards. After you’re done reading his advice on getting back into collecting, we encourage you to geek out over at his site for more fantastic articles!
I know you. Okay, I don’t “know” know you, but I know that you’re here at cardmavin.com. So, I probably have a pretty good idea that either (a) you are a current baseball card collector checking out this new website with free card values or (b) you are a lapsed collector who started thinking about their old baseball cards and wondered if those cards you socked away in 1992 really could pay for your kids to get through college or (c) your children/parents collected cards 20+ years ago and you are trying to find out how much, exactly, a 1991 Donruss Ron Robinson card might be worth these long 25 years later.
If you are a current collector, most of what I have to say here likely is not new. Of course, you should read this article and comment below about things I should have or could have said but did not say to the second group of people.
If you are here looking to price cards you found in the house that a relative had, perhaps what I have to say might entice you to start collecting yourself. I’ll give you a hint about that 1991 Donruss Ron Robinson card: it really isn’t worth very much at all. Maybe a penny. Maybe a nickel, tops. There are just too many of them still around for those cards to have much value. Sorry to disappoint you, but you’re not rich.
Now, if you are someone who is here because you used to collect and you’re curious to see if anything you have has any value, perhaps you should read further and think about why you collected cards in the first place. Did you collect cards because your friends did? Did you collect cards because you liked baseball? If you answered both of those questions as “yes,” maybe – just maybe – you should think about collecting again.
I don’t claim to be an expert, but I came back to collecting in 2014 after about 25 years away from the hobby. Things had changed a lot – the terminology is different, for example. For a great rundown of the types of things people now talk about in collecting, check out Tom’s “Glossary for Baseball Card Collectors.” It is a great resource right here on Mavin that I wish I had had available to me in January of 2014.
All that said, I have three pieces of advice for a budding collector or one returning to the hobby after a couple of decades away.
1. You Really Cannot Collect Everything
Not that it ever was feasible to try to collect every baseball card ever or even every Topps card ever, but it really is not possible today. Why is that? First and foremost, there are a lot of cards that are called “1 of 1s.” The name means exactly what it says: the manufacturer only issued one of these guys. Everything from singular cards (with a platinum-colored border and serial numbered as “1/1”) to the printing plates used to print the cards are included in packs – such as this Jonathan Lucroy black printing plate that is from my collection.
So, while you might be able to get nearly all of the cards around, you simply cannot get all of them. Even with unlimited money, it just is not possible. And most people I know don’t have unlimited money.
My Advice: Pick something and collect it. If you like the Milwaukee Brewers, like I do, then collect Brewers cards and items. If you grew up as a big fan of Scott Fletcher, then try to collect all of Scott Fletcher’s cards.
Maybe you have fond memories of a grandparent or parent showing you their 1961 Topps cards – go ahead and try to put that set together.
Maybe you are Jewish or Mormon or Southern Baptist or Islamic and want to collect cards only of players who share your religious views. Do it! Just make a list and go for it!
There are literally as many different ways to collect as there are collectors these days. There are no “right” or “wrong” ways to collect. As long as you are enjoying yourself, you are doing it right.
2. Be Social!
You remember trading cards with friends, haggling over deals and trying to get the cards you wanted? You can do that in any number of ways today. Some online resources that allow you to catalog your collection – Zistle and Trading Card Database are a couple of free examples – have built-in ways to trade with other collectors on the site. A number of card-collecting-focused websites – such as Blowout Cards and The Cardboard Connection – have active online forums where collectors have rules established to encourage trading which include online ratings for people who trade.
Even more mainstream social media websites have active, loosely organized card collecting groups. Sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram have a number of people who trade with one another or buy and sell to one another on a regular basis. If you’re looking for friends on Twitter you can start by following Card Mavin and me.
More my speed is the relatively large and extremely generous community of baseball card and sports card collectors who blog about their collections and their trades. The great thing about the blog community is that there isn’t any requirement that you blog – just that you are a decent person who deals fairly with the other people in the community. In the blog world, people often just send large packages of cards to one another because they don’t want the cards and know that the other person might need them. For proof of this, just check out my blog and click on some of the links on the right side of the blog to see others too. You might be pleasantly surprised.
It’s all a matter of getting involved, but it’s a lot of fun to be social, to get to know people around the world who share a passion for collecting cards and for baseball, and to feel like you have friends everywhere you go.
Advice: Read some blogs, then find those bloggers on Twitter and talk/interact with them. Most everyone in the blog world is a nice person. Even if they’re grumpy at first, more often than not they are willing to help fellow collectors if they can.
3. Don’t Be Overwhelmed by Variety
Baseball cards have changed since the 1980s and 1990s. There are far fewer cards issued each year now. Only Topps has the license to use MLB logos, though Panini also issues a number of sets without the logos. So, you might think that it’s straightforward and easy – two sets a year and that’s it, right?
Topps issues a multitude of different products each year including baseball players. Everything from its flagship release to its Allen & Ginter set (which pays homage to some of the first baseball cards issued for mass distribution with cigarettes in the 1880s) to high-end sets such as Topps Dynasty – where a pack containing one card retails for $400.
Remember when I said you can’t collect everything? It’s not just 1/1 cards. It’s the high-end cards too. Not only are they crazy expensive, they’re often highly sought after cards too.
But variety also is something that can drive a recently returned collector to bewilderment. For instance, the photo below shows seventeen different variations on what is essentially the same card: Jonathan Lucroy’s 2014 Topps card:
And I still don’t have twenty-six other versions of it, including four different sets of four printing plates, three other “1/1” variations, and multiple other color variations. But chasing the obtainable editions is half the fun here. It can be frustrating if you are trying to be a team collector and collect every Brewers card made that isn’t a “1 of 1.
Advice: Colorful cards can be a lot of fun and provide some cool contrasts based on the variations. But don’t feel like you have to collect them all! Chase what you like, ignore what you don’t, and don’t get too caught up in what everyone else is doing. Create a budget for yourself and stick to it.
The thing about baseball cards that has changed is that fewer people these days are in it just for the money. Yes, there are unscrupulous people out there who will try to rip you off given half a chance. Those people tend to congregate in the higher end of the card world – chasing 1952 Topps Mickey Mantles and the T206 Honus Wagners, for example. There will always be those people.
For the most part, though, the key is to remember that this is meant to be a hobby. It is something fun that adults can do to get back some of their youth again. If you’re a parent, cards can even be a great way to spend time with your kids. Take them to shows, chat with them about your favorite cards and the history of the players, and even get them into collecting.
Remember: as long as you are having fun doing it, you’re collecting in the “right” way.