Collectors who are active in #thehobby have a general idea of what their cards are worth, and if they need to do a price check they usually have a go-to source for pricing information; either a Beckett magazine, a book, or website. If you’re new to collecting, or just getting back into the hobby, you’ll need to find your source for pricing information. This article the most popular ways collectors look up the value of their cards.
Looking your cards up online
This is the free option. You can quickly search for your card on eBay and get an idea of what your card is selling for. The downside to the eBay approach is that it’s cumbersome to look up a bunch of cards, and the results you get back have a lot of junk in them; reprints, card lots, variations that are not your card, etc.
There are other card auction sites out there, small independent ones and big ones. But those site just can’t compete with the volume on eBay… it’s got the most card buyers and sellers in one place, and it’s built on a platform people trust.
eBay doesn’t exactly make it easy to look up the price of you card. It’s not a price guide. It’s focused on selling you something that’s currently for sale, but you can browse through historic auctions and find items just like yours, that have recently sold. That will give you a rough estimate of what your item might go for today on eBay, the world biggest online marketplace.
The first step in searching through ebays
Using eBay is easy. Just go to their website and type a description of the card into the search box. be descriptive, like “1990 Topps Alan Trammel #707”. Include the year, brand, player name, and card number. This will give you search results for cards that are currently up for auction. This includes your traditional auction (with and without reserves) and your “Buy it now” listings. It’s not the best estimate for prices. What you really want to know is, how much did this card sell for recently.
The current bid prices on the traditional auction listings isn’t a good estimate of price because it’s ituction items changes, especially in the last few minutes the auction is open. And “Buy it now” listings are often set by a dealer above what it would sell for at auction, in hoping to sell it to a person who doesn’t want to deal with auction and just wants to it now.
You want to see what your card actually sold for. Look for the eBay filters… checkboxes in the left column and click on “Show only: Sold listings”. This will give you the auctions where the item sold.
The benefit of using eBay to see what your card has sold for is that it’s real market data. It’s not based on a secret algorithm. It’s what real people recently bought the card for. You get the most recent prices. Cards start selling on eBay the day a new set is released, you don’t have to wait a month to get a print publication. Price guides that are released every month, 6 months, or perhaps once a year, are already out of date the moment they’re printed. Card prices fluctuate, they go up and down, and eBay is the closest thing to represent what your card is worth today.
Looking your cards up in a price guide
This is the option you have to pay for. Most price guides come from an era of print publications. They charge for the print publication or the online edition. Their pricing information isn’t free. The card prices listed in the price guide are based on a proprietary and secret formula.
When I first started collecting cards I’d buy the baseball cards price guide and hockey cards price guide every couple of months as they came out. I went “by the book” so it was important for me to have the latest publication. The book in my case was a Beckett price guide, a printed magazine for baseball, basketball, hockey, football and other major sports. Beckett gives you a high and a low value, and arrows to indicate increasing or decreasing value. I’d use the price guide to get a general sense of what the card was worth. I’d buy and trade cards based roughly on what was in the book. But the book was inflated. The actual prices I paid for cards at card shows was much lower. Later when online auction sites appeared I discovered even better deals. Remember, your cards are only worth what someone is willing to pay for them today.
As I got older I learned that the book didn’t mean much when it came to a real world deal. The prices in a guide are often inflated or give a false impression of what your card is worth. Go to a card show and you’ll learn the price guides don’t reflect prices. Go online to eBay and search for cards and again you’ll see the price guide values are way off. The price guides aren’t an accurate reflection of the market, and don’t take into account the particulars elements of your card that make it worth more or less.
There are other sports card price guides out there, besides Beckett. It seems like Beckett is used most often by collectors of modern cards. I’ve noticed some dealers and collectors of vintage cards use other price guides like the “Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards“. The Catalog gives you card prices for three conditions: Near Mint, Excellent, and Very Good. It’s printed yearly and covers cards from 1863-1980.