Buy, sell, trade: card-market commodities

A Card Connection founder, Mike Manning displays sealed, 10 graded baseball cards at A Card Connection in Santa Clarita on Friday, 021921. Dan Watson/The Signal

Over the course of the last year, the value for memorabilia has exploded.  

“There are so many weird things that have happened in the age of COVID … it has been booming like crazy,” said Jim McLauchlin, a collector who contributes to Beckett and a number of other memorabilia-related media outlets. “Here’s what happened: We’re stuck at home, so we’re stuck with our stuff that we threw in a box in the garage and we rediscover it — and suddenly we’re back into it.” 

Regardless of the reason though, while the internet was once seen as a factor that contributed to the decline of the industry, it’s now a huge part of its rise, with eBay helping to build bids on cards and comics that are pushing the value of the cards and comic books from our childhood into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, according to recent online sales at auction sites, as well as trade sites like PWCC Marketplace. 

The market is doing so well, in fact, you can now purchase the most valuable ones like you would any other tradable commodity on a speculative market, McLauchlin said. Sites like let you become involved in a “Fractional Investing Platform,” which means you can purchase shares of that Michael Jordan rookie with a half-million-dollar valuation if you don’t have the moolah to land the winning bid for the whole thing. 

However burgeoning markets aside, there are a couple solid pieces of advice to keep in mind when you’re digging for the next T206 Honus Wagner card, a baseball card from 1909 known as one of the world’s most valuable — which last sold for around $3.1 million.  

The first bit of advice given is to collect what you like and what you’re interested in, McLauchlin advises, because then, should the market dive in value as it did about 20 years ago, if you’re an unfortunate soul who bought at peak value, then while you might not have a great investment at the moment, you’ll always have keepsakes that have value and interest to the beholder.   

The second thing to remember, he said, and this was more in terms of investment: Vintage tends to have more value. This aspect is more related to simple supply and demand, McLauchlin said, noting that in the last 30 years, the rise of grading, which is the rating of a cards value and then the encasing of the card to protect that value, has codified, in many respects, how a card is going to be evaluated and perhaps more significantly for the more rarefied and sought after collectibles, how many there are out there. That’s because when cards are sent to be graded, they become part of a “population report,” which catalogues how many of a particular card exist, as well as in what shape. Obviously, the rarer the card is, the more valuable, which is why it’s safer to think an older card will be steadier once it attains a higher value, as the quantity of the commodity is a little more known. 

Grading is a process that involves a professional and reputable authenticator ensuring the card is not a fake or tampered with in any way. The authenticator then gives the card a number ranking based on its physical condition and catalogues its existence. With the recent boom in trading card sales, combined with sending a card through to a grader, even the cards printed in an oversaturated market increase in value.  

The last tip might be the toughest for collectors, unless they’re in it just for the investment: Purchase unopened boxes — and don’t open them.   

“Unopened boxes are always rock solid … if you keep it unopened,” he added, because the expectation is always greater than the reality and people will pay for the privilege of tearing open the pack and finding out if they found the next diamond in the rough — or in this case, the 2015 box of Upper Deck baseball cards. 

McLauchlin also shares his musings on sports and collectibles on his website, unpopularopinions-mclauchlin.blogspot.comCaleb Lunetta contributed to this report.  

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