When the hobby becomes part of a boom 

A Card Connection founder, Mike Manning displays vintage 1960's era baseball cards surrounded by modern sports cards at A Card Connection in Santa Clarita on Friday, 021921. Dan Watson/The Signal

Your favorite cards and comic books are once again prized commodities, not just for their sentimental value. 

The online auction site eBay.com, one of the largest platforms for sports and trading card dealers to peddle their goods, noted in a Feb. 11 report the site has seen a 142% online increase for the trading card category during 2020, with nearly 4 million more new cards sold in 2020 than in 2019.  

The jury remains out if these latest evolutions in how we do things will stick around in the long term, or whether they’re simply another speculative boom fueled by COVID-19-related boredom.  

However, one group that has seen a positive change to their realm of interest or business are those local investors and purveyors of trading cards. And while some may wonder how long this latest boom in trading cards will last, others are just there to enjoy the ride.  

“It’s crazy,” said Mike Sportelli, co-owner of A Card Connection in Newhall. “You have guys who have never even played in a Big League game are going for tens of thousands of dollars and, in some cases, over $100,000.” 

The recent wave of demand has been in large part due to COVID-19 — people staying at home, and searching for some form of nostalgia during uncertain times, according to a number of people in the industry. But regardless of the why, the reality is most have had a little more time on their hands to dig through that box of memorabilia they’ve had sitting in storage, and perhaps more of a motivation to sell.  

James Hoban, a Saugus resident who was at A Card Connection with his 3-year-old son Dean on a recent weekend, speculated that it might have been a combination of factors.  

“I know people want something that they can touch,” Hoban said, “and I think this also brought people joy.”  

Dean Hoban, 3, and father, James, pick out super-hero cards for Dean at A Card Connection in Newhall on Friday, 021921. Dan Watson/The Signal

The History 

Trading cards have been around since the latter part of the 19th century, but the value of money being spent on them recently has reached new heights.  

For instance, ESPN reported that a 2009 Mike Trout rookie card, verified at 9 Mint (the verification system for these cards in terms of their authentication scale ranging from 1 to 10) crushed a 2016 record for sale price by close to $1 million.  

The Mike Trout card sold in Augest 2020 went for $3.93 million, beating the sale of a 1909 Honus Wagner card in September 2016 — which at the time was the highest on record – of $3.12 million.  

Within five months, the Mike Trout sale would be dwarfed on its own, with ESPN reporting a 1952 9 Mint Mickey Mantle sold in a November 2020 transaction for $5.2 million.  

“It has an ebb and flow to it, and I’ve seen some ups and downs,” said Mike Manning, who had owned A Card Collection for the last four decades before selling it to Sportelli and his partner Tim Roderick last year.  

Manning said during the 1980s there was a mass production of cards, from a variety of companies in the United States, resulting in the available amount of cards to increase, and demand (and therefore the sale price) for the cards to drop.  

By the 1990s, he was buying boxes of cards for only a few bucks and then reselling them for a slight profit margin. However, by 2020, with people hungry on the market for these pieces of history, he began selling those “junk boxes” — sometimes for hundreds of dollars, he said. 

The money 

Inside of certain boxes and packs, there’s a slight chance for a knowledgeable collector to turn a few hundred dollars into thousands of dollars in profit. The downside to the “investment” is that you never know which box the next Mike Trout card is going to be in, and opening a box means losing out on the profits of selling an unsealed commodity on the slight chance you’ll hit it big.  

“A lot of people are gambling, and they’re trying to get this hot card they can sell and make big bucks,” said Manning, as A Card Connection bustled with customers ranging in age from the millennials to baby boomers. Some people had even taken the time to know when a certain shipment of a certain card type would be coming into the store, and had decided to wait outside until they could get their chance at purchasing from the cache of a new product. “What people don’t realize is if you take these boxes, get them all opened, and there’s no sealed stuff left to sell, then the prices of sealed boxes goes up because there’s a scarcity.”  

Across the board, social media influencers, investment groups and hobbyists have been attempting to get their hands on both rare cards and/or unopened boxes. Demand for certain cards have been inflated as old collections from individuals who had them in their attic for years begin to reintroduce their decades old cards and/or family heirlooms into the market.  

And since the demand for unopened boxes has increased, their availability in the market has become increasingly limited. And the way cards are made now have changed, having now included signatures, new graphics and even patches from the players’ jerseys.  

“That’s just how everything has changed,” Manning said. 

Card Connection co-owners Tim Roderick, left, and Mike Sportelli, right, are joined by founder, Mike Manning at A Card Connection in Newhall on Friday, 021921. Dan Watson/The Signal

The future and nostalgia   

While the future value of cards will always be uncertain, card collectors have learned a number of new ways to sell cards online, including the use of apps and social media, as we’ve also recently seen with the stock market.  

Famous social media influencers and collectors are showcasing their investments on live streams, unboxing their expensive purchase via an online platform, giving fans a chance to react in real time about what they’ve found and sharing in the joy. 

Stores like A Card Connection have said they are embracing this change alongside the rest of their industry.  

“It’s essential,” said Mike Sportelli, when asked about the card shop’s social media and box-breaking presence online. “That’s the money right there, and it’s because you can target so many.”  

But while the past and future of card collecting and selling may continue to experience a back-and-forth relationship, the nostalgia and joy associated with the cards appears timeless.  

Dean Hoban said he enjoyed coming to the card shop with his dad, getting to pick out his favorite cards and take them home to open together.  

“I’ve always been interested in it, always enjoyed it, and I did it with my uncle,” said James Hoban, as his son looked over at the cards just purchased and headed home to open the packs.  

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