What Sports Memorabilia Is Not Good Value for Money

Hey all! It’s been a while! With this pandemic outbreak, I finally have the time to slow down a bit and share my thoughts on this blog that I love so much but have unfortunately neglected for quite some time.

I’m not gonna lie to you, it’s been tough for the store with this pandemic – people are losing jobs, businesses are being shut down and some are simply afraid to go out that much and avoid unnecessary visits to stores in general. Since my store does not sell essential goods but sports memorabilia, it is understandable that I get fewer customers these days. I try to use the time and get some renovations done at home at least, for example, we changed the old leaking water heater and installed a tankless one this time (I read extensively on tankless.net, but I am still unsure if I picked the right model) and we also installed new wall units in the kitchen. But still, time goes by so slowly and this outbreak is no fun at all!

Anyway, I wanna dedicate this post to helping you get wiser about what not to collect in terms of sports memorabilia. I understand many of you folks out there are in a tough situation because of the repercussions on the economy of this virus, so one thing you really don’t want to be doing is collecting memorabilia that is not worth anything. So what not to collect?

1) Autographed items

You might want to avoid these. The reason is simple: the overwhelming percentage of them are simply fake. Of course, it doesn’t mean that all autographed items are fake, but the fakes are sometimes difficult to distinguish from the authentic ones even for the experienced eye. If you ever ask a player to sign something for you, a helpful tip to consider is to have a picture taken of the two of you while they are signing the baseball or any other item that they may be signing.

2) Pins, pin-back buttons, pennants, and plaques

These items are also something that you may wanna reconsider, as all of these are produced in large quantities. In other words, they are not worth a lot.

3) Stamped pieces

To get an autographed piece (an authentic one, of course) is much more valuable than simply getting a stamped piece. It is easy to see why: a famous player signing an item is more difficult than simply putting a stamped signature on an item.

4) Books by players, coaches, etc.

Granted, books by players can be worth a lot, but this is only if they are signed by the actual player or coach. Otherwise, you might wanna keep clear of these, as well.

Street Festival

You could say that I am minding the store. I am always on the lookout for new sports memorabilia and baseball cards to replace sold inventory. Searching and acquiring is an enjoyable game. I have many sources online but by now people know what I want and bring or send it to me. This makes having a variety of items much easier and I don’t have to abandon the store. But I do have a laptop in the back and most days I am purchasing something. How lucky I am to work to satisfy my passion. If you are like me and watching the game isn’t enough, come on in and we will chat.

But, surprisingly, I am now hunting for the best bounce house for kids. So I go online but in a different way than usual. I want to know their sizes and what themes are most popular. I also want to know rental prices so I will make a judicious choice. Why on earth a bounce house you ask? Here is the answer. We are having a street festival and I want to pay for a booth to attract customers. That is the point after all, not just amusement but business. A street fair is a promotional event and people come from far and wide so you better give them something to look at or do. I got my best memorabilia out for display and put it on the sidewalk where I stood to receive questions and provide info. You might think that a bounce house is cumbersome and unsuited for either a street fair or a memorabilia shop. You would be wrong. It is hard to obtain for a good price and sometimes the best ones are all taken. In point of fact, in the long run they attract parents and their kids and after sufficient time frolicking about, they come into the store. The person who has the most popular offering is the winner. The street festival was successfully and profits hit the bottom line. A bounce house is a great idea because kids collect baseball cards as they have done for generations past. I know the ones that are coveted and try to stock multiple examples at the time of the annual fair.

I want to be different each year but, frankly, the bounce house has to be there. People have come to expect it at one or another of the local stores. I take a survey a few months before the street festival to see what the store owners intend to do so there is no duplication. Most have come to realize that I have dibs on the bounce house. It doesn’t make sense for an adult restaurant, a hair salon, or a hardware store. It takes up a lot of parking space anyway so there are a few minor drawbacks. No matter. The bounce house is the highlight of the day. Come nightfall, it is deflated and trucked away.

There Goes the Neighborhood

You can think all you want that your neighborhood is safe until a robbery occurs and you immediately change your tune. It is more than unsettling if you thought you were not prone to such occurrences. There is nothing more upsetting than theft. When you own a store, you feel violated if there is any vandalism or goods or money are taken. You think you had taken precautions, but obviously not. The first thing I thought when I heard about a local robbery was “there goes the neighborhood.” I guess the next thought was it is time to get a gun. There are issues positive and negative about owning a gun. The scary part is that there can be an accident if someone unauthorized mishandles the gun. If you know what you are doing, it does serve as protection and a deterrent. When robberies occur, sometimes your life is at stake. That is the biggest argument in favor of ownership. You have to weigh the odds of a dire situation.

Given that I own a shop that contains many valuable items, I feel a need to consider protecting my assets. I will acquire the appropriate firearm and learn to use it. I will keep it within easy reach hidden under a counter. It will reside in a small gun safe that is unobtrusive and just large enough for the size of the pistol. This gives me a layer of security against accidents. I am not interested in collecting guns and I don’t need a large rifle size gun safe. I will get one suitable for my needs and nothing more. I dread the thought that I might have to use it, but there comes a time when reality sets in. After all, we did have that one recent invasion of a store. I think I feel more protected now and that I can fend off intruders. Of course, I don’t want to shoot anyone, but a gun is the best deterrent there is. When my fellow store owners on my street found out about the robbery, we decided to form a business neighborhood watch. Not every proprietor wanted to house a gun on premises, so this was one solution for those against gun ownership. More than one owner opted for a gun and we decided to discuss the matter thoroughly at a neighborhood watch meeting. We asked those against what was the problem and how we could help remedy it. We mentioned that helpless feeling you get when you are threatened with theft and that you really don’t know what to do if you are in the midst of a crisis. A few store owners changed their tune on the gun issue and we vowed to meet and teach ourselves safety measures and the operation of the weapon. We visited a gun range for practice a few times. I mentioned my gun safe and convinced a few others to acquire one. We were all in it for the safety and protection.

Shop Promotion

I try to get publicity for the shop whenever I can, however it happens. You can put up flyers in the neighborhood, take out a newspaper ad, or even use the radio to announce any major changes in inventory. I have been lucky to get a local newspaper reporter to do a story on some of the more unusual items in the store. I wanted my life history and how I started getting into memorabilia. I told him everyone likes it depending upon the era and subject. He was fascinated and wrote a comprehensive piece that was flattering to my enterprise. I was happy with the response and it even increased store traffic. Given that result, I wanted to continue shop promotion. That’s how you keep business going.

I looked for new opportunities and got wind of an impending town craft/business fair. Apparently, they happened once a year and it was well attended and a major event for families and kids. The organizers were offering booths for businesses to show their wares. It is all about promotion. I thought it was a good idea and not prohibitively expensive. I could man the booth and bring with me a selection of interesting items for display and sale. I hoped that if I made it look inviting, traffic would come by and ask questions. I would keep a stack of flyers and businesses cards on the booth table for distribution.

I had to do a little advance planning. One idea I had was to tote my trusty beach umbrella with me to keep me protected from the sun. If you are out all day, you can get quite burned, even on a mild summer day. You can rent tents for your booth as well if you don’t have an umbrella, but I do so why spend the extra money. The umbrella was eye-catching anyway and far superior to a tarp made of plastic. I was right. People at the fair commented on how clever I was to avoid the damaging sun. I was a unique booth—one of a kind. Some people liked huddling under the umbrella with me to safeguard themselves from too much sun. After all, it was a large street fair that required a lot of walking to cover the ground. There were food vendors, artists making jewelry or paintings right on the spot, and there was the assortment of booths of which I was a member. I wanted to see everything myself and asked a friend to booth sit for an hour. Promotion can be fun. You meet all kinds of people and prospective customers in particular. I expected to see more than a few of them soon in the store. Lots of people took the flyers so they were the perfect companion piece to the booth’s goods. I made a note to myself to do it again, even better, next year. And you can bet that the striped multi-hued umbrella would be there once again to set the stage for a colorful promotion.

Protecting Your Assets

When you sell goods, you have a certain protective attitude toward them. Some items are valuable and this attitude is warranted. You wouldn’t want any damage to be inflicted upon them. After all, they are your assets. You have to package some breakables properly, wrapping them in clean paper and using some extra padding. Small items need to be grouped together perhaps in a Ziplock baggie so no little pieces get lost. There are a million ways that things you sell can break and become useless. If you want to sell them, you’d better be on the lookout for unforeseen ways they can lose their value. This philosophy applies to any goods you own whether you sell them or not. It means that you should think about protective covering for things like your cell phone (consisting of a solid case), your car (a suitable cloth tarp for example), and your mattress (they make plastic protectors that are easy to put on).

The mattress protector was something I bought after a little incident I had with it. I volunteered to dog sit for a friend. It is a tiny little animal and so cute that I put him on the bed. I expected him to signal to me that he needed to go out by jumping off. I didn’t realize that his little legs were too short and that he was intimidated to make the leap. He was so comfortable on the bedcovers that I didn’t think about his basic needs. One morning I forgot to make the bed and the coverlet was yanked down almost completely off the surface. The sheets were also pulled down exposing the mattress. I figured I would have time later to attend to it so I went to work and left the little dog in his favorite spot in spite of the lack of sheets and bed cover. He curled into a little ball and fell asleep as I was getting dressed for work. Not being used to having a pet around, I forgot to take him for a walk to “do his business.” I simply patted him on the head and ventured off.

I didn’t know the consequences of my neglect until I got home. The little dog had peed on the mattress and it soaked right through. It was that much given the size of the dog, but it was still an “accident” that didn’t need to happen. If I had purchased a mattress cover when the mattress was new, it would have prevented the soiling. These covers are designed to be waterproof while they also protect the mattress from dust mites. I couldn’t yell at the poor little creatures because it was entirely my fault. I was remiss in forgetting to let him out. I quickly stripped the bed, washed everything, and sprayed the mattress with pet stain remover. I had to run and get it at the supermarket. I remade the bed and took the dog for a long walk. Needless to say, he did not return to his former sanctuary.

That’s Better

Every once in a while the store needs a facelift. In a few years, you can see the buildup of dust and dirt, sometimes grime. I am often too busy to deal with it or even hire someone to help. It is hard to clean a store when it contains so many small individual items. You can let things go only so long. Otherwise there is a feeling of chaos and disorder. I realized this when a woman came in one day with her young son in tow. What a mess, he softly exclaimed, not caring if it were rude to be so outspoken. I was taken aback. His mother hushed him right away. We all couldn’t help but look around to see if he was right. Yes, some re-organization was in order. The shelves were a bit hodge podge and the displays were less than eye catching in many cases. I was selling all right so it never occurred to me how people saw the place when they first entered. Not every store is a high end boutique. But a store needs to be clean and orderly and the maximum amount of merchandize readily available, which means highly visible. It was time to stop staring, accept the truth, and take some action. The mother apologized for her son’s comments but I was not offended. Children speak the truth. I could just imagine what other people might be thinking. I would be appalled if I knew.

I took a Sunday off work and unloaded the shelves and set the goods aside for what was going to be a major painting job. This was the effort that was needed the most. If the shelves were freshly painted, the store would automatically look renewed. Given the amount of shelves I had, I decided to use a paint sprayer, you know, the kind with a compressor. They are super handy and easy to use. I was only going to use one color. I could be more efficient and cover more territory, perhaps even finishing the work in one full day. Alas, it took a bit longer and I had to get to the store early Monday morning to make sure all the shelves had been tackled, that they were dry as a bone, and carefully and methodically restocked. Thank heaven for the air paint sprayer. It saved the day. I am glad that I owned one that was practically like new. If I had used a brush, I would have undoubtedly missed some areas and made a mess trying to get in tiny nooks and crannies. They are tough to get clean edges. A roller was out of the question but it was helpful in painting one dirty wall of the store. I used a bright color for that and it looked great against the soft creamy white of the shelves. I said to myself, that’s better. I couldn’t wait to put everything away and unlock the front door.

A Labor of Love

People think I am like Peter Pan, like I have never grown up, because I sell trading cards and sports memorabilia. Maybe that is true. Maybe I haven’t ever stopped being that young boy with the dream of owning every Topps card ever printed. But is that such a bad thing when being that person allows me to make a pretty nice living off of something that I have loved nearly my whole life?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think so.

I am able to meet so many of my sports idols—from way back and from the current era—because of my job. I’m not just some guy taking off work on a Tuesday afternoon to meet some rookies and get autographs. That IS my job. If these athletes wind up hot commodities, I need to be ready with their signatures on something. I have carefully cultivated relationships with players, managers, agents, locker room attendants and whoever else I need to so that I can get access to athletes in the Seattle area. I would be lying if I said I didn’t love meeting players. It is my favorite part of the job, just ahead of sitting around talking about baseball cards all day. I’d also be lying if I didn’t tell you that it was a lot of work to get to this point. All those hours spent establishing a rapport with players to get signatures and to prove I am a legitimate source of signed memorabilia to customers has taken time.  It has been so worth it, though, because it is something I love. I don’t mind putting in the time.

At least once a day some guy will come in and look through the stock under glass near the register and launch into a story about how he’d be rich right now if his mother hadn’t thrown out that shoebox full of baseball cards he’d had as a kid. The guy will usually go on to tell me which rookie cards he had, and all kinds of other tall tales about his collection. I wish I could say to him that I highly doubt those cards would be worth anything at this point because there are only so many cards out there in any given year that don’t have autographs that are actually valuable. But you can’t say that to these people because I buy and sell based on their nostalgia, and his mom actually did me a favor by throwing those cards out—less cards in circulation, plus he might buy some to replace those that he lost.  My collection is only worth something if someone like him decides that it is and is willing to pay for it. Otherwise, all I have is a lot of ink and cardboard, and no money to show for it. So I smile and nod and keep listening to their story. I see the look in their eyes as they remember that shoebox full of Ken Griffey Jr. or Jamie Moyer rookie cards because it’s more fun to pretend what you had was worth something. I know because I am that guy too. The only difference is that the other guy’s mom knew that their son had moved on to other things. Mine recognized the feeling in my heart and didn’t throw my collection away. She recognized the love there back then, the love that is still there now.

How Much is Your Collection Worth?

rookie year cards

I hear this question a lot. Mine is worth a lot, but then again, I count my collection as everything in the store, too. Technically it is mine until I sell it to you, or at least that’s what my insurance company tells me when they collect that giant premium every month. But yours? I have no idea. At least, not without it in front of me and a lot of time. I never give estimations of worth over the phone sight unseen.

There are a lot of factors that go into the value of a card. First, of course, is the player. Clearly there are players who are worth more than others. Then you have to consider the year. As players get better, they get more cards. So the early years are going to be worth more. Generally, the older the card the more it is worth, with rookie year cards worth the most. Next, we have to take into consideration how many identical cards are out there. In the boom years of the 80s/90s, they made so many cards that you can still buy pallets full of unopened packages. If there are still a lot of that particular card around, the valuation will be lower. The easier I can get the exact same card, the less I’ll be willing to pay top dollar for yours. After that is the condition, what kind of shape it is in. Is it graded or ungraded, and if it is graded, by which company? How much better is it than the other identical cards floating around out there? The better the condition, the more it will be worth. But here is the thing people have trouble understanding: the value of the card actually means nothing. It isn’t like money where the amount printed on it is the amount that you get out of it. You may have a card worth 50 grand, but unless I can line up a buyer for you when you want to sell it, the card’s value is zero.  That is the difficult thing about any collectible item—you aren’t only dealing with the value of the item itself, you have to look at the other end as well: how much can I actually get for it? Your mint condition Mark McGuire rookie card might be worth a pretty penny, but blacklisted players like him, Canseco, Clemens, and Sosa can be super hard to offload.

Unfortunately, even knowing the above criteria does not mean I know the value of every card from every brand off the top of my head. The ones I am always looking out for or that I know will sell, I can absolutely give you a good idea of the ballpark price. However, there are just too many of them out there for me to be able to tell you with any confidence what every card is worth. That’s why I rely on things like the Beckett Guide to fill in the gaps in my knowledge. Here at the shop, it is used so often we just call it the bible.

Basically, what I am trying to say is that I’m not going to give estimated values over the internet or the phone. If that is what you’re looking for, I highly suggest visiting a local memorabilia shop or show to have someone who can physically look at your collection appraise it. They’ll be able to do it correctly and fairly, and you may be pleasantly surprised.

Goofs

People love printing mistakes. Upside down planes on stamps. Misaligned printings of $20 bills. Some baseball cards are the same way. Below are several styles of mistakes major baseball card brands have made and my favorites of each type.

  • The unintentional mistake picture. Claude Raymond and his open fly. Guy adjusting his…er, cup, in the background of a Paul Gibson card. Billy Martin pretty much giving the finger on his card in ’72. Or Billy Ripkin and his @#$% face bat that Fleer had to scramble to fix after the fact, which resulted in a ton of different cards circulating out there—the original swear word card, some where it has been whited out or airbrushed, others where the words are scribbled out, and finally the black box that went out in all the factory sets. On Ripkin’s website, he shows 10 different versions of the card that were printed. There’s also Jim Nettles’ 1990 Pacific card. For his profanity card, he apparently picked up someone else’s bat and he reportedly is not a fan of the card. He’ll sign right over the swear word if you give it to him for an autograph. Also, there are actually more of the swear card than the corrected version, so the clean version is actually worth more (although still not worth a whole lot). Takes a little of the fun out of it if you ask me.
  • Reverse negative cards. There have been a few of these, although my favorite makes Hank Aaron a lefty. John Littfield became a southpaw for his card in ’82. Another reverse negative happened in ‘89 with Dale Murphy’s Upper Deck card. There are a few other instances. You would think, that in a sport where being left or right handed truly matters, companies would examine proofs at least a little more carefully than that. But you would be wrong. It’s just funny.
  • The wrong guy. Topps switched Carlos Beltran and a not-nearly-as-impressive teammate named Juan LeBron for his first baseball card. Donruss put Johnny Ray’s photo with Barry Bond’s name in ’87 by accident. They caught that one pretty early and switched it. 1969’s Topps card for Aurelio Rodriguez featured the bat boy instead. I always find these mistakes hilarious, because some are actual mistakes on the card company’s behalf, and some are baseball players being baseball players and messing around. These are hands down my favorites.
  • Quality control problems. The ’62 Topps Green Tint series where they ran out of ink. The 1990 card without Frank Thomas’ name on it. The ’82 Tops Blackless set. There are a ton of these, in varying rarities and obviousness of their mistakes, and they’re all funny in their own way.

Some of these errors are rare and/or hard to find, and therefore valuable, turning a “nickel card into a $30 dollar card,” as Billy Ripken said. Others, while hilarious, aren’t worth that much. Others can be valuable if you have the whole set. It’s one of the things I like about baseball cards: when you’re paying attention, you’ll never know what you see.

How Did You Grow Your Collection?

I still remember being a kid and opening a brand new pack of baseball cards. The sound of the wrapper opening was the soundtrack to my childhood summers. I can still feel the stiff cardboard and that bubblegummy scent that lingered on the card long after you chewed the poor cement-like stick that came in the package. “Who’d you get?” was the most common phrase spoken between my friends and I. There was always someone to get excited about, even if it was only because you knew a card could be used as trade ammunition with a friend.

I spent the majority of my summers riding my bike, doing chores around the house, and then spending my allowance money on baseball cards. I would build entire cardboard teams. My friends were all interested in cards but I was different, even then. I was too serious about my collection. I had the cards all in binders, in pocket pages, organized by team and position. I loved the Topps cards. That fake wood background! Come on, how could you not love that? My goal was to have every card Topps made. All of my spare money and time went into collecting.

As we all got older, my friends lost interest. They moved on to other things like cars, girls, music, or something else. Not me, though. Trading card companies were booming, adding different series of cards and glossier, better-quality photos. So I stayed interested in them. I kept adding to my collection. I needed more and more pocket pages to add to my ever growing collection of binders. My parents, I think, started to get a little alarmed, but they never outright discouraged me from collecting.

I didn’t go far for college and majored in business. I worked, and between the hours there and the cost, financially and time-wise, for school, I did not have a lot of time or money to add to my collection. I think everyone thought I had finally let go of my “childish” hobby. Until I went to my first trade show one summer and made over $300 dollars selling cards. My parents couldn’t believe it—although whether it was the amount of money or the fact that I had to part with some cards to get it is still unclear. I went to a few more trade shows during breaks in school, buying and selling cards, until I graduated college.

Then I graduated, and everyone was curious to see what I would do with this great new degree I had in my hand. I am not sure why they expected anything other than me opening my own card shop, which is what I promptly did. I’ve been doing this for awhile now and I can honestly say that I love my job. I’ve expanded into trading cards for other sports and memorabilia as well. I don’t mind going to games and getting stuff signed “for work” at signing events. I can’t think of a better way to spend a day.

So that’s the story of my collection. How about yours?

How to Store and Display Your Collection

There are so many ways that you can show off your baseball cards, ranging from fairly cheap in price to very costly. It depends on your budget, the size of your collection, and how you want to display everything.

The most budget friendly (and also inefficient) wayto store your cards would be to put them in boxes. It works for the casual hobbyist and young collector alike. Most people who choose this route pick it because it is easy. It will protect your cards from damaging UV rays and some other pesky elements, but it isn’t really displaying them. So if you would like to brag about your collection or have it organized in some way, this is not a viable option for you.

Another low cost option that takes up minimal space is a binder (or binders) with pocket pages. The front and back of the card remain visible, the cards are still protected by the light (as long as you don’t get a transparent binder), and your collection can be organized any way you wish. When you run out of pocket pages, you can easily and cheaply get more. Run out of binder space and you can pick up another. I liked this method as a kid because it was easy to set up, easy to bring with me everywhere I went, and the cost fit well within the confines of my allowance. The drawbacks to this method are that it isn’t really foolproof—you can damage the cards just putting them in, bending the corners or accidentally creasing a card. Also, because the pocket pages are not completely sealed, they are not totally protected from liquids or other damage. Also, the portability factor can be a liability if, say, you forget your collection on a bus or at a convention. Yes, I am bringing that up because I’ve done it. Luckily it was before my collection was really worth anything and it wasn’t everything I had, but it still sucked. The cards also aren’t really on display like this. As your collection grows, you also need room to store the binders, whether it be in a bookcase, on shelves, or in a closet.

My other two ideas are more for the collector who wants their cards out on display. Single card displays are a choice if you have a breakfront, curio cabinet, or bookcase you can use to showcase your collection. These card displays are often made from hard plastic, are sealed, and are easily displayable. Especially if you have any cards that are autographed, be sure to get a case that offers UV protection. Put the display away from direct sunlight and heat to keep the cards looking great no matter what display you put them in. I have a lot of the shop cards in these under glass. It makes it easy to show a single card to a potential buyer, and the cards always look good displayed this way. It can be costly to put every card you own in one of these depending on the size of your collection, however.

An option for those of you with a lot of cards, if you have the money and the wall space, are wall-mounted display cases. Good cases are expensive, and the more cards you have the more you will shell out to give them a good home (and the more wall space you will need to mount them to). There are some monster sized ones that can hold 200 cards, and much smaller ones for a few of your favorites. They typically sell these as graded or non-graded, so pay attention to what you are ordering.  I have one of these at home so that I can keep a small collection of my most treasured cards in sight.

Hopefully, this will inspire you to think outside of the box for your own collection of cards!