The Ultimate Beginners Guide to Collecting Baseballs Cards
According to analysts, the sports trading cart market is expected to hit $98.75 billion by 2027.
As we speak, collecting trading cards of all different kinds is making a huge resurgence and is even becoming a popular investment opportunity for many people.
But another bigger, more obvious reason why people are getting back into collecting baseball cards — it's incredibly fun and nostalgic. Ever since the first-ever sports cards came with tobacco products, it's taken America by storm.
Are you looking to get into the hobby of collecting cards? We'll tell you everything you need to know in this article.
The History of Baseball Cards
Baseball cards have been around ever since the late 1880s.
The first cards were put into tobacco products as a way to increase low sales. The most famous baseball card from the tobacco issue is the 1909-11 T206 Honus Wagner card (it sold for $6.606 million in 2021).
As the story goes, Honus Wagner (an eight-time National League batting title winner and shortstop for the Pittsburgh Pirates) didn't even smoke or chew tobacco. He didn't want his face on a tobacco product, so it was quickly pulled from circulation, which is why it's so rare.
But before it could get pulled, around 70 of his cards were put into packs and sold. Today, there are less than 40 1909-11 Wagner T206 cards in existence and is known as the "Holy Grail" of baseball cards.
Since then, companies like Goodwin & Company have stuck baseball cards in cigarette packs, National Chicle Co. and Goudey Gum Company sold a card with a slab of bubble gum for just a penny.
Today, companies like Topps, Leaf, Fleer, Donruss, Upper Deck, and Bowman dominate the trading card market. One of the most popular baseball cards of all time is Topps' Mickey Mantle #311 card.
How To Start Your Card Collection
Before you get started creating your collection, it always helps to do a little research beforehand. This will help you decide what kind of cards you want to buy and what kind of cards are available.
You can go check out listings on eBay and join blogs, websites, or social media platforms that showcase sports cards.
Now, if you used to collect cards as a kid and are returning to the hobby as an adult, know that the game has changed since then.
Back then, it was pretty easy to get your hands on cards. Most convenience stores had cheap packs of sports cards that were super accessible. Nowadays, it isn't as easy.
Cards are still being produced at a high rate, but they're much harder to come by now. Prime brands are almost impossible to find in retail stores. This means a lot of your shopping will happen online.
A couple of places you can check out are the manufacturers' websites, dedicated online card retailers, or secondary markets like eBay.
With that said, it is still possible to find cards at retail stores like Target or Walmart or at hobby shops.
Types of Cards
Now let's get to the fun stuff. When you start collecting baseball cards, there are several different types of cards that affect their rarity and value.
In most cases, a player's rookie card is the most valuable and desired card. People love these because they depict players in their very first year as a professional in a major set.
When you start seeing superstar players play 5, 10, 15, or even 20 years in a league, you can see why collecting cards from that one year before people even knew they would be good is worth a lot.
It already gives it a higher level of scarcity, seeing as how professionals can't play for more than one year.
Back in the day, when there weren't as many different cards out there, a professional might only have a single rookie card. But now, with so many companies and sets being produced, a player can have dozens of rookie cards.
Nowadays, popular brands will include an "RC" logo on their cards to let people know it's a rookie card. If you snag a rookie card, make sure to hold on to it. It could appreciate based on how that player turns out in the real world!
Base cards are the "backbone" of any set of cards. They're just the regular cards that make up the collection.
Parallel cards are a serial-numbered version of a base card. That means they only have a set number of times that they print that card in a year. It may look similar to the base version with a small difference such as a different border, color, holographic, etc.
This adds to the scarcity of the card and raises its value.
Subsets are a completely different set that is put into regular packs of cards. They usually have different designs than the base or parallel cards and are numbered. You can check out some awesome "modern era" vintage Topps subsets here.
An insert is a card within a subset. You can usually tell what they are by a foil serial number somewhere on the card. For example, if it says that it was printed 75 times, it might have a foil 29/75 that shows it was the 29th card produced in that set.
One fun and challenging way to collect cards is by completing sets of cards or purchasing complete sets.
If you opt to buy a complete set, they're much more likely to be older sets, as newer complete sets are much harder to come by (and thus, much more expensive).
The price, of course, depends on the quality of the cards within the set. The more valuable the contents, the more expensive they will be. That said, it also might be a great way to snag a deal.
If you're just looking for a rare card or two, it might even be cheaper to buy the whole set.
Another form of card collection comes in unopened packs. You've probably seen the value of nostalgic toys or foods collected in their original packaging — this is quite similar.
Unopened packs have a sense of mystery that people enjoy. The packaging brings an amazing sense of nostalgia as well.
These packs can range anywhere from a couple of dollars to thousands of dollars, depending on how old it is and the chance of rare cards being contained inside.
Sealed Wax refers to unopened boxes that are still in their plastic wrapping. Boxes typically contain several packs inside. Some people collect these the same way they collect unopened packs.
There aren't all the cards available. Others include:
- Memorabilia cards
- Autographed cards
- Digital cards
- Relic cards
- and more
Buying packs with the mystery and chance of holding one of these rare cards is part of the excitement and joy of collecting baseball cards.
Value Factors of Sports Cards
Once you start building up your collection, what determines how much it's worth? Why are some cards wanted more than others?
Let's look at a few reasons here.
Mostly, the value of cards comes down to supply and demand. The more popular a player is, the more people are going to want their card.
You might have a rare card, but if it's a rare card of someone no one cares about, it certainly won't be worth as much as its popular counterpart. For example, if you have a Barry Bonds rookie card, it will surely be worth more than an unknown rookie card in the same set.
And like in the real world, offensive players typically get more shine than defensive players do in the trading card world.
Although the term "vintage" is pretty relative (especially depending on the sport that you're collecting cards in), baseball cards made before the 1970s typically fall under this category.
Again, keeping scarcity in mind as a huge factor in card worth, it makes sense that vintage cards are worth more. The older the card, the higher the chance they've been lost or damaged over the years.
Remember the Honus Wagner story? It's the most sought-after baseball card in history — all because he didn't want his face printed on tobacco products.
This doesn't mean modern cards aren't valuable. Again, it all comes down to supply and demand.
Another thing to note is that players of cards that are still playing in the league still have the chance of their value fluctuating based on their performance. It's almost like stock.
If they play badly, their card value might decrease. On the other hand, if they play amazingly and start winning championships, their value can go through the roof.
The condition of the card is another very important factor that can have a huge effect on the value of that card. There are typically three kinds of defects that people look at when grading a card.
First, they'll look to see if there were any defects from when the card was printed. This could be because of printing lines causing discoloration or other faults.
Next, they'll look to see if there are defects with how the card was cut. When cards are created, they're typically printed onto large sheets and then cut down to make separate cards. Mistakes in cutting cards can lead to jagged edges or cards that are off-center.
Although these kinds of defects aren't very noticeable, they can lower the value of a card drastically.
Lastly, they'll take a look at the most common kind of defect — damage that has happened after leaving its pack.
Cards can get ripped or torn, folded, creased, or water damaged. That's why serious card collectors will handle their cards with care and use protective equipment for their collections (more on this below).
This is the process of sending a card or collection to an independent auditing company that will give your card a grade based on all of the factors we mentioned above.
They'll typically rate them on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest mint condition you can get. After grading it, they'll place the card in a thick plastic card holder that will preserve it in its condition.
It will also have a label that shows the card, grade, and serial number that you can use to look it up in that company's database. This is a useful tool when buying valuable cards online.
Depending on the grader, they might even give you a popularity report, which shows how many cards out there have the same rating as yours. This will show you how rare that card you're holding is.
The higher the rating, the higher the value of the card. A perfect 10 can even double the price of a 9.
If you want to see the value of your card without getting it graded, however, a great way is to just go on marketplaces and see what sellers are getting for that same card.
What Do You Get Out of Collecting Sports Cards?
There are several sports cards benefits that can get for joining this super fun hobby.
When you start collecting sports cards, you join millions of other people who love doing the same thing. It's exciting to be part of a group of people that share the same passions you do.
Not only is collecting fun, but cards can appreciate in value if you take the time to find good investments and take care of them. And you can actually hold those investments in your hands!
Collecting Keeps You Youthful!
Best of all, collecting is just plain fun. The thrill of the chase and the excitement of finding a rare card and adding it to your collection is one of the best feelings a person can have — and it's not a feeling just for kids.
It's always fun to see an adult collector that's just as giddy about his favorite card as a child is. That feeling never goes away.
Collecting baseball cards is an incredibly fun and uniting hobby that brings people of all ages together around the world.
Although there are people who take card collection very seriously, don't stress too much about the so-called "rules." The beauty of collecting cards is that you make the rules. Do it the way that makes it fun for you.
If you want to start your baseball card collection, come check out our collection of cards today!