Have some old baseball cards? Here’s what to know before you try to sell

(NEXSTAR) – During the pandemic, many have found time to return to hobbies that they may have previously lost. Others had extra cash in their pockets thanks to the stimulus checks.

While some put that time and money in the housing market, others put it in another equally hot market — the trading card market. At times, the market has been so hot and demand so great that retailers like Target have had to restrict access to its trading card division.

In the first half of 2021 alone, eBay reports that its site has seen $2 billion in trading card transactions, with an average of one sports trading card being purchased every second.

“In the last three years, our industry has literally exploded. A lot more people have gotten into the sports collecting industry,” Mike Provenzale, production manager at Heritage Auctions, told Nexstar.

For those who have already found themselves with sports trading cards in hand, you may be wondering, now what?

where to look

First of all, it is important to note the authenticity of the item. Although thousands of cards have been printed, many are actually reprints of no value.

A T206 Honus Wagner baseball card is displayed June 6, 2000 in New York City. (Photo by Chris Hondros/Newsmakers via Getty)

Provenzale points to the industry’s most famous card – the T206 Honus Wagner card, which is believed to only have 60 in existence. One recently sold for more than $6.6 million, becoming the most expensive trading card of all time.

A few decades after the original map was printed, a company made a reprint. While the front of both cards look almost identical, the back of the reprint is the legacy story behind the T206 card. According to Provenzale, it’s quite common for collectors to think they have an original T206 when in fact it’s a reprint.

In addition to authenticity, the card’s grade can affect its value. Condition accounts for about half of the grade—this includes whether the card is perfectly centered, whether the corners are sharp, and whether the card has any other imperfections. The slightest mistake or damage to the card can have a big impact on the grade.

Cards are rated on a 10-point scale ranging from Gem Mint to Poor. Under the PSA grading scale, a standard industry grading scale, a Gem Mint 10-point card has perfect corners, no smudges, and a perfectly centered image. Just a minor blemish – like a slight wax stain on the back or discoloration of the edges – lets the card fall on Mint 9.

Dropping a whole point has an “exponential effect on the value” of the card, Provenzale explains.

What is – and what is not – valuable

One thing sports fans have in common — getting things signed — can impact the value of your card or memorabilia, and not always in the best ways.

“Every time an athlete signs their name, they’re basically invalidating their autograph because now there’s more autographs in greater abundance,” Provenzale said. “And over the past 30 years, many players, whether retired or active, have hosted multiple autograph shows where they go out every weekend and sign thousands and thousands of autographs. So people get an autograph from even a living Hall of Famer and think it’s worth thousands of dollars, but rarity is an important factor in any collectible.”

While a lack of rarity has often lowered the value of trading cards, particularly those released during a period of mass production in the 1980s and ’90s, Provenzale says the tide is changing.

As more and more people have entered the industry, they have been looking for cards from their youth, mostly from the 80’s and 90’s. Cards from this era, sometimes referred to as the “Junk Wax Era,” were “essentially worthless” until recently.

If you come across a card that you think is valuable, you should keep it as safe as possible, Provenzale said. “If you think you have something of value, you should treat it that way until you are sure it is or isn’t.”

What now?

Overall, Provenzale says prices for the industry are very high now. Items such as match tickets, programmes, magazines and original photos have even become popular in recent years.

A ticket to a 1969 game between the New York Mets and the Montreal Expos – when Hall of Famer Nolan Ryan made his first save – had a bid of $1,125 on eBay Tuesday night. One of the seven known ticket stubs from Jackie Robinson’s major league debut in 1947 recently sold for $480,000 through Heritage Auctions.

Regardless of what you have – from a T206 Honus Wagner to a ticket stub – do your research to find its value. Experts at your local card shop or sports memorabilia store can help you value your item, as can experts at auction houses such as Heritage Auctions.

However, be careful where you sell. Some stores may offer you less than the value of the card in order to make a profit. Other outlets, like auction houses, where the percentage they keep depends on how much your card or item sells. Online retailers like eBay that have their own proof of authenticity service will work the same way.

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