Buying Vintage Sports Cards for Resale

A few basics for turning your hobby into a profit-making endeavor.

by Mike Stack

Buying vintage cards for resale can be a profitable proposition if one knows what to look for. It’s not necessary to be a dealer or shop owner to make significant amounts of money by investing some time and utilizing your knowledge of old baseball cards. There are many different angles to take for making money buying and selling cards is your goal. When you can buy a card for less than it is worth and set it for a quick profit, you can use the money to build your own collection more quickly. “Flipping” is a term you’ll hear tossed around by those who make a habit of it.

One key to making money buying and selling cards is to use the baseball card grading services like PSA, SGC or GAI. Many dealers and collectors only have their star cards sent for grading. That means you can often find top condition cards of many common players and small stars in ungraded or “raw” form. The value of these cards can be increased greatly when graded. Some very advanced collectors with large amounts of money try to put together sets in the best possible condition and place their sets in public view on the grading companies’ set registries. Competition is fierce for high grade cards that will push a set higher on the registry.

About five years ago, I met a dealer at a show who was selling a large amount of mint 1968 and 1969 Topps commons for $1 each. I picked out and purchased 100 cards that were perfectly centered and had sharp corners. My plan was to check the PSA population report and send the rare ones for grading. PSA does a population report that tells all of the members just how many of each individual card have achieved each grade rank. Most of the cards I purchased were very common and I resold them on eBay for basically what I paid for them. Two however were quite rare. The 1968 Bob Veale and 1969 Billy Martin cards each had a population of fewer than five issues in PSA 9 or better condition. I was sure these cards would grade MINT 9 or GEM MINT 10 so I sent them to PSA for grading. Both came back graded PSA 9 along with a bill of $50 for grading cost. I proceeded to put both of them on eBay where they sold for $675 total, a healthy return on my $52 investment. I have since repeated this process with positive results on many occasions. These are many opportunities to do the same at sports card shows throughout the country.

A second way you can use baseball card grading to your advantage is in the area of cards with qualifiers for centering. When you send a card to PSA they deal with centering in two different ways depending on your desires. If you do not want a qualifier they will knock the overall grade of the card down if it is off-center. A MINT 9 card for instance may be graded a NEAR MINT 7 if was cut sufficiently off the center line. If you don’t specify ‘no qualifiers’ on the submission form, the card may be graded PSA 9 MINT (OC) instead of PSA 7. I’ve found the card with the qualifier will sell for a bit more than the card with the lower numerical grade. You can buy cards and have them regraded and sell them for profit.

If you want to bypass grading companies there are other way to make money buying and selling old baseball cards. You will need to have excellent negotiating skills to make the deal profitable. There are usually two kinds of dealers you will encounter at card shows. Some are regulars that move from show to show and city to city displaying their wares. Most are in no hurry to sell their products because they know eventually they will receive their asking price. Other dealers are part-time dealers or even collectors who have decided to liquidate their collection to make a major purchase or retire debts. Talk with dealers as you walk a show and seek out those who are willing to sell their cards for less. When you find one be prepared to spend a large amount of money. Many dealers are more than willing to negotiate with a buyer who has large amounts of cash he is willing to drop at one time.

The final area you can profit buying vintage cards is eBay. Look for listings with poor pictures or those that end at inconvenient times. I have bought many cards from auctions ending in the middle of the night and sold the exact same cards for profit by ending them on Sunday early evening.