There are literally millions of them offered for sale each month but if you prefer vintage cardboard to modern and shiny, knowing how to buy old baseball cards cheap can help you build a great collection of single players or sets without paying millions to do it.
Of course, the general rules are (with some exceptions) 1) the older the card, the more valuable; 2) condition plays a huge factor in price; 3) the more popular the player, the more expensive the card and the more competition for it and 4) the harder it is to find a specific card in a better grade, the more it may cost.
Here are a few simple rules to keep in mind if you’re trying to add nice cards to your collection without spending a lot:
Don’t let a ‘technical grade’ stand in the way of a purchase. The best judge of whether a card is worthy of your attention is you. If a card has a hairline crease that can’t be seen unless you turn it at an angle or bring it into the sun, don’t worry about it. No one’s going to shame you for it. If a card has a wax build up on the front, you can use a nylon stocking to rub it off. If a pre-World War II card was stuck lightly in a scrapbook and some of the back has come off with the removal but it didn’t affect the text on the back and the front looks good, enjoy it. Don’t obsess over what someone did 80 years ago when it wasn’t worth anything.
Shop for graded cards but look for lower grades. Professional grading standards are generally more strict than what others may go by. There are many, many cards with grades of 6 or less that appear almost near mint or ex/nm (and are often called that when they’re not in a slab). Again, “eye appeal” is often just as important if you’re buying for your own collection. When browsing graded cards listings, look for nicely centered cards and read descriptions to see why a card that looks really nice didn’t grade higher.
Look for cards at auction with low minimum bids. The idea on eBay is that starting a card at a low minimum bid will attract a lot of buyers who hope to steal it cheap but instead move the price slowly upward. That doesn’t always happen. Some cards that begin at .99, sell for that—or not much above that amount– because only two or three people wound up bidding. Often, a card that carries a fixed price of $2-5 will sell first because buyers don’t always want to wait for a seven or ten-day auction to end. You can see listings currently at 99 cents or less here.
Buy lots. Collectors of vintage cards usually fall into a few distinct groups: those who collect single players, those who chase Hall of Famers, folks who collect players only from certain teams and those who collect sets. None of them are heavily prone to buying lots, except maybe those who build sets completely from scratch.
That’s not to say all lots sold on eBay are cheap. A good lot of vintage cards will attract some action but if you read the description carefully and see more valuable cards in a lot than just commons, it’s wise to consider a purchase. Sometimes lots like these will sell for far less than you’d pay buying cards one at a time. If you wind up with duplicates, just flip them to another buyer. Sometimes lots will surrender unexpected surprises, too.
Study dealer pricing. Whether you’re on eBay, COMC, Amazon or some other site, it’s a fact that some dealers simply offer cards at lower fixed prices on a consistent basis. Volume sellers are willing to work on shorter margins. If you see a dealer with cards you like and see them priced lower than most, you’d do well to establish a relationship, even get on a mailing list so that when the seller has a sale or offers new stock, you’re among the first to know.