Ramblings: Money Makes the World, the Hobby…and the Chiropractor…Go Round

by Rich Klein

I have a great chiropractor. His name is Dr Trace Alexander and his office is on the west side of Plano, Texas.  He was actually the first person to figure out the form of arthritis I have and prescribe the proper treatment. He is also not a quack as he is currently studying to become a Physician’s Assistant. He also has two lovely and charming daughters (age 7 and 9) who bring his lunch or snacks every Saturday while he is working.  Last Saturday, the oldest of the two daughters asked the assistant who sits in the front office, “How much has my daddy made today?”  Those who heard that question had such a good laugh because we had just witnessed a perfect example of the old adage about “out of the mouths of babes”.

In addition to Dr. Moneybags, er Dr. Alexander, having a new nickname, I also started thinking about the role of money in this hobby. While books have been written about that subject over the years, it also led me to think about a few hobby vignettes about past and present.

One of my favorite hobby stories involves long-time dealer Rick Hamilton.  As the story goes, there  was a card show a while back at which Rich was beaming, saying this was the best one he’d ever done.  He had made more money than ever before and was generally enjoying life.  He was, at least, until his wife arrived. Then all of a sudden he was telling her it was the worst show he had ever done and he was hoping to have enough money to take her to dinner. Well, Rick, I hope you took your wife to a really good dinner that night with all the money you had hidden away!

Another vignette involves how tough it is to trade local sludge for local sludge. Way back in the day, when we had fewer sets and hobby life was easier, trading your hard to move stars who played for teams in other parts of the country for players from your area was a good way to make money for all sides.

You could sell local players for a premium at your shows or stores and were able to unload unwanted cards. I still do that type of trading to this very day but it is very difficult. I had two of my long time trading partners pass away, and I also have had people who have claimed they did not even have enough money to ship cards. I have actually had three team traders (the type of trading I do) tell me they were dropping out because of a lack of funds  (please note, I am always interested in that time of team trading and please feel free to email me at [email protected] if interested).

One of the reasons local team trading is also difficult is that for most boxes purchased, the collector currently ends up at a loss, thus you have to have either very deep pockets or a good job to keep buying cards. Or the other option is to consistently flip cards for small profits to keep you in the game.

The third aspect is the standard “How much is this worth?”  Last Friday night, I was gong to be the board member on the bima (a platform in a synagogue holding the reading) to make the announcements of upcoming events and be a representative.  However, our “Sisterhood” or “Ladies Club” Shabbat Service was taking place and as such there was no room for me.  As I was heading for the door, our rabbi saw me and asked where I was going.   I explained and his answer was, “NCAA tournament is fine but you’re here and you really think God wants you to leave?”

Well, there are certain arguments I can never win (think wife, mother-in-law) but if you think I’m going to argue with God, you are crazier than I was in my younger days. After services, one of the members starting asking me about a Jackie Robinson piece he had. After chatting for a few minutes, I realized that the item was probably issued in 1997 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Robinson breaking the color barrier After some quick internet search, I discovered that his item was produced by the US Mint in 1997 (that much he had told me) and the current eBay Buy it Now price ranges from $750-800.  I love it when you are able to tell a person his or her item is a really nice piece.

The exact opposite was a standard question I got at Beckett at least once a week for 15 years.  That was usually something like “I have a Honus Wagner T206 card.  How much is it worth?”

My standard answer was to tell the caller to look at the back of the card where inevitably, the answer would go something like “The text on the back says ‘this card is worth between $100-200,000”.

Usually that information was sufficient to explain to the hopeful collector their item was really worth about a quarter. Only once did the person actually have a real Wagner.

The fourth and final point to bring up is that our interest in pricing as a hobby whole is the reason why Beckett is continuing to survive at or above the levels they were at when I left after my last contract ended in 2009 and F&W Publications (formerly Krause) is having problems.

F&W had one great asset, the Standard Catalog, and over the last couple of years they have fired their entire price guide staff covering all sports and Bob Lemke publicly announced that he was no longer involved. The proof of that pudding came in a recent promotional email I received in which the last two Standard Catalogs (2011 and 2012) were available at $14.99 each. Couple of things: if you have not picked up those books, I strongly urge any interested collector to buy them at that price

In addition, the editor of Sports Collectors Digest recently posted on the post-war section of the Net 54 message boards about doing a book about food issues. Now I might be someone who would purchase such a book but I know I’m in a small minority and could not see any way for that book to be truly profitable. In my opinion only, if F&W were smart in terms of the sports hobby they would hire one person to price modern baseball full time, get a person to do the vintage material on a contract basis and publish a comprehensive Standard Catalog each year. Do that, and you might have a chance to compete with Beckett for the card hobby print and on-line cataloguing market.

In a future column we will discuss prospecting then and now and how that has changed as well..

And whoever is lucky enough to marry Dr. Alexander’s daughter in the future, just remember she will always be interested in your pay check and there is nothing wrong with anyone knowing how to keep finances going.

Long-time hobbyist and former Beckett Price Guide Analyst Rich Klein can be reached at [email protected]