Rich Klein: When it Comes to Pricing, Nothing’s Exact

This week, one of the iconic voices of my youth passed on. Radio talk show host Bob Grant had an abrasive on-air personality and while I did not always agree with him politically, I learned a lot about human relations from listening to him. The most important lesson I ever learned from listening to Grant was in August 1974 when we were approaching the final days of the Nixon presidency. Even after the “smoking gun” tapes came out, approximately 25 percent of his listeners still supported Richard Nixon although it was obvious at that time Nixon had done many wrong things as part of the Watergate cover up.

Richs Ramblings From that experience I learned that no matter how factually correct some things are, there will always be a faction of people who will take an opposite viewpoint. Casey Stengel once famously said about managing a baseball team something like “There are 15 position players on each team, five will love you, five will hate you and five are on the fence. Your job is to keep the five on the fence from joining the five that hate you.”

Why are we talking about differences of opinion?   Well, when I was reading the COMC blog comments after the December 31 announcement that COMC and Beckett would no longer be pairing up on checklists and pricing, there was an active and interesting thread about what COMC should or should not do.

One of my favorite hobby quotes come from my good friend Levi Bleam of 707 Sports Cards. Levi once said: “The biggest problem with Beckett vintage pricing is you are too high on 90 percent of your cards and too low on 10 percent of your cards.” Levi did not mean that as an insult in any way. What he was really saying is in most vintage sets there are always a few tough cards which sell for significantly more than you would think they should go for and the rest you are lucky to sell at any price.

1967 Topps 592Back in my dealing days in the 1980’s that included many of the 1967 Topps high number single prints including players such as Sandy Alomar and the Don Shaw/Gary Sutherland dual rookie card. While Beckett might have listed that card at $3, we were actually asking (and sometimes getting) $20 for those cards.  Sometimes my customers would complain and quote the price guide number. One question I learned to ask them was “How long have you been looking for that card?”  When the response was more than a year, which actually popped up frequently, my response was always, “Well, that’s why it’s priced where it is. We know it’s a tough card and you know you have been looking a while.”

Sometimes the customers understood and sometimes they kept looking and looking and looking.  The “guide” wasn’t always reflective of the laws of supply and demand.

So, for COMC, their challenge becomes how to please the greatest amount of the client and dealer base without driving away a share of their audience as they develop their own pricing data base. As long as Tim, Julia and the COMC team understands they cannot please everyone, then the issue of the final 25 percent of their customers is really a non-issue. We knew at Beckett we could not please everyone with our pricing because collectors almost always wanted lower prices while dealers almost always wanted higher prices. Card pricing is a moving target and these days there is more to the market then just COMC, eBay, Amazon and retail sales through a Beckett Marketplace or through all the other methods available. There are tons of selling methods and whenever I see a collector post about eBay is the real marketplace, I’m reminded that while eBay is a very important barometer, it isn’t everything.  For pricing, there will always be a group who believes their way is the only way to use and our job is, just as it was at Beckett, is to understand that there is a mix involved in pricing cards and no matter what someone else says is the best way, at least 25 percent of all hobbyists will disagree with you.

Thus, although the lesson came from a painful time in American history, Bob Grant was correct and as long as we use his theorem for baseball cards, we can all continue to agree to disagree as it comes to pricing.

Rich Klein can be reached at [email protected]


  1. […] recently discussed a quote from Levi Bleam of 707 Sportscards about why back in the day, Beckett pricing for vintage cards was not accurate as […]