Vintage Baseball Cards Sometimes a Numbers Game

Colorado dealer knows sometimes Gates Brown IS better than Mickey Mantle

Kyle Boetel never misses a major show, especially not the National.

"This is the no brainer. You could have your table location in the bathroom or the back of the concession stand and still have a good show."

Boetel knows the big shows attract the collectors who are his best customers. They’re looking for high grade vintage cards and they know chances are he’ll have what they’re looking for. But don’t expect to snatch up a card everyone else is looking for and come away with a steal. More than likely, he knows more than you do.

"I spend a lot of time monitoring closed sales on eBay for the years I specialize in..the 1950s and 60s. I know which cards to watch for and bid on to a certain level to see if I can maybe buy it at a wholesale price."

Boetel specializes in three things: "We deal in ‘dead player’ autographs, modern day autographs on baseball cards and high quality vintage cards." Visit his table, though, and you’ll see it’s the ‘so clean you can eat off of them’ vintage cards that sit in first class. His customers are those willing to pay what it takes to have the finest ‘raw’ sets and those who buy his cards and have them graded.

Boetel doesn’t grade a lot of cards, but he knows the card market inside and out. "Because of the PSA Set Registry, you’ve got guys working on sets in PSA 8 and better so they can brag about being #1 or #2 in the Registry. That’s fed a lot of interest toward vintage cards. They’ll pay you $400-500 for a certain Vic Davalillo but they may not pay you that for a Mickey Mantle because the Davalillo is much harder to find in high grade."

Boetel sells to many members of the grading companies’ set registries and watches the price of common cards once thought to be worth only a dollar or two soar into three and four figures on eBay. "You’ve got 50 or 60 guys working on that set in graded form and maybe only 5 of them have located that key card so when one becomes available you’ve got all of those guys bidding on it."

Boetel believes the set registries have exposed which cards are truly rare in high grade form and it’s not just the most sought-after names. "The star cards are leveling off in value because many have been submitted for grading and a lot of people have them already," he told Sports Collectors Daily at the Anaheim National. "It’s probably a good time to be a buyer of stars and not a good time to buy certain commons."

"That’s the general trend of the vintage card market. The trickle down is that you’ve got guys scouring raw card lots trying to find those low population commons so they can grade them and be the one that gets the one Gates Brown that’s a PSA 10." We sell commons that might normally book at $5 for $105 because of scarcity. That’s been the biggest change in the marketplace. As time goes on, people understand that and won’t pay as much attention to the price as they do the card itself."

Dealers often search the show tables before the doors open, hoping to find ungraded bargains. He’ll do that but his knowledge of the vintage card market usually keeps him from losing the game. "My theory is always if I’m trying to be a retailer I have to price my stuff not to be a wholesaler so my knowledge of what to price retail-wise keeps the dealer from buying on the wholesale level and turning around and making all all the money on the card."

The market is constantly changing with one set or card becoming popular almost overnight as a few collectors chase the same item. "It’s odd. A card may not surface for a couple of years, then goes for $1000. A dealer sees it sell at that price and says ‘Hey, I’ve got one fo those’. Theirs goes up on eBay seven days later and sells for $500. Another guy sells one and it goes for $300. I’m the guy that’s in there at the $300 level and then waits three years for another one to surface when there are 10 more guys working on the set and all of a sudden the price is back up to $1000."