Some more notes on recent developments and a few observations surrounding the revelation of altered cards….
*A group of pre-War cards with evidence of “cleaning” and perhaps other alterations has emerged through the research of collectors who’ve been looking into the issue for the last several months. Among them: a 1921 Exhibit Babe Ruth (the first Exhibit card uncovered by the Blowout Cards group); a Sporting Life Honus Wagner cabinet, at least three Ty Cobb cards and an E95 Wagner.
Most of what’s being uncovered involves the use of some sort of cleaning agent or tool to remove decades old stain or glue residue, rather than trimming or color additions. While the card doctor’s work is aimed at making the cards look better in order to potentially receive a better grade and earn the a profit, the truth is those old gems are being ruined when by the noticeable color changes from whatever methods are being used. Typically, the stains and glue remain lightly visible but the cards are no longer in a naturally aged state. The original color has been destroyed.
Few collectors are against efforts to remove dirt and debris with an unobtrusive method, but radically altering the card’s natural appearance is essentially inflicting significant damage.
*I see the word “bleaching” used a lot and it probably shouldn’t be until it’s widely known what tools are being used in the process. It’s become almost a generic term, which makes some sense based on the end result, but it could be a little misleading to those who are new to this whole discussion. A decent authenticator can easily spot the use of strong chemicals because they give off an odor. Better tools for cleaning paper items are being invented all the time, many of which don’t involve odoriferous chemicals and it’s very likely that some of the cards are being treated with them. That makes it much harder for an authenticator to spot an alteration and reject a card that otherwise meets the company’s grading standards.
*There is some discussion about the impact these revelations are having on the market. It’s not possible to say without a deep dive into the prices of specific cards sold during the last couple of months compared to a certain time frame prior to that, but as a whole it seems fairly limited at this point. For every graded card that sells for less money now compared to six months ago, there seems to be another that sells for a record price or at least one commensurate with others that have sold. All you have to do is look at the number of five and six-figure sales in this summer’s auction prices to see the market for what we normally refer to as “high-end” cards, both vintage and current era is still robust.
*Some may still be in the dark but at this point, it’s hard to believe a significant number of folks bidding on cards aren’t now aware of what’s been revealed in the Blowout forum. I attended a smallish monthly show over the weekend. Dealers knew. Collectors knew. It begs the question of whether they really care as long as the card is authenticated. A lot of people in the hobby are definitely aware and some say they’re being more careful when purchasing or bidding.
*Will there be a dip in the market when we get more details from the federal investigation into what’s happened? It’s hard to know for certain. Assuming there are charges filed, what those court documents reveal may impact public confidence. How many card doctors are there? How many cards have they worked on? Has there been widespread shill bidding in addition to the alterations? If raw numbers are quoted, especially with regard to trimmed or recolored cards and the information is widely disseminated, it’s possible there will be a push back. If the investigation starts and ends with only a few perpetrators facing charges and the number of publicly identified cards doesn’t explode there may not be one. The entire story has yet to be written. There is still much we don’t know. There is some we may never know. Collectors will ultimately use their wallets to decide how they feel.
*Keep in mind that whispers of widespread card alterations really aren’t new. Even buyers who have long suspected some of their cards have been “improved” somewhere along the way have never let their suspicion get in the way of their desire to own more cards. Now, cards that are from sets that have been shown by the Blowout detectives to be popular targets for trimming would seem to be the most vulnerable. While the alterations have involved numerous issues, it’s become obvious that late 1940s Leaf baseball and football, early 1950s Berk Ross, some 1950s Parkhurst hockey and Bowman baseball and football, 1951 Ringside boxing and other sets with border size variances were obvious picks by card doctors intent on cutting for profit. It’s reasonable to believe fewer collectors will begin to chase some of those sets now and prices may be impacted.
*Cards with provenance to known “finds” with a corresponding short chain of custody will probably command a market premium. It only makes sense.
*Yes, the alteration issue has pushed some collectors out of the hobby. Others are entering, though, having caught the collecting bug again at the National or from reading something online. It would take a lot of departures for things to change. It’s hard to see any real impact from that end of things happening anytime soon. In fact, I’d probably argue that collector demand is stronger than it has been in years.
*The investigation has a lot of moving parts. This would seem to be among the more complex hobby-related cases. It is much more than a shill bidding scheme or a fake game-worn jersey ring. If previous cases are any measurement, FBI investigators could be pushed onto trails we aren’t even aware of at this point and it may well be a long-running affair with “stacking” traits: a small charge here and another one there, pushed atop each other into something larger.