When most people sell their collections, it’s done anonymously. Cards with former forever homes exchange hands, and the stories behind their provenance, if they are ever told, stay between buyer and seller.
Chasing Cardboard, a film series on YouTube, has been documenting the sales of everyday collections, unknown hoards and telling the stories about the people who own them. While the shows reveal some remarkable stashes of trading cards, the stories behind them are sometimes just as good. In one episode, a father sells his collection to pay for medical costs for his son. In another, a father reveals he created a side business to help pay for his son’s cancer treatments.
It’s a situation anyone can sympathize with, which might bring introspection to a collector about their purpose. It’s what host Ty Wilson and producer Matt Coleman had in mind when they started the series late last year.
Wilson travels the country, hoping to strike deals for private collections, with Coleman filming every step of the way. The deals are often large. Wilson bought six million cards in one trip, sorting through hundreds of boxes for hidden gems. In another, he packs up 7,000 boxes of unopened product on consignment that takes all day and night to catalog and transport to the owner of a shop in Las Vegas.
Wilson and Coleman celebrated the first anniversary of their show on Dec. 4. So far, they’ve shot and aired 14 full episodes, most running 25-35 minutes. Nearly all have between 30,000 and 70,000 views to date. The Chasing Cardboard channel has over 17,000 subscribers.
Coleman, a video producer, had forgotten about his old collection until the COVID-19 lockdowns. With production jobs on hold, Coleman came upon his cars after rummaging through his attic. The discovery inspired his own video series about people in the card hobby. His work was well-received, but it drew a relatively small number of views. That changed when a guest introduced him to Wilson, a collector for more than 20 years, who had been making hobby video content through Bench Clear Media since 2015.
Coleman, whose favorite show is American Pickers, had a concept for a traveling card show in the same vein as the History Channel’s popular show. He pitched the idea to Wilson, who agreed to be involved.
“We had no idea what the show would look like,” Coleman says. “At first, we thought we’d pull into town and start knocking on doors. We never went that route, but we started going to antique shops.”
Those antique store trips had been a staple of the show. But the focus shifted to home visits where viewers could get a feel for the larger collections that were in the hands of those who had built them.
Coleman and Wilson wanted to do a card-centric show emphasizing storytelling. The cards are the reason for the show, but it’s the people who are at the heart of it.
It’s a process that takes months of preparation, execution, and delivery.
Scouting a location begins with posting “cards wanted” advertisements on social media sites like Facebook and Craigslist. When replies come in, Wilson filters through them. Once a city has enough potential deals, Wilson and Coleman plan the trip.
Coleman and Wilson met in person for the first time while filming an episode in Texas. Wilson visits several antique shops dropping some tidbits on what to look for. On a home visit that doesn’t yield a deal, the collector connects Wilson with another person looking to sell their collection.
The networking allowed Wilson to buy a collection for $20,000, and as he says in the episode, “there was a lot of things I know really well, there were a lot of things obscure enough for me to take a chance on, and there were a lot of things that were sure bets.”
Much of the episode seemed like a spontaneous adventure – and in many ways, it is – but in so many other ways, it isn’t. Filming involves three cameras; one mounted in their vehicle, another in Coleman’s hands, and a third that is usually fixed on a tripod.
Editing each episode takes about a week. It also involves back and forth between Wilson and Coleman to find the right balance between highlighting the cool cards and the storytelling. Coleman’s 20-plus years of experience have helped create a flow for each episode.
“The amount of work that Matt puts into producing each episode,” Wilson says, “that type of stuff seems to go unnoticed. We’ve learned a lot of how these episodes need to flow from trial and error. Just like anything, you learn from your mistakes.”
Sales and Sponsors
Then there was the cost. Coleman and Wilson started without a budget in mind. Their only goal was to get good content and make a few episodes. But after the first few trips, they had spent tens of thousands of dollars of their personal funds.
Production costs were also covered by selling the collections they picked up on the show. Wilson’s experience on YouTube through Bench Clear Media gave him an advantage in working with the YouTube algorithm to attract viewers. Collectors found the show but so did curious YouTube users who stumbled across it and became hooked on a show that had the production values of the similar kind of treasure hunting shows they’d seen on TV. Within a few episodes, corporate interests started reaching out.
Today, Chasing Cardboard counts SGC, Loupe, and eBay among its sponsors. The backing has allowed Wilson to leave his job in software to work on Chasing Cardboard full-time.
Wilson’s network is another advantage he has as a buyer and seller when he takes cards on consignment. eBay is a big selling source (you can check out some of the cards they’ve listed here) and also doubles as a Rolodex. With his connections in the hobby, Wilson has a good idea of who’s looking for what.
“Consignments are a lot of work,” Wilson says. “We work hard to get the collections’ top cards graded to bring the best value. We provide weekly feedback and reports to our families consigning with us. Communication is so important in this crazy card market.”
Wilson and Coleman say they’ve seen some incredible collections in the past year. In episode number 13 Coleman and co-host Mike Moynihan come across a haul of vintage cards left behind by a family patriarch in West Virginia.
The sets of T206 cards and 1950 Bowmans would excite any collector. But Wilson and Coleman highlight the man behind the collection, recently deceased, and the impact his spirit for the hobby had on the family. The episode is as much a tribute to one man’s love for collecting as it is for the cards he left behind.
Some episodes have been hobby adventures with a mix of wheeling and dealing. But often, the shows delve into personal stories about cancer battles and health scares – and it’s in that space where the show shines brightest.
“The cards are cool,” Coleman says. “But the stories are so important.”
Growing the Channel
As the channel grows and more companies express interest in becoming sponsors, Coleman and Wilson’s priority is maintaining creative freedom. Some production companies have expressed interest in buying the rights to Chasing Cardboard. For the time being, the co-creators are content controlling their schedules and content.
Coleman and Wilson are also in a perpetual state of improving the show.
“How can we be more than a show where we go out and buy cards?” Wilson says of his thought process for the show’s future. “It’s easy to get distracted by cards or the episode’s production. We’re growing and learning from each episode. I think we’ve just scratched the surface.”