If you’re one of those people who have been waiting for the crash of high-grade sports card prices, you are still waiting. As summer kicks into high gear, there is no evidence I can see that the market is dropping. In fact, each week seems to bring multiple new record prices. Cards purchased even just a few weeks ago are selling for a higher amount the next time they hit the market.
Cynics will say there must be some price manipulation going on for certain high interest rookie cards to be selling for ten or 20 times what they were just two or three years ago. Truthfully, it would be naïve to think that maybe there is some of that happening but I’m also not convinced that there’s a 30-car pileup on the road ahead.
Here are a few things we know about the impact of ‘new money’ on the hobby.
- True collectors have mixed feelings. If you put together nice quality sets and have them on your shelves at home, it’s kind of nice to know they’re worth more than ever. Even if you don’t have plans to sell, it’s kind of like inheriting some money you weren’t expecting. On the other hand, if you’re still working on some of those sets that require Ruth, Mantle, Mays, Clemente, Koufax, Aaron and the like, you may be coming to the realization that you should have bought those nice, graded examples you passed up in 2010 because they were “too expensive” for your taste and budget.
The current increase in value is no doubt pricing some avid collectors out of the market for high-grade vintage and that’s unfortunate. Where you may have one day hoped to own an 8 or 9, you now buy the 5 or 6—at the former 8 or 9 price. Collectors may have to be happy with fewer complete sets.
- Prices aren’t likely to totally crash. You can wait for the “bubble” to burst, but that may not happen and if prices do fall some, chances are they’re not returning to 2014 levels, let alone some earlier time. I’ve seen a lot of collectors post that they’re grabbing profits now and selling. I’d be careful. The hobby is full of people who sold stuff too soon (just read our Facebook page). A lot of people sold Nolan Ryan and Michael Jordan rookie cards after they retired. Think they have a little seller’s remorse now?
History doesn’t show many instances of vintage Hall of Fame rookie cards dropping significantly in value. Yes, I’m sure you can find a few but over the long-term, higher grade cards have been a pretty good investment. At the very least, they’ve been a stable one. Having stated that, I’ll also acknowledge the current boom is really unprecedented in its size. Even in the late 1980s and early 90s, when card prices lurched forward, the gains were strong but not overwhelming. There is truly some big money being spent on some key rookie cards now; money that gets the attention of guys who invest for a living (if they aren’t already in the market). It’s clear that the most valuable cards have now become commodities to be analyzed, bought and sold, much like traditional markets. If those non-traditional buyers trickle out at some point (and I’m not convinced they will–in fact, I’d be surprised if more investors aren’t getting in) and prices do decline, there are plenty of collectors who will pounce.
- Respect is good. In the mid-1970s, you were still looked at as kind of geeky (OK, really geeky) if you were an adult who collected baseball cards. While other types of collecting (art, antiques, etc.) were highly respected and accepted as investment vehicles, sports collectibles were not on that level. That has changed over the last 25 years or so and that attitude continues to grow.
Sports are cool. More people identify with sports and love to recall names and faces from the past. Most of us played sports in some form or another at one time. Few of us were great artists or experts at 17th century furniture. You can hang a piece of artwork and tell your friends about it and show off that old chair (don’t sit in it!) but most will just give you a blank stare. Yet you can hold a card in your hands and if you’re showing it to a business associate, there will likely be an emotional connection. That person may decide he (or she) wants some of those, which I’m sure is part of what’s happened to help boost the current market (if you’re skeptical, these guys are a perfect example). At the very least, stories will be exchanged. As we edge into a more socially connected, share everything sort of society, owning something that provokes a strong emotional reaction is a huge factor.
- A Better Mousetrap. Online bidding offers opportunities for some of that price manipulation that some fear. Many accuse the auctioneers of shill bidding. With several former auction company reps now in prison, anyone involved in that is begging to join them. It’s hard to believe anyone in this end of the business would risk their livelihood to make some extra bucks in the short term. I also have a hard time believing it’s happening on such a scale that hundreds of different cards are impacted.
The hobby has long been a place where collectors speculate on various cards they believe are undervalued and there’s nothing wrong with that. If prices are being artificially inflated on some level, the work is likely coming more from buyers who share plans with others to drive them up. That, too, is playing with fire. It’s hard to stop but it would be nice if we could know just what kind of impact it’s having, if any, on the current market.
There are plenty of unanswered questions when it comes to the future but it all beats the old “baseball cards are dying” stuff doesn’t it?