I’m a glass half full guy. But lately I’ve been thinking about death. My own. It’s hard not to when every day the news is dominated by Covid-19 stories. Sad and disconcerting.
But if I were to die from this virus next month, one thing I know for certain: An auction house of my own choosing will auction off my baseball card collection. My two younger brothers, neither of whom cares about cards, will get top dollar. Why? Because I have worked out a plan and am executing it while I’m still alive.
These tough economic times might force you to consider selling your collection just to pay current bills. Or you might someday go through a divorce. But whatever the reason for having to sell, please work on having a plan. And try not to sell in a panic.
I will offer you some guidance, based on my firsthand experiences. Of course, if your best friend, son, brother, or other relative also loves collecting cards and you’re in good shape financially, read no further. When you pass away they will get your cards and continue to enjoy them for years. The stewardship continues within friends and family.
But what if you have lost your job and have family responsibilities? You decide you need cash quick. If that’s the case your choices are limited because, as you probably already know, it can take at least a couple of months for an auction company to prep your consignment, auction the cards, and send the proceeds to you. So if you need cash quick, go to your local or online dealer (someone you’ve dealt with before, I hope) and expect to receive anywhere from 40 percent to 60 percent of whatever price guide you decide on says your set is worth. By the way, I’m a vintage card guy so I can’t speak authoritatively on the modern stuff. Of course, card condition will have to be negotiated between you and the dealer.
If you need the money but don’t need it ASAP (say you can wait six months), it’s critical that you prepare your sets to be sold. Think of it as painting your house before you put it up for sale.
What follows are the steps I took when I auctioned off some of my Topps sets from the late 1960s a few years ago.
Take any price guide and jot down the top ten cards by value for the set(s) you want to auction. The prices don’t have to be up-to-the-minute. You’re just looking for an established hierarchy of the most valuable cards in the set. If your sets are from the 1970s you can safely go with just the top four or five stars and major rookie cards. Some you might have already bought or had slabbed; others you will need to send out for grading.
Why is it important to have them graded? The simple fact is any dealer or auction house will ask one question first: “What’s the condition of the Mantle/Mays/Aaron (or major rookie card)?
Yes, I know it costs to have those stars graded. But if you want to get top dollar for your set, having an established grade for the key cards makes the process much smoother and you’ll hopefully get the proper price. Even if you think they’ll end up getting grades of, say 5 or 6, have them graded anyway. It will help everyone looking to auction or buy your set know exactly what they’re getting.
Now, let’s say you submit a raw 1966 Topps Mickey Mantle card and after studying it you think it will come back in a PSA or SGC 7 slab. It instead comes back as a 6. Should you resubmit it (for a chance at a higher grade) or even sell the 6 and buy a 7? No. It’s highly unlikely you will recoup the extra money you spend for that 7 in a short period of time. I say accept the original grade and let it go. Some might disagree.
If you have a set that has a few really rough looking commons or minor stars, it might be worth a small investment to upgrade them, just so your set has a consistent look and you can avoid having to admit that even a small portion of your sets are “poor” or “low grade.”
Now you’re ready to submit your set to an auction house. But which one? The list is long and they all throw out words and phrases like “integrity” and “we get the best results” on their websites. Their print ads show previous sales with eye-popping dollar figures for high-grade cards. Who can you trust to treat you right?
In Part II, we’ll examine the process of consigning your sets.