Sports card collecting and dealing often go hand in hand. From an early age, our cardboard obsession has taught us to place a value on certain pieces, and then trade them for something that we would rather have. For many, collecting has served as a gateway drug to dealing in cards. After a ten year hiatus from the hobby, I got back into it for the love of it all. Before I knew it, I was buying collections almost weekly, and turning them over for profit just as quickly. A lot of people took notice, and sure enough, one of the most asked questions of me was:
“How do you do it?”
Many collectors coming back onto the scene for the first time in ages will be dismayed to find their favorite old card shop is long gone, or filled with “gamers” playing some strange card game instead of buying rookie cards. With sports card shops either going the way of the buffalo or the way of the Yu-Gi-Oh (Or is it MTG? Or Pokemon? I don’t keep up on these types of things) many find themselves stuck with eBay, Walmart and Target to satisfy their cardboard cravings.
Finding Cards Locally
I assure you that there are ways to get your cards locally from places that don’t also sell milk and change oil. Here are the three main sources that I have found to work the best.
1) Garage Sales
My wife and I are always pounding the pavement come Saturday morning to find treasures. Every once and a while, we will stumble upon cards. I have many stories about what I have run across.
From a guy who was trying to sell about 50 or so fake autographed baseballs…
…To the time I bought a bunch of cards for $1 which had a 1993 SP Derek Jeter in it.
While most deals/fails out there aren’t as eye-popping as those two, there have been plenty of other great finds, mixed in with several other “ho-hum” finds. If you are rummaging through one of these sales, and don’t see anything resembling sports memorabilia, the best thing you can do is just ask if they have any cards they’d consider selling. Never underestimate the number of people who have a box of cards or other goodies in their closet. While they often haul out a box of beat up 1988 Topps, every now and then, there is a good deal to be had. They’re in a ‘clearing out’ sort of mode so your timing is usually good.
2) Card Shows
Don’t dismiss the local show for profit-making opportunities. Tri-Star brings a show to my area about twice a year, and is a great way to find deals. Sure, there are tons of overpriced stuff sitting on dealer tables, but if you are willing to put in the work, you can easily make money on cards purchased from dealers. If you are really good, you can buy from one dealer and sell to another for profit – at the same show. My first memory of doing this was when I was 13 years old, when I picked up some 1952 Topps commons and flipped them 10 minutes later.
If you’ve got the patience, get up to your eyeballs in quarter and dollar bins – even if you have to wedge yourself in between two people that don’t appear to be interested in moving anytime soon. Some of these cards have not been sifted through with a keen eye for quite some time. Certain rookies could have heated up since they were last checked, and various valuable promos or parallels might have slipped through the cracks.
I purchased a bunch of quarter boxes in bulk from a dealer a few years back, and after the purchase, I heard that Jeremy Lin base rookies had skyrocketed to $30. I checked my recently purchased boxes and found three of them. Sometimes dealers who specialize in newer material don’t know vintage and if you do, you can sometimes find a steal.
One of my favorite (and most frustrating) places to find deals is on Craigslist. Nine times out of ten, you will find people selling cards that are pretty much worthless. They will ask $50 for 100 1989 Score, stating that 1) It is a great deal, 2) They don’t know anything about cards and 3) they are worth $500 EASILY. At only 50 cents a card, and a beat up Nolan Ryan card on top of the stack of cards in the picture to lure you in, how can you go wrong? Here is one online right now. Really? $4,000 total worth of cards, and the best cards to be shown is a 1984 Donruss Rod Carew? It might be time to take a peek eBay’s sold listings for a reality check.
There are many stories of heartache that I have from Craigslist. One person told me they had two MILLION awesome cards for sale that they need to get rid of ASAP. I made the hour-long drive, only to find that there were more like 200,000 cards … and there were some boxes filled with nothing but one card type. 5,000 1990 Upper Deck Eric Anthony? No thank you. I wasn’t looking to wallpapering my entire house with Anthony rookie cards at that particular time in my life.
One of the last collections I looked at from Craigslist was someone who claimed they had tens of thousands of dollars worth of cards he needed to sell. As I walked in the door, he handed me a small pile of cards saying the pile alone was worth $800. My hopes were quickly dashed once I shuffled through them and saw the best card in the bunch was a 1986 Fleer Orel Hershiser.
Even though the site has produced the most “epic fails” in terms of card collections for sale, it has also directed me to some really good ones as well. What it all comes down to is hard work and patience. You have to kiss a lot of frogs to get to that one prince of a deal.
One such “prince deal” was an older man who lived in a very nice neighborhood. As I pulled up into the driveway with my cardboard-mobile (the name I gave my minivan that I use to haul cards in) I could tell he was very well off. We met in his garage. With a football game on a giant flat screen TV and a gorgeous Corvette parked beside us, I was very curious as to what he had to show. After a while, it was apparent he had been drinking. Each time we negotiated price, he kept “forgetting” about another pile of other cards he had in his house to show me.
After about an hour and a half or so, we ended up making a deal. It included lots of autographs and game used cards, as well as many inserts. There was so much stuff, it took me two trips to take it all (don’t worry, I took home the best stuff first). I did very well on this collection, and even made a solid chunk of my investment back just by selling the nice containers that the cards were in.
Closing the Deal
When it comes to landing a good deal, finding a good haul is only half the battle. No deal is a good deal, unless you buy it at the right price. Don’t be afraid to haggle, if the price isn’t at a point where you feel you can make money off of it.
Make sure you are courteous, polite, respectful … you know … everything your mama taught you growing up. There have been times when I was going up against other buyers, and the seller chose me because they liked me better – even though my offer was lower than the others! Being nice and honest goes a long way.
Turning Bulk Deals into Profit
This is where the rubber meets the road. Did you find a good deal on a large collection? Did you buy it at a good price? Great! If you are ready to sell for profit, then get ready to work. There is no real magic here, to be honest. The transaction that has taken place here is merely a matter of the seller not willing to put the time or work necessary into selling their cards like you are.
A few years back, I met a dealer who was setup at a show. He had close to 20 boxes of cards in top loaders that he was asking $1-10 each for. We struck a deal for around $4,000 for everything. He was happy because he made a very nice sale and no longer had the burden of trying to sell the cards a few at a time. I was happy because I figured I could double my money by selling the cards by the box. Over time, I was able to make the money I wanted to.
The more deals you land, the easier it will be to determine if you can make money off of the collections you are looking at, and how long it will take to become profitable. This is not an exact science, though. About a year ago, I cleared out a dealer of around a million cards where every single card was in numerical order and neatly boxed up. Later that week, I cleared out another dealer who had loose cards thrown in Walmart bags – unprotected vintage and autographed cards were mixed in with 1991 Donruss and 2008 Topps.
If you are ready to find deals locally, best of luck to you. Feel free to drop me a line, and don’t forget, I’m a collector, too: keep me in mind if you come across any rare Canseco cards.