Gas is cheap. There are plenty of seats on airplanes. They have plenty of time—and money—at their disposal. It may sound like a perfect scenario, but this spring has been a lonely time for those who are used to buying collections of sports cards.
The Coronavirus has put a damper on deals.
“It’s just nearly impossible to go out of the area to buy collections,” Steve Hart, the long-time owner of Baseball Card Exchange in Schererville, IN, told SC Daily. “Each state has some type of lockdown order and each state seems to be different. Some are much more strict than others. Also, safety is the biggest concern for my employees. It just probably isnt a good idea to be putting them on a plane somewhere right now.”
Hart specializes in unopened cases and boxes from decades ago to the present but also buys graded vintage cards, complete sets and other material. He has a brick and mortar store that was forced to close for several weeks. BBCE’s large eBay store is generating revenue but efforts to buy and add more stock have slowed.
“The amount of sellers we get looking to move collections is really down right now. As you can probably see, this is the hottest/craziest we have ever seen in the market of sports cards. Seems that everyone is a buyer right now and not so much of a seller.”
Reed Kasaoka, who spent several years working for Hart before joining Dave & Adam’s Card World in Buffalo, NY in 2019, spends weeks on the road each year, following up on leads for large and/or valuable collections. He’s spent over $12 million in his career, but he’s at home now, too.
“The most valuable service I provide is traveling to see these large collections, then figure out how to pack it up and get it back to our offices. Being off the road means I keep accumulating leads and there’s nothing I can do about it except wait.”
The impact of the virus was sudden.
“To be honest, it kind of just crept up on me,” Kasaoka admitted. “I kept thinking this wasn’t going to be that bad. I had a couple of vacations in February, and the last buying trip I went on was a week- long deal in Reno, NV. Just assumed that I’d get back in mid-March, sort through what I just bought, then start hitting up some deals in the Northeast before the Easter break. Every day that went by in early March, those plans began to fall apart. I should’ve known because I spent a week in a very empty casino- hotel. I tried to move things up as best I could but the shutdown in New York came about very quickly.”
With news filtering out of Europe in late winter and talk of potential restrictions coming to North America, Dave Hobson of BaseballCardBuyer.com was able to sneak away before the shutdown became widespread.
“We took one buying trip the week of March 15th. Basically, no one was at the hotel we stayed at. One of the vintage collections we purchased on the trip was held by the person for decades. The stock market was nose diving right then. They were concerned on a variety of levels and decided to sell their 1950s era cards. We walked them through current market prices online and paid an equitable amount.”
Hart also did some preliminary visits during the late winter. “We had a few deals agreed. We just had to make sure once we got there that everything matched up with what they said they had. Those deals were put on hold and will be picked up when we see the light at the end of this tunnel. We will still keep tabs on them and continue to stay in contact.”
Some potential sellers are understandably reluctant to welcome visitors while there are still a significant number of active COVID-19 cases. Those who prefer to sell in person have been willing to wait and good buying opportunities have dipped.
“We saw an increase of more quality leads right before the White House issued the official guidelines of ‘15 days to Stop the Spread’,” Hobson remarked. “I think, perhaps, the higher degree of uncertainty prior to the national action plan contributed to the spike.
“Then, during these last 30+ days, it’s been a little higher than normal, yet, the quality of leads has not been fantastic. There’s been an uptick on first time sellers of the junk wax era cards. I think people are more in a shock or survival type mode of buying basic needs items and trying to adjust to an unwanted daily, so-called routine. Yet, I do think more sellers will be reaching out more every month until this is better medically resolved as people of all ages face expenses they couldn’t have foreseen coming. This will continue into the next year, in our opinion.”
“The number of calls has actually been lower than normal, but as the unemployment rate keeps growing and the economy starts to feel the long-term effects of a recession, the numbers of potential sellers will increase significantly. If anything, people having to stay at home allows them the time to start taking stock of what they have, get organized, and prepare an inventory list. When we went through the recession of 2008-2009, I was traveling non-stop buying deals, and while there are always people selling because ‘it’s time’, there were definitely sellers who were doing so because they had to. The sellers who are most prepared and can provide me with the most information of what they have to sell are the ones who will be my highest priority when I get on the road again.”
Of course, sports card dealers do buy collections that can easily be shipped. Buyers are keeping tabs on the leads that come in by email, contacting those who are willing to do a “no contact” sale, usually picking up all shipping and insurance costs. Hobson was able to secure a 1972 Topps Third Series wax box in one deal. “Also, we got some quantity of rookies like a ‘54 Aaron, ‘55 Clemente and six 54 Kaline rookies in one deal, and numerous Mickey Mantle cards from various deals over the last month or so.”
Kasaoka is utilizing contacts and leads to acquire and list what he’s been able to secure, or hopes to, in the near future. “We’ve been working on two things since mid-March. One, getting the largest deal of unopened Magic the Gathering and Pokemon I’ve ever bought up for sale, and two, adding over one thousand pieces of autographed memorabilia, our first real push to add this sort of product since I re-joined Dave & Adam’s.”
Hart typically tries to reveal some of his better purchases at the National Sports Collectors Convention each summer, where his best customers gather. If this summer’s event in Atlantic City is cancelled, he says he’ll post those items on the company’s website during the course of the year.
The next several months will continue to be challenging. Buying and selling online will likely remain the primary option for some time. As some states ease restrictions, opportunities for one-on-one meetings through road travel, at least, may become a possibility again, but business as usual is still a long way off.
“My biggest worry is the virus comes back either in a second wave, or starts to rise again as we go back to normalcy,” Hart said. “We might then end up back at square one.”