While most collectors gravitate towards newer cards or vintage cards from the 1950s, 1960s, or 1970s, the pre-war card market is alive and well. With cards generally a bit more scarce, collecting pre-war cards can be a little different from collecting other issues. If you’re interested in giving pre-war cards a chance, here are some tips that might be helpful.
Collectors should always seek out cards that they want first and foremost. This isn’t about settling so much on the type of card you want as it is about condition. Keep your options open. You may be accustomed to tracking down high-grade cards, but even if they’re within your budget, they may simply be too difficult to find … or in some cases, not exist at all. If you’re seeking something a bit on the rare end, unless you absolutely cannot live with a lower-grade card, perhaps start there and plan to upgrade when a better card comes along at a price you can afford. Remember, when you do find the ideal card you want, you can always sell the lower-grade one. Lower-grade cards are much more accepted and common than newer issues so it may take some getting used to.
2. Be patient
There’s nothing worse than buying a card then immediately seeing a similar (or even better) card surface shortly afterwards at a lower price. The pre-war card market is tricky. You can sometimes go months without seeing the exact card you need in the condition you want. Still, don’t rush things. If you’re not sure you’re getting a bargain, don’t be afraid to pass. That card may still be available down the road at a better price or a similar one might pop up just when you least expect it.
With pre-war cards easily selling for hundreds or thousands of dollars, it’s easy to quickly overextend yourself. Set a reasonable budget you can live with and make it a firm number. If you do that, you’ll be less hesitant to buy up every single card since you may need those funds for another card that pops up unexpectedly.
4. Network, network, network
Networking is important for any collector but it’s a little more necessary when dealing with pre-war cards. Pre-war cards are more difficult to find and if you’re looking for tough issues, especially, it’s absolutely imperative to make as many connections as possible. eBay is great, but go beyond that. Seek out dealers that specialize in vintage. Swing by card shows within driving distance. Check out message boards. Run Google searches on specific cards. There are plenty of resources at your disposal – use them.
Nothing can be worse than pursuing a specific collecting interest only to find out that you’re bored with it in a few weeks. Collecting specific pre-war issues can take months or even years. You don’t want to waste time collecting something you don’t really want in the long term. If you’re not sure, start with a few cards from random sets and see what you like/dislike. Run eBay searches on specific cards to get up close scans of them. But before going all in on a particular venture, make sure it’s really what you want to do.
6. Register with auction houses
If pre-war cards weren’t on your radar in the past and you weren’t a high-dollar collector, there’s a good chance you’ve stayed clear of traditional auction houses. But since a specific pre-war card can be difficult to find, joining the auction house circuit is a good idea. It doesn’t cost you anything to join and will expand your reach considerably. Also, don’t be afraid of the stigma attached to some traditional auction houses with regard to price. Yes, many items go for insane amounts of money. However, it’s easy to find good bargains, too. Many traditional auction houses even have items that sell for under $100. Even if you decide not to register, keeping tabs on auction house sales is a good thing since it will give you an idea of what the market is for certain items and sets.
Protecting any card is important. For pre-war cards, however, it’s an even bigger deal. The typical pre-war card is very limited in quantity and some have even just a few examples. Issues like the N172 Old Judge set likely have as little as a few dozen examples (or even less) of each card. If you insist on storing your cards in binders, make sure the cards don’t stick out of the tops and slipcases to cover them are highly recommended. If using toploaders, be sure to add sleeves to keep the cards from moving around and causing damage. Make sure you have your cards well protected, out of direct light. And if you’re concerned about protecting your investment, exploring special insurance or even a safe deposit box isn’t a bad option, either.
8. Be careful!
Along those lines, keep in mind, too, that a pre-war card is much more fragile than your typical 1970 Topps common. Many of these cards have been in circulation for over 100 years. Feeling and handling the cards is a big part of the experience and it’s fine to want to personally touch the cards while sorting through them. Just remember that fragility is common and you should always take a little extra care when handling these issues. Drinking that glass of wine while sorting through your toploaders? Probably a bad idea. Looking at your cards with a bag of grease-covered potato chips? Ditto. Make sure your cards are out of harm’s way, away from small children, pets … you get the idea. Remember, you’re not only protecting the card for your own personal interests, but for future generations as well.