The sports card craze of 2020-21 isn’t one that’s going to be soon forgotten. Collectors have seen prices soar and the values of their collections rise — in many cases, dramatically.
That’s good news, right? In a way, sure. Some collectors have cashed out, pocketing big profits. And while others have held onto their stuff, the value of what they possess is now in most cases much higher than it once was. That’s a good thing.
The flipside is for those of us still adding to our collections. Simply put, the current prices has made finding bargains much harder. Particularly in the case of vintage and pre-war, prices are seemingly growing exponentially. Thus, if you’re still buying, you’re paying. Big time. What’s a collector to do?
Fortunately, not everything is going through the moon. If you’re a pre-war collector like me, in particular, plenty of cards are still not yet experiencing meteoric rises. We’ve covered some bargains in the pre-war era before and while this is sort of along those lines, I really wanted to focus on cards that aren’t rising drastically in price during this new, card-crazed era in which we find ourselves. Here are some of those.
1930s Goudey Commons
Goudey cards are among the most popular brands in the pre-war era. Issued several years from 1933 through 1941, these baseball sets are always going to be in demand.
Cards of the biggest stars like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Joe DiMaggio have all jumped tremendously. Ruth cards, in particular, are the ones getting out of control. But that level of interest hasn’t spilled over into the rest of the sets. Sure, many of the star cards have risen but minor stars and commons are still quite available and have not grown considerably.
No, buying commons and minor stars isn’t the most exciting. But some, like the 1936 Goudey cards, are sneaky rare by comparison, and others from the popular 1933 set, are still great collectibles. Some Goudey commons, such as those from the 1938 set, are a little pricier. But many other Goudey commons from their sets can be found in decent shape starting at only around $15-20.
Play Ball High Numbers
Probably a smidge below Goudey in terms of popularity, Play Ball was another popular gum card series. Issued from 1939 through 1941, these cards were among the few sets offered during World War II.
Like many sets, high numbered cards in the set that were printed come at a premium. They are rarer and more expensive than the standard commons. But the prices for most (a big exception, of course, is the Joe DiMaggio 1941 Play Ball card) haven’t gotten too out of hand. In fact, high number commons from the sets can be found in decent shape, starting around $15-$20.
As stated, there certainly are exceptions. The 1940 Play Ball set, for example, includes many retired players in the high numbers. Big-time Hall of Famers in that group have risen steadily. But many of the high numbers for the lesser players have not experienced major price increases.
T205 and T206 cards have become even more popular but there for the taking are cards from the 1912 T207 set. While much rarer, T207s have never been as popular as the American Tobacco Company’s other sets. And that’s probably a big part of the reason that the cards are still quite reasonable.
They aren’t terribly cheap and some, like the Walter Johnson, have certainly risen in value. But the commons and even many of the other stars have not gotten out of hand at all.
Commons in the set in decent shape start around $20-$25 and even some mid-grade cards can be had starting for as little as $50-$60. For $100, you can take home a low-grade Hall of Famer or card from the rare Broadleaf/Cycle subset on occasion.
19th Century Trade Cards
If you’re looking for something really old, you can still try your hand at baseball trade cards from the 19th century.
These should be super expensive, right? That’s often the logic because of their age, though it’s not really correct. Many 19th century cards were printed in high volumes and more than you probably think still exist, even having usually been printed on lower-grade, thinner card stock.
Now, some baseball trade cards can be quite expensive. These are generally the earliest types of baseball cards and some of the earliest ones are worth tens of thousands of dollars. But others are quite affordable, in part because most of them do not picture real players. Instead, these often featured color lithographic artwork depicting children playing the sport or unnamed adults. Some of these cards start as little as $15-$320 in decent shape — not bad for something pushing 130 or 140 years old in some many cases.
I’ve touted the affordability of early baseball-themed postcards in the past but this is another type of card that has remained relatively steady.
Not all postcards have held in price. In particular, ones featuring the legendary Babe Ruth or other actual players have been on the move. Ruth and Ty Cobb postcards, for example, are becoming quite costly. But the majority of baseball-themed postcards, like trade cards, did not feature real major league players. They featured unnamed subjects that were either drawings, amateur players, or even people merely dressed up to look like real players.
If you’re looking for bargains, that’s where you’ll want to start — with the generic subjects. These types of postcards aren’t always cheap. Some, in fact, can sell for hundreds of dollars. But the great majority are quite affordable and you can find some for as little as $10.
Of all of the cards that have climbed in value, these early postcards (often issued from around 1910 or thereabouts) are not in that group.
For most collectors, baseball is the end all, be all type of card sought. After that, many gravitate to football, basketball, and hockey. But if you’re willing to branch out a bit, you’ll find plenty of good bargains in other sports cards.
That is not to suggest that all non-baseball cards have not gotten more valuable. Cards for boxers (especially Jack Johnson and Jack Dempsey) have been on the move. Bobby Jones cards can sell for ridiculous amounts these days. Jesse Owens issues have flat out gone through the roof. Cards of early soccer stars, such as Dixie Dean, are getting out of hand. But many cards in other sports like golf, boxing, tennis, and soccer are still, by comparison, very inexpensive. That’s particularly true in terms of the 1930s UK cigarette cards that were mass produced and still exist in large quantities in high-grade condition.
Prices for these sorts of cards are all over the map but many of these cards start at ridiculously low prices of $5 or even less in some cases.
The good news about these types of cards is that collectors aren’t relegated to generic subjects for low prices. Cards of legitimate stars or even Hall of Famers in some sets can be had starting as little as $10.