There are many aspects to this business but one which may be the trickiest for both buyers and sellers is “at what price do I start an auction?” This bedevils both buyers and sellers of cards because buyers want a bargain (and who doesn’t) and sellers want to maximize their sales (again, who doesn’t). But to get a successful result at both ends, one should start an auction at a price which entices collectors with the thought they can score a deal yet at the same time guarantee some security to the collector or dealer whose card is out there.
This idea was brought up because of a thread on the popular Net 54 Message Boards where a collector noted that several of his Mickey Mantle lots did not even draw a bid in a recent Sterling Sports auction. I will state as a long-time satisfied customer that Lee Behrens, who runs that company, is easy to deal with and is the fastest shipper I know. In addition, he tries to start the minimums at a price where collectors may have interest.
The specific card which began this card was a 1968 Topps Game Mantle in SGC 60 (Ex) Condition. When I looked up that card in the Beckett OPG the value was $40 and the minimum bid was $25. Now I don’t know about you, but starting an “ex” card at 60 percent of the price guide value is not going to usually guarantee a lot of bidder interest. That 60 percent start does not include the 16 percent buyer’s premium. For the shipping we’ll be generous to the customer and only add $1. Well now, your 60 percent minimum is up to 75 percent and you can pretty much guess what the result is going to be. Yep, the card did not sell at that price.
Now what we don’t know is how much money the client had spent on that card before it made the way to the auction. If the client is into the card for, let’s say $20, then I can understand his logic in not wanting to take a loss after paying his seller fee. We can all understand, especially on a Mantle card, that we want to, at the very least, break even on our cardboard but this is not a show or even BIN retail situation. This is an auction where you are trying to entice collectors to bid and as such the lower the minimum the better off you probably are. When we researched recent 1968 Topps Game Mantle sales, the prices were all over the place and there were some very strong prices as well as some prices which were truly below wholesale.
I remember in the last Brockelman and Luckey auction, a nice group of 1959’s started at $1, which is less than you’d expect to pay for a single card. Seeing that, I had to bid. I guess lots of other people did as well because that lot went for well over $200 when similar lots which start a higher prices usually settle into the $80-90 range. I kiddingly advised co-owner Leon Luckey that all his lots going forward should start at $1.
Plus, remember each auction house is different. Some of the biggest auction houses could probably start almost every lot below cost and their clientele would still bid up most of the items to retail or beyond. It’s in the auctioneer’s best interest to know what makes bidders tick–and the price that will get them interested. Meanwhile a collector who listed a collection piece-by-piece by himself on eBay might not do as well because they’re not as well-known and don’t benefit from any publicity.
I honestly think this example of the 1968 Topps Mantle game card is why many eBay sellers now choose to do a BIN (Buy It Now) only. The bottom line reason is sellers want to feel comfortable about the price they get for their cards and having control over their return is something many feel they must have.
That’s why it’s always important to research actual selling prices. eBay’s ‘sold’ auction search filter is invaluable in determining value, especially for lower priced items. For sales at major auction houses, PriceRealized.com has a great database of figures going back quite a long time.
When you have a sense of where the market is at a given moment, it can be much easier to establish expectations, whether you’re a buyer or a seller. As always, your feedback is welcome.