When we think of sports card auctions, we tend to think of the larger sports memorabilia auction houses and eBay. Unfortunately, the ongoing escalation of card prices has frozen many average collectors out of much of this market or forced them to temper their aspirations.
There are still some places a little off the beaten path where you can sometimes find some real gems, though, often at a fraction of the price you would pay otherwise.
The Auction Road Less Traveled
A few years back, searching for cards at the same old sources was wearing me out. I would see all of these great cards with high grades that other collector’s were posting, and incredulously I would ask myself, “Where are they finding all of these awesome cards?” So I set my mind to find out. And it was through this effort that I discovered auctions that may be based in communities across the country but accessible to anyone, no matter where you live. How to find them and then get set up to bid is what I want to share with in the first of this two-part series.
There are three primary auction platforms that these auctioneers use, and they can literally keep you buying every day. They are Hibid, AuctionZip, and Proxibid.
The first thing you’re going to want to do is familiarize yourself with each platform. They are all different, but they are very intuitive. Think of them as three different software applications that all run on Windows.
Once there, you’ll notice that there are many online auctions originating from points all over the country, day and night. They are largely conducted through small town auction businesses that, for the most part, hold weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly auctions. Many of them have consignors nationwide, so they’re like Costco – you never know what they’re going to have.
Now the thing about these platforms is that they auction everything under the sun. So to avoid having to plow through hundreds of listings offering everything from Humvees to Hummels, you have to filter the listings so you only come up with sports cards or sports memorabilia in your results. This is as easy as entering a few keywords and saving your search to following three or four prompts on a site’s home page. NOTE: The search engines interpret the keyword “cards” broadly, so you’ll see results that include single cards, wax packs, wax boxes, vending boxes, sets, and lots containing hundreds of loose cards.
To illustrate, let’s use Hibid as our sample platform.
When you log onto Hibid, follow the category prompts on the home page to produce only the “trading cards” result. You should then be looking at a page that will have rows and rows of card listings.
AuctionZip displays items in gallery form, and Proxibid in columns.
Each listing will have the same types of information. On the top will be the lot # and a description of the items(s). Then, in descending order to the bottom of the listing, you’ll find a photo of the item(s), the current bid, how many bids have been submitted, the time left until the item closes, and the amount of the next bid. To the right of the next bid amount is a star. Clicking on this star will save your items to your Watch List.
On Hibid, you can view card listings for just that day or up to 45 or so days out. You decide what works for you. The box that notes the time left until the item closes will tell you exactly how many days out you are.
So let’s say you’ve been looking through the rows for just that day, and you’ve found five lots that you want to bid on. The first thing you have to do is register for a Hibid account, which you only have to do once, and then register for that particular auction as a bidder, which you have to do every time. The easiest way to do this is to click on the next “Bid” amount of any item. Once you do, a pop-up box will appear asking you to complete both registrations. (Don’t worry that you’re actually bidding on that item; since you’re not yet registered you’re not bidding). Shortly after you you register you will receive an email confirming that your registration is complete.
Now, you’re ready to bid. And now you are also ready to feel your stomach churning.
This is where the group exercise ends and the individual exercise begins. It’s where they separate the men from the boys, so to speak. Because from this point on, it’s all about you as an individual card-meister. There is nobody else out there with the same level of card knowledge, the same eye for appeal, the same hobby interests, the same financial situation, the same bidding savvy, or the same amount of nerve. Think about it a little like the poker games you see on TV, only online.
In Part II, I’ll share with you some bidding tips and strategies as well as some of the hazards you’ll face with these auctions and how to avoid them.