It’s been nearly two years since the massive price spike in card prices that we saw in the spring of 2020. And as 2022 comes to a close, here are six trends I’ve noticed in the world of collecting pre-war cards.
Hall of Famers Continue to Hold Strong
While other cards have fluctuated a bit, one thing is clear — the price hikes on the biggest names in pre-war card collecting seem to be mostly here to stay.
Sure, a few things have come down just a bit. The boom on a few cards, such as Babe Ruth’s 1935 Goudey have dropped ever so slightly (low grade copies had been closer to $2,000 and have now dipped to around $1,500-$1,700 as a starting point). But in general, cards of Ruth, Ty Cobb, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Honus Wagner, and others have not gone anywhere minus some very little movement.
There’s no guarantee that prices will remain as high as they have been. But with a nearly two-year time period since prices began rising, expecting them to fall very much at this point seems like wishful thinking if you’re a buyer.
Drops in Commons and Lesser Players
While cards of the biggest names have held steady, there have been dips elsewhere. Some of those drops are in the lesser Hall of Famers, sure. But the biggest drops seem to be among common players in various sets.
I’ve noticed this in particular with T205 and T206 commons which have fallen a good bit from where they were at their height in 2020 and 2021. Low-grade commons, for a spell, seemed to be around the $40-$50 mark. But I’m seeing more and more going for closer to $30 or these days.
Some commons missed the jump altogether. 1933 Goudey commons, for example, didn’t seem to move all that much during the pandemic. But T206 was a set that I think ambitious collectors began to pursue a bit more when the pandemic hit and the Monster may be taking a toll on them because prices on the many commons in the set seem to be down mostly across the board.
But, About Those Drops …
I’ve paid close attention to prices. And while, as a buyer, I got some relief, that relief was relatively minimal. Some pre-war cards have certainly come down in price a bit. However, the drops in value have not been anything to close to what we have seen with modern cards.
Modern cards have always been riskier gambles due to the players featured on them, in many cases, still being active players. And while some rose to incredible heights during the pandemic, many have fallen just as hard.
The biggest drops have been seen, predictably, on the cards that had the sharpest increases in value. These drops have not only been limited to current players where performance may have been a factor. Even more recent cards of retired legends have not been immune. After a pair of PSA 10 examples of Michael Jordan’s 1986-87 Fleer rookie card sold in 2021 for $738,000, the market began to correct itself almost immediately with prices falling ever since those landmark sales. Most recently, PSA 10 Jordan rookie cards have dropped below $200,000. Popular as he may still be, Jordan rookies are plentiful.
Extreme example? Yes. But, suffice to say, I am not aware of any significant pre-war cards that have had anywhere near that sort of decline. Most drops in value on the really old stuff have been minimal.
Strip cards make major gains
With prices on tobacco cards and caramel cards soaring, collectors have been looking elsewhere. That’s particularly true in the case of the really big names like Ruth, Cobb, and more.
One place I’m really surprised that folks are looking to more is in strip cards. While not 100% of every series, strip card are, by and large, often unattractive issues. Even though some collectors, even passionately, have collected them, they have often gone unnoticed by just as many. But with prices out of control for some of the more popular types of pre-war cards, they’ve become quite popular. And, frankly, I’m astonished that prices for them were higher than never before.
I picked up a large number of them at the National in 2021 for $5 each (even including stars and some Hall of Famers) and prices such as those have generally disappeared. These days, you can expect to pay more than double that for even rougher looking commons. Hall of Famers, of course, are another matter entirely with prices topping $100 before you know it — even for lower-grade cards and cards with poor cuts.
Interest in Cards in Other Sports
By a wide margin, baseball remains king in the world of pre-war cards. And early cards of other major sports, such as football and hockey have always drawn interest. However, cards from other sports are making waves, too.
Led by strong interest in Jack Johnson and Jack Dempsey cards, boxing has continued its revival of sorts in 2022. The astonishing thing to me is that, not only are the cards of those two heavyweights drawing interest, there is a real enthusiasm around early boxing cards in general. Cards of early Black pioneers, such as Sam Langford, Joe Jeanette, and Joe Gans, among others are drawing interest. Early champion John L. Sullivan has the imagination of collectors, just as plenty of others have. The affordability of these cards has helped increase awareness around them.
There has also been a noticeable rise in early golf cards with much attention being paid to Bobby Jones, in particular. Rare Jones cards, it should be noted, have always done quite well — particularly overseas where golf cards were frankly more desired. But his more commonplace cards, too, have climbed steadily in the past year. One that has continued to climb in value is his 1926 Lambert and Butler rookie card in the multi-sport “Who’s Who” set. While not a terribly rare card, even modest examples these days start around $350 – $450.
Cards, too, of heavily Euro-centric sports, including soccer and cricket, have gained attention here in the U.S. Prices for these cards have unmistakably continued to climb in 2022. The pre-war soccer market, in particular, is noteworthy as the modern market for those cards has really taken off. That has sent those collectors seeking earlier cards and helped improve the pre-war market with cards of Billy Meredith, Dixie Dean, and Stanley Matthews, among others, rising dramatically in the past 12 months..
I slowly began to move into non-sports cards a few years ago and I’ve noticed other collectors doing the same in the past year.
No, collectors are not wholeheartedly abandoning long-time baseball and sports card collections. But more collectors are beginning to include non-sports issues in their collections.
Cards of U.S. Presidents have always been popular, as have series’ of war issues and cards found in the American Card Catalog. However, there is a noticeable shift now with more collectors seeking non-sports cards of other popular figures, including those found in sets originating in the UK. From Shakespeare to Issac Newton, from Benjamin Franklin to Shirley Temple — more and more collectors are beginning to learn of cards of these famous individuals, including actors/actresses, entertainers, scientists, world leaders, and much more. Many of these cards, particularly the ones from UK tobacco firms, were readily available before with even card of popular subjects often selling for minimal amounts. That started to change in 2020 as more collectors found out abou them. But now, cards of some of these subjects have doubled and tripled in value, even in the past year.
A good example of that are the first cards of Queen (then Princess) Elizabeth. The Queen’s most popular first card comes from the 1935 Carreras Popular Personalities set. Prior to this year, it was a card that you could find for as little as a few dollars. These days, it starts around $30 or so. Part of that was due to her passing this year. But similar examples are all around the pre-war landscape of other subjects — cards that could have been purchased inexpensively now worth significantly more. A premium, in particular, is being placed on the earliest examples of subjects.
In all, 2022’s been a wild ride. And while prices have begun to stabilize from the boom of 2020, I think we’re all in for more surprises in the year ahead.