While set collecting is somewhat of a lost art, there are still many collectors that still pursue complete issues. Many sets aren’t too difficult to piece together, but those that are older or rarer can make for a challenging task.
Here are ten tips to keep in mind if pursuing a particularly difficult set, no matter the sport. As a precursor, these are only tips. In the end, collect what you want and develop your own strategies by determining what you can afford and what works for you.
Before you begin any endeavor to pursue a challenging set, make sure you’re ‘all in’ and chasing something you’ll really want over the long haul. After all, what’s the point in spending a lot of time and money in beginning a set only to lose interest early on?
A good barometer is to buy a few cards from that set and see what you think before committing significant resources.
2. Seek Out Experts
Before you begin set collecting, know that others have come before you. And part of the great news is that, with the internet, you can almost always find others that have built the same set you might be considering. Whether they’re on message boards, writing for web sites, etc., seek them out.
Most collectors love talking about cards they are passionate about and will be more than happy to offer you some advice, answer questions, and help out with specific sets. Are the cards heavily counterfeited? What’s a good deal on particular cards? Are there any tough variations that make completing the set difficult? These are all questions an expert in that set should be able to help answer.
3. Track Your Set Collecting Progress
Keeping a diary of sorts for your set collecting adventures is a great idea. It will not only serve as a good reminder of your pursuit after you’ve finished your set, but will give you a good idea of the investment you’ve made. Keep track of your purchases and trades. Should you need to trade or sell your cards later, you’ll know what you paid for them, which can help you decide what you might want in return. Besides, it’s kind of fun to look back at what all went into achieving your ultimate goal.
Using a simple Excel spreadsheet or some other software is ideal, but keeping tabs on your deals using pen and paper works just as well.
Maybe you have issues with eBay and/or Paypal but the simple fact remains that eBay is a great source for set collecting. Even difficult cards can be found there and the web site is king in terms of being a one-stop shop. If you can’t find a card you’re looking for in this section, you might have bitten off more than you can chew.
Nothing beats a face-to-face transaction where you can inspect cards in person, but in terms of convenience and availability, it’s still hard to beat. Save money by buying from one seller who offers free or combined shipping.
COMC is another great resource, with millions of cards, old and new to choose from. Getting rid of your unwanted doubles and using the proceeds to buy what you want without any cash changing hands is a sweet option, too.
5. Take a Break
Even the most dedicated collectors can become burned out and that’s particularly true if you’re in the middle of a long-term project like building a significant set. Here’s the thing: That’s normal. It doesn’t mean you need to give up the set you’ve been building.
Maybe you’re not having as much fun as you were when you began the project. Perhaps real-life circumstances have emerged, eating into your cash flow. Or maybe you’re having a difficult time finding a particular card. If frustration sets in, take some time off. The great thing with card collecting is that when you’re ready to jump back in, the cards will still be out there.
The particular goals you set don’t matter. Perhaps you’re a low-grade collector on a budget. Maybe you are particular about centering. Whatever the case, don’t compromise and be sure to make specific goals.
If you settle for a lower-grade card that you’re not happy with, that feeling is likely to bug you, even after you complete the set. Similarly, if you’re building a low-grade set, there’s not much sense in splurging on a high-grade card when you can use that money for other cards. Set goals and parameters and stick with them.
7. Stay Connected
The more other collectors and dealers know about your pursuit, the sooner you can finish your set. After all, the more eyes you can have out there watching for cards you need, the better. Check in regularly with friends, friendly dealers and other collectors. Send emails and double check to see if they have acquired cards you need. Share your want lists with them. Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help.
Even if you’re mostly a raw card collector it pays off to seek out professionally graded cards by one of the established companies like PSA, SGC, or BGS. There’s not much worse than buying an expensive card only to find it is trimmed, fake, or has some other hidden flaw. Third-party grading companies aren’t perfect and have made mistakes. But in general, it’s better to have another set of eyes on that expensive card you may be buying. In addition to the added peace of mind it can provide, professionally-graded cards are usually easier to sell if and when you want to liquidate.
9. Secure Rarer Cards When Possible
You may have a plan to buy all of a particular set’s commons first and work on the bigger cards later. While that is often a fine strategy, if you are collecting a set that has very rare cards, you’re likely to be better off by securing some tougher ones on the way as long as they’re within your budget. And if you’re looking for rarer cards in very specific grades, this strategy makes even more sense. Don’t pass up the opportunity to pick up a rare card early in the process – it will make things easier on you later.
Card shows don’t hold the same importance that they did before the days of the internet. Still, they can still be a valuable resource for set collecting. Many dealers still don’t have websites or even brick and mortar stores. Simply put, if you’re limiting yourself to online sales, you are almost certainly missing out.
The internet is a great resource in that cards are always available. You should still get out and talk to dealers at card shows. Even if they might not have what you’re looking for, they could know someone who does. Discounts are often easier to get when you’re dealing face-to-face with multiple cards in play.
Even if there’s no show nearby, make plans to drive a few hours to spend time at an established, larger event where you can get up close and personal with the cards from your favorite sets.