Some people take interesting trips or decide to partake in adventurous trips for their 50th birthday. For me, mine was a trip to Cooperstown, New York to the Baseball Hall of Fame. After three days in Cooperstown, it was a long drive to Ohio to visit Cleveland and Canton for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and ultimately the Football Hall of Fame. And I was able to make a significant “find” and purchase of a personal 1950s baseball card collection.
While I learned a lot of things that have slipped my mind or have gone into the back dormant files in my brain, one very interesting thing happened to me as a collector and former dealer of baseball cards and sports cards. I met a man in his early seventies who wanted to sell his baseball card and football card collection. I ended up buying the collection, but a lot of hurdles had to be gone through. And if you know anything about buying collections or large groups of cards it is not “riskless” at all.
He originally asked a baseball card and memorabilia shop on the main street down from the Hall of Fame if they would be interested in buying cards. The man literally dusted him off as if he was being hassled when it was just two or three people in the store (myself as one of them).
When the man left I decided perhaps that I should ask what he had. After all, the store owner didn’t ask him a single question and acted as though he was having his time robbed from him. It was a trove of 1950s common cards, semi-stars and super-star Hall of Famer cards — and some key rookie cards to boot. Almost 1,000 cards just in the baseball lot, ranging from 1951 to 1955 Bowman cards and 1952 Topps to 1957 Topps cards.
When you meet people wanting to sell their cards, a lot of things can go wrong. It seems everyone in the collecting world thinks their cards are in “excellent” shape. Kids in the 1950s flipped cards, they tossed them into rings, they shot them with rubber bands. They taped and glued the cards into books or tacked them to a wall. Some kids even used the cards to make noise in their bike spokes.
After I left Cooperstown he and I spoke over the phone and he forwarded me his collection via email. I tried to evaluate the collection at a fair value for the stars individually, then bulk prices for semi-stars and common cards. It seemed that the fair value could be above $10,000 with any favorable grades, and he already had a price in mind. We reached an agreement that after shipping and insurance was roughly 70% of that.
Then the fun stuff started to happen. I have a video of the superstar cards that were viewed immediately after they boxes were opened up, as well as photos of the larger lots, but here were just some of the highlights: rookie cards of Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks, Al Kaline, Roberto Clemente, Sandy Koufax, and multiple other 1950s cards of Jackie Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Duke Snider, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and many others.
And for time reference, this was the end of 2019 rather than during the pandemic. There were still some waiting periods to get cards graded, and I made my efforts to unload some of the cards individually and in lots on eBay. After after visiting Houston’s Tristar Sports Collectibles show at the start of 2019, I filled out the bulk grading form with Beckett and had about 120 of the cards graded in the BVG bulk grading system — for a cost of another $1,200 plus fees (again, this was pre-pandemic).
And as sure as the fun evaluation of the card market opportunity hit, so did the pandemic. Beckett sent a letter that they had been forced to slow down grading operations in their Dallas office due to restrictions before an outright lock-down. I did get the cards, actually sooner than I expected, and I was able to immediately get some auctioned off on eBay and some through PWCC and elsewhere. I was writing about the stock market at the time for a living, so spending endless time self-selling, self-packaging and shipping wasn’t exactly high on my list of priorities.
Anyhow, I hope the shop owners that turn people away with a trove of vintage sports cards think twice. Now i still have a lot of the cards that I had deemed not worth getting graded because of the cost versus the valuations but that may have now changed as well even after sports card prices crashed after peaking in February and March of 2021.
I still do not have a final tally on what the purchase versus sale price ended up being because it’s not all yet realized. What I do know is that it was enough to pay for my “50th Halls of Fame” journey, and it was enough along with other card and investment sales collectively to give me the seed capital for the Collectors Dashboard and to at least fund the outline of my “First 50 Years of Baseball Cards” book that is still waiting for me to get to.
And like a true collector and former dealer, I decided to keep some of the cards as an upgrade or downgrade in the personal collection and still have some work to do to get the rest of the card sale prices actually so the final tally can be realized.
Here are some of those photos that were unfortunately taken with a smartphone at the time. I apologize for the quality of the iPhone video from 2019 before I understood anything about that.