Thursday, February 4, 2010

Can cards be investments?

Mario of Wax Heaven posted worthwhile commentary on Upper Deck's current situation today. Collectors and bloggers seem to like their late-2009 and early 2010 products, but the company faces a murky future after MLB properties quickly served up a lawsuit over the unlicensed portrayal of team logos.

The article also pointed back to a 2009 interview with author Pete Williams, who profiled Upper Deck's early history and explosive business influence in the book "Card Sharks." This question from Mario (and Pete's answer) caught my eye.

Q: If given just one choice, which card would you invest in and why: a 2001 Bowman Chrome Albert Pujols autograph or a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle?
A: I would never, ever invest or even talk about investing in sports cards or memorabilia. The notion of sports memorabilia as investment is a huge misnomer and everyone who perpetrates it should be ashamed of themselves. If someone offered me one of these two cards, I’d take the Mantle. Any value the Pujols card has is manufactured by the perceived scarcity of Pujols’ signature. Last I checked, Albert is still with us and signing on a daily basis. Admittedly, Mantle appears to have signed quite a bit since his death in 1995.

In the modern age of collecting, whether you start with Fleer and Donruss in 1981 or Upper Deck in 1989, card values appear to swing with the economy or performance of individual players. Unfortunately, most don't actually swing; instead, they start at their highest point and drop, fast. Cards hidden in an unopened pack, which will be mostly "commons," are worth significantly more before you tear the foil. Most become giveaways the moment light hits them. As a buyer, you pay a premium for the fun of discovering what's unknown.

One encouraging side effect of dropping values is that most vintage cards cost much less than you think they would. Even seemingly big-time "investments" from a generation ago, like the 1975 rookie cards of George Brett or Robin Yount, now qualify as cheap. According to a search of eBay's completed auctions, most Yount RCs sell for under $15 shipped, less than a new blaster box at Target. You can also build or buy many 1970s sets for under $100, less than many new hobby boxes.

This isn't a call to flip the card market, despite my own focus on vintage stuff. After all, I could simply amass scans of old cards for free from Google Image Search and eBay. Rather, it's to frame how Topps, Upper Deck, and MLB's licensing wing promote their products as right-now investments, when history shows they have little direct influence over what will be popular another generation from now.


Anonymous said...

This is very interesting. I always wished I'd kept the cards I bought in the early-mid 80's (gave 'em away in '90) 'cause I thought I'd probably make a killin' now if I sold them. But just last summer I was able to buy the entire 1982 Topps set for around $60. Then I got the Pascual Perez error card for just $18.... and I thought how weird it is that people are selling this stuff so cheap. I also noticed the 70's sets can be had for less than I expected too.

But hey, I just love to have the cards again for a while...once I scan 'em all, I'll be selling. Maybe I'll only get $45 for my $80ish investment, but oh me it was worth having it again.

John Bateman said...

I don't tink you should invest in Baseball Cards. I remember buying (in 1987)about 15-20 boxes of 1987 Topps and thinking I was going to make a fortune. Cards had some actual value in the early to mid 1980s but then over product started in 1987 and then the stock market collapsed in Oct of 1987, and the next thing you know everyone was putting money in Cards and then the manufacturers began to produce them like sand pebbles. They more money that chased after new stuff held down the value of older cards.

Today, manufacturers make take most of the value of the cards off the top. (100$) a pack for $5 for cards. With Money chasing the high end stuff today the older stuff has not gone up much since the late 1980s. I got an Excellent complete Topps 1972 complete set for $650.00 in August of 2005. About 15-20 years ago I think it would have cost me closer to 1000. Ebay, has help a lot to bring down the value of older cards (from what they say in the beckett guide). It is good if you like cards but bad if you think it is a grat investment.

Matthew Glidden said...

Thanks for your comments, guys!