It’s Time to Sell Your Sports Collection… Now What?

Having your cards graded by a reputable, third-party service is essential when it comes time to sell your collection.

There are many reasons and numerous potential life-changing events that may provide the catalyst for selling your treasured sports memorabilia collection. Financial hardship, college tuition, home downsizing, the healthcare or death of a loved one are all regularly occurring circumstances that cause people to liquidate.

This leads to big questions and overwhelming decisions like, “Where do I start?” and “How should I sell it?”

While no single answer can meet the needs and situation of every collector or spouse of a collector, here are some guidelines to help aid that process if and when that fateful day arrives. I also provide a list of resources available to help.

As the famous Boy Scout creed states, “Be prepared.” Regardless whether the topic is one you want to think about, all collectors need to prepare for the eventual sale of their cards, autographed items and other memorabilia. Additionally, unless you want your prized keepsakes to be sold for pennies on the dollar, end up in your family’s next yard sale or be mercilessly buried in an attic or storage locker, you have to have a documented plan.

If you are an adult of legal age, it goes without saying that you should have a legal will with specific instructions about your after-life affairs. This should include the details of what is to be done with your sports-memorabilia collection. This may include leaving various items to different individuals, providing the names and numbers for reputable dealers to contact about purchasing or auctioning your collection or other pertinent information your beneficiary will need to be aware of at the time of your death.

An autograph authenticator examines a boxing gloved allegedly signed by Muhammad Ali. Get authentication done well before you need to sell.

Authentication and Grading
Regardless whether it will be you, a spouse or a trusted third-party who will have the responsibility of selling your collection, you can make it easier on yourself and others by having your autographs authenticated and your more valuable cards graded. While some collectors balk at the expense or politics of third-party grading and authentication, the bottom line is that your items will be worth more and easier to sell if you have these actions done ahead of time.

Did Chicago Blackhawks Captain Jonathan Toews toss you his stick after a home game you attended? Cool. Get it authenticated. Have a complete set of 1968 Topps Baseball cards stored carefully in a binder? Congratulations, now get the rookies and other key cards graded. When it comes time to sell, it doesn’t matter if you personally witnessed Tiger Woods autograph your Masters program, you have to have the autograph authenticated.

So how does one go about submitting game-used memorabilia, autographs and cards for grading and authentication? There are a few different options and resources available to you.

If you have complete sets of vintage sports cards, you may need to have the rookie cards removed from the binder and graded when it comes time to sell.

If you are consigning your collection to one of the major auction houses, they will be able to determine and handle the details of which items to have graded and authenticated. However, if you are selling your collection yourself, you will need to be the one to submit such items to a third-party service who specializes in such activities.

Consign or Self-Sell
This is often one of the most difficult decisions to make during the process of collection liquidation. There is no doubt that you will often make more money if you use available resources like eBay and Amazon to sell your collection versus selling it to a local or national dealer in a bulk deal.

However, selling in bulk frees you of the time and energy involved to maximize the return on investment of every single item you choose to sell. Selling in a bulk deal also puts cash in your hands immediately, which can definitely play into the decision, depending on your own individual circumstance.

Document examiners analyze handwriting for authenticity. Having this done by a reputable firm makes selling easier on you or your beneficiaries.

If your collection consists of Hall of Fame autographs, game-used equipment and apparel and vintage trading cards, your best option maybe to consign the collection to one of several esteemed auction houses that specialize in sports memorabilia. You will typically incur no fees, as auction houses usually defer those costs as part of a buyer’s premium, meaning that after the house commission, the remaining net profit is yours. These companies also have well-established marketing practices with deep pockets to promote, advertise and publicize higher-end collections, which as part of their next auction often lead to higher realized prices.

Selling on eBay
If your collection consists of nice items but not necessarily worthy of appearing in a high-profile auction, your best option may be to sell it individually on a site like eBay. Other auction and marketplace sites exist that have lower fees but often less traffic. The decreased traffic translates to potentially fewer eyeballs on your items and potentially lower final sale prices.

When it comes to selling specifically on eBay, there are some best practices that should be followed to insure you get the best possible return. Top rated and power sellers cite the following dos and don’ts:

• Create a title that specifically states what the item is;
• Use the description for specific details and condition of the item;
• Schedule your auctions to start and end between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m.;
• List items on Thursday during the previous timeframe or to start on a Thursday;
• List the item for 10 days. This gives two weekends of exposure;
• Use a “buy it now” price within a few dollars for what similar items have recently sold for;
• Use a scanner or high megapixel camera;
• Picture items individually;
• Cite grading or authenticating parties.

Publically held autograph signings like this one produced by Tristar with the Houston Rockets, James Harden, will provide a credible COA on site.

Other things to consider when it comes to selling your collection have to do with seasonal timing, knowing what to sell as a set and what to sell individually and what to do with items that aren’t easily sellable. While the later two factors can be somewhat subjective, the following are additional best practices employed by some of the top dealers and online sellers.

The value of modern trading cards that include game-used memorabilia, autographs or are short-printed to create artificial scarcity (like serial-numbered cards) are often influenced by the time of year in which they are being sold. While baseball remains fairly consistent throughout the calendar year, other sports like football, basketball and hockey often perform much better in terms of sale prices when sold during the sport’s specific season or within a month of its start and end.

For whatever the specific buying reasons, individual graded cards from vintage sets, especially in top-grade, often sell better singly as compared to being part of a set. The sum of the parts is often greater than the whole. When it comes to complete sets, it’s best to list them as a “buy in now” only and for the going rate of a complete set in similar condition plus a percentage of what individually graded cards sell for that you possess within the set. If, after listing your item for two consecutive 30-day periods, the set fails to sell, you may consider breaking it up and auctioning the graded cards and dividing the remaining cards into multiple lots for a “buy it now” price.

An assortment of graded 1975 Topps Baseball cards including Rookie cards of Hall of Famers George Brett and Robin Yount.

Regardless of how you choose to sell your sports-card and memorabilia collection, do your research. Get multiple quotes from different dealers if selling your collection as a whole. Learn and understand the commission structure of different auctions houses and determine what, if any, other fees might exist. Conduct searches for recently completed items on eBay to determine the average sale price to find their real market value and don’t simply rely on an arbitrary book-value price. And be patient, list a few items every day, be realistic and count your money.

Suggested Resources
These resources are provided as a courtesy of WorthPoint and are noted for being reputable and well-used resources within the sports-card and sports-memorabilia hobby. WorthPoint and the author make no specific recommendations and are aware that other services within these categories do exist.

Rob Bertrand has been an active collector of sports cards and memorabilia for more than 20 years. His involvement in the hobby community is well documented, having been the content manager for the Card Corner Club website before the company’s merger with CardboardConnection in 2011, where he is now a staff writer and multimedia content producer. Rob is also the co-host of the sports collectibles hobby’s only live and nationally broadcast radio show, Cardboard Connection Radio. He is the author of the highly respected and trafficked blog, Voice of the Collector and you can follow him on Twitter @VOTC. A dealer himself, Rob runs an online business through eBay, and is frequently asked to consign collections.

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