Selling Your Sports Card Collection–Part 1

So, you found your old sports card collection tucked away in a shoebox, buried deep underneath a lifetime of accumulated clutter at your parent’s house. Now what? After reliving your youth, you may decide to give them to a family member or attempt to sell the collection. If you decide to try and cash-in, the best way to do that comes down to three things: the age of the cards, the condition of the cards, and how much work you want to put into the endeavor.

What NOT to Sell

As with all collectibles, value is determined by rarity, condition and demand. With that said, let’s talk about what type of collection you are NOT going to try to sell. If most of the collection is made up of cards produced between 1986-1994, your best bet is to simply put them in your car, drive them to Goodwill, drop them off and ask for a receipt so that you can claim a charitable tax deduction. However, only do that after looking through the collection for the following cards.

  • 1986-1987 Fleer Basketball – This is the year of Michael Jordan’s rookie cards, as well as several other popular players from the era.
  • 1993 Derek Jeter Rookie Cards – Jeter is one of the most popular of all the recently retired, future Hall of Famers.
  • 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. Rookie Card – Much like Jeter, Griffey Jr. will always be beloved and collectible.
  • 1989 Fleer Randy Johnson Rookie Card – There is one version in particular to look for. Back in 1989, Major League Baseball still accepted advertising and sponsorship dollars from tobacco companies. However, after production began, Fleer executives decided to airbrush out the ad for Marlboro cigarettes. This much rarer version can be worth up to $100 in top grade on the right day.

1989 Fleer Randy Johnson Rookie Card. There is one version in particular to look for.

While there are certainly other rookie cards from great players produced during this time frame, the shear volume of the cards produced during this era render most of them worthless. Of course, exceptions exist, especially based on condition, however, often not worth the hassle of dealing with from a time management versus financial reward standpoint.

Now that you’ve picked through the collection, what do you do if you find any of the aforementioned cards?  Again, that is going to depend on whether you want to maximize your return or quickly liquidate, which, for the most part, applies to cards from any era.

Maximizing Your Return

In order to make the most money on anything you find and decide to sell, you are going to have to put in some time and money before seeing any financial reward. This includes spending money on card grading through one of the two primary third-party companies; Professional Sports Authenticators (PSA) or Beckett Grading Services (BGS). Grading has become an essential part of determining a sports card’s value. However, when it comes to cards from the “junk-wax” era of 1986-1994, it only makes sense to spend money for grading on cards with a good possibility of receiving a grade of Mint or better. The exception is rookie cards from 1986-87 Fleer Basketball, which can sell for sizable amounts even in conditions less than Mint.

But how do you know if your cards are worth grading when you aren’t an expert? Great question. I would recommend finding a local hobby shop and asking for the opinion of the owner. If you reside in a part of the country prohibitive to finding a local resource, you can do some online research. Find a card that has sold in a PSA 10 or BGS 9.5. Look at the card images, increase your screen resolution to magnify the image. Closely compare your card to the images online. Look at images of cards in other grades to try and match the condition of your card to one sold online.

Three cards, three grades, three VERY different prices realized. Recent sales for Patrick Ewing’s rookie card from high to low – $660, $130, $45.

Selling On eBay

At this point you have made the decision on whether to have your cards graded or not. What happens next depends on the grades the cards received. Assuming all of the cards received a grade of Mint 9 or higher, we are going to proceed to sell them on the world’s largest online, collectibles marketplace, eBay. If you have an account great, if not, you will need to set one up along with a PayPal account to handle receiving payments and paying your fees.

When listing your items on eBay, you want to do everything to insure maximum visibility and search results ranking. Here are some tips the pros use:

  • Use a detailed description with year, manufacturer, player, card number, card grader and grade, like this:  1986-87 Fleer Patrick Ewing Rookie Card #32 PSA GEM MINT 10.
  • Include multiple pictures; front and back of the card, close up of the grading label.
  • Expand your detailed description. A lot of the information will be replicated from the title. However, you can expand on grading details often provided by the grading company.
  • Provide free shipping.

Decide if you are going to list the item at a fixed cost or let it go to auction. I prefer, and recommend, eBay’s fixed price listing option for non-current year graded cards. The reason is that, for the most part, the market price has already been established. While prices may differ, there aren’t usually big swings in value. The best way to determine what price to sell your card for is to sell it for near the price of the last card sold in that specific grade. Add in money for insured, priority shipping, and include that information in the item description as well.

Making It Easy

If you are totally overwhelmed by the prospect of going through the above steps and process, I have good news. There are reputable, highly-regarded companies that will sell your collection on consignment or purchase it from you outright. Fees and details vary from company to company. You may even have a local “Sell it on eBay” specialist in your hometown or surrounding area.

Other services I would recommend are COMC (Check Out My Collectibles), Just Collect, and  Dave and Adam’s Card World (you can tell each of them that, Rob Bertrand, A.K.A @VOTC on Twitter sent you 😉). When using services of this nature, regardless of the fee structure or buying offer, you can expect to receive anywhere between 50-70% of the market value for your collectibles. And remember, if you aren’t comfortable with an offer, you can always say no. COMC in particular has a complex fee structure. While they charge for storage, processing, etc, it is by far the easiest way to sell your cards and maximize your return. You send them a box of cards, they do all the work and put money in your account.

Vintage Cards, Pre-war Cards and Other Exceptions

While some of the same procedures and guidelines will apply to cards from the 1940s-1970s and those made before World War II, there are other things to take into consideration. We will save this discussion for part 2 of this series on Selling Your Sports Card Collection.

Rob Bertrand has been an active collector of sports cards and memorabilia for more than 25 years. His involvement in the hobby community is well documented, having been involved with multi-media content development for several sports collectibles websites. Currently the Senior Marketing Manager for Sports & Entertainment at the hobby distributor GTS Distribution, he is also the co-host of the sports collectibles hobby’s only live streaming and nationally broadcast web show, Go GTS Live – The Hobby’s Web Show. 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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