“It’s a good book, but it is not the only book.”

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Do people still watch Inherit the Wind? In my house, it’s a staple, one of those movies that is always watched to the end, regardless of when we happen upon it. Spencer Tracy, as Henry Drummond, man of reason, makes the above quoted point about the Bible. The film is a true classic, timeless in its portrayal of science vs. religion, progress vs. regression, thought vs. belief. “Plus ca change…” and all that.

I’m not a slave to the Standard Catalog and its prices, but it serves its purpose very well. For me, it’s an upper limit of cost – most cards, especially commons, can be had for way less than book value. I’ve been spending about half the quoted price for 1960 Topps commons, about one-third of book for 1956 Topps commons, low and high numbers. Granted, EX condition is a wider lane to drive in, so there’s more play, and commons are different from stars. If I can get big names for any amount less than book, I’m happy.

Now that I’m down to the last 18 cards for my 1960 set, I’ve run into a bit of a wall. I see by sold listings on eBay that there’s a low range that I’m shooting to claim as well. I do like my bargains. Maybe I can get a Mantle All-Star for $65 instead of $75, but it’s not going to get better than that. (I know firsthand because I missed out on one at that price last week).  I’m not looking to pay 1985-era prices in 2017, just the lowest possible price within the realm of reason. I will prevail. There’s no reason to panic on 1960 Topps of any kind. They’re out there in force.

For other sets I’ve nearly finished, there are cross purposes at work. I desperately want to wrap up some sets but I’m finding that either book prices are not an indication of the present market, or I have to fight my impatience to complete and move on. I fight the feeling that I should pay way too much just to be done. I need the Jackie Jensen card to finish the 1949 Remar Bread set. That’s it. They aren’t plentiful, but I see them priced way beyond book, Sometimes they sell, sometimes they languish. I’ll sit back and wait. Then there’s crazy mispricing. I need two commons to finish my 1952 Parkhurst set. I don’t see them appear often, but when they do I can get them for $10. There’s a dude who wants $45 for a Jim Hughes card. Good luck buddy!

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Then there are cards that have clearly have reached a price point. I’m down to the last three cards for the 1971 Kellogg’s set. Wayne Simpson, Reds flash in the pan, is card #1 and there is zero possibility I’m going to get one in EX for $6.75, or NM for $13.50. Near Mint versions, graded or un-graded, are going for $50-60 and more. I’ve saved enough on the other cards that I wouldn’t feel too bad paying $20-30, but I don’t know if that’s going to ever happen. I may have to keep climbing that price ladder.

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What’s interesting about book is that, though I’m working with a 2009 edition, prices haven’t moved on vintage stuff, at least not in the sets and condition I’m interested in. Still, we’d all be nowhere without some kind of guide to tell us what to expect the market to be and to make us feel great when we get a deal and terrible when we pay too much. Much like the Bible itself, the Standard Catalog can lead to bliss or shame.

Author: Jeff Katz

Jeff Katz is Mayor of Cooperstown, the “Birthplace of Baseball” and home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. His latest book, Split Season:1981 - Fernandomania, the Bronx Zoo, and the Strike that Saved Baseball, (Thomas Dunne Books, 2015), received national attention, with coverage appearing in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Sporting News and NPR’s Only a Game, among others. Katz appeared on ESPN’s Olbermann and The Sporting Life with Jeremy Schaap and MLB Network’s MLB Now, with Brian Kenny. Split Season: 1981 was a finalist for the 2016 Casey Award for Best Baseball Book of the Year.

11 thoughts on ““It’s a good book, but it is not the only book.””

  1. Everything is worth whatever folks are willing to pay – this sort of makes eBay the most accurate price guide for specific and/or high end cards. However as you have noted the SCD is better for browsing quickly and getting suggested prices on commons – plus SCD also points out all those crazy variations etc. I also enjoy the capsule summaries of each set that are in the SCD.

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  2. Come on, Jim Hughes is worth it. He once toed the rubber at Delorimier Downs in Montreal. Perhaps the best name for a baseball stadium in history. Mark McCrae is one of the biggest dealers in PCL cards and memorabilia. I just received an email from him this weekend stating that he would,once again, be at the November Card Show in Seattle. I can email him to see if he has your Jensen card in Ex. condition. What are you willing to spend? Do a blog post on the Parkhurst and Remar Bread cards. The blog hasn’t delved much into odd ball minor league sets.

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  3. After growing up following Beckett the idea of looking in a price guide gives me hives. Yes it’s good to have an idea what things are “worth” but I’m trying to ignore that side of things as long as I can.

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      1. Oh totally. And if I were buying anything expensive I’d probably be looking more closely. But one of the wonderful things about poking around commons and filling up team sets (minus the stars) is that in addition to the wide EX lane I’ve been out in the woods where the prices are all low and are more about what feels right to me than what the actual book price.

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  4. Beckett is what I was raised on so I actually forgot about the Standard Catalog so I am now looking on Amazon…..thanks for making me spend more money. Anymore I just compare card prices on EBay because I am willing to live with rough corners for the right price. Very first thing I always do though is scroll right past the cards that have been graded.

    Great movie by the way

    Liked by 1 person

      1. While I also use eBay auction prices as an indicator, I tend to think of that as the “LO” end of the Beckett Guide. The definition (at least in the 1980s-1990s guides) for the LO value was what you would pay with extensive searching. While eBay (and technology in general) has made extensive searching easier, I am guessing most of us put a good bit of time and effort into getting “the best deal.” eBay is essentially a garage sale, albeit an easy to navigate one.

        The other caveat I have with eBay is based on thickness of the market. For something like the iPhone 8, there are plenty of sales for eBay to represent a thick enough market. More relevantly, there are enough sales of 1984 Donruss Mattingly cards to get a decent idea of a market price (somewhere between $10-$25 for an ungraded copy, which is pretty close to Beckett’s $12.50-$30.00 range; one did sell on eBay for $5, but even from the small picture it is easy to see it is off-center and has at least one poor corner).

        But if there is only a sale or two of a card, it’s not really representative enough to be a “market price.” It’s really just picking one or two individual points off of a market demand curve. And sometimes those can be fluky – either someone REALLY wants a card (so it sells really high – there are some things I will put double HI book bids on because I know they are difficult to find – oh, 2001 Topps Golden Anniversary Autograph Eddy Furniss I wish I had done that with you – forget double book, triple book!!!) or someone got really lucky (the item was listed poorly, people weren’t searching for it at that time, etc. – you’ll never find a 2001 Topps Golden Anniversary Autograph George Brett at a price as low as one I won unless the card is bent in half). The guide prices are, at least in theory, based on a broader representation of sales.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Lots of good points. As to your Eddy Furniss, I’m still two cards from finishing my 2000-01 Heritage basketball. They don’t turn up often but when they do, they’re not that expensive. Little supply, little demand.

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