The Price is Right?

I’m in the home stretch for my 1956 Topps set – 330 down, 10 to go. My tendency is to back into the most expensive card in any set I’m working on, because that puts me in a corner. “Are you really not going to buy that last card, regardless of price?” says the collector voice in my head. Of course I’m going to buy that card, hopefully at the price/condition equilibrium that’ll make me happy. So, yeah, I’m going to end up buying a 1956 Mantle.


I’ve noticed a good amount of collectors approach the pricey card predicament in different ways. Some go lower condition to get a manageable price; some accept that they’ll simply never be able to afford that high dollar card. Some I’ve come across make do with reprints as a way to fill a sheet and look complete. I have thoughts.

How does one embark on set collecting? For me, from the onset, the overall cost has to be attainable. We all have different budgets, sure (though it seems clear to me that some of you spend far too much!), but putting one’s self on a completion path that you’ll never see the end of seems like bad planning and hugely frustrating. Snipe hunting sucks.

I’ll gulp when I buy that ’56 Mantle, but I knew it was hovering on the horizon when I decided to work on the set. For that reason, I’ll never even begin a 1952 Topps set, and didn’t even in the ‘70’s, when the prices were still relatively high to my income, which was non-existent. I could, back then, work on late ‘60’s sets which, at the time, were closer to my grasp.


But, if you’re determined to finish most of a set, what’s the best option? It’s got to be the worse condition rather than the reprint. I know even low grade high end cards (oxymoronic?) can get up there dollar-wise, but a genuine card by default is preferable. Want to use a reprint as a placeholder? Sure, I guess. As an end in itself? You’re better off selling all the cards you have and redirecting towards a more attainable year to pursue.

All of that certainly makes it more difficult to pick a set. I’ve been inching my way along a 1970-71 Topps Hockey set, because I had a critical mass of cards to start with (around 25%) and the priciest cards I still need won’t run more than $30-40, and there’s only two of those (Orr and a checklist).  It’s definitely the last old hockey set I’ll tackle, because I know from the get-go that I’m unwilling to pony up the dough for certain cards.

I’m definitely running out of sets that I can reasonable hunt down.  I know I’ve written about that before, but it really bothers me.  I’ll figure something out. Until then, I’ll be on the lookout for a VGEX or EX 1956 Mantle that won’t keep me up at night.

Author: Jeff Katz

Jeff Katz is the former 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.

18 thoughts on “The Price is Right?”

  1. This is the thing that most discourages me from set collecting. As a Team Set guy I’m totally a “leave the expensive stuff to the end” type who will likely use reprints as placeholders for the expensive stuff since I’ll be able to page things by lineup or something that way.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Mainly because I just don’t think I’ll ever be in a position where the card is “worth” $500 to me. I love creating sets, as you know, and completing a set has value. But (for me) I can never justify the price for such an ugly card. If it was $25 maybe.

        Liked by 2 people

  2. I’m facing this right now with the Topps 1970 set. I need the Nolan Ryan (gorgeous card) and about 20 other cards. Ungraded Ryans in VG condition can be had for around $50-60. However, I’m holding out for a graded Ryan preferably a PSA 6 or 7 and those are well over $100. I wouldn’t consider a reprint and I am patient so I will continue to bid (and lose). Ideally, I would trade a ’69 or ’72 Ryan (of which I have doubles) for the ’70.

    I’m also down to three very pricey cards in the completion of my ’51 Bowman set: Whitey Ford (a PSA 2 can be had for $150 dollars). And then I need the Mays and Mantle — not sure how I’ll ever be able to pull the trigger on those.

    In the meantime, I’m slowly but surely chipping away at ’67 Topps but those high number cards are very pricey and I still need over 100 cards. In my completion of the ’72, ’73, ’74, & ’75 Topps sets, it was not an expensive card that held me back. I chose to acquire the few more expensive cards I needed early and I found it interesting who the last card for each of those sets was: Tony Cloninger for the ’72, Checklist #588 for ’73 (not cheap at $15), Rookie Pitchers (Freisleben) for ’74, and Indians team for ’75.

    Like the author, I’m contemplating what to tackle next.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Love your random last cards. It’s great when it’s some fluky guy.
      What worked for me on some pricey cards, including the 1970 Ryan, was that centering is not an issue for me (miscuts are). Older cards that are 80-20 or 90-10 work for me and they come much cheaper. As long as I can see border on all sides, Im’ good.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Last card stories for Jeff (somehow I think I’ve told some of these before):

        1988 Score Larry Andersen – had put together 659 of the 660 cards. It was November 1989 (because it was around my birthday) when I went to the card shop. I told the owner I was missing the card and he just pulled one out of the back room and gave it to me. I also purchased at least one pack of 1988 Score on that visit. I pulled Larry Andersen.

        1990 Donruss Felix Fermin – it’s probably 2001 or so (I’m in my mid-20s at this point). Have them all except Fermin. Store owner is selling 1990 Donruss packs cheap and some 9-11 year old kid pulls Fermin. I don’t have Fermin but have plenty of Sosa rookies from 1990 Donruss. I offer him a Sosa rookie. Kid refuses thinking I am up to something. A few weeks later one of the other guys in the store that day drops off a Fermin.

        1994 Stadium Club Golden Rainbow – a few years ago I got 6 of the last 7 I needed from a shop owner by trading him an extra Vizquel I had from the set (it was the only card he was missing). Last card was a Javy Lopez. I’m buying singles off eBay from one of the large sellers and see a Lopez. I purchase it. The card arrives. There are multiple Lopez cards in the set, and I was so excited to finally knock out the last card for 99 cents that I wasn’t paying attention and bought the wrong one (completely my fault, not the seller’s). Finally found the one I needed a few weeks later.

        2000 Skybox Autographics – not complete yet, but having just purchased Carlos Delgado and Konerko in the last month, the last card will either be some guy we can just call “Jeter” (available but expensive – like $400-$500), some guy we can just call “Pedro” (comes up very rarely – one just sold for $100), or … Roger Cedeno. Most commons from the set I can get for maybe $5 (and that includes shipping), except Cedeno. Mark Bellhorn was also, for some reason, tough to get cheap.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Not too long ago I felt I just had to buy a 1946 team-signed BoSox ball. So like an addict, I bargained with myself. I bought the ball and pledged not to buy any cards or memorabilia for two months. That worked for me. 🙂 Happy hunting for your Mantle. It’s a beautiful card in probably my favorite set. (BTW, my ’56 MM is a reprint.)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I mentioned in a comment on your last post that bought a reprint (not an attempted fake, tho) of #68 from the ’59 Fleer Ted Williams set. You’re right: It was a placeholder. Because it’s small, the Williams is popular with set collectors. It was my first, but as I collect graded cards, I was never going to be able to afford a #68. Eventually, I just sold all the other cards and essentially recouped what I paid (maybe slightly more). I did complete the ’63 Topps in graded condition. The really hard one, of course, was the ugly Rose rookie. I have a PSA 5, which seems to have tripled in value since I bought it. Insane! And all I wanted a Ken McMullen rookie.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your comment made me think, which resulted in this post. It’s interesting to see how we all, as collectors, try to find that right balance between wants and costs. Like you, I’ve been thinking about cards I bought years ago with a plan in mind and, now that that plan isn’t going to happen, I’m wondering what I want to do with them. I’ll likely end up selling too.


  5. I enjoy these posts. I am complete on Topps 58 and 65-71. I’ve thought about going for 61, 62, and 64, but the Rose rookie has put me off the 63s. I have really enjoyed the Heritage sets because of their retro-ness, but the artificiality of their scarcities seems silly. SPs and “high numbers” were just the result of bad planning by Topps. Why reproduce that? I’m more a collector than an investor, so overt fussiness about condition is not an affliction I’m cursed with. Have thought about upgrading that ‘65 Carlton rookie (#477) since mine must have gone through a washing machine.

    To the person despairing over ‘67 high numbers—don’t lose heart. If you’re persistent you will triumph. I ought to know.

    Liked by 1 person

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