Dealing from the Bottom

I once read that good collectors sell the bottom of their collection to pay for what they need. That seemed very shrewd and made me realize I was not a good collector, at least by this standard. It’s only in recent years that I’ve sold the bottom, or some of the bottom (doubles, triples, stuff I don’t want) to subsidize my new needs.

In the early ‘90’s, my interest in cards and my income were equally high, and I thought I’d begin to pursue one card of every Hall of Famer from when they were active. Of course I was covered from the 1950’s on (not counting Negro Leaguers, 19th Century guys and other similar cases), but I started in somewhat earnest. Within a few years that goal disappeared. I don’t think in a way that makes a personal collection of random cards, from various years, interesting to me. I don’t like things so open-ended and the failure of this effort underscored my collecting, and psychological, MO.

But I did get some nice pre-war cards, including two from the 1928 George Ruth Candy Company set of six. Thinking on it recently, I concluded that I don’t need two Ruth cards. One is plenty and selling the other would help me with my current needs. I listed it on eBay, ungraded, but I’ll likely get it slabbed by SGC. My gut tells me I’ll get $1250-1500, but who knows. I can’t even remember what I paid for it, though I know I bought both at once and I never spent a ton on anything.

Ruth front

Ruth back

So is a 90-year- old Babe Ruth card in the bottom of my collection? Can’t be, right, but I’m not so sure. It’s an extra, though not a double. I’m never going to finish that set (nor do I want to) and, the more I think about it, the more I WANT to sell it. And that, realizing that a card could be a one of a kind in my collection yet still be disposable, is liberating.

About 15 years ago, I decided I really wanted autographed cards of ARod and Jeter. I’ve always like Rodriguez, still do, but never cared one way or the other about Jeter. I got a good deal on a signed 1993 Jeter Upper Deck rookie, with LOA. I think it cost around $75. Noodling around on eBay I saw that one sold in the neighborhood of $300 (listed there, best offer accepted). Once I saw that I was intrigued. (Thought you’d guys would like to see the page Jeet is on.)

If someone walked into my house and said they’d trade me a 1956 Mantle in EX for the Jeter auto card and a couple hundred bucks, I’d take the deal (after saying “What the hell are you doing in my house?”). I know that to be true. Yet I’m having a harder time listing the card, getting the dough first, and then searching for the Mantle in the $450-500 range.

The jury’s still out on this. If I do list the Jeter, it’s going to open up the floodgates and I’ll look at what I have in a different light. There’s a lot in my collection that would qualify as “this is really nice, but I’d rather have that.”

Is that the bottom? I don’t know. I’ll let you know if I get there.

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.

9 thoughts on “Dealing from the Bottom”

  1. I would be wary of getting that Ruth card slabbed, unless it’s purely for sake of proving it’s authentic. Or maybe you can just ask for an “authentic” designation. Don’t know if SGC does that.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. It may be different for pre-war cards, but for recent cards with a low print run a low grade can substantially reduce the sales price relative to the ungraded card. The 2000 Skybox Dominion Warp Tek cards are incredibly condition sensitive. I don’t know enough about printing processes to truly explain, but it seems like the “Warp Tek” front is almost mounted on the card and not actually printed on the card. I wouldn’t call it “peeling” like I’ve seen with some other foil fronts, just not properly mounted. That can cause issues with grading.

        The Eye on October set is a 15-card set and the Warp Tek versions are numbered to the player’s uniform number. I’ve seen an ungraded Ripken (#ed to 8) sell for $300 (I highly doubt that one would have graded out as a 10 or even an 8). I bought a graded Ripken (it’s a 4, and I believe it’s BGS) for $125. I would have paid more regardless of the grade (unless it was bent in half or something like that) – there are only 7 other copies out there – but I think the low grade scared people away. I’m pretty sure it’s because of how the front is mounted to the card back, though I’m not at home right now to check.

        There’s likely a cutoff point for grading. If you get something pre-war that’s graded a 7 or better you’ll likely do well. But if it grades a 2 or 3 you may be able to do just as well selling it raw (or with the Authentic slab rather than a true grade, as Andrew suggests), without incurring the grading cost.

        Liked by 3 people

  2. A quick look at the image of that Ruth card says to me it would probably grade 3 or 3.5 These graders are tough — the standards applied to a 2018 card are applied the same to a 1920s card, so, in other words, it doesn’t matter it “looks real good for a card that old.” Any contemporary Ruth cards, even graded 3 would still command a good price, but probably not much more (and maybe less) than the card would raw, IMHO). Getting a single card graded by SGC or PSA is no bargain, either.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I would slightly argue with the definition of “good collector.” I think whether or not someone sells off the bottom depends on one’s stage of life and current situation. In grad school I would routinely buy lots (or sets), pull what I wanted, and then trade or sell off the rest, allowing me to get the card/cards I wanted for “free.” I built most of my 1969 and 1971 Topps sets that way. At times I would even get lucky and turn a profit (thank you Joey Votto). I did that for about a decade after grad school. But about 5 years ago I stopped doing it (the selling off part – I still buy lots/sets because it is oftentimes cheaper to buy in bulk and pull what I want, particularly in person at shows).

    I put “free” in quotes because of course selling off cards is not “free.” And I don’t just mean shipping costs and listing costs, but time costs. I’m (thankfully) doing well enough in my regular job that I don’t need a … what do the kids call it these days … side hustle that brings in a few hundred dollars a month in revenue. There are better things I could be doing with my time. I have used some of that time to get the collection better organized, in the event that I do want to start selling things off.

    I get that selling off the bottom (or the middle – the “bottom” of what I have is a bunch of 1988-1991 stuff that no one is really buying, so I wouldn’t even try to sell it) can reduce the cost of collecting, but I think that decision also needs to consider all the costs of selling off items.

    Liked by 2 people

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