When our cards outlive us

Most of the baseball card collectors I knew as a kid eventually outgrew their collections in favor of girls, cars, college, drugs, or any number of other things more grown up. Not me though. And if you’re reading this article, my guess is not you either. We may just keep on collecting till the day we die.

But then what?

On days when my thoughts drift a bit dark I imagine myself in the past tense as my wife and son examine the mighty cardboard empire still occupying their basement. The thought of throwing it all away, as abhorrent as it may seem, might well be a frontrunner in their minds, particularly given the time and effort it would take to figure out what’s valuable and how to sell it.

Yes, I think they both know I have some valuable cards, but which ones? Are they the ones framed on the walls? Some, but I can only imagine the response they’d get if they hauled my framed (and glued!) collection of 1989 Topps Dodgers to the local card shop hoping for a life-changing offer.

What about the cards on the shelf? Good news for them if they grab my 1954 Topps Jackie Robinson. Not as good news if they grab my Gummy Arts Joe Kelly or Project 70 Cody Bellinger.

How about my binders? Let’s just hope they grab the one with my T206 and 1933 Goudey and not my 1981 Fleer Star Stickers set.

Way back when, I never imagined I’d ever need a plan for my cards beyond passing the collection on to my son. Little did I know he’d have no interest in cards at all. I asked him a few years ago what he would do if he ended up with my card collection. Only half jokingly he told me he’d burn the Dodgers and sell the rest, which is of course as heartbreaking as it is hilarious.

So is there plan? No, not yet, but I’m at least starting to think through some ideas.

My guess is that my collection, like most collections, follows some version of the 80-20 rule. That is, nearly the entire value of my collection resides in a rather small fraction of my cards. Simply making and sharing a Google Sheet of the 10 most valuable cards (or perhaps sets) in my collection, along with instructions on where to find them and how to sell them, allows my wife or son to spend minutes rather than months going through my cards and still end up with a pretty good payday.

What’s left after that would still be a shame to throw out but likely not worth my family’s time to figure out. My idea here is that there might be a small number of short lists that my wife or a friend could attempt to honor—kind of a “baseball card will.”

For example, my 1952 Dallas Eagles signed baseball would go to the family of Dave Hoskins, and my Diamond Stars Brooklyn set would go to Chad who runs the Dodger Cards twitter account. I’d also love it if my SABR Chicago friends came by and grabbed some cards too, whether a handful or a car full.

Beyond that, could it be that the simplest and most sensible thing to do would be to throw the rest away? The most important thing is that my cards don’t become a burden to my family, so I can’t discount the idea entirely. Still, I’d probably encourage one of two alternatives if easy enough to accomplish.

When the time comes, will I have any collector friends who would want everything left enough to come haul it away for free? And if not, even putting it all on Facebook Marketplace for some nominal amount spares my family some work and hopefully puts a ton of cards with someone who values them.

A final angle I’ll mention is museums or other venues where cards might be enjoyed by the masses. To have any of my cards go this route would be an incredible honor but ultimately an unlikely one. The reality here is that very few donations of cards or memorabilia ever end up on display, instead collecting dust in a warehouse or storage room. I’m also sober enough about my collection to recognize that nearly nothing of mine is of museum quality.

That said, let me know, Hank Aaron Museum, if you’d have room on your walls for Mr. Aaron’s career in cardboard…

…and let me know, Dodgers, if my favorite stadium could use some additional décor.

While I don’t dislike the planning I’ve just laid out, I know a much more courteous approach with my collection is to dispose of it before I die rather than kick the can down the road for loved ones to deal with. The challenge of course, since death is generally unplanned, is to know when to do this. I’d like to think it’s when I no longer enjoy my collection, but gosh, that could be never, and it’s most certainly not yet.

How about you? How are you tackling the topic? Let the rest of us know in the comments.

UPDATE: Inspired by this post, I just put together my “baseball card will.” It more or less turned out how I described it above, but I ended up listing more than just ten cards to sell. It may well be more like a few hundred now but many are kept together (e.g., 1959 Fleer Ted Williams set) so I still think my wife or son could find and gather everything in under an hour.

Author: jasoncards

I mainly enjoy writing about baseball and baseball cards, but I've also dabbled in the sparsely populated Isaac Newton trading card humor genre. As of January 2019 I'm excited to be part of the SABR Baseball Cards blogging team, and as of May 2019 Co-Chair of the SABR Baseball Cards Research Committee.

25 thoughts on “When our cards outlive us”

  1. Thank you for writing this somewhat somber yet humorous post, Jason! Someone needed to get the ball rolling on an issue I’ve been wrestling with since getting back into collecting. With a daughter and nephews who couldn’t care less about baseball/baseball cards (but who are interested in $ like anyone else) this is something that needs to be faced sooner rather than later. Most responsible may be going the “Swedish Death Cleaning” route, to make everything more manageable for our heirs. And I like your idea of parsing the best ones out to folks you have met along the way, whom know the hobby well and will enjoy being keepers of your wares for awhile longer. Picking out the most valuable ones for the nuclear family seems the responsible thing to do, if nothing else to prove once and for all that all those hours/money spent on the hobby were worthwhile after all! But it’s a tough, existential question that isn’t easy to come to grips with. I’m reminded of taking in a lecture at a coin show years ago where the speaker was encouraging and sanguine about the prospect of “what happens to them after I’m gone?”. With little emotion he looked at himself as a temporary curator/caretaker of his coins…they were there before he came along and would be there after he was gone, but he was able to enjoy them while he was here. Not exactly satisfying or uplifting maybe, but realistic. I like to think I’ll meticulously separate out the most valuable ones for my family, so ought to do that sooner rather than later, eh?
    Looking forward to hearing the thoughts of other diehards here!


  2. I’d like to think some kid or kids outside the family might want mine, though I don’t know exactly who my heirs would reach out to to make that connection. Some kind of youth services agency? The local baseball team’s knothole club? The local Little League or youth baseball program?
    A new task to add to the list of Things I Should Think About In Advance But Probably Won’t.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. She’s made the point that it would have to be donated as more of an archive than a museum piece. So something that says something distinct about what/why it is that adds additional information to the cards.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. My son, Dylan, is a collector and works for COMC. He is the ideal person to inherit my card collection. Of course, he will have to deal with an incredible amount of additional memorabilia as well.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve been wondering if SABR would take them. Either to sell off for funds, saved to form a library within the group, or a combination of these.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. My collection is small. I think my son will hold onto them because he knows that if I have them, there must be some meaning behind them. Whether it’s the 76 Topps Hank Aarons (valuable and cool), or the George Scott is the guy with the shark tooth necklace (just cool).

    One thing I do now is that each buddy of mine (if they are remotely into cards), gets an Oscar Gamble Traded card so as to make their desk or their collection immediately cooler by a factor of ten.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I have the same issue with my record collection, although I think there will come a day when I sell both collections and not burden my wife or son with them.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Great post, Jason. As a retiree (or whatever you want to call me), obviously this is a frequent topic. First, I’m glad I slabbed the most valuable parts of my collection before it became today too frickin’ expensive to do so. Gone are the days of $6 to get a card graded by PSA.
    Vintage graded cards so far have retained and gained value. So I know that my adult sons (who thankfully are baseball fans) and my wife (God bless her for listening to all my talk about baseball cards) know in general what my cards and autographs are worth. And even if they want to sell, they’d really have to be down on their luck for the proceeds to make that much difference.
    They can burn my 1990s ungraded dupes for heat if need be. That’s fine with me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. One advantage of grading is that even non-collectors can pick up a slab and say, “This is a 1962 Topps Hank Aaron, and there’s a 6 on it.” Makes it a lot easier to list on eBay or describe to a dealer or auction house. Alas my family will not have such a luxury beyond 2-3 cards!


  8. This is an interesting post.

    I’m still young enough to not worry about it, and recently my two kids (and particularly my 7 yr old son) have started collecting, so the possibility of handing it down to them whenever I go seems more realistic than it did a year ago when I wasn’t sure if either of them would ever be interested in baseball, let alone collecting baseball cards.

    I am getting a preview of what it is like from my own father though actually. He is 79 and as a kid stamp collecting was his real passion. In retirement, and especially since the pandemic hit, he has built up a huge collection which is worth quite a bit of money.

    I’m his only surviving child. I like stamps and have a small collection of my own, but baseball cards have always been my main collecting interest, stamps are more of a side hobby that I like and dabble a bit in but don’t invest much time or money in.

    I hope my dad has many happy years ahead of him, but I also know that at some point in the future I am going to inherit a substantial stamp collection from him, which gives me some mixed feelings. On the one hand I do like stamps and I know this collection is something my father has invested a lot of his time in building so I’ll be very happy to keep his collection in the family. On the other hand, I live in a pretty small house in a different country and inheriting something like that is going to create all sorts of practical complications that I’m not really in a good position to deal with. So I’m also a bit worried about that, in part because this will mean that not only will I be handing my own baseball card collection to my kids, but also my father’s stamp collection. Its funny how these things can accumulate over generations, I suppose its fortunate that my grandfather didn’t have a collection to hand down when he passed away.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I have been thinking of this as well. I have created an artificial deadline for the date we make our last move to a smaller house. At that point, all the cards will go, either given away or sold. In the meantime I am going to make sure a spreadsheet of the valuable cards is ready and for the sets, I will put a note on each one for its next owner. If they don’t want a complete 1970 or 1975 set they can sell it.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. My long term goal is to end up with only complete sets. This way I can leave those, with a companion spreadsheet. If the kids want to keep them, great, they’ll know what they’ll have. If they want to sell them, it’ll be easier for them to find out their value. It’s gonna take awhile though. I may not get there.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Another option for the heirs is, depending upon the size of the collection, to sell to one of the larger buyers out there. I have given a few people (multiple people because it depends on who outlasts me) the advice that “if someone offers you $X, take the $X.” I revise the $X from time to time. Obviously that won’t get top dollar, but it will move everything to someone who would have the time, resources, and knowledge (and profit motive) to sort through things. Yes, that person would be taking a substantial amount of 1980s-1990s cards that don’t have a lot of value (though at least they are organized), but they’d be getting a lot of other easily sellable cards. The buyer should also know what the variations are – is this 2019 Topps Opening Day Trout card a base version, a shortprint, or an insert is not a question easily answered by someone unfamiliar with the hobby. Heck, just figuring out that it’s a Topps Opening Day card is enough of a challenge.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Great post. I have thought about this a lot, but still do not have a plan in place. All my other affairs are in order for the day when I pass away. My wife has told me that I need to sell my collection when I turn 80 years old. If I make it to 80 that seems like a good deadline. In the meantime I need to put together a spreadsheet listing the important items in my collection and their estimated values in case something happens before then. This post has given me the kick that I needed to start the spreadsheet this weekend.

    Liked by 1 person

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