Introducing The All Vintage Cards “Value” Portfolio
As you might have picked up in past posts, I like to find value when looking for new cards to buy.
I have an investment background so this is only natural for me–my whole life is involved with finding the best funds or stocks for a portfolio. Of course, part of that equation revolves around finding good value.
As I always say, card prices are a determination of demand versus supply. For stocks, it’s a similar story.
And if there’s excess supply (think 1988 Topps) with minimal demand, the cards are pretty much worthless.
But if there’s excess demand versus supply (think Tesla in the stock market or the Green Portrait Cobb) the price rockets higher.
With cards, we determine a card’s scarcity and attempt to evaluate the future demand based on a myriad of factors – player popularity, the card set popularity, etc.
This is NEVER a perfect science and not all collectors think this way, but it’s a good habit to get into if you are making some serious investments in baseball cards.
There are some givens for me. Names like Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Honus Wagner will never see a drop in future demand.
But depending on the card set we are considering, there could be more variability in demand over time.
Sure, there’s no certainty in any of this, but it’s the way I think about collecting.
I know common T206 cards might see an increase in line with inflation over time, but there’s no reason to think they should increase significantly in value.
I mean how much future demand should we expect for Buck Congalton’s T206 over time?
So, with that said, I am assembling what I call the All Vintage Cards ‘Value’ Portfolio.
In the stock market, funds labeled as “value” tend to have valuation characteristics below that of the market. Due to this value discrepancy, investors look for these lower valued stocks in hopes there is some reversion to the mean with valuation.
For example, today Ford (ticker F) would be considered a ‘value’ play, as it trades at a very low multiple versus its earnings (or P/E ratio). Whereas a company such as Tesla (TSLA) is very optimistically valued and trades at a significant premium to its expected future earnings.
Hence, I’m attempting to put a portfolio together of cards that I think offer good relative value and have opportunity for future appreciation.
Before getting started, I will reiterate this IS NOT INVESTMENT ADVICE. While I think cards are a good portfolio diversifier, please do your own homework. Don’t assume that I will be right about any of this!
Thus, without further adieu, here are the components of the All Vintage Cards ‘Value’ Portfolio.
As shown in the list above, there are a few repeat subjects. Notably –Ty Cobb (6), Babe Ruth (3), Honus Wagner (2), Cy Young (2), Walter Johnson (2).
I consider these players to be immune from any downturn in hobby pricing, as one thing is certain–there will always be demand for these players.
I consider cards to be ‘undervalued’ based on a belief that today’s current value underestimates the current future value. This could be either due to a lack of supply relative to demand or a belief that future demand would exceed today’s demand. Not a science! But I gave it my best shot.
Here’s a closer look at the cards of the ‘All Vintage Cards Value Portfolio’. Note I’ll update this next year to see where the cards are valued.
1888 Goodwin Champions (N162) – Cap Anson
Current Value – PSA 2 – $3000
There might not be a more beautiful vintage baseball set than the 1888 Goodwin Champions set. Featuring the new commercial printing technologies of the era, the Goodwin set is a marvel of colors. The set was a multi-sport set and cards were inserted into packs of Old Judge and Gypsy Queen cigarettes. Of the 50 cards in the set, only eight are baseball players with four of them in the Baseball Hall of Fame (Cap Anson, King Kelly, Dan Brouthers and Tim Keefe).
The Goodwin Champion cards aren’t rare, but they are scarce and for the baseball subjects, it’s likely that less than 100 for each are in existence. The Anson card is a classic, and for those not familiar, it’s clear that the card holds exceptional visual appeal. As for PSA population, only 62 have been graded, making it available, but not plentiful like some other early baseball sets.
Anson might not be as well known as some of the stars of later decades such as Ruth and Cobb, but Anson was a remarkable player. Considered to be the best hitter of the 19th century. Disappointingly, Anson was also a well known racist, which sometimes has me wonder about the future value of his cards, along with my own personal desires to hold the card of one with such reputation. Whatever the case, based on pure historical beauty and dearth of supply, along with the credentials of the player himself, I believe the Anson card is still quite a good value.
1888 Allen & Ginter (N28) – Mike “King” Kelly
Current Value – PSA 2 – $1000
The Allen & Ginter set of 1888 is one of the first and more popular 19th century sets. The ten card set features six hall-of-famers including Mike ‘King’ Kelly, one of the most feared hitters of his time. As we wrote in ‘The History of Baseball Cards’, Kelly wrote baseball’s first autobiography while also inventing the ‘hit and run’, ‘double steal’ and ‘infield shift’.
The N28 set is more readily available than the Goodwin Champions cards of the same year, but still, the population isn’t overwhelming. Kelly’s card has been graded 156 times by PSA. At $1000, to own one of the earliest and best baseball player’s first cards, it almost seems too good to be true. Not to mention the card is now over 130 years old. It’s not getting any younger!
1909 Dockman & Sons (E92) – Christy Mathewson
Current Value – PSA 2 – $2500
This is just my opinion, but I believe the Mathewson Dockman and Sons card could be one of the most beautiful vintage cards in the history of the hobby. You might be wondering how a $2500 card of Mathewson ends up in the ‘Value’ bin…but hear me out.
First, let’s talk supply. As far as PSA goes, there are only 35 copies of the Mathewson card (note his name is misspelled ‘Matthewson’ on the front’) that have been graded. Compare that to over 700 for Mathewson’s T206 portrait card and you can see the relative scarcity. His T206 portrait in good condition goes for near $1000, thus at $2500, I believe the Dockman & Sons card represents good relative value.
Secondly, this is a highly sought after card due to the beautiful colors and graphics. Mathewson as far as player demand goes, is slightly outside of the upper echelon, but I can see this card holding tremendous value over the coming years.
1909 Philadelphia Caramel (E95) – Honus Wagner
Current Value – PSA 2 – $2500
Something you’ll notice across this list as that there is solid representation from some of the early caramel sets that I think remain undervalued relative to some of the early tobacco issues. The 1909 E95 Philadelphia Caramel set is one such example and it doesn’t get quite the same attention that the T206 White Borders set.
The E95 still is one of the more popular early caramel issues and the set at 25 cards is chock full of star power. The reason I like the Honus Wagner card as a good ‘value’ has to do with a few things. First, it’s pretty neat to be able to own a 1909 Honus Wagner card that isn’t his T206 issue at a fraction of the price.
In addition, PSA has only graded 117 of Wagner’s E95 card, thus I almost feel as if collectors are ignoring the big elephant in the room
You might not realize this, but PSA has graded 33 copies of the T206 Honus Wagner card. Thus, at only 80 some odd more, the E95 card to me looks like a good relative value.
1909 Philadelphia Caramel (E95) – Ty Cobb
Current Value – PSA 2 – $2500
Yep, we’re going with another E95 card–the Ty Cobb from the set. And for many of the same reasons we outlined with the Wagner. I feel the set is just generally underappreciated and if we look at the scarcity of the Cobb versus his T206 cards, there is good relative value.
I don’t personally love the Wagner pose on the E95 yet the Cobb is a different story…Cobb in a portrait pose featured in his Detroit jersey with a striking red background. I would bet that if the Wagner E95 had a similar portrait photo, it might generate a bit more interest.
Take a look at the population difference between the T206 and the E95. The E95 has been graded less than 1/10th as many times as the red portrait yet they have nearly equivalent prices. That spells VALUE to me.
1909 Philadelphia Caramel (E-95) – Eddie Plank
Current Value – PSA 2 – $600
Plank is somewhat underrated from a player standpoint but one of the keys to his E95 card is the striking resemblance to his ultra rare T206 portrait card.
But the E95 on its own right is fairly hard to find—PSA has graded only 93….but wait, guess, what PSA has graded 69 of his supposed ‘ultra-scarce’ T206 card. I’d say the E95 Plank card is probably one of the better values in the hobby.
1909 T206 White Borders – Cy Young Portrait
Current Value – PSA 2 – $1200
I initially told myself that I wouldn’t add any T206 cards to this list. They are plentiful, still highly sought after, and prices elevated across the board. Yet as I thought more about it, I still think value can be found in sets where there remains high demand and plentiful supply.
There are two that I still believe offer good value over the long term. The first is the T206 Cy Young portrait card. Now, if you don’t know, the portrait cards tend to hold a premium over any other player poses, such as the one’s that have multiple poses in the set, such as Young.
The Young green portrait card is a high demand card with no shortage of supply–PSA has graded nearly 800 copies of the Young card.
Yet at around $1200 for one in good condition, I believe this is a good value that will likely hold or increase its value over time. It’s Cy Young’s most sought after baseball card. Buy this one with confidence.
1909 T206 White Borders – Walter Johnson Portrait
Current Value – PSA 2 – $950
This is the other T206 card that I like as a long term value. Nearly 900 in PSA Population–not scarce by any means, but a landmark card, with a striking portrait. If you can snag this Johnson portrait for $900 or under in good condition, I think you’d be making a wise investment.
1910-11 Sporting News (M116) - Cy Young
Current Value - PSA 2 - $750
As we discussed in our piece regarding undervalued Cy Young cards, his Sporting News M116 card is in our opinion a tremendous value in relation to Young's other more popular cards.
Relative to his more popular T206 cards, the M116 Young is scarcer and only a fraction of the price (see below). The prices below are slightly out of date, as the T206 cards have nearly doubled in price, as has the M116 card.
1910 Anonymous Set of 30 (E98) – Honus Wagner
Current Value PSA 2 – $2000
Any Honus Wagner card certainly carries high demand, but this 1910 E98 card allows collectors to get a somewhat affordable version of one of the best players to ever play the game.
The E98 set is also known as the ‘Anonymous Set of 30’ for the main reason that no one really knows who produced the set. There are 30 cards in the set with varying colored (red, green, blue and orange) backgrounds. The images on the cards also are quite similar to many of the other caramel sets of the era. PSA has graded around 100 of the E98 Wagners with the red being the most available, with the orange and blue the rarest.
1911 Gold Borders T205 – Ty Cobb
Current Value PSA 2 – $1400
Overall, I think the T205 set is generally underappreciated. Vintage collectors typically flock to the T206 set with its beautiful lithography and amazing colors. The T205 cards have their own beauty but some consider the static portraits to be a bit more ‘uninteresting’. The T205 set has less availability and thus there is a bit of a value discrepancy.
On average, PSA has graded more than double the amount of T206 cards, making the T205 set about twice as scarce as the T206 set.
As for Cobb, as shown below, his T205 card is valued about $600 less than his T206 red portrait, despite about 1/3 of the availability. Sounds like good value to me.
1911 Hassan Triple Folders (T202) – Ty Cobb
Current Value PSA 2 – $1200
New collectors might not be familiar with the T202 set, but for us old vintage folks, the T202 set is an underappreciated gem.
The T202 set features a three card panel, with two colored portraits (which are replicas of T205 portraits on the ends and a black and white action photo in the middle section.
Cobb is featured as a portrait on five of the cards—one of the triple folders has HOF Hughie Jennings and is considered to be the most desirable of all variations. However the Jennings variation is the most plentiful per PSA grading stats.
1911 Turkey Reds (T3) – Tris Speaker
Current Value PSA 2 – $500
The T3 set is one of the more underappreciated vintage sets in the hobby. It’s not until you actually hold a T3 in your hands, is when you ultimately realize the true beauty of these cards. I could have literally chosen any of the hall of famers in this set and they would probably all fall in the same camp —they represent tremendous value, given the beauty an the lack of significant supply relative to other tobacco issues.
But let’s go with the Speaker. Speaker cards tend to fall below those of the big guns such as Cobb, Ruth and Wagner, yet he was most definitely one of the all time greats. At $500 in good condition, the T3 Speaker is worth less than his T206 card, despite significantly less cards that have been graded.
1912 Brown Background (T207) – Walter Johnson
Current Value PSA 2 – $500
Admittedly, the T207 set isn’t quite as eye-pleasing as its two predecessors, the T205 and T206 sets.
Yet, I think that ‘ugliness’ tends to keep the value on these cards lower than deserved.
The Walter Johnson T207 card has only been graded 123 times by PSA. Compare that to over 800 for his T206 Portrait.
Yes, i know i recommended the T206 as a good long term value, but consider Johnson’s T207 to be more of a ‘deeper value’.
1915 Cracker Jack – Ty Cobb
Current Value PSA 2 – $5000
I expect to get the most pushback on this one. 1915 Cracker Jack Cobb is a Value?
Yes, most of us won’t have the $5000 to plunk down on a Ty Cobb card, but if we are talking about pure value and future appreciation, this one is a must own.
I only expect that Cracker Jack cards will become more popular over time. Cracker Jacks and Baseball are just a big time part of the history of baseball. Plus the cards are gorgeous. And the Cobb from an appearance standpoint is easily a 10 out of 10.
They aren’t rare–PSA has graded about 111 of these, yet if you can find a nice one below $5000 in good condition, I don’t see why it won’t be worth more in the next ten years.
1915-16 Sporting News (M101) – Nap Lajoie
Current Value PSA 2 – $300
I think the M101 set from the Sporting News is underrated as a whole…you can get playing day early hall of fame superstars for a fraction of early tobacco issues. The Lajoie is my selection in the set for pure value. At around $300 for a good condition version of the card, I think this is a no-brainer. Note there is an M101-4 and a M101-5 version of the set, with a lot of similarities between the two. PSA has graded around 30 of the M101-4 whereas they have graded only 9 of the M101-5. Yet, Lajoie’s card only sells for around $300 in good condition. This one doesn’t make sense to me. Great value.
1921 American Caramel (E121, Series of 80) – Ty Cobb
Current Value PSA 2 – $1000
I think any vintage Cobb card is a great investment, but his E121 card offers very good value. There were two series of E121 cards produced, with three different Cobb’s and his ‘Manager’ card (which is also abbreviated to ‘Mgr.’ on some versions, as shown below) in the Series of 80 is the more affordable of the options available.
PSA has graded only 66 of these, which is a fraction of the population of many of Cobb’s more popular tobacco cards (yeah i’m looking at you Red Portrait!). Thus, at around $1000 (or less if you get lucky) this is a great value for vintage collectors.
1921 Exhibits (W461) – Ty Cobb
Current Value PSA 2 – $1000
Exhibit cards are like the sleeping giant that I think hasn’t quite woken up yet. There’s a lot of opportunity for value with Exhibit cards. (Be sure to see our comprehensive piece on Exhibits for more ideas).
The Cobb Exhibits card from the 1921 issue, is a beauty and features Cobb at his best, finishing off what was likely another hit for the Georgia Peach. It’s not cheap, but at around $1000 in good condition, I think the Cobb Exhibit card is an excellent value in today’s market.
PSA has only graded 50 of these. Shhh..don’t tell anyone how undervalued this is!
1923 Strip Card (W515-2) – Babe Ruth #47
Current Value PSA 2 – $1000
A value list wouldn’t be complete without a couple of strip cards. If you don’t know by now, I’m a big fan of the strips thus this Ruth is just one example of what I think is a good value in today’s market.
I especially like the W515 Ruth #47…note he has two cards in the set, but I prefer #47. There are also two versions, the one noted at W515-2 is ‘The Little Wonder’ series and is stamped ‘The Little..’ on the top of the card (shown below). The W515-2 #47 is tougher to find than Ruth’s W515-1 but either way, I think both make a great long term investment.
1931 Strip Card (W517) – Babe Ruth (Throwing and Portrait)
Current Value PSA 2 – $900
Yep, coming hard and fast with the strip cards. The W517 cards don’t exactly have the same sort of vibe as the earlier strips (which are often disregarded by collectors due to the crude drawings). The W517 cards feature full photos of the players and Babe Ruth has two different cards in the set. The cards, a portrait of Babe and another of Ruth throwing both sell for around the same amount—usually at around $900-$1000 for each in good condition.
1951 Bowman – Willie Mays
Current Value PSA 2 – $1500
We step out of the pre-war era, and find one of the most beautiful cards of one of the greatest players to ever play the game. Bowman as a whole tends to be slightly undervalued relative to early Topps issues, and I think this rookie card of Willie Mays still offers pretty good value.
It’s not cheap–at around $1500 give or take for a good condition copy. And the card is quite plentiful—PSA has graded nearly 1800 copies of the ’51 Bowman Mays. That reason alone almost made me keep it off the list, but I think the demand for Mays cards and the beauty of the set, keep this a worthwhile value over the longer term.
1952 Berk Ross – Mickey Mantle
Current Value PSA 2 – $1000
As we wrote in our piece about rare Mickey Mantle cards, the 1952 Berk Ross card is a bit of a unique specimen, yet offers what I believe is good overall value. The card leverages the same image from Mantle’s 1951 Bowman card and is much rarer in comparison. For only around $1000, it should be able to hold its value over time.
1952 Red Man Tobacco – Ted Williams
Current Value PSA 2 – $125
These hand-cut Red-Man Tobacco cards were hand cut and hard to find without the missing bottom tab. Overall, the population is surprisingly low on these (less than 200 graded by PSA) at $125, i think this card is a tremendous value.