How To Buy Vintage Cards At A Discount
Let’s face it, none of us want to pay full retail price when buying vintage cards. Sometimes we don’t have a choice if we’re targeting some of the most in demand and valuable cards in the hobby.
But there are a few ways to save a few bucks, whether it’s utilizing various eBay discounts or cash back deals.
In this guide, we take a closer look at some of the easiest ways you can use to try and amass a killer vintage baseball card collection at a discount.
First, we’ll walk through a few methods of saving via online purchases and then we’ll examine some other ideas for striking a good deal. Enjoy!
eBay Coupons and eBay Bucks
eBay is always offering deals. Typically the best discounts come in the form of periodic eBay coupons with the best being a 15% offer. The 15% off deals typically hit at the end of the quarter in order for eBay to boost sales for its shareholders. Note that this discount is a pure marketing expenditure for eBay and doesn’t impact the eBay seller in any way. Some might argue that eBay has actually propped up the values of the card market due to these consistent coupon offerings, but that’s a debate for another day.
Aside from coupon offers, eBay also offers eBay Bucks which provide a sort of cash back on your purchase that allows you to utilize these ‘bucks’ for future purchases. Note that eBay Bucks are issued at the end of the quarter, normally 15 days after quarter end, thus, this discount isn’t as valuable as the coupons offered by eBay, but still a good bonus.
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Ebates is a cash back rewards program that offers 2% on all eBay purchases in the Sports Memorabilia and Sports Card category. If you’re not a subscriber to Ebates, I highly recommend it, as you basically are missing out on free cash by not using it. The program is simple; if you’re a Chrome user, you just add the button to your browser and anytime a cash back eligible program is recognized, Ebates will pop up asking you to activate the offer. Click ‘Activate’, make a purchase and within a few days, the rebate will be reflected in your eBates account. Ebates sends out payments quarterly and you can even get the money back via Paypal.
Credit Card Rewards
Miss out on an eBay coupon? Some folks I know just create their own eBay discount by combining credit card cash back + Ebates and eBay Bucks.
As for Credit Cards, I haven’t done this yet, but I found this gem of credit card knowledge on one of the eBay forums:
There’s a way to get 5% cash back on eBay purchases using a Chase Ink Cash card. If you purchase an eBay digital gift card on eBay through the seller Paypal Digital Gifts, the purchase will code at 5X rewards. Then you use the digital gift card to pay for your item. Alternatively, the Chase Ink Cash card can be used at an office supply store to purchase an eBay gift card. This purchase also codes as 5X rewards. As a bonus, if you have a premium Chase Ultimate Rewards credit card with an annual fee (Sapphire Preferred, Sapphire Reserve, Ink Plus, Ink Preferred) you can combine your points and transfer the points to travel partners such as Southwest Airlines, United Airlines, or Hyatt Hotels to increase the value of your points. This option makes your 5% cash back worth in the ballpark of 7.5% back.
Thus if you can get 2% from Ebates plus 5% cash back using the Chase card method as described above, that’s 7% off your purchase. Add on 8% eBay Bucks and you could be looking at a 15% discount. It’s a little more work, but if it’s saving money that we’re after, it’s a pretty good option.
Target Red Card
Another cash back option is with Target. Target has a credit card called REDcard which offers 5% off on purchases. And Target sells eBay gift cards both in store and online. Voila! A quick way to get 5% off and this is actually better than cash back since it’s an actual 5% discount. Just remember to pay your credit card bill. Note, unfortunately Ebates doesn’t work on gift card purchases at Target. But if you have some Target cards bought for 95% of value, plus a 15% eBay coupon, you could be saving yourself 20% from the asking price.
Buy Vintage Lots at Auction
So now that we’ve discussed some of the ways to take advantage of coupons, rebates and cash back cards, let’s take a closer look at the actual discovery of vintage card deals. Unfortunately, nowadays, it’s a little bit tougher to find those sweetheart deals. The advent of online price guides, third party grading and well google at the edge of everyone’s fingertips has made for a very transparent marketplace from a pricing standpoint. However, if you spend enough time looking, there are deals to be found.
One way to save a few bucks is to buy what we refer to as ‘lots’ of cards via online auctions either at eBay or at some of the bigger online auction houses. Normally you are bound to get a better deal when buying a collection or a group of cards versus just buying one card on its own. Now of course this depends on the cards in question and the actual costs involved. You might be able to buy a raw, ungraded T206 common in poor to good condition for $25 to $40 online at eBay or on some facebook groups. But you also might be able to find a group of say 25 for under $500.
Lots are great for those building sets or for those looking to get a good deal and potentially piece off some of the cards to pay for the overall purchase. Note however that online auction houses charge a buyer’s premium, normally 10%, so be sure to account for that when figuring your maximum bid on a lot of cards.
Keep an Eye On Craigslist and FB Marketplace
Craigslist can often be a scammers delight but sometimes you can find some hidden gems. REALLY good deals tend to be a lot of luck but they are out there. Most of what you’ll see listed on Craigslist is from the junk era but occasionally you’ll find some vintage stuff. If there are pictures, study them. Behind that box of 1988 Topps Baseball wax might be a stack of old Mickey Mantle cards.
Nowadays however, most people know if they have stuff of value, thus the days of getting a steal are likely gone. But, if you keep at it, and make enough visits, you might just get yourself a good deal or two. I’ve bought a few collections on Craigslist and for a fair price so they are out there, just need to be a bit patient. One word to the wise however–make sure you meet up somewhere safe, as there are a ton of creeps still trolling around on Craigslist.
Facebook Marketplace is a newer option and will probably ultimately replace Craigslist as the preferred classified listing place. I’ve found that FB Marketplace has a lot of skilled collectors trying to get top dollar for their cards. But beneath those overpriced listings there are a few ‘gems’ and if you’re patient you will likely find something worthwhile. BE careful though; as with Craigslist, there are scammers galore on Facebook. If it’s ungraded and it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Note Facebook now let’s buyers review sellers, so look at the bottom of the person’s listing for their feedback.
Network With Your Local Card Dealers
Probably one of the more unused and underrated methods is the old school method of networking. Talk to your local card dealers. Go visit a local card show and walk around talking to dealers. Let them know that you’re a serious collector looking to buy vintage cards. If you have a specific set or card or player in mind let them know.
When something comes to them, they will know where to turn in order to get the cards sold. Now this method probably won’t lead to any ‘steals’ but if you’re willing to be fair about pricing, you likely will get what you’re looking for at a very nice discount off the retail value of the cards.
We’ve put together a list of some vintage cards store locations. Please let us know if you know of any other physical card stores that specialize in selling vintage cards.
Follow Vintage Card Forums
There are several great vintage card forums online that have buy/sell/trade sections. I’ve often found some cards via this method and can be a great way to build a collection. One is the Net54 Buy/Sell Trade section. The great part is that the forums are split into different card categories–such as T206 Buy/Sell Trade or Pre War Buy/Sell Trade as just two examples. Like anything, try to take a look at a posters past reputation, even sometimes I’ll do a search on their username to see what they’ve posted in the past. Mostly, I’ve had a good experience at Net54.
Also, Blowout Forums has a forum marketplace, which tends to be a little bit more focused towards newer cards, but there is a specific vintage forum for those looking to buy/sell or trade vintage cards.
Buy Raw and Get Graded
Buying raw cards brings upon added risk, especially for some of the highest profile and in turn most counterfeited cards. But if you’re willing to get educated (oh btw our guide to counterfeit vintage cards is a great start) then it very well could be one of your best ways to buy vintage cards at a discount.
There are two keys to this proposition; one is that you can 100% determine if a card is fake or real, and two, is that you can accurately determine what a card might receive for a grade from PSA or SGC. The first part is the most important, because if it’s fake, it’s game over–you’re out whatever you invested into the card.
The second part is less important but can be the reason you either lose money or make money on a deal. Raw cards normally trade at a discount to their equivalent graded counterparts. And this makes sense; first it costs money and time to get something graded. Also, there is a risk regarding authenticity and any potential card altering. Plus there is never any guarantee as to what grade might be assigned to a card.
Evaluate the Bottom Line – Conservative Case vs Optimistic Case
So, let’s say you see a card for $100 that looks like it would be a PSA 6 to you. But you’re not positive it would get a 6, but your most bottom of the barrel conservative estimate is that the card would absolutely grade a PSA 5. (Note if you need any grading tips, be sure to see our grading guide) A PSA 5 card would be valued at around $150, but a PSA 6 is worth around $300. Now we know that there are costs involved with grading and time involved so our low conservative grading estimate (considering grading costs $20) would still put us in the positive by $30 ($150 – $100 – $20) or we’d have about $180 in added value if it graded out a PSA 6.
Thus, either way it would be a profitable situation, just up to you as to whether you want to assume the risk for a $30 gain on the low end or a $180 on the higher, more bullish grade. It’s one example, but hopefully it helps clarify my point. There is potential in finding ungraded cards at a steep discount compared to what they would be worth if graded. Sometimes the risk is worth taking.