One of the most intimidating situations can occur when a loved one leaves you a collection of valuable baseball cards.
For many, the cards represent a piece of their family member, and selling it can bring up a whole range of mixed emotions.
In addition to the emotions involved, if you’ve never bought a pack of baseball cards, inheriting a valuable sports card collection can certainly be an overwhelming situation.
Sometimes the collection isn’t worth as much as you might have expected, although there are times when the value of the inherited collection exceeds all expectations.
This resource will walk you through the different options for evaluating the inherited collection, including how to determine values, how to sell the card collection or holding onto the cards and safely storing them.
Always feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
Taking Inventory: Recording The Inherited Collection
Most people I've spoken to that have been left a sports card collection have no idea where to start. They aren't sports fans, they've never collected baseball cards and they have no ideas as to what the cards are worth.
Unfortunately, unless you have a family member experienced with sports cards, you will likely have to do a little leg work yourself. You could probably find someone to pay to inventory and sort the cards for you, but this could be an expensive proposition and involves bringing in someone that you might not know or trust.
First Step - Organize The Collection By Sport And Year
In order to keep this as simple as possible for the non-collectors out there, I think the best way to start would be to just organize the cards into their respective sport. There are four major sports - baseball, basketball, football and hockey. For the most part it should be quite easy to identify the fronts of the cards.
Once you have the cards organized by sport, I would then try to organize the cards by the specific year of issue. Finding the year of the card is typically an easy task, as most manufacturers will print the year on the back of the card in small print.
It might be that the collection is already organized and this step won't take too much of your time.
Second Step - Record All Of The Cards In The Collection
We've put together a very simple spreadsheet that will help you keep track of your collection. I highly recommend using something like this to track the cards. It will help you with your progress in evaluating the value of the collection and will allow you to assemble a list of cards that you can share with potential buyers.
Valuing Your Inherited Collection
By now, you hopefully have a good list of the cards in the collection. Next, you would want to determine the value of your collection. Again, for someone with no experience collecting cards, this part can be rather overwhelming.
I highly encourage you to spend some time on our piece which helps collectors determine the value of their collection.
However, there is a sort of short cut to help weed out what cards are worth money and what aren't.
First, for baseball cards, if it was manufactured anytime during the 1980's and 1990's there's a very good chance that the cards in question have little value. Cards in this era (also known in the 'Junk Era' were massively overproduced and the supply significantly exceeds the demand.
There are some minor exceptions, such as the 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr Rookie Card and the 1993 SP Derek Jeter Rookie card, but even these cards need to be in very nice overall condition in order to be worth the top of the price range.
In basketball, it's a similar story, with a few major exceptions. The early Star basketball cards can hold tremendous value, as do the first two Fleer basketball sets (notably the Jordan rookie and second year cards) produced from 1986 to 1987. In addition some of the early Kobe Bryant and Shaq rookie cards can hold a decent amount of value.
Find The Hall Of Famers In Your Collection
More often than not, cards of Hall of Famers in each sport will be worth more money. Again, this isn't always the case, especially if the card was produced during the 1980's (and even sometimes the 1970's). An example, Greg Maddux rookie cards (produced in 1987) are worth only a few dollars.
So, ideally, if it's a hall of fame player's card, the older it is, the more likely you have more value on your hands. Thus, the Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Christy Mathewson cards are going to be worth a lot more than the Cal Ripken, Lawrence Taylor or Ray Bourque rookie cards.
Don't know the Hall of Famers? Here are links for each sport:
In Football, some 1980's cards hold value, such as Joe Montana's rookie card and the 1984 Topps set (with Marino and Elway rookies) although all of these are highly dependent on the overall condition of the cards. In Hockey, the only real cards that hold value from the 1980's ---well bordering on the 1980's is the 1979-1980 Topps Wayne Gretzky Rookie card.
Important Note: Card Grading Can Boost Values
One important caveat in all of the discussion surrounding valuing your card collection surrounds card grading. If you just inherited a collection, you might know nothing about sports card grading. Simply put, card grading has helped bring a consistency to card values allowing for better liquidity when selling cards.
On average, cards that are graded hold more value versus the 'raw' ungraded equivalent. Reason being, is that with a graded card, we have a definitive, third party opinion on what a card's condition is based on a 1-10 scale. With an ungraded card, we are merely just guessing. In addition a graded card also confirms authenticity.
If you do read the aforementioned link that we provided surrounding tips to value your collection, you will find various resources to help in determining approximate values for your collection. Recently completed sales on eBay along with PSA Auction Prices Realized can be a good starting point to at least get a good idea of current pricing.
If you find that the bulk of your cards are baseball from the 1980's and 1990's, and you have thousands upon thousands of cards, I probably wouldn't kill yourself making a spreadsheet trying to inventory thousands of cards. Find the Hall of Fame players and see if you might have anything valuable on your hands.
Remember, make this is a fun process, don't try to get everything done at once. With a big collection, this can easily become discouraging unless you break it into more manageable steps.
Deciding What To Do With Your Inherited Collection
Hopefully, I've provided good instruction on the first steps to take in order to inventory and value your collection. At this point you should have a spreadsheet with your collection broken down by sport, year, and player (with more attention given to HOF players).
Selling Your Collection With Established Auction Houses
This is the time to start considering what you want to do with your collection. Most are ready to just sell and this would entail finding a third party to help sell your collection. One option is to approach on of the sports card auction houses. We've assembled a list of some of the more reputable vintage auction card houses.
Auction houses will charge the most for selling the collection, which normally comes as a percentage of the overall selling price of your collection. This is typically the costliest method of selling your collection, but is probably the easiest. The auction house is responsible for listing the cards for sale and taking high quality photographs of the collection.
Selling Your Collection Yourself on eBay
Some that inherit card collections will decide to try and sell the cards on their own. Doing so will help cut down on the overall costs of selling the collection but will entail the most work. For those that choose eBay, this would involve listing each of the cards for sale, including writing up a description, taking photos and then packaging up and shipping to the end buyer. For those with no established eBay account (and feedback) and no experience in packaging cards for shipment this can be an overwhelming process.
Ultimately eBay takes 10% of the final sales price in addition to a rough 3% in transaction fees. This is better than the 20-25% fees charged by most of the major auction houses. However the question you must ask yourself--are you more of the DIY type or would you rather someone just take care of everything for you? This is similar to having a real estate agent selling your house versus you handing the listing and sale of your home.
I would probably avoid other local marketplaces such as Craigslist, Mercari and Facebook. Dealing in person with high value cards can be quite dangerous.
Keeping The Card Collection And Safely Storing The Cards
At the very least, make sure your cards are stored in penny sleeves to help protect the cards and I would do this whether or not your are selling the cards or keeping them for future generations. Ultra Pro sleeves shown below are the hobby standard and they come in all different sizes based on the size of the card.
Most will put cards inside of penny sleeves and insert in these top loaders for further protection. I think for anyone looking to put an extra layer of protection on their collection this is a great start.
Get A Free Appraisal Of Your Card Collection
If you've come this far and you're still confused, don't fret, it's all quite complicated. We here at All Vintage Cards can help you out. We are Boston based, but work with customers all over the US.
Our transparency and honesty have led us to becoming one of the hobby's most trusted vintage dealers.
Our process is simple; we discuss in detail what you have (the spreadsheet does help!) and how we can help you. While we sometimes can purchase collections outright, we often work with our network of buyers or auction houses to help you get the most for your collection.
Our advice entails recommendations on whether or not to grade your cards along with examination of cards to help determine authenticity. (note we spend a lot of time examining and authenticating cards).
If you'd like to find out more about All Vintage Cards can help you in the process of selling your cards, feel free to use the form below to send us your list/or photos of your cards. We'll be happy to provide a free appraisal of your collection.