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Investing in Vintage Rookie Cards: A Guide to Potential Gains

This Guide Will Help You To Earning More Profits From Buying and Selling Vintage Sports Cards

Updated Jan 25, 2024

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Investing in vintage rookie cards offers a potentially lucrative opportunity, with substantial financial gains possible for savvy collectors.

It's tempting to focus solely on high-value vintage cards, but it's wise to avoid allocating all of your capital into cards that may not offer quick liquidity.

A balanced approach, combining short-term and long-term investments in your card portfolio, is key.  

This guide explores key strategies for navigating the market, emphasizing the importance of market knowledge, strategic purchasing, and the critical role of card grading.

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Identifying Market Trends To Predict Future Card Appreciation

To excel in card investing, a solid understanding of market trends is essential. Leveraging population data is also crucial, as it helps in pinpointing scarce cards that might be undervalued.

One effective strategy is to research the rookie cards of lesser-known Hall of Famers or players who are likely candidates for future Hall of Fame induction. This approach often uncovers hidden gems.

topps-chrome-carter

PSA 10 Copies of Vince Carter's Chrome Rookie Card Have Increaed on Expectations of A HOF Induction.

Capitalizing on increased media exposure is another tactic. A prime example was the surge in value of Michael Jordan's rookie cards following the release of "The Last Dance" documentary in 2020. The documentary reignited interest in Jordan, significantly boosting the market value of his cards.

jordan102021

This Jordan PSA 10 sold for $295K in June 2021, riding the heels of the Last Dance documentary issued only a year earlier.

A vital resource for research is the PSA Population Report, which provides a comprehensive list of every card graded by PSA. This report is instrumental in identifying both rare cards and different grades of popular vintage cards, revealing lucrative investment opportunities.

The PSA 'Pop' Report can also uncover some suprising statistics. For instance, many collectors of the 1986 Fleer Michael Jordan rookie card were initially unaware of its large graded population, a factor that significantly impacts its rarity and value.

In the following sections, we'll delve into specific strategies and real-life examples, offering insights to maximize potential gains in vintage rookie card investments.

Importance of Card Grading

Graded vintage rookie cards often command higher prices due to the premium of authentication.

Understanding the grading process and its impact on a card's value is essential.

The term “buying the card” is often mentioned when it comes to buying vintage cards. This means that a card could present better than the grade it was given.  

For example, a mid-grade card with strong centering can attract a premium over a similar card with poor centering.

Conversely, cards with visible flaws like creasing, especially in lower grades, may present poorly and have limited upside unless the card is exceptionally rare (or old).

Here's an example of 'buying the card'. The 1969 Topps Reggie Jackson rookie card is commonly found with poor centering and collectors pay a premium for centered copies. Here are two PSA 7 Reggie Jackson rookie cards.

Which one would you prefer?

jackson-rc-7-off-cnter

1969 Topps Reggie Jackson RC w Poor Centering

jackson-psa-7-centered

1969 Topps Reggie Jackson RC w Good Centering

Case Study: Yogi Berra Rookie Card

Let's use one of my recent vintage purchases to help better understand some of the points above:

Purchase Details

I bought a 1948 Bowman Yogi Berra Rookie, graded SGC 4, for $700. I chose this card for its excellent 50/50 centering and clean borders.

berra-sgc-4-centered

I bought this 1948 Bowman Yogi Berra rookie card. My immediate thoughts were that the card looked to be under graded.

Analysis of Value 

I compared the Berra card to other recent sales in similar grades. The only recent sales comp of a similar SGC 4 copy was $750, but that example had terrible centering, and my example at $700 was perfectly centered.

sgc-berra-4-off-center

1948 Bowman Yogi Berra Rookie SGC 4 Off Center

I knew the centered Yogi rookie for $700 was a great buy, and at the time, no other similar examples were for sale.

My estimate of the card's value was between $950 to $1,000.

Resale Experience 

I owned the card for about a week, and a few dealers at a card show believed the Yogi Berra rookie with 50/50 centering should have earned a 5 grade.

I wound up selling the card for $950, and the buyer was thrilled with the purchase. 

This example is an excellent lesson in looking for iconic mid-grade vintage rookie cards with premier centering, which appear under-graded.

Utilizing Recent Sales Data

Utilizing sales data has become an indispensable part of purchasing vintage sports cards.

I like the Alt sales data app for its comprehensive coverage, offering the latest sales figures and detailed Population Reports for each grade from various companies.  PSA's APR (Auction Prices Realized) data is also an invaluable resource. 

alt-sales-data

Alt has great data on card sales--use the app for a better experience.

On Alt, collectors can search for a specific card along with the grade of the card. Alt shows you the latest transactions, including completed eBay sales and recent auction house results. 

While alternative platforms like 130point.com are available, they occasionally experience glitches and may only sometimes provide the most accurate or reliable sales data.

Case Study: Joe Namath Rookie Card

Let's look at another example of a card I recently bought and sold -- the classic 1965 Topps Joe Namath Rookie card.

Purchase Details

I found this card on MySlabs.com by scrolling through the newest listed cards. The Joe Namath Rookie card in a PSA 3.5 grade was for sale. The seller and I went back and forth for a short while, and I finally found him through eBay and bought the card for $2,050 shipped. 

namath-rookie-psa-3.5

This is the PSA 3.5 Namath Rookie I purchased.

Analysis Of Value

According to Alt Sales Data, a recent Namath Rookie in a PSA 3.5 grade sold for as high as $2,800 within the last six months, with the lowest sale at $2,135. I also observed that in late December 2023, a PSA 3 copy sold for $3,000 on eBay! 

namath-rookie-sales-data

Alt Sales Data On The Namath Rookie Card

So, I knew that, at a bare minimum, my card was worth about $2100, with upside to $3000. In addition, the Namath rookie I purchased had great centering with a brand-new PSA label. 

Remember that not every card with the same grade should have the same value! Card centering matters! In addition, there are also fewer than 40 PSA 3.5 graded copies in existence.

I knew this was another great buy.

Resale Experience

I wound up re-selling the Namath rookie a week later for nearly $2,500 in a vintage football Facebook group. This example presented well for a lower grade; the buyer was thrilled with their purchase.

This Namath card is an iconic rookie card in high demand amongst collectors. Consider iconic rookie cards like the Namath low-risk investments, especially if you do your homework and buy at an attractive price.  

Old vs. New Grading Labels

A common misconception among investors is the value of grading labels on vintage cards.

Collectors often prefer newer PSA and SGC grading labels to older ones, making cards with these labels potentially more valuable.

ronnie-lott-psa-flip-one

An old school PSA flip

There are several reasons for this trend

1. Cards encapsulated in newer labels have better protection with more secure cases. 

2. Newer labels alleviate collector concerns about case tampering. 

3. There is a perception among collectors that older labels might represent over-graded cards, whereas newer labels indicate grading under more recent, stringent standards. 

psa-lighthouse

The modern 'Lighthouse' PSA Slab

PSA uses a silver emblem towards the top of the label in the middle of the slab. PSA's card slab technology, known as Lighthouse, is considered to have better tampering protection. 

Knowing the difference between new and old labels (flips) is easy to understand

While some vintage cards with older labels can still be valuable, a more cautious approach is advised when considering these for investment.

Buying Ungraded Vintage Rookie Cards - Is It Worth It?

One of the biggest mistakes is taking the word from another seller or dealer that a vintage card is, in fact, the real deal or that it will grade a certain numerical number.

Many vintage cards could have also been previously trimmed or altered in some capacity. Thus, you need to be careful when buying ungraded cards.

jordan-rookie-altered

An example of Jordan rookie that was in a screwdown holder and returned by PSA as 'Altered' a a very common occurence.

In addition, you must consider the time and costs of card grading. Intelligent investors will carefully weigh the risks/rewards.

Here's My advice If buying ungraded cards

1. Figure out a bare minimum price if the worst happens. What is the value of the card if it returned from the grading company as altered? Check Alt or PSA Sales data to figure this out.

2. Determine a range of grading outcomes. Compare your card visually to other graded examples. What is the value of the card at the low, medium, and high-end grades? Determine these numbers, and you should be able to figure out whether to risk buying an ungraded card to make a profit.

If buying graded cards, I strongly recommend buying vintage rookie cards that PSA, SGC, or BVG have already graded in that order.

The Art of The Flip

Establishing a customer base is important when selling your vintage rookie sports cards. Once you have made some card purchases, you need to consider your best options to realize the most value. 

EBay is the most liquid place to re-sell your sports cards, but they charge a 13.5 percent sales fee. Some sellers advertise their cards slightly higher on eBay but are using their platform in hopes that a buyer reaches out to them and wants to go through social media platforms and set up a PayPal payment as an option. eBay remains the best option for card sellers, but more for novice sellers.

You can also sell your cards through various Facebook groups; there are tons of vintage sports card groups to join, and many are very reputable. Another option would be trying to sell your cards through an Instagram story and posting them for sale or even going live with a video option. 

Many other live-streaming apps, like WhatNot and TikTok, are beginning to see more sellers sell vintage sports cards using these platforms as well. 

Another option is becoming a dealer and setting up at various card shows. Walking around selling to dealers is not wise because you won't get the most money for your cards. However, setting up a table to sell your cards is a better option, depending on how many cards you are selling. 

Lastly, auction houses are an option to sell your cards and are a great option for highly valuable collections. If you have a highly desirable collection, you can likely negotiate the fees paid to the auction house. I suggest selling at auction if you have cards worth $5,000 and up.

In Conclusion

Be sure to anticipate what you might get for the cards you decide to purchase. This way, you will know whether you're making a good buy from the onset of your purchase. Use various buying platforms to target and search specific vintage rookie cards you want. Be patient and look for good deals.

Vinnie Rullo

About the author

Vinnie Rullo is a passionate sports fan, with a hardcore loyalty to the Yankees, NY Giants and New York Knicks. An avid sports card collector, Vinnie has also worked a collectibles specialist for one of the bigger online auction houses.

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