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Illustrated History Index


Beginner's Guide to Baseball Cards


It surprises many to find out that baseball cards have been collected since long before Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb or Joe Dimaggio were born. A young Ruth may have found an old trade card in the attic and marveled at its age. A young Ty Cobb may have been given a tobacco card of Cap Anson and wondered who was that old geezer.

Baseball cards have been made and collected since the late 1870's. Companies used the popularity of baseball players to sell their products. Nearly all baseball cards contain have some form of advertising. Some cards were given away for free. In the early 20th Century some cards were sold in packs of cigarettes or candy. In the 1950s-70s Topps sold their cards with a stick of gum. Cards have promoted the sale of nearly everything from cheese to underwear to dog food to beer. Today's cards are popular enough that they are sold alone.

Cards come in all shapes, sizes and designs. Most are about the size of a credit card. Some are smaller than a stamp and some are the size of a poster. Most cards are rectangular, but they can be round, triangular and intricate die-cut shapes. Some cards use primitive printing techniques while many of today's cards contain special foils or finishes to give prism-like effects. Most cards are made out of cardboard, though plastics, metals, leather, cloth and other unusual materials are sometimes used..


A Brief History of Baseball Cards (Click Here)


What to collect

A collector has quite a selection of cards from which to collect. This can be confusing but it also offers freedom. In the end the choice of what you should collect is yours.

A theme or taste often guides a collector. Some collectors collect cards from a specific era or type or of a favorite player or team. Some collectors collect unusual or rare cards. Some collectors simply collect what fancies them at the moment. Some collectors change their focus over time, perhaps switching from 1950 Topps and Bowman to 1930s Goudey. Some may switch to or include related memorabilia such as football or hockey cards or baseball autographs and posters. Some try to create sets gathering each different card from a particular issue. Some collect errors or variations. Some collect players from their home town or school. Some collectors specialize in rookie cards (first issues). Some collect the aptly named 'odd ball' cards which includes cards like the Crane's Potato Chip Discs, Armour Hot Dog Coins and Spic 'n Span Die-Cuts.

To gain some ideas, you may enjoy going to local card shows or shops or look at online or mail order auctions.


What Every Collector Should Know Before Buying a Card

The most common novice mistakes are misidentification, not knowing how condition affects price and overestimating value. There is an endless amount to learn about cards (case in point: this CD-ROM covers only the 19th Century). But if you learn from this chapter how to identify a card, grade its condition and estimate a realistic worth, your collecting will be easier, more enjoyable and perhaps even profitable.


How to Identify Cards (Click Here)


How Cards get Their Prices

As with most things in a capitalist system, cards receive their price by the laws of supply and demand. The higher the demand and the lower the supply, the higher price. The lower the demand and the higher the supply, the lower the price.

Not all cards were produced in the same amounts. Different issues are produced in different amounts. Even within an issue, a particular card or cards may be rarer or more plentiful than the other cards. The cards depicted in this book were produced in much less amounts than today's cards or even less than cards of the 1910s.

What causes demand for a card? There is no set equation for determining the demand of a card. Some important factors are: age of the card, attractiveness of the card, who's depicted on the card, popularity of the issue, scarcity of the card, and condition of the card. For example, if a card is from a popular issue, depicts a popular player, is rare and in high condition, it will no doubt be an expensive card.


Condition and Grades (Click Here)


Price Guides

For anyone interested in collecting cards, I recommend that they buy a price guide. Price guides are helpful in identifying, pricing and learning about cards. They are not entirely accurate, especially concerning prices, but they are always helpful.

I recommend that that the serious collector buy one of two price guides. These guides are comprehensive catalogues listing, describing and pricing cards from all years, past to present. Even the most advanced dealer regularly uses a price guide to identify and price cards. Except with the uncataloged rarities and obscurities, I never buy a card without knowing what it is and what is its price guide price. I own both books. Both publishers produce abridged or specialized versions. I recommend the largest, 1,500+ page doorstops. The abridged versions do not contain many, if any, of the cards from this early area. The abridged are also lacking in the later eras as well.

Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards, Edited by Bob Lemke (Krause Publications).

Beckett Baseball Card Price Guide, Edited by Dr. James Beckett (Beckett Publications).

There are also monthly card magazines, including Tuff Stuff and Beckett Baseball Monthly. The price guides in these and other magazines are abridged and specialize in modern cards but you may find them worth the few bucks they cost.


Reprints and Commemoratives

A collector should be aware of the difference between a vintage card and a recent reprint or commemorative card. Old famous cards are often reprinted. These reprints are intended for the enjoyment of collector who does not wish to obtain the expensive originals. Reprinted cards will clearly state somewhere that the card is a reprint, possibly including a modern copyright date. A commemorative card is not a reprint but a recent card that commemorates a vintage player, team or era. For example, a 1985 set of cards may commemorate the career of Babe Ruth. Reprints or commemorative cards have little value compared to an original vintage card. A high grade 1933 Goudey Ruth may sell for $5,000 or more, while a reprint or commemorative card may be worth $1-$3.


How to Buy Cards

There are many ways to buy cards. You can go your local card store. You can go to card shows. You can buy through a mail catalog. You can buy off the internet. You can buy through auctions. Only you can find out which way is best for you.

Cards stores can be more expensive and often don't a have large selection of vintage cards. However, they can offer a permanent, friendly place where you can buy the latest pack of cards.

Card shows are shows where various dealers set up tables of their cards and memorabilia for sale. They will usually appear every weekend in major cities, and periodically in smaller areas. The shows can have many or few dealers. The largest shows will have more cards than you can think of, including the rarest and most unusual. Often times a famous player or players will be hired to sign autographs. A show like this is a great place for a beginner to just look around. Check your local newspaper or Beckett or Tuff Stuff magazines for the date of local shows Stuff for major ones.

Many companies sell through the mail and you can get one of their catalogs. A good catalog can offer a great selection of cards, and many of these companies are established and well known. Check of a magazine like Tuff Stuff and you will see advertisements for companies like these.

There are areas on the internet where you can buy cards from all years There is always a problem buying 'blind' on the internet, but a well-known company will provide references.

There are many auctions on the internet, mail order an so on. Some major national houses, such as Mastro Fine Sports Auctions or Gurnsey, will auction items many that sell up to $10 ,000 or more. Many online or mail order companies will auction of items most anyone can afford.


Finding Out the Worth of Your Cards

In the end, your cards are worth the amount of money that you get for them. It doesn't matter what Time Magazine or the New York Times or the Alan 'Mr. Mint' Rosen or the price guides say a card is worth. If you can sell your card for $5 it's worth $5 dollars. The biggest disappointments come when collectors try to sell cards and find that they had overestimated their worth. If you start by having a realistic idea of what cards are worth, your collecting experience will me much more enjoyable, especially when you sell.

In general, one can expect to sell a vintage card (Pre-1980) in the 25%-40% range of a price guide price. For example you might sell a Near Mint card that lists in the price guide for $100 in Near Mint condition for $30. If your card is in excellent condition you might sell it for $15. In very good condition it might sell for $9. Some cards may sell for a higher percentage of price guide. For example, desirable 19th century issues will often sell above 50%, with exceptional pieces selling at book price. Desirable 20th century issues, especially of superstars like Cobb or Joe Jackson or Dizzy Dean or popular rookie cards will often receive strong prices. Other than these exceptions, most cards will sell in the 25-40% range.

This fraction of price guide price may seem unfair to the collector, but it works both ways. If you are a keen buyer, you can get similar deals when buying cards. You may be able to find a nice Frank Robinson or Willie Mays or Nolan Ryan at a fraction of the price found in a price guide. If you have a good idea what you can sell cards for, you may find you can buy cards for profit.


How to Take Care of Your Cards

Taking card of your cards is essential in keeping their value. An accidental ding or crease can lower a card's value. Luckily there are many affordable products to protect your cards. There are large companies out there whose sole purpose is to make useful and affordable products for folks like us.

Always be careful when handling your cards. In fact, handling them as little as possible is best. When you do pick them up, use clean hands and avoid touching the sensitive corners.. I hold them by the face and back. Keep food or drink or dogs or babies near by at your own peril. Keep your card away from damaging elements, such as excessive heat, cold, water, humidity, dryness and direct sunlight. As a kid I kept my collection neatly in card boxes on the top shelf in the back of my closet. They survived the years looking brand new. Do not put cards into picture albums that are sticky.

Many of the following products are available at your local card shop, at card shows and advertised in baseball card magazines. I'm sure that someone at a card shop will be more than willing to help you find the product or products for your needs.

A great way to house your cards is in a cardboard box made for cards. You will find these boxes in specific shapes to house and protect your cards. They come in sizes to hold different amounts of cards. These are stackable and will fit easily into most closets or storage places.

There are also clear plastic pages which hold cards. These pages are designed to protect, preserve and display cards. You also can buy an album to put your pages in.

A very popular holder is the 'top loader.' This is a clear plastic and semi-rigid holder which holds one card. These are protective and allow you to handle the card. There are also 'penny sleeves. ' These are clear thin sleeves which you can put the card in before you put it into the holder. Both the top loaders and the penny sleeves are very affordable. I use top loaders every day. You could buy them in packs of 25 or so.

There are heavy-duty holders. Most of these are clear plastic slabs which are snapped or screwed together. These are usually used for the more expensive or especially favorite cards.

Again, go to your local card store or show and take a look at what they have.


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(c) David E. Rudd, all rights reserved