It's no secret that the century-old hobby of collecting trading cards has evolved to new heights few would have ever imagined in its earliest days. These cards went from being throw-ins in a pack of bubble gum, to an industry of their own, to ultimately, lucrative assets that can yield huge financial gains if handled properly.
Many of us grew up collecting these cultural relics with our friends and families after countless hours were spent at flea markets and specialty stores and even more hours were spent at home organizing and caring for our prized possessions for some hypothetical scenario that we never knew would come or not. Some of us, on the other hand, may not have been privy to all the hoopla that surrounded the trading card culture in decades before but might have some knowledge of what it was and may be hearing about what it is today or will be tomorrow.
What some may not know, however, is that we are actually in the midst of a trading card renaissance in the 2020s and the industry is taking leaps and bounds that no one could have envisioned even 15 years ago. The industry will always have ups and downs but overall popularity and awareness is only climbing.
If you're one of these people and what you've heard so far has piqued your interest, then this one's for you.
Let's get started.
Trading cards are basically collector's items that's value can be determined by a number of contributing factors. These factors can include things like rarity, condition and age. This falls in line with one of the most famous economic principles that many of us are familiar with, 'supply and demand'. In layman's terms, if you have a card in limited supply, the value of said card could drastically increase. Other factors that tie in with this 'supply and demand' principle would be who is featured on the card. A rare Lebron James rookie card with limited supply is obviously worth much more than another rare card featuring a draft bust who failed to make much of a splash in the sports world. The card's age and condition are the other key factors that impact the value of the collectible. Having a 2000 Bowman Tom Brady card that looks like a 40-year-old doormat, unfortunately, is just slightly more valuable than a million-dollar crypto wallet that you've forgotten the password to.
These are some of the basics to keep in mind when getting into collecting but believe you me, there's a lot more you need to know if you want to make your mark in this game.
So, what's next?
When it comes to establishing real value, you're going to want to get your card properly and professionally graded. It's all well and good to say your card is in mint condition but at the end of the day, is it actually? This is where official grading companies come into play.
Grading companies are essentially recognized expert appraisers who can identify your card's value by several factors and pretty much break it down to a science. The major players in the grading world are PSA (Professional Sports Authenticator), BGS (Beckett Grading Services) and SGC (Sportscard Guaranty Corporation). These three companies make up the vast majority of graded cards on the open market today.
How do the grades work, might you ask? Well, listen up.
Official grades take into account several different aspects when coming up with a quantifiable number but the main thing that is considered is condition. Some other details that hold weight are things like whether or not the card is centered on the cardboard it's printed on but more importantly, a grading professional will be analyzing the general state of the card and will be taking a long hard look at it's corners, edges and surface.
Lets take PSA for example - once assessed, a PSA grader will give the card a number grade between 1-10 signifying its condition from lowest to highest. Each grade has a corresponding condition.The PSA grading system is follows: Poor (PR 1), Fair (FR 1.5), Good (Good 2), Very Good (VG 3), Very Good-Excellent (VG-EX 4), Excellent (EX 5), Excellent Mint (EX-MT 6), Near Mint (NM 7), Near Mint-Mint (NM-MT 8), Mint (MINT 9) and finally, Gem Mint (GEM-MT 10).
Other wildcards (no pun intended) when determining a card's value can be things like an autograph. Obviously, the rarity of a card becomes that much rarer if it features an authentic autograph. However, just like the card's overall condition, the autograph also needs to be authenticated by an official grader if you expect it to be considered the real deal Holyfield. Some graders (like BGS) will even assign a separate grade specifically to the autograph.
Ok, What else?
Everyone knows the Wayne Gretzkys and Michael Jordans of the world but who's the next big thing? How do you get in on the ground floor? Simply put, it's easier said than done. If you're a trading card enthusiast who doesn't keep up with the latest goings-on in the sports world today, you might be hard-pressed to strike gold on a darkhorse rookie of the year. It's beneficial to follow and keep up with the major sports to the best of your ability because it's not always the consensus number one draft pick who goes on to have the best career or make the biggest impact on the world. It's self-serving to watch and observe the game as much as possible and maybe a bet on the right under-the-radar rookie could pay off.
Now, before you run off and dump your life savings into your newfound hobby, there are probably some things you should keep in mind.
Like any other valuable that gets bought and sold, the trading card market is subject to volatility. It would be incredibly irresponsible to look at this like some get rich quick scheme or a definite surefire way to hit the jackpot. There are very few cards on the market today that are the virtual guarantees you paper chasers may be envisioning before you set off on this journey. Those cards are also as hard to come by as you would imagine. All the rest come with their own risks and instability so keep that in mind when taking out a second mortgage on your home to buy a Zion Williamson rookie card.
Speaking of Zion - It’s essential to note that certain card types and years have significantly higher print runs than others. For example, PSA has reported that over 37,000 (and counting) 2019 Panini Prizm Zion base rookie cards have been graded by them. More cards are being printed than ever and it’s important to keep this in mind when remembering the economics behind supply and demand. Population reports can be found on the grading company’s website.
So often, players get hurt, fizzle out or simply, just don't live up to expectations. We all want to risk it for the biscuit now and then but remember to take calculated risks when swinging for the fences and don't extend yourself beyond your means. The market is a wild place and yes, it's a jungle out there.
The trading card space is one of America's oldest pastimes and has survived longer than a long list of other industries that have came and went since the first card debuted in the 19th century. It's a hobby oozing with potential and an incredibly high ceiling that could make you a lot of money or just provide you with a live and electric subculture to spend an infinite amount of time losing yourself in.
There is so much to know and so much to learn that one article could never do it justice but these are the basics and just like that first time you picked up that ball, you gotta start somewhere.