Remember how your dad or uncle would tell you the story of how he collected baseball cards in the 60s then his mother threw them away and they’d be worth thousands now? And how he’d follow up that story with, “hold on to your cards, they’ll be worth something one day?”
They were wrong.
Your trading cards from the ’90s aren’t worth anything.
Here’s why: the ’90s were characterized by excess and disposable income.
Trading cards were mass-produced so much that there was virtually no such thing as a rare card. Add in the fact that every kid around listened to his dad and collected, there really wasn’t a card that was too hard to find save for choice autographs, low-numbered cards or jersey patches.
Of course, I found all of this out a few months ago when I decided to revisit trading cards so that my son would gain an interest. After finding out that most of my cards might as well could have been Enron stock, I went to Markman Cards to wonder what happened to one of the hobbies that defined my childhood.
As he explained, while the cards from the ’90s aren’t worth much anymore, the industry is booming.
To combat over-production and a diluted product, companies started making more limited-run cards that were numbered. They also got more aggressive with autographs and jersey patches (cards with pieces of athlete-worn jerseys embedded in them) so that collectors could get their hands on more rare cards (known as “hits”) that can also appreciate on eBay since their productions runs are so limited.
Companies like Upper Deck and Panini also opened the market for high-end boxes of cards. While, back in the 90s, a box of cards would consist of 24 packs at six cards a pack and $120 or so, many boxes now run about the same price and feature maybe six cards total. However, within that one box, there are guaranteed multiple hits as opposed to decades ago when finding a hit was like a needle in a haystack.
Panini and Upper Deck even launched into super-high end boxes like Upper Deck’s “Exquisite” which runs close to $500 a box for fewer than 10 cards, but each card is a hit. Panini has its own box called Flawless which sells for close to $2,000. The risks are high, but a quick eBay scan will show a Kyrie Irving one-of-one rookie card autographed with a jersey patch from the Flawless pack going for $20,000.
One concern with the high-end pricing of cards is the kids. Has the higher end collecting priced kids out? As always, there are retail packs that don’t have as good a chance of getting hits, but it’s still possible — and way more likely than it was for us growing up.
One major change in the industry that’s far different than when we were kids is the fact there’s a new dominant company: Panini America. If you’ve never heard of them, don’t worry, I hadn’t either. They’re an Italian company that was more known for collectible stamps. Out of nowhere a few years ago, they bought exclusive rights to NBA cards and are also the only brand with rights to use logos in all four major professional sports.
Upper Deck, on the other hand, doesn’t have rights to any NBA logos but they have exclusive rights to Michael Jordan and LeBron James. Meanwhile Leaf sells boxes containing one signed NFL jersey or a mini helmet or an life-size helmet. Basically, every company is trying to find new ways to put out more rare, under-produced products. And the collectors are benefitting.
As you can tell, I’ve been totally immersed in trading cards again like it’s 1995. While I used to collect basketball cards exclusively, I’ve gravitated more towards football because there are just more recognizable players in the NFL. Here’s what I mean: the industry has always been run by rookie cards. Well, in the NBA, only about five rookies become valuable or stars in any significant level. In football, though -especially with the popularity of the sport and fantasy – each draft class produces 20-30 rookies that have decent-to-great value on the market.
With that said, easily the best box I’ve cracked open was the 2013 Panini Playbook. The box comes with four cards – two of them are booklets. Out of that box, I got a Denaro Alexander autograph, a Kenan Allen autograph rookie jersey patch numbered to 271, a LeSean McCoy “Down & Dirty” booklet that’s a dirty game-worn jersey and this:
Deion Sanders autograph numbered to 21. Feelings.
Basically, I’m hooked.
I’d given up on trading cards, but I’m right back in the game, creating memories for my kids and myself (mostly myself for now). And I don’t think I’d be the only one. Next time you pass by a store that says “cards and collectibles,” stop by and crack open a pack. You may find yourself stopping by again. And again. And again…