“How much are my baseball cards worth?” – A quick guide

Its no secret that I collect baseball cards. It isn’t a closet interest of mine. I have some autographed baseballs on my desk at work and often talk about my card blogging proudly. Regardless of whether this makes me seem like a nerd or a collectables expert (or both), I get semi-frequent questions about cards.

I am confident, based on the conversations I have had, that 99% of my male coworkers own or have owned baseball cards. With the exception of yours truly, the age of our office staff ranges from about 30-65. If I had more male coworkers under the age of thirty I might reassess my 99% estimate, as card collecting has alienated younger collectors in recent years (again, with the exception of yours truly).

Most of the questions I get about baseball cards go something like this:

Coworker- “So, you collect baseball cards right”
Me- “Absolutely”
Coworker- “I used to have a ton of cards. I think I still have them lying around somewhere.”
Me- “Yeah?”
Coworker- “Yeah, I should bring them in so you can see them. Think you can tell me what they are worth?”
Me- “I probably could give you an idea.”

Etc, etc.

I enjoy looking through collections, but truthfully a quick glance usually tells me all I need to know.

FIRST STEPS IN ROUGHLY APPRAISING A COLLECTION:

1) Determine the years and sets of the cards.
2) Determine the condition of the cards.
3) Look for the “Money” cards.
4) Determine sell value.

I’ll use the last collection I evaluated as an example.

Determining the years and sets of the cards is usually the easy part. Most people’s collections I have evaluated last around 4-8 years with some outliers on the lower end. This collection had cards from 1981-1990.

Determining the condition of the cards is pretty easy as well. This collection belonged to a “flipper”, someone who flipped cards to win them as a child. Lots of well-worn cards. Some, however, were in binders.

Finding the “Money” cards can be a challenge, depending on how many cards we are dealing with. I looked through everything for Nolan Ryans, then looked for the big rookies of that period: Ripken, Sandberg, Gwynn, Boggs, Mattingly, Clemens, McGwire, Canseco, Bonds, Griffey, etc. etc.

The final step is determining sell value. The truth is that common cards, unless they are from the 1950′s or 60′s and in great condition, aren’t really worth much money. Any commons with wrinkles, rough corners, or major centering issues I don’t count.

I don’t really use Beckett to determine the value of commons. I start with about a penny per card max for commons Mid 80′s and later, and 1-10 cents for commons for the earlier 80′s. So in other words, if this collector has 500 cards, its about $5 worth of cards.

For cards such as notable rookie cards, I usually say a mint condition card is worth 10-20% of Beckett book value.

Now, again, most of the collections I look at belong to coworkers. I don’t go up to them and say “you have $5 worth of cards”. Neither should you. I usually highlight the few money cards in their sets, if there are any, and tell them they might be valuable if they get them graded. Which is true.

But unless you have autographs, prominent star cards from the 50′s-60′s, HOF rookies, or modern (2000′s) cards from big time sets like Bowman…you can pretty much follow the formula from above.