June 27, 2010

The Perception of Value

I like to hold onto stuff. Things like old magazines, books, souvenir cups (anybody need an almost complete run of 32oz McDonald's Dream Team cups from 1992?), postcards, and of course, old cardboard, er, sports cards. And I hold onto them for many reasons, not the least of which is that I perceive them to have some kind of monetary value.

I come from a long line of collectors. My great-grandfather had one of the most comprehensive collections of Tennessee postmarks. Both of my grandfathers collected stamps. My father collects WPA guides, proof sets, travel memorabilia, first editions, and group photos (yard-longs). My mother collects things with birds and cats on them, and my older sister collects anything with eyeballs as the main focus. I've been to Brimfield Flea Market more than ten times in my life, Allentown Paperama once, the Metropolitan Post Card Show once, the Boston Antiquarian book fair twice, Madison/Bouckville once, Round Lake Antique Show at least twice, and am well-versed in the ins and outs of the many antique and junk stores up and down the east coast. So I like to think I have a pretty good idea of how and why things have value.

So then can somebody explain to me why cards of unproven rookies or no-talent hacks have value? I was looking through an old Tuff Stuff from 2007 yesterday, and under the "2003 Bowman Chrome Draft Picks & Prospects" header, Brandon Wood's autographed rookie was listed for $100. Excuse me for a few moments while I head over to Brandon Wood's Baseball-Reference page... Angels' first-round pick in 2003... just hit first career grand slam... career .184 hitter... sloppy fielder (16 errors in 139 career games)... So, am I missing something? Why did his card command $100 in 2007? (And after a cursory search on eBay just now, Wood's auto rookies are all in this price ballpark.) For a career .184 hitter? Huh?

I mean, I get it. This is how the hobby works. It's evolved into a speculative business, and now, combined with limited-run cards, the stakes are higher. I remember when rookie bulk lots of guys like Mike Greenwell set collectors back $50 to $100 bucks. Seems all so innocent now, doesn't it?

But there's a twist in today's hobby marketplace, and it's this: lots of cards are produced in limited runs. In fact, I'd venture a guess that over 50% of the cards produced today are part of limited runs.

The card manufacturers can make any card part of a limited run. If Topps were really thinking outside of the pack, they'd create a set where the big stars were printed at full strength, while the utilitymen and middle relievers short-printed or part of some other sort of limited run. Then the Jeters and Howards of the world would be $1-$3 and the autographed Joe Beimels $10 - $20 (see the Post Cereal sets of the early 1960s for examples of this). It's totally arbitrary who they choose to produce in limited run.

That's nice Ben. Why are you ragging on Brandon Wood? Truthfully, my argument has nothing to do with Brandon Wood. He could prove to be a great star if given a chance. But as it stands now, his card is perceived to be worth around $100 not so much because of who he is, or that it's autographed, but because it was created as part of a limited run. And to me, that's a weak argument for value.


Carl Crawford Cards said...

Completely agree with you (though I know a lot of folks wouldn't). And you raise a really interesting point about the sheer number of #ed cards out there these days. Printing plates yield 4 1/1s, then you have the other 1/1, plus /25, /50, etc., all from one product. In short, in a given year how mean 1/1s of a particular player are there? 15? 20?
In short, even the rare cards aren't that rare anymore.

As for the $100 Wood auto and things like that, I can't imagine anyone is buying those at that price. If they are that just means better prices on vintage for me!

Joe S. said...

I think Beckett, Tuff Stuff, whoever, doesn't update old prices very often. There are a bunch of no-names still listed in A LOT of the older Bowman sets!

Columbia Sports Online said...

Beckett and Tuff Stuff definitely inflate prices trying to create a perception that really isn't there. If the card market does well so do they. If they show the card market going into the tank, it would damage the magazine sales and interest as well. The have a incentive to overprice cards in their mags.