July 31, 2008

The Case for Box Collectors

Every so often you hear of a collector buying up an old empty display box from the Fifties or Sixties. They're not the subject of this post.

I'm writing about the fact that so many collectors purchase a full box of packs, instead of individual packs. The practice has become so common that card manufacturers now cater to the box collector.

And not just with the upper-tier consumer, either. Thus the presence (and desirability) of box loaders. And as an aside, are box loaders the modern-day equivalent to cards that used to be found on box bottoms? I think they are...

Thus the common parlance of referring to the odds of receiving a specific card based on times-per-case, not times-per-box. We are surprised when a box contains an unexpectedly large (or small) amount of chase cards. We've come to expect excellent collation, and are thrown for a loop when we rack up doubles and triples, just from 24 packs.

Purchasing cards by the box is such a regular occurrence that manufacturers have taken to selling cards at retail stores (themselves big boxes) in mini boxes, with mini packs stacked inside like nesting dolls. It's half the amount of cards, at half the price, like the manufacturers are training young collectors for when they can afford the big boy boxes.

It's an interesting situation that's evolved over the years. I'd never really noticed it until I started working next door to a Kmart and would browse the store on my lunch break. The mini box seems so perfect a vehicle for training young collectors to buy in bulk (especially those boxes that come replete with guaranteed jersey card), and I'm sure they make nice gifts.

But what does it say about where the hobby is going? Does it effectively spell the death of the pack? Or was the pack already on a path to a slow demise before the box boom? Also, what does it say about the future marketing of the case?

The box is as important to the hobby today as the pack was twenty years ago. So if we skip ahead even five years, it makes sense that we'll start seeing case loader insert sets or some other incentive for collectors to purchase a case. Also, if the case is the thing of the future, what does that say about the place of the card shop or dealer?


Spike Glidden said...

Your points on box and case-crackers trigged a hypothesis. Certainly collectors like to get current players, but there's an appeal in older cards, too, even to the extent that companies include them in modern packs. (Retreading the obvious for setup.)

For customers willing to spend the big money, is it inevitable that companies will produce "packs" of vintage, graded cards? Let's say I spend $500K on 1933 Goudeys, mostly PSA or SGC 1. Some of the cards are big stars or come in great shape. (Your Ruths, Gehrigs, and maybe even a Lajoie.) I print up redemption cards and package them in five-card packs for some significant level of money. Most people get the commons, but there are stated odds for the "big" cards...and perhaps even better odds for the box or case purchaser. (A guaranteed PSA 7?) In a sense, you collect on the randomness that people expect from packs, but within a more established market demand.

(Yeesh, too much business thinking. Can't decide if I like or hate that idea.)

Ryan Cracknell said...

In the non-sport arena it has already evolved into case purchases. Not only are there case toppers but a couple of companies that offer incentive cards for buying 4, 6, 10 and even 25 cases. Granted, cases are smaller for many of these non-sport sets but I've seen the same evolution you're suggesting at for baseball. I believe it comes down to people wanting guarantees on the "hits". And as the number of "hits" increases, so does the chance of getting something that most would consider undesirable. Case buys increase the odds of getting a big "hit".

In non-sport I think it stemmed largely from the fact that there's collectors who go after master sets including all the different inserts.

jv said...


I think it's primarily due to the "hits" on average in the box. With Retail packs you can pay $19.99 + tax for a box of 8 packs or you can buy 8 packs outright for, roughly, $23.99 + tax. And that's just retail. Hobby is a whole 'nother monster.

However, there's no guarantee in the individual packs. You might buy 100 single packs and never get a g/u, auto, printing plate, etc.

But, you can buy 120 retail boxes of '08 Upper Deck for the same price and get a whole slew of Kendry Morales and Takashi Saito jerseys.

The hobby's entire pricing structure is now derived from the guaranteed pulls per box. Collecting has become such an expensive investment for collector's that it's just not feasible to buy packs if you intend to try to recoup some of your money with eBay sales.

I, on the other hand, am about to jump in the car and drive to Clinton, MS to pick up half a box of '08 Topps Chrome and half a box of '08 Goudey.

I'll take packs over boxes any day.

steveinphilly said...

I don't know that I agree it is that much different these days. When I was a kid just starting collecting in the late 1970s, I would take a dollar and buy 6 packs (or $1.05 and buy 7), which is not that different from buying a mini-box at Target--usually 8-10 packs.

Also, maybe once or twice a year, I would buy an entire box of 36 packs, or more likely get it as an Easter or birthday gift. I don't know that many collectors are about to switch to buying cases anytime soon.

GCA said...

From a set builder's point of view, it's more efficient to buy boxes, so then you know you have a decent chunk of the set. Back in the day when packs were under a dollar, it didn't matter that you got a lot of dupes.
Also, the mini-boxes prevent pack searching...

Andy said...

The thing I find so odd is that so few of these "hit" cards are worth much, either aesthetically or monetarily. I remember the first GU jersey card I ever got--it was a Bazooka Edgardo Alfonzo card, and you couldn't give it away on eBay. The player stunk by that point, the card was ugly, and it carried no value. Who wanted it? Nobody. So what's the point? It's the same as making crappy regular cards, like the crap 1981 Topps set that looks like garbage. I don't think card companies are ultimately making higher profit margins these days, and nobody cares about the cards, so why is it happening...?