How NOT to evaluate your own card collection

By Leighton Sheldon

Every collector believes their cards are worth more than they really are. We all do it, myself included. When sentimentality is involved we lose our ability to be objective. There has been plenty of psychological study behind this – we value things we own more highly than things we are thinking about owning.

So how can you evaluate your collection more accurately?

The eBay fallacy

Most collectors begin their evaluation by checking the prices on eBay of similar items. eBay can be a great starting point and referencing eBay isn’t wrong if you know what you are looking for and are comparing apples to apples. This means understanding sold prices verses asking prices.

eBay also causes problems when collectors allow excitement to cloud their judgement. Understanding condition and the way it impacts value is probably the most important factor in determining the overall value of a card or an entire collection. Just because a card sold for a high price in one condition on eBay does not mean it is worth anything close to that in a lesser condition. The card market is predicated not just on condition, but also on the scarcity of certain conditions.

Consider the example of a 1960 Topps Baseball Curt Simmons. If you don’t remember Simmons, you’re not alone – Simmons is a “common.” But his card was a common, which recently sold for more than $1,000 on eBay. 

That card was professionally graded PSA 8, and is one of the toughest common cards in the 1960 Topps set to find in top condition; there are very few that have garnered the PSA 8 NM/MT grade. Now let’s say a collector has four Simmons cards in their collection. None of the four are PSA 8 worthy, but they’re still pretty nice, let’s say maybe in the range of PSA 6. If the four cards were PSA 8, they would be worth around $4,000. Does it follow that the four PSA 6s are worth half that, $2,000? How about $1,000 for the four? Unfortunately not. The four cards are probably not even worth $100 combined. In fact, a PSA 7, just a grade lower, sells for about $50.     

The old days fallacy

It was so much easier before grading. There were just a few grades like Mint, EX, and VG. You simply went to a card show and bought or traded for the cards that you needed – if you found that you had to keep searching for a Simmons card in good condition, maybe you paid a small premium to add it to your collection. But you certainly were not paying hundreds or thousands of dollars for it. Back then you might not have paid a thousand dollars for the entire set.  

Proper grading & valuation of your collection

So, how do you find out the real value of your collection and begin to set real and reasonable expectations about its value and the amount you will be able to sell it for?

First, it is worth taking a little bit of time to understand the grading process. You can find some simple and useful tutorials online, the internet can be a very valuable resource in helping determine the condition of your cards. Just Collect (www.justcollect.com) is one resource that offers information to help you grade your cards, value your cards, and understand what you can expect to realize when offering to sell your cards.

Be mindful that the internet can also be an accomplice in helping you to set unreasonable expectations if you let it. Compensate for this temptation by remembering there is probably some sentimentality at play – avoid the temptation to overestimate the condition of your cards and apply the highest values that you find.

Put another way: Think about what condition and what value someone would assign to these cards if they were seeing them without interest in buying or selling them.  
Once you have determined the condition of your cards, you will be able to do some research on the actual closed sales of those cards in those conditions.  Keep in mind your cards are ungraded or raw, so they will usually sell at prices that are typically less than if they were graded in the same condition. 

That does not mean you should or must get your cards graded. In fact, you may lose money if you do. Unless your cards are in really high-grade condition, grading commons will probably be a losing proposition.  

Let’s revisit the Simmons example. If the four Simmons cards are average or EX to EX/MT, paying to have them graded will cost you around $10 per card.  EX to EX/MT 1960 Topps Curt Simmons cards sell for about $2-$10 each ungraded and about $8-$15 graded. If you subtract the grading fee from the graded sales, you’ll see that you’re probably getting just as much, if not more, for the raw cards as the graded – and you may even be losing money by grading.  

What is the best way to sell your collection?

Since most brick and mortar card shops have long since closed, the days of running into town and dropping a box of cards on the counter for a handful of cash are over. Though the truth is that, in most cases, most collectors were probably getting the lowest return from the local card store because they have far more overhead than the other options.  

You can sell the cards yourself at a card show, but you will have to find the right show. Contact the promoter to purchase a display table, price out your collection and you will probably have to apply for a tax ID number to pay state and local sales taxes.
Or you could sell the cards yourself on eBay. But eBay will cost you a tremendous amount of time to scan, list, process and ship – far more than most first-timers expect.

And that’s not to mention the cost involved with eBay, PayPal, shipping and supplies.

Online dealers are perhaps the best way to sell your collection. Their businesses are set up to do all of the things listed above, and have streamlined the process so that they can offer you a competitive price. You may not make quite as much money, but you will rid yourself of the frustration and hassles that come with selling it yourself at a show or online.  

Keep in mind not all online dealers are the same, so do your homework.  

Where expectation meets reality

If you do your homework, properly research your collection, and have reasonable expectations, you will find there is a pretty good chance that your reasonable expectations will be met with the reality of a fair return for your collection.

Leighton Sheldon is the president of Just Collect Inc.; www.JustCollect.com.

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