At the beginning of the summer I took a day-trip back to my childhood home to hang out with my parents and say hello. During my visit I wandered upstairs to my old bedroom, and found in the corner of my old bookshelf some shoeboxes full of my baseball cards. This immediately sent me back to my little-league years, and all of the memories of sitting in my basement with my friends trading and collecting baseball cards. It was a real trip down memory lane going through the pages and boxes of cards I had. After an hour had passed of me shuffling through some of my cards, I ended up bringing them back home with me to go through them more later with the hopes of finding an early retirement package tucked away in an old rare rookie card or vintage card I had forgotten about.
But alas, after hours of eBay searching there was nothing more valuable than a $50 Derek Jeter rookie card and some base cards of names like Albert Pujols and Bernie Williams, players that I grew up idolizing. However, although I didn't find a million dollar Mike Trout rookie card, or a special edition collection of any sort, I did re-kindle the childhood hobby I once loved in baseball card collecting. Except this time around, I have begun also adding another element to my hobby. Not only have I begun to collect again, but I am also beginning to invest.
These past few years have been some wild times to be in the sports cards or memorabilia industry. There has been a huge spike in demand and valuations of cards and collectibles, due to an increased interest that was fueled from the Covid-19 pandemic. While many people were stuck inside with more free time on their hands, they began to crack open their old card collections and find themselves remembering their passion for the hobby, much like my own experience more recently.
While this was happening, the macro-environment from the overall economy was drastically shifting. As I have discussed previously, on top of saving more money from not being able to go out or go on trips and vacations, Americans received multiple rounds of stimulus checks, resulting in many people bettering their personal finances and allowing for more discretionary income. This, coupled with extremely friendly monetary policy from the Federal Reserve keeping all-time low interest rates, was a perfect storm to send the industry booming.
Not only were the smaller collectors getting back into their childhood hobby with some extra cash from stimulus checks, there were also larger investors looking to diversify their portfolio with "Alternative Assets". Since interest rates have been at all time lows levels, there is not much benefit to keeping your money in a savings account. "High Yield" accounts these days barely scratch 1%. With this in mind, investors have been looking to put their money to work in other areas outside of the stock market for diversification.
Take a look at this chart below from Verified Market Research showing the growth trajectory of the Global Sports Trading Card Market:
With this in mind, and my re-entry into the hobby, I set out to go looking for cards. Over the summer I made it a habit on the weekends to pull into any garage sale I saw, or antique store around that might have old cards. Most of the time I was only finding pretty beat up 80's and 90's cards not worth much of anything, but I recognized that even though I wasn't finding the million dollar 1909 T-206 Honus Wagner card, I was having a BLAST.
After a few swings and misses, I did finally come across a few garage sales that I was able to pick up some really cool old cards from. Here were just a few of some of the cool cards from the 70's I picked up:
I have found that the hunt for the cards has become almost more fun than the act of actually acquiring them in some instances. However, even with the garage sales, and antique stores, I still was not coming across the quality cards that I believe are where real investors will continue to pour into. Which again brings me to my newest allocation in my investment portfolio.
Yesterday, an old friend and I who used to trade baseball cards as kids met up and took a ride up to Secaucus, New Jersey for the Garden State Card Show. I had never been to a card show until yesterday, and man was it an incredible experience.
The show had roughly 50-70 tables of memorabilia and cards throughout the event center. There were cards dating all the way back to 1909, through 2021, from players like Ty Cobb, to Mickey Mantle, Jackie Robinson, Derek Jeter, and Fernando Tatis Jr. Here were the big players. I wasn't digging through garage sales and shoes boxes anymore. These were investors.
After a few hours of walking the floor, I decided to pull the trigger on a few awesome cards that I think will hold as great investments over time. I have below photos of the cards, as well as what I paid for them, and what their most recent comps were sold on eBay:
Willie Mays, 1954 Topps
Recent Sales Comp: $430
The "Say Hey Kid" is regarded as one of the greatest players to ever step foot on a baseball field. This 1954 card is in great condition for its age, and no matter what it will always hold its value. With each year that passes, unfortunately there will be less Willie Mays cards going around than the year before. There will never be another one of these printed, so the natural scale of scarcity coupled with the growth of the industry and name power of Willie Mays will make this a great investment for years to come.
Albert Pujols, Topps 2001 rookie card
Recent Sales Comp: $400
This purchase had a little more meaning to me. Albert Pujols was the reason my favorite number was #5 growing up, and why I played first base. I still have the Albert Pujols model first base glove that I used in little league, and I use it for my men's league mushball games in town. Albert will undoubtedly be a Hall of Famer one day, being one of only 9 players with 600 career home runs. This card will see higher valuations when he announces his retirement, his HOF induction, and beyond.
Mariano Rivera, Bowman 1992 rookie card
Recent Comps: $150-200
Mariano will forever be known as the greatest closer of all time. The all-time leader in saves, the only unanimous inductee into the HOF, Mo is the undisputed GOAT of the bullpen. I am a die-hard Yankees fan so having the opportunity to own his rookie was pretty cool. I also love that the card photo is of him wearing a Hawaiian shirt, the dude just had swagger. I paid fair market value for this card, but I do believe that with time this card will appreciate in value.
The remaining cards that I have are all part of my personal collection when I was growing up, and I would be lying to myself if I said I will ever sell them. These cards are a representation of my childhood love of baseball, and I would be hard pressed to think I would ever let them go. There will be some cards that come and go, but for the most part I will continue to invest in these as a hobby, and a form of an alternative asset class.
I recently wrote about the power of community, and I think this power holds particularly true in the baseball card community. Getting to meet other collectors, and hear their stories of where they were at certain moments of time in sports history, or how they came to owning a certain card, was such an awesome experience. I felt like a little kid again walking around that card show, and this summer has been such a nostalgic blast from the past digging through antique stores and garage sales looking for that next great find.
If you have any stories from your own collecting hobbies, I would love to hear them. Feel free to share it in the comments section or on my posts. I think the history and stories that are intertwined in collecting is what makes it so special.
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I also launched some merch for the BonkerBeat check it out here: MERCH