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Sports Card Collection – How to Sell It

You may have recently visited mom and she reminded you of your sports card collection in the closet. Your mind quickly thinks of that new boat your wanting and so you are inspired in selling your sports card collection, but how? You ask yourself.

The Sports Card Boom of the 1980-90s

During the mid to late 1980s through the mid to late 1990s, there was a sportscard boom that swept the nation. Much of it in my opinion was brought on by several factors.

A primary factor was sportscard manufacturers competing against one another creating new designs, new concepts thus creating high demand. Also, new technology introduced allowed manufacturers to create beautiful card designs.

Legitimate secondary factors were mammoth home runs being hit with alarming frequency, and let’s not forget about the influence Michael “Air” Jordan and the Chicago Bulls had on the hobby.

Buyers Beware!

In 2014, I decided to start collecting again and I took stock of what I had. Had a great time shuffling through boxes of cards that I had stored away years ago but when I took inventory I didn’t have much of a personal collection left.

Unfortunately, I sold most of what I had because I was a sportscard dealer before 2004 so just about everything that was purchased was quickly sold.

So to kick-start the collection I took to friends and family on social media and got the word out that I was interested in buying sports card collections.

I created business cards like the one pictured above and started to spend the weekend visiting Yard Sales and Garage Sales – following up on leads. The number of responses I received from people wanting to sell their collections was overwhelming.

My takeaway in all this was, people have cards they want to sell BUT people have questions. Some collected years ago and just wanted to get rid of them all without doing any of the leg work in trying to sell them individually.

Some just need to free up the space that all those boxes of cards take up. And others were just looking for a quick buck.

Whatever the scenario I noticed that people were hesitant because they were uncertain about what they had and what the value of the cards were. Today, buyers of sports card collections must be aware of this.

Concerns of the Seller

The problem. Sellers do not know who to turn to or what to ask once they do. “I don’t want to get ripped off.” Some would flat-out say, while others would say it nonchalantly. I did my very best in being helpful and answering all their questions.

Many were relieved and happy to sell me their collections after we talked, others opted to pass but were grateful for the help, and often I passed-up on purchasing certain collections but I always took the time to tell them why.

In this post, I want to share with you some things I learned through these experiences. Some things you need to know (or consider) when selling your sports card collection.

1) Defining Expectations for Your Sports Card Collection

Defining expectations requires determining within yourself what is the objective? Why do you want to sell them? Is there sentimental value involved? What is your bottom line dollar amount that you would be content with?

Whatever your reasoning determining your expectations is a crucial first step when selling your collection. Also, have realistic expectations. I understand you’re excited but don’t set yourself up for disappointment.

Realize that more than likely you will not become a millionaire with that 1987 Topps set you got for your 5th birthday. So don’t set your expectations in concrete just yet, not until after you also consider…

2) Condition of Your Sports Card Collection

You would be shocked at price values in today’s market. Cards that we grew up with are selling for record numbers. However, the vehicle driving these high card prices are cards being graded by third-party authenticators.

For a nominal fee, authenticators will review your cards centering, dinged or soft corners, edges for rough cuts, and surfaces for scratches, print defects, etc. They also have established processes for spotting counterfeits.

The cards we grew up with that are selling between three to five figures are the cards that are being graded coming back in Gem Mint 10 condition!

Take a good look at your cards, what kind of condition are they in? If your sports card collection is just thrown in a plastic tote odds are they’re going to be in really bad condition.

If they’re bundled up with rubber bands, not good, if they’re inside a plastic bag out in the garage, no Bueno. In this hobby it’s all about condition, the better the condition the better chance at getting serious buyers interested.

For help understanding conditions check out my article here Sports Card Lingo: Condition

3) What Do You Have?

A common frustration I see with many folks selling their sports card collections is they don’t know what they have. I like to break it down into four eras:

Pre-War Era

These are cards produced before 1942. These are sought-after by just about any collector I know. Cards from this era will get the attention of any respectable sports card dealer. These can carry a slightly higher premium, especially cards of well-known players.

Vintage Era

Produced between 1948 – 1980 some would say that 1970 is the cut off date but I disagree. It is the era of Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente just to name a few. Arguably, I would say, cards from this era have more popularity and greater demand by most collectors than pre-war cards.

Junk Card Era

This term really bothers me, that’s why I feel a more correct term is the Mass Produced Era – these are cards produced between 1981 – 2000.

By the mid-80s supply was not meeting demand and so manufacturers kept printing, and printing, to the point, that supply not only met demand but superseded it. The result unfortunately is diminished card values.

That’s not on all cards printed within this era but on most of them. Some gems exist but you have to know what you have. Please note you will have a harder time selling sports card collections from this era.

Modern Day Era

These are cards produced between 2001 to Present. Although not printed in high quantities like the previous era, there are many more makes and models available.

For example, in 2016 there were 74 different types of card brands manufactured just for baseball alone, but this is a topic for another day.

The point I want to make with this era is that modern-day cards are like the stock market. Up one day down the next and much of it depends on the consistent or inconsistent performance of modern-day players.


Time Out! Let’s Answer The Big Question

In my adventures of buying sports card collections, I’ve seen a lot of enthusiasm. I get it! You’ve had these sports cards in your possession for 20-30+ years now. These cards have been stored for so long you forgot you had them. Thank you mom for not throwing them away.

You go to the grocery store or local car wash and you see my business card (pictured above) pinned on the board, and you have another “aha” moment! “It’s been so long they gotta be worth something? Right?” Well, this is what I’m trying to help you figure out.

Remember you should first define your expectations to have a realistic outcome. We should also determine the condition of the cards and finally do a little bit of homework so you know what era your cards fall into Pre-War, Vintage, Mass Produced, or Modern Day Era.

So now for the big question. What is my sports card collection worth? Well, that’s what we’re leading up to. However, you also need to know the year, make, and model. Logically, It would do you well to also understand a little bit about the card market and selling to a potential buyer. Let’s continue.

4) Determining the Year, Make & Model of Your Sports Card Collection

There are several ways to figure this out and it is a crucial step in knowing what you have so you can determine card market value.

It’s a lot like selling your vehicle, you can go to multiple websites to determine prices for vehicles but the first step of even that process is knowing the year, make, and model of the vehicle.

No need to feel intimidated though once you figure out a few cards you’ll be on track to answering your own questions. Here are the 3 ways to figure this out:

Some cards, on the front of them, will tell you the year and make. Using this card as an example notice the upper left-hand corner of the card, it tells you that this card is a 1990 Score.


But not all cards are created equal. For some cards finding it in the front is not that obvious but there are two other ways you can tell the year, make and model. Let’s take this same card and look at the back of it.

Zooming in on a couple of spots on the back of this one you want to look for the column that states the “Year” now take the last year listed and add one year. You can use this technique for just about any card.

Or you can look for the copyright year and make. Not all cards are as friendly as this one but all cards will display at least one of these three.

So for this example, the year is 1990, the make is Score, and the model is Baseball. 1990 Score Baseball, card no. 265 of Andre Dawson.


5) Determine Value of Your Sports Card Collection Using These Tools


Price guides will give you a range of low-end and high-end prices. So if a card has a book value of $50 – $100 the price guide company is telling you that in their research they have found that this card is selling within that range.

Much of that range is determined by condition. Truth is, only in extremely rare occasions will a collector be willing to pay high book for any card.

There are just too many options. For every one person trying to sell a card at top dollar, there will be 100 others that are willing to sell that exact card for half that amount.

One common complaint about price guides is how long it takes them to list card prices for a new product release. Another common complaint is that they don’t give real-time data.

Price guides do not reflect current day price adjustments that occur for a certain player, overnight there could be a spike in demand due to player performance. The passing of a Hall of Famer usually will cause instant demand for their cards.

The opposite holds true as well, last year’s hot rookie could be this year’s chump. Waiting on price guides you may have to wait a couple of months before it records those fluctuations in prices.

However, at the time of this publishing, the industry has started to take steps to get prices to collectors sooner.  Personally, I still get lots of use from price guides.

One of today’s industry leaders in price guides is CAUTION! Do not use price guides you had 20 years ago those will not reflect proper pricing.


Many experienced collectors turn to eBay for real-time market prices. It’s a common way to figure out what your cards are worth today, but maybe a debatable topic.

Here’s an example of how many collectors do it. Let’s just say I used the steps described above and I figured out I have a 1984 Topps Dan Marino which happens to be his rookie card. I subscribed to Beckett Online and know that it has a book value of $25-$50.

But what’s it selling for in the last 72 hours? Well, I can log in to my eBay account and do a search for a “1984 Topps Dan Marino” I’ll choose the Filter or Refined Search and turn on Sold Items and/or Completed Items – this will give me a list of completed auctions for that card.

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Next, I’ll make note of the last 10 auctions or maybe those in the last month or so depending on how many have sold. I will take note of legitimate sales and skip over those that are exaggerated either extremely high or too low.

Once you’ve made note the next step is to average out the sold listings. In this example, some auctions sold for $5 others sold for $60 giving me an average price of $28.70 in the last 48 hours.

An average price is an important number when selling your cards to seasoned collectors.

6) Selling Sports Card Collection to a Potential Buyer

Well, I’ve come to the last point in this post. I’ve brought you to a fork in the road. You need to ask yourself this one question if I want top dollar for my sports card collection am I willing to do the work myself?

If no, then you’ll need to leave a margin of equity for the purposes of resale value. Seasoned card dealers are disciplined and do not buy into the hype. They have options and know how to utilize their resources.

These bulk collection buyers are interested in your cards to either: auction them off, to replenish stock, or (my purpose) – to pull cards for their personal collection. With the remainder they’ll try to recoup some of the expense of the collection for their next purchase.

For the example above we figured the Dan Marino RC average price was $28.70. If you do the leg work you can expect to get that much for it. But if I’m buying your bulk collection of cards that means I’m taking the stuff that will sell and the stuff that won’t sell too.

This means I’m doing the leg work and a realistic purchase price says I can’t give you more than $12 for that Dan Marino card! You have to leave some meat on the bone and here’s why:

What Buyers Are Up Against

FEES – let’s say I sell that card on eBay for $30. At the end of the month, I’ll be charged with a significant fee from eBay for selling that card. Usually 10-15%.

POSTAGE – shipping and handling are included at the end of an auction, some sellers include shipping in their auctions in hopes that it will help get more bids. Also, consider the time it takes to go to the post office and the cost of shipping supplies as well.

RENTAL COST – say I want to do a card show to sell some cards. I will have to pay a rental cost. Depending on the venue I will have to pay $80 – $400+ per 8-foot table to do that card show.

PROFIT-MARGINS – if a card sales for $30 and I have $8 in expenses when I sell it that has to be factored into my profit-margin which really needs to be around 2X – 3X more than what I paid.

So if I pay $12 that means I need to be able to sell it for $24 – $36 range. Yes, there may be a chance that it sells for more than $30 but there’s also a chance that it sells for much less than that too.

BONUS: Don’t Rush It

If you can find a reputable card dealer they can give you a fair market value in a fraction of time because they have the experience and resources to buy collections if it’s something they can use.

It does take some time and work to determine what your cards are worth especially if you’re inexperienced. It’s a painstaking process but this road must be crossed by either the seller or the purchaser of the collection for there to be fairness.

I feel the deal has to be fair to both parties. As a purchaser of collections, I have a fear of getting ripped off too and believe me I’ve bought my share of duds.

Understand when trying to sell your collection it takes time, don’t rush it. Do the homework. So let’s take a look at some takeaways.

Any further questions on this topic please feel free to contact me.

Happy Collecting Collectors,

Learn. Collect. Enjoy.