How to tell if a baseball card is a reprint

Companies have been reprinting old, rare, and valuable baseball cards for decades. It’s a way for people to have cards of players like Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb who otherwise never could. But that can cause problems too. Here’s how to tell if a baseball card is a reprint.

All of the reprints I had when I was a kid said “reprint” on the back. That’s the way reputable companies handle the problem. These days when Topps reprints a card, frequently they’ll slap a logo on the front that wasn’t on the original. That certainly clears things up.

Unfortunately, some other companies didn’t mark their reprints. So what do you do then?

Reprints always have some subtle differences from the real thing. The picture won’t be as sharp. The picture won’t quite be the right size, so the borders will be too thin or too thick. The card will be too glossy, or not glossy enough. Or the card stock won’t be the right thickness. Maybe the card stock is bleached when the original was unbleached.

When all else fails, you can hold a couple of cards over a strong light and compare how much light gets through.

I’ve said this before, but the only way to get good at identifying reprints is to get familiar with the real thing. Sunday morning radio preachers love to talk about how FBI investigators learn to identify counterfeit money by studying real money, and then they feign shock.

But if you think about it for half a second it makes sense. The real thing is consistent. The imitations will be inconsistent with the real thing and with each other. One guy will get cardboard that’s too thin. Another guy will get cardboard that’s too thick.

That’s why I never buy the superstar cards from a vintage set first. I buy a pile of common cards. Those are the bench players, the cards of guys nobody remembers. I take the cards out of the holders and put them in my own holders. I don’t wear gloves, at least with the commons. The goal is to get a literal feel for what the actual card feels like. Then, when I get a $100 card, I can tell pretty easily if it’s real or a reprint because I have a dozen or two cheap cards from the same set to compare it to.

If you find a stash of old cards, there’s one other telltale sign. The contents of the stash should make sense. If you find a stash of 1983 cards and there’s a 1933 Goudey Nap Lajoie, a T-206 Honus Wagner, and a T-206 Eddie Plank in the mix, the latter three cards are reprints. In 1983, a company reprinted those cards and kids could buy them from school book order forms. That’s where mine came from. If you find a shoebox full of 1960s cards and there are a bunch of utility infielders and relief pitchers in there, there’s a far better chance the star cards in the bunch are real. Those cards have probably been together for decades. I’ve discussed this before as well.

When all else fails, contact a professional. Every major city has at least a couple of card dealers left. Make an appointment with at least two of them, and let them know you’re getting at least a second opinion. If you have something special, most of them will be honest with you about it. They’ll probably enjoy seeing the cards. It’s a lot more interesting than looking at yet another pile of 1980s or 1990s cards.

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