Avoiding counterfeit baseball cards

Several times now, I’ve seen people like me, who used to collect baseball cards, went on hiatus, then came back, ask how to avoid counterfeit baseball cards, or at least detect them before it’s too late.

There’s a surprisingly simple answer that often works really well.

Late last year I started buying 1935 Goudey baseball cards. Then I got a little too far ahead of myself and ended up buying a counterfeit Babe Ruth card. So I’ve made the mistake.

The best advice I’ve heard is, when you get back into cards, don’t go for high-roller cards. Buy cheaper cards first. Buy commons, especially commons in low grade. If you’re building a set, you’ll probably want to upgrade some of those cards later, but that’s OK. You’re spending a few extra dollars early to expose yourself to genuine cards, so you can learn what the real thing looks and feels like.

It seems like almost every Sunday morning you can hear a radio preacher feigning surprise that government spooks study real money in order to learn how to identify counterfeit money. The advice is very good and applies to a lot of things in life–it’s the feigned surprise that drives me nuts.

The way you learn to recognize the cardboard and the printing techniques that the original maker used is to handle and examine the real cards. The cheapest way to do that is to accumulate cards of fourth outfielders and long relievers and utility infielders and backup catchers. It’s also the best way to get the real thing, because nobody bothers faking low-grade cards of utility infielders. With a little luck you can probably scoop up some low-grade minor stars as well. Buying low-grade cards means you don’t have to be shy about taking them out of their holders so you can touch and examine them. Stack them up so you can see the thickness of the cardboard, and compare them to more recent cards–counterfeits rarely get the cardstock right.

Eventually you may end up replacing those early cards with nicer examples, but “wasting” $100 on those cards can save you from $1,000 mistakes on Babe Ruth and Dizzy Dean later, so it pays off.

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