What are the best baseball cards to invest in? The ones you don’t mind keeping if you lose money on them. But cynicism aside, here are the caveats to investing in collectibles. There are worse things to invest in. Like cryptocurrency.
The best baseball cards to invest in tend to be vintage cards of superstars. High-grade cards of high-tier Hall of Famers tend to do especially well. But if superstar cards are out of reach, you can still do well with exceptionally high-grade cards from popular vintage sets, such as 1952 Topps or 1933 Goudey, since collectors building high-grade complete sets need the common cards too.
Best baseball cards to invest in
The best baseball cards to invest in balance timelessness and scarcity. Rookie cards of Wade Boggs and Ryne Sandberg, for example, are timeless but far from scarce.
To get scarcity, you have to go before 1980, when overproduction hit its peak. Rookie cards of players like George Brett and Robin Yount will always be worth more than cards printed 10 years later. Better yet, go older. Once you get into the 1950s and earlier, non-rookie cards of any big-name Hall of Famer become valuable.
Buy the best-condition examples you can afford. The low-grade pre-1970 cards I bought in the 1980s are all worth more than I paid for them then, but most didn’t keep pace with inflation. The nice pre-1970 cards I got one way or another appreciated decently, but I still would have been better off buying stocks.
Baseball cards work better than some collectibles because there’s a better degree of cross-generational interest in them. Baseball is definitely not as big as it once was, but kids still take an interest in players their fathers and grandfathers watched. Jimmie Foxx died before I was born, but I still talk about him. Even people who aren’t as big of a baseball freak as me know about Mickey Mantle. Computer simulations certainly don’t hurt. Watching long-dead players in simulations isn’t the same as watching them when they really played, but it adds a dimension of life that merely reading about them in books doesn’t.
But will it continue? I don’t know. My sons are a lot less interested in baseball than I was when I was their age.
What to do when Hall of Famers are priced out of reach
The problem with buying Hall of Famers’ rookie cards is the best investments are in high-grade examples. Those don’t come up often and prices can get out of hand.
Here’s another idea. Buy high-grade cards, even commons, from popular sets. Hopefully you know the sets I’m talking about: T-206, 1933 Goudey, 1952 Topps, 1953 Bowman, 1957 Topps, and so on. You can do fine with sets that are a notch below that tier in popularity too, of course. High-end collectors are always looking to build sets, so you can buy striking examples of second-tier players and still expect them to appreciate over time. Buy graded, authenticated examples, ideally, from PSA or SGC.
The key is just finding top-condition cards at something close to current book value. You can find values online but I would advise getting a current price guide. Better yet, get a current edition and an older edition to get some idea of what’s appreciating and what’s holding steady or dropping. Past performance doesn’t guarantee future performance but it’s better than going in blind.
It may seem a bit odd to pay $350 for a card of Don Hurst, but someone building a high-grade set needs every player. Do your due diligence. Search the PSA population database for whatever cards you are considering, and buy the lower-population card.
Getting enjoyment out of your investments
The other approach is to simply buy high-grade cards from notable sets of players from teams you’re familiar with. My grandfather grew up in Cleveland and my father grew up near Philadelphia. I’d happily invest in high-end cards of Joe Vosmik, a player my grandfather grew up watching. Or I could buy high-end cards of Alex Kellner and Gus Zernial, two players my dad grew up watching. Owning these cards would mean more to me than buying and holding random cards.
If it’s just about the money, buy whatever card you can get that fits your budget. But if the card doesn’t appreciate as much or as quickly as you’d like, you’re stuck with a piece of cardboard that means nothing to you. If I have to ride out an economic slump and hold cards of players that meant something to me for longer than I planned, I don’t mind that as much.
Emotional attachment can be dangerous when it comes to investing, but collectibles always carry a risk. If you’re going to invest in collectibles, it’s better to invest in something you wouldn’t mind owning. Besides, if you’re interested, then it’s less of a burden to learn why Goudey cards from the late 1930s aren’t as popular as the 1933 and 1934 sets.
What to invest in instead
In a word: Stocks. At any point in history, if you bought stocks and held them 10 years, you made money. You’d lose money on certain individual stocks, but on the whole, you made money. The television programs us to be afraid of stocks. All I can say to that is fear is very profitable. The answer isn’t to avoid stocks. It’s to watch less television and invest in index funds. While market downturns are scary, here’s why bear markets are the best opportunity to make money long-term.
After 2009, I plowed every dime I could scrape together into real estate. That proved immensely profitable, and I expect another opportunity like that to happen within five years.