How to sell baseball cards

If you want to know how to sell baseball cards, chances are you want maximum value for them. Here are some tips on how to sell baseball cards without getting ripped off.

Selling cards starts with knowing how to value baseball cards. So I recommend you read that first, or at least skim it. Then, come back here to read about your options.

Commons vs. stars

This 1948 Bowman Phil Rizzuto would sell rather easily, as it's a rookie card of a Hall of Famer who played in a large market.
This 1948 Bowman Phil Rizzuto would sell rather easily, as it’s a rookie card of a Hall of Famer who played in a large market.

You’ll have less trouble selling cards of star players who made the Hall of Fame on their first or second ballot. Those are the players everyone remembers. Nobody can collect everything. But even though I’d root against the Yankees even if they were playing the Cuban Nationals with Fidel Castro himself pitching, I’ll buy a Mickey Mantle card if I see one I can afford.

Minor stars are players who had good careers, maybe a handful of great seasons, who didn’t quite make the Hall of Fame. Examples include players like Ted Simmons and Keith Hernandez. Roger Maris falls into this category. So does Bobby Thomson, the hero of the 1951 playoffs. There are some borderline Hall of Famers who arguably fall into this category too. Would Tony Lazzeri be in the Hall of Fame if he’d played for in St. Louis? Maybe not. Would Ted Simmons be in the Hall of Fame if he’d played in New York? Almost certainly. These cards take a bit more effort to sell, but they’ll still move.

Commons are everyone else. They range from players played every day for most of their careers to utility players who played once a week to guys like Lyman Bostock who lost their careers to tragedy. There’s less interest in these cards, so selling them takes more time and skill. Someone who knows nothing about baseball won’t ever sell a Bostock card. But a baseball fan who knows Bostock’s sad story and can tell it will.

Selling to a dealer

Storefronts that sell cards are much less common than they were 20 years ago. But there are still some out there. If your cards are old enough, they will be interested. “Old enough” generally means older than 1981, or even 1972. Keep in mind they will generally pay, at best, 1/3 of book value for your cards.

That’s not necessarily a ripoff. A dealer has to pay rent, utilities, insurance, business license fees, and other overhead and have enough left over to pay themselves a middle-class income. Many dealers I know charge less than book value to try to move inventory a bit faster. Some inventory will sit for years, so paying 1/3 of book value can be rather generous.

If you have something really good that will move fast, a dealer will pay more. But also don’t be disappointed if a dealer offers you $20 for a shoebox full of early 1970s cards. The dealer might well make $200 selling off that shoebox, but it could take 10 years to do it.

Selling on Craigslist

Selling your cards on Craigslist is another option. If you have a large quantity of cards and they’re newer than 1972, it might be your best option. Keep in mind there will be two types of people interested: Small time dealers who sell cards on the side, and collectors. Both are looking for bargains, but a collector isn’t looking for quite as big of a bargain.

A collector may be willing to pay $30 for a 3,000-count box of 1980s cards for the thrill of looking for a Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card. A dealer, even a small-time dealer, can’t afford to take that chance. For the collector, it’s entertainment.

You can sell a large lot of cards this way. You can also try selling bundles of related cards this way. For individual cards, it’s probably too much work.

Be honest about what you have, and meet someplace safe to conduct the deal.

Selling on Ebay

You can sell cards yourself on Ebay. You’ll make more money this way, but it’s also a lot more work. You’ll have to photograph the cards, manage the listings, answer questions, pack and ship, account for your expenses and pay taxes.

Vintage star cards sell themselves. List them with good photographs, end the auctions in the evening, start the bidding low, and keep your shipping prices reasonable. The price will rise to market rates.

Commons are a tougher sell, but there’s always someone trying to build a set. Set builders will gladly buy nice-condition commons.

You can still sell beat-up cards if you’re careful. Bundle cards together logically. One option is to group players by teams. Or if you have 10 or more different commons from the same set, bundle those together. From a buyer’s perspective, it’s cheaper and easier than buying a bunch of cards from 10 different people, and a set builder is willing to put up with some less than ideal cards for the convenience.

I have some advice on shipping cards if you need it, and some more general advice on Ebay as well. Don’t use media mail for baseball cards.

Selling on consignment

You can consign cards to other sellers as well. Browse Ebay listings and you’ll run across these dealers. I’ve seen these sellers move cards at prices less experienced sellers can only dream of. It’s less convenient than selling to a dealer, but you’ll probably make more money, and it’s easier than selling them yourself.

Their phone numbers are in their listings. Give them a call and tell them what you have. They’ll tell you what they can do for you.

Give cards away

You can give away your cards that just won’t sell. Charity shops will take cards if they’re in a box and somewhat organized. You can also give bundles of cards of the local team to kids at Halloween. It gets the cards out of your house and it won’t rot the kids’ teeth.

You can give out some local players and mix in a few other odd cards. It wouldn’t hurt to buy a pack or two of current cards and mix those in with your oldies as well.

Be sure to get some girl-themed non-sports cards to bundle together to offer the girls.

You won’t make money this way, but it’s cheaper than buying Halloween candy. And as a parent, I’d rather my kids came home with a bag full of trading cards instead of a bag full of sugar.

Combining tactics

You can use combinations of these tactics to sell, but keep in mind it’s going to be more work that way. In the end you may end up with a large quantity of common cards and it’s hard to move a quantity of 1980s or 1990s cards that someone else cherry-picked.

Weigh your options. As painful as it might be to dump 3,000 cards into a recycle bin, pulling out the best cards and recycling the commons nobody wants might be the best way to maximize your return.

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