A couple of years ago, former Sports Collector’s Digest editor Bob Lemke stumbled across Goudey sales figures for baseball cards in the 1930s and 1940s. He presented the figures while expressing a disinterest in doing the math to try to figure out how many cards Goudey sold.
For some insane reason I decided to take a stab at it. Or, rather, make my computer take a stab at it. And I came to some unexpected conclusions.
Virtually every schoolboy who is interested in baseball cards knows the story of how Topps bought Bowman. After World War II, Bowman was the leading brand of baseball card, or, at least from 1948 until 1951. Then, in 1952, Topps released its landmark 1952 set. Bowman and Topps battled for baseball fans’ nickels and pennies until 1955. Then, in early 1956, Topps bought Bowman, and that was the end of Bowman until the late 1980s, when Topps dusted off the brand name and started issuing Bowman cards again. And Topps faced precious little competition in the baseball card field until 1981, when Fleer and Donruss won the right to produce cards.
That’s the story as I knew it. But there’s a lot more to the story, starting with the details of the purchase. In January 1956, Topps bought its once mighty rival for a mere $200,000. Normally a company sells for 10 times its annual revenue, and Bowman had sold $600,000 worth of baseball cards alone just two years before. The purchase price makes no sense, until you dig a bit deeper.
If you sell cards, odds are at some point you’re going to have to mail a baseball card. You can mail a card cheaply and give it good protection.
One would think people would realize sticking a baseball card in an envelope in between two pieces of cardboard cut from a Federal Express overnight envelope and wrapping a sheet of typing paper around the package isn’t enough protection for a baseball card in the mail.
Even if you write “Do not bend. Deliver Flat.” on the envelope.
Doing it right isn’t too hard, doesn’t cost a lot, and your customers will appreciate it.
There are a few hucksters on Ebay, whom I don’t care to give free advertising by mentioning by name, who hawk “graded” cards on Ebay and claim them to be especially valuable. One even puts supposed appraised values in his listings in parenthesis, then invites you to visit his page for an explanation of “graded” value, where he cites an example of a run-of-the-mill 1970s star card, normally worth $60, being worth $2,500 once graded.
The thing is, that’s an edge case. It’s important to understand those edge cases to avoid a ripoff.
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.
As security professionals, we deal with a tremendous amount of stress. Like my new boss told me about a week into our tenure together, we tend to be perfectionists, and frequently we’re asked to deal with the most cavalier people in our organization. It’s a toxic combination.
One of the first things my boss asked me after we met was what I think about at home. In all honesty, I can’t help but think about work sometimes–I apologize for being crude, but I have a thinking chair at home and it doesn’t look like the one on Blue’s Clues–but I have a lot of other things I think about at home too. Important things like my family of course, but other important things too, like trains and baseball and baseball cards.
Sometime around the sixth grade I realized that prices on modern cards were very volatile. If a star player had a bad month, his card prices were likely to suffer, while a good month or good season could send prices skyward. I have few regrets in life, but I do wish I’d sold or traded off my Jose Canseco rookie cards when their book value was $300. I could buy several today for $5 or $6 if I wanted more. (I’ll pass.)