The Elusive PSA 10 1951 Bowman Mantle Rookie Card

1951 Bowman #253 Mickey Mantle RC PSA 10

1951 Bowman #253 Mickey Mantle RC PSA 10

How times have changed over the past 20-plus years in the hobby. If you asked me back in the late ’80s what would be the most influential trend in card collecting that would affect pricing I would have probably said that Beckett Magazines created and would continue to create a central pricing structure that would attract lots of speculators, investors and collectors. This increased participation would skyrocket demands on product which in turn would increase pricing. I wasn’t half wrong, Beckett did create a marketplace that attracted huge amounts of new people into the hobby, but the card companies also reacted by producing huge amounts of cards to match or exceed the demand. Over time this suppressed pricing on all newer cards and the trend in pricing upward stayed only in the vintage area of the hobby.

The overall biggest influence on the pricing for cards wasn’t actually Beckett Magazine. The largest trend that pushed pricing upwards was the introduction of third party grading services.

The best example for this trend can be seen in one of my all-time favourite cards. A card that, once graded, quickly moved out of my budget and into the realm of the rich.

The card I’m speaking of you probably have guessed from the title of this post is the 1951 Bowman Mickey Mantle RC. It has the distinction of being one of the very few seminal vintage cards that has a PSA 10 population of only one. It, over the last 22-23 years (since it has been graded), has remained unique. Other important vintage cards either have no PSA 10 examples or more than one which makes this card highly desirable to high end vintage collectors.

1951 Bowman #253 Mickey Mantle RC PSA Pop. Report

1951 Bowman #253 Mickey Mantle RC PSA Pop. Report

The card first came to the public’s attention in an article written by Michael Payne for Beckett Baseball Card Monthly back in 1994 (the November issue). Two University of Miami students (Dan Forman and Jerry Schwartz), who came across the card (the article didn’t give any specifics), sent it in to be graded by PSA.

The card came back a 10. They informed a Mantle collector who they had sold cards to before, by the name of Rick Skurnik, that the card would be put up for auction. Skurnik, with some financial help from his wife Gail, won the auction with a bid of $30,000.00.

Nov. 1994 Beckett Article

Nov. 1994 Beckett Article

The card periodically came up in dealings, Skurnik didn’t keep the card for too long. It was sold for just under 100k in 1998, then 325k a few years later. In 2008, Memory Lane Inc. set up a private sale of the card for 600k. The 600k sale was the last anyone has heard of the card.

The card, if sold today, would fetch around a million according to most experts in the hobby and I wouldn’t disagree.

To summarize, the card, once graded, went from 30k to 100k to 325k to 600k all within 14 years. If we consider it a million dollar card in 2016 that would be a 33 fold increase in 22 years. That is the essence of the hobby today, the search for high end copies of important cards to then be sent off to be graded and resold at a huge profit.

The Mantle card is not a unique example, it is a regular occurrence. Cards that were priced in the hundreds of dollars back in the ’80s and early ’90s are now sold in the tens, if not the hundreds, of thousands of dollars because they have had the distinction of being graded very high by one of the 3rd party grading companies. The difference between a NM or higher non graded card, to its graded counterpart can run in the range of 10 to 100 times higher in price. That is if you can even find ungraded copies of important cards in superior condition. Most high end cards with some significance have been graded creating a two-tiered system of collecting, those that are graded and high end, and those that are ungraded and are less than NM. In some cases grading has even moved into the lower conditioned cards depending on the card’s significance. Eventually there will be no more vintage cards to grade and the companies will be competing to grade the new and more recent cards only. We will see if another trend comes to the forefront at that time.

 

What Happened to Supply and Demand?

1980 Topps #482 Rickey Henderson Mint Graded Cards

1980 Topps #482 Rickey Henderson Mint Graded Cards

One of the cards, out of the thousands I’m looking for, is a graded Rickey Henderson 1980 Topps RC. I usually end up buying three rookie cards of any given Hall of Famer from 1980 forward. One is for the set I build which includes the card, the second is an ungraded card for my HOF display collection (they get puttied to a wall in my house) and a third is a graded card for storage. It’s always the third card that is a pain in the ass to buy.

1989 Upper Deck #1 Ken Griffey Jr. PSA 10

1989 Upper Deck #1 Ken Griffey Jr. PSA 10

With Rickey Henderson it is an added burden. Although the ’80s began the overproduction of baseball cards (and 1980 Topps is not an exception) there are certain cards at certain grades that just seem to escape the law of supply and demand when it comes to their pricing. Ken Griffey Jr.’s 1989 Upper Deck #1 in Gem Mint is one (it consistently sells in the $350.00 to $400.00 range on eBay, a ridiculous price when the cards population at that grade is in the thousands (over 2500 graded 10 by PSA alone). Rickey Henderson’s 1980 Topps #482 graded at Mint is another.

The Henderson card consistently sells at Mint in the $400.00 to $500.00 range on eBay. Which is plainly ridiculous. The 1980 set was produced recently enough to avoid much of the damage incurred by cards in the ’70s, ’60s. and earlier. Those cards that were thrown around in schoolyards and put onto bicycle spokes. When protection of cards began to be popular in the mid ’80s the 1980 set was one of the sets that was protected. You can easily find the whole set in Near Mint condition or better for $100.00 or less without much difficulty (I picked one up recently for $60.00). So why the outrageous price for the Henderson card?

The card follows a trend that is quite alarming for this collector. It seems the younger generation is beginning to believe a card isn’t worth squat unless it’s sealed up in a graded case. Just looking at population reports from the major graders shows that most submissions are for the newer cards. Each year more and more cards from the previous seasons of baseball and other sports are graded by younger collectors. Why not? If your card ungraded is worth 2.00 but graded at Mint or Gem Mint it jumps up to $100.00-$500.00 because people are stupid enough to pay those prices for them you would have to be an idiot not to grade your cards.

Returning to the Henderson card, it just seems that if a card is not even the least bit rare at a certain grade, then its price should no way be the price of some people’s monthly rent. Here are the populations from the major graders for Mint 1980 Topps #482 Rickey Henderson Rookie card at the time of the writing of this post:

PSA 9 Mint – 1540
BGS 9 Mint – 149
SGC 96 Mint – 130

That is over 1800 of the cards graded Mint and there are more added each month. The people who argue that it is because of the demand that drives the price up needs to look around at the different online sellers, such as eBay, Amazon, Dean’s cards, COMC, Kijiji, etc. to easily see that the card is always available. At this present time, eBay has sixteen copies listed at PSA 9, three BGS/BVG 9s, and one SGC 96 and this is always the case. The card has a higher supply than its demand, which should reduce its price but it hasn’t.

COMC Logo

COMC Logo

The only solution to this craziness is to keep a keen eye out for nice ungraded copies of the cards you want and then roll the dice and submit them to the grading companies yourself. That is, if you want graded cards in your collection. COMC has made the practice quite easy as the site has teamed up with Beckett to grade any card you buy off the site without it being shipped to you first. It’s a crapshoot but when you can buy a nice ungraded copy of the Henderson card for $15.00, and the avg. price to grade it is around $15.00, it means that unless the card comes back at a 6 or less you have at least broke even on the cost. And if you are astute enough to get an 8 or 9 you just saved yourself $50.00, $100.00 or even more dollars.

It is a shame when graded card pricing becomes so ridiculous, but ever since the boom era of the late 80s, early ’90s, greed has dominated the hobby, it just moved from over pricing of packs, boxes, and insert cards, to graded cards. I wonder what will be next.

When Graded Cards Become Ridiculous

Is there so much mistrust in the hobby that graded cards have become the norm for collecting vintage cardboard? It serves its purpose, in that, it gives you a card in a grade you wish to have, but cant you use your own two eyes to see the approximate grade of a card and avoid the premium of a card graded by a third party? The most annoying thing about graded cards is how people who send the cards they have in to get graded think that it makes their cards worth so much more than a non-graded card. Not just the 5-10 dollars more, but sometimes hundreds of dollars more. It cracks me up.

I figure that everyone who collects cardboard would have a brain in their head. They would, like me, look on a graded and ungraded card as similar items with the graded card having a slightly higher price because of the cost to get it graded. In other words if I see a mint card that’s ungraded (by my observation using the standards that have been in the hobby for decades) and the same card that is graded, I would want and assume that I could pay the same price for both cards with the added amount it cost the seller to grade the card put on the graded version.

Depending on what grading company you use, how many cards you send in, and what discounts you take advantage of, the cost to grade 1 card is less than 20.00. So why do i see a non graded ’89 upper deck Ken Griffey Jr. mint card selling for $40.00 yet a graded one selling for $350.00? It’s a joke right?

1989 UD #1 Griffey Jr. PSA 10 eBay Listing

1989 UD #1 Griffey Jr. PSA 10 eBay Listing

You collectors out there aren’t falling for the greedy seller’s need to fleece people of there hard earned cash are you? Or, perhaps I’m the idiot and people don’t mind paying a hefty premium on cards that are graded, especially those that gain Gem Mint status., even when there are literally 1000s of those exact cards graded and ungraded that already have or will have the same designation. I always thought scarcity was one of the main drivers of price, but it seems it’s more the grading of cards that is the most important thing.

Is a Gem mint graded card that has 100s of copies worth the prices? It seems so. You do realize that just because there are only 5 graded gem mint designations for a card, or 3, or 2, that it doesn’t mean they are the only ones in existence. Especially for cards that are not from the pre 70s. As more and more people grade their collections, more and more cards populate that gem mint area of the hobby.

The perfect example of this craziness was a recent purchase I noticed on ebay with the help of reading an article on sportscollectorsdaily.com.

How much would you pay for a really nice ungraded copy of Nolan Ryan’s 1978 Topps #400 card? If you looked it over and saw that the corners were sharp, the centering was dead-on, there where no stains or blemishes and the sheen was very nice as well, would you fork over 30.00? Perhaps, or you might realize that the card is not even close to being Ryan’s rookie card (its 10 years on) and try and buy it for a more reasonable 15.00-20.00.

Now what about a graded version of the card? If you would pay 30.00 for what looks like a pristine copy of it ungraded, what would you pay for it graded? 60.00? I mean if you would pay 30.00 for an ungraded, why not 60.00 for a nice graded psa 9? it gives the seller 30.00 for the card, 10.00 for the cost of grading it, and an extra 20.00 for his troubles. Sounds reasonable right?

Well looking at the sold and listed 1978 topps Nolan Ryan on ebay, be prepared to pay 500.00 to 1,299.00 for this card. It’s a joke right? You are in agreement with me correct? Well if that doesn’t blow you mind enough, what do you think someone would pay for a Gem Mint 10 copy of the card? A card that is 10 years from his rookie card, in a set produced in large numbers from 1978? Would you believe $17,877.00. No that is not a typo.

21 bidders bid 41 times over 10 days to reach that crazy number. here is the page:

1978 Topps #400 Nolan Ryan PSA 10 eBay Sale

1978 Topps #400 Nolan Ryan PSA 10 eBay Sale

I wonder what will happen to these cards decades in the future. will they keep going up in price, or will they die. what happens when the plastic yellows and the printing fades on these encasing? Will the owner remove the card having it return to ungraded status, or will he send it back to a grading company to have it regraded taking the chance that time has not brought the card down from its gem mint status? It seems a predicament that I would want to avoid especially when it involves 1000s of dollars.

Anyway, I think it might be time to go through my collection and start sending off my cards to get graded so i can charge 1000% more for the cards I own. Hell, I think i might start buying boxes of vintage 70s and 80s cards and start grading all of them so i can make millions lol.

Using Hank Greenberg as an Example of the Problem with eBay

I buy a lot of product off eBay, It is hands down the easiest way to buy baseball cards. But you must watch what you are doing or you will be paying way too much for your cards. The easiest way for this to happen, as most of you probably already know, is to not include the shipping cost in the price you will pay for an item. That ’92 Donruss Factory set looks like a steal at $2.00 but when you see $75.00 shipping, are you really getting a bargain?

Another way is to not do your research. You impulse buy and regret it later when you see the card you purchased for $50.00 posted in the same grade a week later for $25.00. Every card or cards you look at should always include a look at previously sold listing for that card/cards. Also it is good to look elsewhere (the grading sites such as PSA/SMR) for the latest pricing on cards sold in the grade you’re buying at. Even a look through a Beckett magazine can give you an idea of a ballpark figure for the card.

But don’t let this discourage you from buying a card that looks, for all intents and purposes, overpriced, if you really want the card. In this case the research will have given you the info you needed and if you buy anyways, you won’t feel bad afterwards because you knew what you were doing.

Here is an example of what I mean:

1934 Goudey #62 Hank Greenberg SGC 30

1934 Goudey #62 Hank Greenberg SGC 30

This is a Hank Greenberg Rookie Card from the famous 1934 Goudey set. How much would you pay for this card? Its ranked GOOD by SGC (a 30) and is equivalent to a 2 rating from PSA. The card shows up on eBay frequently in different grades and without grading, but this is the first time in a long long time that a SGC 30/PSA 2 has been on eBay. Those that are looking for a lower priced Greenberg rookie would definitely be interested in this card.

So how much would you pay? Without any research, my first guess would be $150.00. That would be what I would be willing to pay for it. That’s my ceiling. A $100.00 price tag would move the range more within my comfort zone (over $100.00 for a card is a bit much for my budget). The listing for this card on eBay was a Buy It Now price of $259.00.

My guess, before research pegs this as overpriced. This is a dealer who is testing the waters with a high price just in case he can find some bites at that price. If no one buys, he may after a few months lower his price. But let’s see what the research tells us.

Looking in the latest Standard Catalog of Vintage Baseball Cards the listing shows a price of $275.00 for a VG grade of the card. Meaning a G grade would be around $100.00 to $125.00 as I guessed. Looking at PSA/SMR pricing a graded VG has been sold for an avg. of $150.00 and an PSA 2 grade $100.00. Looking at past sales of the card on ebay:

1934 Goudey #62 Hank Greenberg SGC 20

1934 Goudey #62 Hank Greenberg SGC 20

This SGC 20/PSA 1.5 F sold for $117.50 on eBay recently

1934 Goudey #62 Hank Greenberg PSA 3

1934 Goudey #62 Hank Greenberg PSA 3

This PSA 3 VG sold for $281.03 recently as well.

So logic dictates that if a Fair card sells for $117.50 and a VG card sells for $281.03, then a SGC 30/PSA 2 should be in the $150.00 range, not $259.00. The seller is trying to get a high price for this card. Although when it comes down to it a person can sell a card for whatever he wishes, and these sellers who consistently price their cards high can do so, calling it “testing the market” rather than “suckering an idiot or novice collector,” it doesn’t mean we need to buy their cards. There is no needed behavior to drive prices for cards upward as sellers will do this on their own, but there is a behavior that’s needed to get sellers to be reasonable with their pricing, that is, refuse to buy their cards at the prices they’re asking for them.

If I didn’t do my research, my gut saved me in this situation. It doesn’t always do that. I learned to be disciplined before buying cards because it has saved me hundreds of dollars. Even if you are rich enough to forgo a budget, do you really want to one of those guys who sellers look on as a great “mark”? Wasting money is stupid in all economic groups. So, I will pass on this card even though it is one of the cards I have been looking for to add to my Hall of Fame collection that I have been adding to lately. Let’s hope others do the same.

Grading Companies, Who Is Your Favourite and Why?

Grading Services Logos

Grading Services Logos

It seems PSA is the most popular. Myself, I like SGC since most of the cards I buy graded are pre-1950s cards.

It seems that the going rule-of-thumb, is the following:

  • SGC – pre 50s
  • PSA – 50s to ’79
  • BCG – 80s forward
1933 Goudey #53 Babe Ruth Graded

1933 Goudey #53 Babe Ruth Graded

I have only one graded card that is not from the pre 50s and that’s a GEM Mint SGC graded 98 Tony Gwynn rookie from the 1983 Topps set.

Two things you need to decide when grading your cards or buying graded cards, when collecting rather than selling them.

The first is whether when collecting a set will you grade every card in that set or second only grade certain cards in the set. Due to cost most people when collecting a set just protect the cards without grading, others grade only the star cards and/or rare cards, and a third type of collector grades the whole set of cards.

Grading becomes more prolific the further back in time you go. for example, a person collecting the 1990 Leaf set may only grade or buy graded the Frank Thomas rookie and perhaps the Sammy Sosa rookie and the Ken Griffey Jr. 2nd year card. But the same collector, when he collects say the 1955 Topps set will grade every card in the set since every card is worth money.

If you decide to grade every card in the set, you may want to think about uniformity. In the 1990 Leaf example, if only 3 cards are graded, it seem unimportant if they were graded by different grading companies, but the 1955 set you will probably want each card graded by the same company that way the slabs all look the same.

PSA became the most popular for this reason. PSA was around first, so the collectors who started grading their cards, used PSA and the cards they had of worth first were the pre 80s post 50s cards. They began grading the star cards first then later the rest of the cards in the sets. Since PSA was used for the star cards, they used PSA for the non-star cards as well to keep the look of the cards uniform. After that with SGC and BCG people liked the former for the pre 50s cards when their collection might have had many cards from the era, but they were individual cards from many sets rather than cards mostly from one set. Uniformity in displaying pre 50s cards meant using SGC. BCG was used by most collectors of modern cards. I’m not exactly sure why but my guess is that Beckett knows the most about modern cards than the other two grading companies.

I like SGC mostly because the mark up for a SGC graded card from the same card non-graded is not much for pre 50s cards, and not as much as PSA for post 50s cards . PSA holds a premium on those cards. As an example, Schmidt’s rookie card (1973 Topps) ungraded yet seen to be in near mint grade sells for around 100.00, if its graded by SGC it sells for 185.00, if its PSA its 220.00. Not sure why except that PSA are sought after more because of the uniformity issue I talked about earlier.

Lastly I should offer you a piece of advice or insight to the graded vs. ungraded card. If you are good at grading cards by look then you should always look at the going price for ungraded and graded cards. If you see a large discrepancy between the two, it may be more cost effective to buy the ungraded card and send it off to be graded yourself. If we use the Schmidt rookie example, If you can spot a near mint card ungraded, and it costs you 20.00 for PSA to grade it with 25.00 to ship it there and back, it would be worth doing since to buy the PSA graded card would cost you 75.00 more.