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.

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.