April 9, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Shepsi’s rookie card.

One of my favorite “Far Side” comics depicts a man who designed a time machine specifically to travel back to the very moment his mother threw his beloved baseball card collection in the trash.

Everyone can share stories regarding prized collections thoughtlessly tossed out. The gap between the excitement felt by a young collector and his or her parents’ opinion of the collection could be unbridgeable. Yet, as long as someone enjoys collecting an item and finds it to be rewarding, it is worth their time to create a collection. There may come a time, however, when a collector realizes he or she has moved on and is looking to sell off some acquisitions. How is this done?

Baseball cards, as well as all other sports cards and collectibles, must be in very good condition in order to make any money from them. This is sometimes difficult. How pristine can you keep a Barbie outside of her original box? One of my clients told me she would buy two of every collectible Barbie. The first was to keep in a storage closet and the other was for her daughter to play with.

The value of any collectible is influenced by supply and demand. For instance, prior to the 1980s there were one or two card series per sport and now there are more than 100 series. A veritable explosion! With so many different series comes an increase of competition driving down prices due to the widespread availability. While it is helpful to do research and investigate eBay to see what similar items to yours actually sold for, you want to seek out appraisal companies.

There are a few well-regarded companies that appraise cards and other sports memorabilia to help guide you toward an asking price. Since these services are pricey and you have to pay shipping and insurance charges for everything you send, think of it as a business decision and select only items that will minimally return your cost. Even if your card is clean, shows no/minimal wear and the corners are sharp, the card will be graded by non-controllables such as its color and placement of picture and graphics.

Sports cards are graded from one through 10, where one is the poorest condition and 10 is near “perfect.” The grading services set the bar high, so don’t expect to receive a card rating higher than 8, unless the card has been in isolation. The difference between a grading of a 7 and an 8 could be a mere $20 or it could be $200. Why is this? The biggest money generally comes from player cards who have been inducted into their sport’s Hall of Fame. One of those player’s rookie cards (first year as a pro) fetches the big money. Some grading services publish magazines with worthwhile articles about buying and selling sports collectibles but are heavily weighted toward cards.

My husband is a “novice collector.” The grading service he uses offers two post-appraisal packages to its customers. With the first package, the cards will stay on premises in a “warehouse,” waiting for the owner to permit the cards to be sold on his/her behalf, with an allowance for the company to receive a share. The second package requires an additional fee and the owner will receive each card back with a grade and packaged separately in a clear, plastic case adorned with the official seal of the company. Measures are taken by services to avoid counterfeit grading, which has become a growing industry issue.

Sure, an alternative to this would be to try to sell the sports cards on your own, ungraded. A potential buyer, however, needs to be assured of a valid appraisal before disbursing any fees. If you, the seller, attempt to sell without an appraisal, you would be much less likely to fetch your asking price. Where are you then? Between a rock and a hard place, I would say.

One more component in the total cost of sports card appraisals is the insurance required by all grading services before they look at anything. The company will dictate the minimum amount of insurance that must be taken out based on what is being submitted.

Another way of elevating the price of your sports card is if it bears the autograph of that player. As a standalone, an autograph scribbled on anything from a napkin to a poster would fall into the category of “sports memorabilia.” The fewer autographed items that exist from a particular celebrity, the more value it will have. PSA, a monthly magazine that is put out by Heritage Auctions, the “world’s largest collectible auctioneer,” published an article in January titled “The Sultan of Signatures. How Many Babe Ruth autographs are there?” The article details how Babe Ruth appreciated his fans and enjoyed autographing just about anything for them, both in person and by mail. Unusual things he autographed for fans included a wallet, bowling shoes and a seashell. Anything he signed was “an instant keepsake” at a time when “the birth of a market to buy and sell” autographs of sports stars “was decades away.” Thus, the autograph of one of baseball’s most beloved players, Babe Ruth, holds lesser value because he was incredibly generous to his fans.

There is no end to the types of things included in the category of “collectibles.” Think Beatles cards, trolls and Hummel figurines, German porcelain figurines based on the drawings of Maria Innocentia Hummel. This column is not big enough to list every collectible, nor do I want to. Anecdotally, I will mention that I have had clients aching to divest themselves of a parent’s or grandparent’s Hummel collection. Hummel figurines were seen as nostalgic because they were often brought over to America by U.S. servicemen. A typical collection could be made up of 50 or more pieces and displayed throughout the main living areas of a home. Large collections work against the current minimalist concept. Serious investors would buy 100 pieces or more at a time with the intention of selling off large quantities. After a while Hummels were too easy to find and buy — sort of like Beanie Babies, bringing down the value of the majority of Hummel figurines.

As they say, “Timing is everything.” The summer of 2023 marked the release of the “Barbie” movie and the beginning of a trend for collecting new and used Barbies. There is so much to say about Barbies as collectibles that an entire column could be designated to her. This may intrigue some people but annoy others. Please give me your feedback. Help me decide if I should research and write a column featuring Barbie. I am available at [email protected].


Ellen Smith is Central Jersey’s Kosher Organizer. For over 14 years, Ellen has helped people restore order and create calm in their homes and souls. Ellen believes “Clutter Clogs, but Harmony Heals”. See Ellen’s work on Instagram @ideclutterbyEllen. Contact Ellen for a complimentary phone consultation at ideclutter407@gmail.

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