Sports card collecting is a hobby that attracts a wide audience, with substantial numbers of collectors of all ages. One can start and build a collection for relatively little or one can spend millions of dollars and possess some of the greatest cards every made. There is room in the hobby for everyone.
Most sports cards were originally promotional items given out by tobacco companies to promote their products. In the 1930s, the tobacco was replaced by gum and the cards became more of the focus, as companies such as Goudey and Play Ball produced cards. It wasn't until after the Second World War that cards began to be produced by companies on a regular basis, first with Bowman in 1948, then with Topps in 1951. Topps was the only card company from 1956 through 1980 after it acquired Bowman. In 1981, Fleer and Donruss entered the market, as did Upper Deck in 1989. Since the late 1980s, there has been an explosion of card sets, with each of the four card companies producing dozens of sets in each sport under a variety of labels and set names
What to Collect
Prior to the late 1980s, deciding what to collect was a simpler affair. One could afford to buy most new sets that came out and spend their time collecting older items to fill in their collection. Since the explosion of new sets, however, collectors must be a lot choosier. Many people only buy one or two new sets per year. Some only collect individual players.
Some of the most popular type of cards to collect are:
- Rookie Cards
The first card of a particular player is usually the most valuable card of that player.
From the 1940s through the 1970s, it was easy to decide which particular card was the "rookie" because in most cases there was only one card of a particular player produced each year. Over the last 20 years, however, there has usually been more than one card and often dozen, even for a new player in their first year. Generally, most of these cards will be considered "rookies" and be worth more than an average card, but will differ between each other in price based on the quality and scarcity of the set and the quality of the card, among other factors.
Invariably, there is one card for each player that is the most desirable for collectors, both in terms of price and quantity sold and that card is generally considered to be the "rookie" for a given player.
Inserts The latest fad to take over card collecting has been the insert. These limited edition cards, sometimes containing signatures of players and sometimes containing pieces of jerseys, bats, gloves, bases, and other sports equipment, are put into packs in limited quantities. These individual cards can sometimes sell for thousands of dollars the moment they leave the pack. In addition, there is a recent trend to take older cards and insert them into packs as well, many cards worth thousands in the secondary card market.
This practice of inserting cards has come under some scrutiny from attorney general's office in some states because of the perception that it is really gambling, spending a small amount of money to get a really big prize, but so far it doesn't seem to have diminished interest in insert cards.
While it is harder than ever for new cards, many collectors started out by collecting complete sets and many still do today. This is particularly prevalent in cards before 1981, but also with several newer sets (such as Topps Heritage) that have particular interest for collectors.
Starting in the late 1980s this became more more difficult due to the explosion in the number of sets, as well as the explosion of insert cards. Since inserts are limited production cards, completing a newer set that has inserts can be very expensive. For many vintage collectors, however, it is still the norm.
Unopened packs have always had the allure of the unknown. While new packs once were relatively cheap unless they contains a key rookie, that is not the case today, due to the prevalence of inserts. New unopened packs can range anywhere in cost from $1-$100 and vintage unopened packs from the 1950s and earlier can easily go for thousands of dollars.