The trading card market is hot right now, if not a bit overheated — last week, a collector pulled out a gun on other collectors in a dispute over trading cards at a Target, prompting the company to pull cards from their shelves. While that’s an extreme example of the intense demand for trading cards during the pandemic, the soaring prices suggests that you might want to take a second look at your own collection and see if you have any hidden gems worth preserving or selling.
The collectibles market has been good for a while now
The market for trading cards was already good before the pandemic, and in fact has outperformed stock market indexes. The PWCC 500 Index, which is like the S&P 500 for trading cards, has reported a 12-year ROI of 175% compared to just 102% for the S&P, according to Axios.
Pokémon collectors have also fed frenzy. As the BBC reports, a sealed box of Pokémon cards from the early 2000s retailed at around $US100 ($129); that same box would cost up to $US50,000 ($64,705) today. Vice also reports that the Pokémon market is so clogged that there’s a months-long waiting list just to get cards appraised by professional card graders.
Sports cards are popular, too, with many recent high-profile sales, including a Michael Jordan rookie card currently bidding at $US1.4 ($2) million, and a “ultra rare” LeBron James rookie card that sold for $US5.2 ($7) million, surpassing a Mickey Mantle card that sold for the same price earlier in January.
How to determine the value of your collection
There are a lot of cards out there, and only a small fraction of them are highly valuable. You’ll want to do your own research first before paying for the services of an appraiser. The card collecting site Cardboard Connection suggests eBay as your first step, particularly under “sold items,” as it will tell you how much your cards are worth without having to spend any money (there are also price guide services that are useful).
If you’re like me, dreams of financing a mortgage down payment with leftover Garbage Pale Kids cards will quickly dissipate, and you’ll be forced to move on (but I’ll check back in another 30 years).
If your trading cards have value, you’ll want to get it authenticated and appraised by card rating services like the Professional Sports Authenticator, or PSA (although again, expect delays). Whether you choose to actually sell it is up to you.
What are the downsides to investing in trading cards?
The most important thing to remember about trading cards is that they’re only worth what someone else is willing to pay. If the market dries up suddenly, the book value from a price guide will mean nothing. Traders will also tell you that it’s not always easy to line up a buyer, and some cards will vary in terms of how easy they are to sell.
Plus, you have to know what to look for. The odds of finding a Honus Wagner card in your attic is exceedingly low, so you’ll need to identify undervalued cards by keeping up with new collections and trends (for this reason, most professional traders start as hobbyists).
Lastly, just because trading cards have remained popular doesn’t mean it will last forever. Will Gen Z collectors adopt niche cardboard rectangles with the same zeal as boomers and millennials in twenty years? Will the market be impacted by NFTs, or is that just a fad? No one knows for sure.