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Smart Buying

Bear Market for Baseball Cards

Most collectible baseball cards no longer fetch top dollar.

My mom gave me her baseball cards from the 1970s. Are they worth anything? What makes a card valuable?

We are in a bear market for baseball cards -- the market peaked in the 1980s. “Mass manufacturing and proliferation of card manufacturers decimated the industry,” says Michael Osacky, of Baseballintheattic.com, in Chicago.

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The most valuable cards were produced in 1975 or earlier, and the older the better. “The 1950s cards are very popular and valuable because that is when Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and several other Hall of Fame players started in the major leagues,” says Osacky. In general, a player’s rookie card is the most valuable.

Some rookie cards from after the mid ’70s can still be quite valuable, such as those featuring Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn. Of current players, Albert Pujols’s rookie cards are becoming more valuable now, especially if they are in mint condition.

To fetch top dollar, cards need to be authenticated, which helps weed out fakes and provides a grade that makes it easy for potential buyers to assess a card’s condition. “Condition is so important,” Osacky says. “A nick on one corner can severely affect the value.” You can get baseball cards graded at Professional Sports Authenticators or SGC, where you can also find links to recent auction prices.

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If you want to sell your cards, there are specialized auction houses for sports memorabilia, but they usually take a 20% cut. And eBay is more of a buyer’s market than a seller’s market right now, says Osacky.

For more information about valuing and protecting your collections, see How to Appraise, Insure and Sell Your Collectibles.

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