The Collectors Show Sports Collecting Guide

To compliment our show with Ray Schulte and the National Sports Collectibles Convention, here is a quick guide for those wanting to start, restart, or jump-start their collection.

There are collectibles for every sport. Even golf has collectors. But the collections and collectibles most of us think of when we think of sports are cards and autographs. Game used equipment runs third, in my opinion. But know that this is very much a buyer beware proposition for collectors. Fakes and counterfeits of all description make this a perilous hobby for those who pursue it at the higher end. Even authentic cards are doctored to cover wear.

The sports memorabilia industry is not as closely regulated as some other industries.  To avoid being scammed, savvy collectors and investors should keep abreast of market values in their collection specialty.

One of the wisest decisions an investor can make is to consult a price guide published by a reputable company like Beckett Media.  These guides allow you to check or analyze current market values and prices for popular sports collectibles.  Price guides can be purchased based upon specialty and can be searched via player or item.

Get Organized

Curating a collection encompasses many aspects: organizing, insuring, storing and displaying items so as to protect their physical condition and preserving them in a manner that provides maximum enjoyment.

Organizing and insuring a collection is a topic in and of itself, and we’ll save that for a later day. Truth is many of you are already exercising best practices when it comes to those elements of curating.

Storage, display and preservation are aspects of curating that require a bit more discipline and understanding to implement them properly.

In general, the environment in which to house, store or display sports memorabilia is an interior space that exhibits the following characteristics:

  • Low relative humidity (not to exceed 35 percent);
  • Regulated temperature (between 67 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit);
  • Lack of exposure to direct sunlight.

Controlling these environmental factors will go a long way in preserving the life, condition and value of your collection.

Humidity, in particular, can quickly turn priceless pieces of sports memorabilia into worthless garbage. Mold, mildew and rot are all consequences of excessive humidity. Humidity can be specifically damaging to collectible memorabilia made of paper, like yearbooks, scorecards, photographs and the like.

Conversely, store a vintage baseball glove in too dry a space and the leather will dry out and crack.

If you store or display your collection in a basement office, den or man-cave, it would be a prudent and worthwhile investment to purchase a high-capacity dehumidifier and moisture sensors. These sensors come in several different types and can provide instant notification of flooding caused by ground seepage and plumbing issues.

It’s also for these very reasons that no memorabilia should ever be stored directly on the floor of a basement environment, regardless of the age and quality of the house and whether the memorabilia itself is housed in a protective display case. We learned this the hard way when we left several cartons of unopened baseball cards on the basement floor and it flooded.

Autographs can be very susceptible to deterioration and fading as a result of direct sunlight. Even indirect sunlight, over time, will cause autographs to fade—even when they are displayed in UV-resistant holders or cases.

Obviously there is no sense displaying a collection you can’t share because it has been housed in a darkened room. However, there are some steps you can take to prolong the condition of your autographed memorabilia while still being able to actually see, read and share them as a collection.

 Trading Cards

As with most collectibles, the value of a trading card often comes down to condition. This is true whether you are talking about a vintage 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle rookie card or a 2012 Playoff Contenders Andrew Luck rookie card.

There are standard qualifiers and terminology used in the hobby that all trading-card collectors are accustomed to using when evaluating the condition of the card. Problems occur when sellers and buyers differ over specific condition issues and how they affect the overall aesthetic appeal of the card and, therefore, it’s value.

Grading Those Cards

Card grading is the practice of having trading cards examined by a third-party service for the purpose of assigning the cards a permanent and undisputable numerical and condition grade. Once the grade is determined, the card is “slabbed,” which is the process of mounting the card in a tamper-proof acrylic holder that preserves the condition of the card and displays the assigned grade.

The origin of the grading of trading cards can be traced back to the early 1990s. The need for such a service was commiserate with the growing demand. Values of vintage trading cards led to a need for a—theoretically—unbiased opinion to determine value and ease disagreements about condition between buyers and sellers.

As the values of trading cards increased, unethical and even illegal practices of card doctoring and forgery began to occur. Card-grading companies not only determine a card’s condition but also its authenticity. With high-grade Mickey Mantle rookie cards selling for six figures in today’s market, and some rare tobacco cards stretching the price ceiling to seven figures, it’s easy to understand the need for such third-party policing.

How Cards Are Graded

All trading cards are graded based on four criteria: surface, edges, corners and centering. Each grading criterion is examined and assigned a numerical grade. The four numerical grades are summed and then divided by four to provide the final grade.

Certain criteria carry different weights to the overall grade and each individual company makes those determinations as well as deciding when to round down and when to round up. This is a simple way of understanding how cards are graded and how their final grade is determined.

Which Cards Are Graded

One of the goals of card grading is to increase a card’s value. Others include proving authenticity, preserving and protection, but for the most part, collectors choose to have cards graded in an attempt to increase their value.

A graded card does not instantly make the card more valuable. The result of the grading is what matters in that it contributes to perceived scarcity.

Here are the most common categories of cards collectors submit for grading.

Pre-war, tobacco-era cards: Often done simply to prove authenticity;

Vintage star cards: Graded cards of star players almost always sell for a higher value than ungraded cards, even if they are the same condition;

Rookie cards: Regardless of sport or era, a player’s rookie card will always be his or her most valuable, therefore the higher the grade, the greater the value.

Grading Companies

In today’s trading card market, there are currently four identified grading companies that collectors recognize as reputable and trustworthy: Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA),

Beckett Grading Services (BSG),

Sports Card Guaranty (SGC) and

International Sports Authentication (ISA).

Through the years, the hobby has seen many different grading companies come and go as sports-card aficionados with entrepreneurial aspirations looked to take advantage of the growing trend. Even today, cards are sold on the secondary market bearing grading certifications from some of these now-defunct companies.

Each company uses a relatively similar condition scale, with each adding its own unique characteristics to differentiate its scale from that of their competitors. The most significant difference among companies is that of SGC, which uses a numerical point scale from 1 to 100, while the other companies use a 1-to-10 point scale. While each company also has its own specific condition criteria, there are significant commonalities between the various companies. Condition criteria can generally be defined as follows:

Poor: Heavily rounded corners, noticeable creases, edge wear, chipping, staining, paper loss and centering 100/0 top-to-bottom and/or left-to-right;

Fair/Good: Noticeable corner rounding and layering, notches and/or edge wear, chipping, noticeable wear resulting in significant loss of gloss or tears and centering 90/10;

Very Good: Slightly rounded or layered corners, light chipping and edge wear, very minor creases, some remaining surface gloss, 85/15 centering;

Very Good/Excellent: Slight corner layering, notches or dings, hairline creases, visible gloss, 80/20 centering;

Excellent:Minor imperfections in the four criteria of surface, corners, edges and centering; minimum centering of 75/25; fuzzy corners; light chipping;

Excellent/Mint: Fuzzy corners but free of dings or fraying, only minor chipping, solid gloss with minor scratches, 70/30 centering;

Near Mint: Very minor wear on 2 or 3 corners, edge wear and surface scratches upon magnification, 65/35 centering;

Near Mint/Mint: Sharp corners to the naked eye, very minor chipping of edges, gloss with minor scratches upon magnification, 60/40 centering;

Mint: Near perfect to the naked eye, imperfections visible under magnification only, 55/45 centering;

Gem Mint/Pristine: A perfect card even under magnification with perfect 50/50 centering.

Each company provides its own detailed condition description on its website.

Beckett Grading Services
Poor (1), Good (2), Very Good (3), Very Good/Excellent (4), Excellent (5), Excellent Mint (6), Near Mint (7), Near Mint/Mint (8), Mint (9), Gem Mint (9.5), Pristine (10).
• BGS also assigns half-point grades when a card exhibits condition criteria above or below a specific grade.

Professional Sports Authenticator
Poor/Fair (1), Good (2), Very Good (3), Very Good/Excellent (4), Excellent (5), Excellent Mint (6), Near Mint (7), Near Mint/Mint (8), Mint (9), Gem Mint (10).
• PSA also provides qualifying grades when all but one item of criteria are met for a higher grade.

International Sports Authentication
Poor (1), Good (2), Very Good (3), Very Good/Excellent (4), Excellent (5), Excellent Mint (6), Near Mint (7), Near Mint/Mint (8), Mint (9), Gem Mint (10).
• ISA awards half-point grades between ISA 1 and ISA 8.

Sports Card Guaranty
Poor (10), Fair (20), Good (30), Good+ (35), Very Good (40), Very Good+ (45), Very Good/Excellent (50), Very Good/Excellent+ (55), Excellent (60), Excellent+ (70), Excellent/Near Mint (80), Excellent/Near Mint+ (82), Near Mint (84), Near Mint + (86), Near Mint/Mint (88), Near Mint/Mint+ (92), Mint (96), Gem (98), Pristine (100).

How Much Does Card Grading Cost?

Card grading is a service, and as such there are costs associated with the practice. While the specific costs vary by company, every company uses similar criteria in calculating that price. These criteria include: era of the card, turnaround time, assigned insurance value and postage costs.

In general the aggregate average price to have a card submitted for grading ranges from $7 to $10, which includes the actual grading process, encapsulation and registration of the card in the company’s database and insured, return postage.

Is card grading right for you and the cards in your collection? That is something you will have to decide. However, if you do decide to move forward, start with a small submission, as there is plenty to learn in the world of card grading, even for the most experienced of collectors.

Thinking of Selling

There are lots reasons why you may decide to or need to sell your colletion. Financial hardship, college tuition, home downsizing, the healthcare or death of a loved one are all regularly occurring circumstances that cause people to liquidate.

This leads to big questions and overwhelming decisions like, “Where do I start?” and “How should I sell it?”

While no single answer can meet the needs and situation of every collector or spouse of a collector, here are some guidelines to help aid that process if and when that fateful day arrives. I also provide a list of resources available to help.


As the famous Boy Scout creed states, “Be prepared.” Regardless whether the topic is one you want to think about, all collectors need to prepare for the eventual sale of their cards, autographed items and other memorabilia. Additionally, unless you want your prized keepsakes to be sold for pennies on the dollar, end up in your family’s next yard sale or be mercilessly buried in an attic or storage locker, you have to have a documented plan.

If you are an adult of legal age, you should have a legal will with specific instructions about your affairs. This should include the details of what is to be done with your sports-memorabilia collection. This may include leaving various items to different individuals, providing the names and numbers for reputable dealers to contact about purchasing or auctioning your collection or other pertinent information your beneficiary will need to be aware of at the time of your death.

Authentication and Grading

Regardless whether it will be you, a spouse or a trusted third-party who will have the responsibility of selling your collection, you can make it easier on yourself and others by having your autographs authenticated and your more valuable cards graded. While some collectors balk at the expense or politics of third-party grading and authentication, the bottom line is that your items will be worth more and easier to sell if you have these actions done ahead of time.

Did Chicago Blackhawks Captain Jonathan Toews toss you his stick after a home game you attended? Cool. Get it authenticated. Have a complete set of 1968 Topps Baseball cards stored carefully in a binder? Congratulations, now get the rookies and other key cards graded. When it comes time to sell, it doesn’t matter if you personally witnessed Tiger Woods autograph your Masters program, you have to have the autograph authenticated.

Game Used Authentication

So how do you get your game-used memorabilia, autographs and cards for grading and authentication? There are a few different options and resources available.

If you are consigning your collection to one of the major auction houses, they will be able to determine and handle the details of which items to have graded and authenticated. However, if you are selling your collection yourself, you will need to be the one to submit such items to a third-party service who specializes in such activities.

Consign or Self-Sell

This is often one of the most difficult decisions to make during the process of collection liquidation. There is no doubt that you will often make more money if you use available resources like eBay and Amazon to sell your collection versus selling it to a local or national dealer in a bulk deal.

However, selling in bulk frees you of the time and energy involved to maximize the return on investment of every single item you choose to sell. Selling in a bulk deal also puts cash in your hands immediately, which can definitely play into the decision, depending on your own individual circumstance.

If your collection consists of Hall of Fame autographs, game-used equipment and apparel and vintage trading cards, your best option maybe to consign the collection to one of several esteemed auction houses that specialize in sports memorabilia. You will typically incur no fees, as auction houses usually defer those costs as part of a buyer’s premium, meaning that after the house commission, the remaining net profit is yours. These companies also have well-established marketing practices with deep pockets to promote, advertise and publicize higher-end collections, which as part of their next auction often lead to higher realized prices.

Selling on eBay

If your collection consists of nice items but not necessarily worthy of appearing in a high-profile auction, your best option may be to sell it individually on a site like eBay. Other auction and marketplace sites exist that have lower fees but often less traffic. The decreased traffic translates to potentially fewer eyeballs on your items and potentially lower final sale prices.

When it comes to selling specifically on eBay, there are some best practices that should be followed to insure you get the best possible return. Top rated and power sellers cite the following dos and don’ts:

  • Create a title that specifically states what the item is;
  • Use the description for specific details and condition of the item;
  • Schedule your auctions to start and end between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m.;
  • List items on Thursday during the previous timeframe or to start on a Thursday;
  • List the item for 10 days. This gives two weekends of exposure;
  • Use a “buy it now” price within a few dollars for what similar items have recently sold for;
  • Use a scanner or high megapixel camera;
  • Picture items individually;
  • Cite grading or authenticating parties.

Other things to consider when it comes to selling your collection have to do with seasonal timing, knowing what to sell as a set and what to sell individually and what to do with items that aren’t easily sellable. While the later two factors can be somewhat subjective, the following are additional best practices employed by some of the top dealers and online sellers.

The value of modern trading cards that include game-used memorabilia, autographs or are short-printed to create artificial scarcity (like serial-numbered cards) are often influenced by the time of year in which they are being sold. While baseball remains fairly consistent throughout the calendar year, other sports like football, basketball and hockey often perform much better in terms of sale prices when sold during the sport’s specific season or within a month of its start and end.

For whatever the specific buying reasons, individual graded cards from vintage sets, especially in top-grade, often sell better singly as compared to being part of a set. The sum of the parts is often greater than the whole. When it comes to complete sets, it’s best to list them as a “buy in now” only and for the going rate of a complete set in similar condition plus a percentage of what individually graded cards sell for that you possess within the set. If, after listing your item for two consecutive 30-day periods, the set fails to sell, you may consider breaking it up and auctioning the graded cards and dividing the remaining cards into multiple lots for a “buy it now” price.

Regardless of how you choose to sell your sports-card and memorabilia collection, do your research. Get multiple quotes from different dealers if selling your collection as a whole. Learn and understand the commission structure of different auctions houses and determine what, if any, other fees might exist. Conduct searches for recently completed items on eBay to determine the average sale price to find their real market value and don’t simply rely on an arbitrary book-value price. And be patient, list a few items every day, be realistic and count your money.

Suggested Resources

Displaying Your Collection

The first thing to consider is the location in the house or office itself. South- and west-facing rooms provide the maximum amount of sunlight to penetrate the room, whereas east and north allow the least. So, if at all possible, pick a room in your home or building that faces these autograph-friendly directions.

Did you know that even artificial light is a factor attributable to fading autographs? It’s true, but once again, you can’t live in the dark, so keep these things in mind. Don’t store or display your collection in a room that relies solely on overhead lighting unless it can be housed and displayed on something like a bookcase, credenza or curio that can provide some type of natural cover or shade.

Make sure your any lamps you use have shades that provide some glare protection, and never use a bulb larger than the recommended wattage. Better yet, try to make due with a smaller one.

With the era of specialization we live in today, it shouldn’t be surprising that there are myriad options when it comes to the manner in which memorabilia can be displayed. You name the item, and there are probably several different types of cases available, all with UV-resistant materials.

So whether you have a store-model Babe Ruth glove, a game-used Chipper Jones jersey or a Masters Tournament program signed by Tiger Woods, there is a holder available that will attractively display and, more importantly, protect the item’s value.

Many of these display cases and holders will be found made of UV-resistant glass or plastic. Glass offers superior protection with the added benefit of not having any chemical dissipation, as is common in some plastics.

While glass display cases are significantly more expensive, they offer superior protection to plastic and in the grand scheme of things, money you’ve spent on a $1,000 autographed bat, only to stick in a $10 bat tube, just doesn’t make any sense.

While plastic cases and holders can be found free of PVCs and with UV coating, these types of holders and cases are more likely to knock-off models. The two primary manufactures of hobby-friendly products are UltraPro and BCW.

So if you currently have your collection stored in an attic or basement, take action now to insure its future value and move it. If your autographed baseball collection is sitting proudly on your desk as the setting sun’s rays cascade over your shoulders, move them. If your game-used item is sitting unprotected on a bookshelf, put it in a proper case and spend the extra money for an engraved nameplate describing the details—date, game and opponent.

Clubs for Sports Collectors (Listed in the order I found them)

Greater Boston Sports Collectors Club

The Greater Boston Sports Collectors Club (GBSCC), formed in April 1985, wishes to extend to the hobbyist an invitation to join. Click here to join Greater Boston Sports Collectors Club!

Twin Cities Sports Collectors Club

TCSCC is a group of collectors and dealers based in the Twin Cities metro area. The club was founded in 1976 and its members are sports fans and hobbyists who enjoy sharing this interest with others. TCSCC is a non-profit organization and all officers are volunteers.

We appreciate hearing from both TCSCC members and visitors to this web page. Please feel free to comment about the club, the meetings, or this web page. Questions are also welcome and the TCSCC webmaster will forward all queries onto the appropriate individual.

Washington State Sports Collectors Association

While our club is made up of dealers AND collectors, we are all collectors at heart.

WSSCA’s objective is to establish a better understanding and appreciation of sports

memorabilia collecting. We aim to constructively promote the hobby while providing

a network for our members to aid them in their collecting endeavors. WSSCA has been bringing passionate sports collectors together from the Northwest United States and Southwest Canada since 1973.

Sports Card Club

A big discussion board for card collectors.

Collecting the 500 Home Run Club

A site devoted to autographs and other collectibles from the members of the 500 Home Run Club and run by Imperial Sports Auctions.

Boxing Collectors News

Devoted to the hobby of collecting boxing memorabilia.

International Table Tennis Collectors Society

The Table Tennis Collector is the official journal of the international Table Tennis Collectors’ Society edited and published by the ITTF Museum. Each issue contains many interesting color photographs, articles about Table Tennis history and collectibles, and auction trends.

Sports Talk and Collectibles Group

On line discussion group for sports collectors.

Baseball Glove Collector

This site is dedicated to collectible vintage baseball gloves and mitts. It’s a place where glove collectors can look at pictures of over 13,000 gloves, do some glove research in the Glove Library, interact with other collectors in the Collector’s Corner and create new friendships.  It’s a place for all things gloves.

Society for American Baseball Research

The Society for American Baseball Research had its beginnings in Cooperstown, New York. It was the brainchild of L. Robert Davids, who in August 1971 gathered 15 other baseball researchers at the National Baseball Hall of Fame to form the organization.

Golf Collectors Society

The Golf Collectors Society is an international organization dedicated to preserving the treasures and traditions of the game of golf.

Hickory Golf


Dedicated to playing golf with hickory shafted clubs.

Listen to The Collectors Show on Web Talk Radio or iTunes.




Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s