Do you remember that time when your baseball cards were worth money? Or at least you thought they were worth money?
Yeah, seems like a long time ago doesn’t it?
Fact is, back in the 1980s and even into the 1990s, most of us were hybrid collectors. Sure, we got into the hobby because we loved the game and loved the cards, but we also thought there’d be some gold at the end of our cardboard rainbow if we just held on to our stash long enough.
It’s evident now that most of our childhood cards are, if not worthless, at least unlikely to put our kids through college. A fancy drink at Starbucks, maybe, but tuition to the local tech school?
As unlikely as a Kevin Maas sighting at Cooperstown.
And we all know what the problem is — simple supply and demand.
As in, there is are enough 1988 Donruss cards floating around out there to fill several landfills with Gregg Jefferies rookie cards, and everyone who wants one long ago scratched that itch.
It’s an ugly truth that slaps us in the face every time we uncover stack after stack of 1987 Topps or 1991 Upper Deck — probably in our own closets — but sometimes it’s at least interesting to look at the thing from a different angle.
And that’s what I decided to do here with some cold hard numbers that will help us see that our perception is not so far off and that we’re not alone.
“Methodology” is a pretty stuffy word for how this post came about, but it’s a holdover from my grad school days and I’m not quite ready to let it go.
I decided to come up with a rough estimate of the supply of baseball cards and a rough estimate of demand for baseball cards and then compare the two.
For this exercise, supply is simply the number of different baseball cards issued during a given decade, roughly calculated from the PSA Population Report.
Demand is the total number of cards from a given decade that have been submitted to PSA for grading, again based on the Population Report.
For a simple barometer of demand v. supply, I divided the number of submissions by the number of different cards issued to arrive at the average number of submissions per card issued.
The higher this ratio, the greater the demand relative to available supply, and, at least theoretically, the more active the market might be for cards from that decade.
I ran these number for each decade from the 1950s through the 1990s.
You probably won’t be surprised to learn that the 1950s wins the ratio wars by a handy margin, coming in at about 154 submissions for every different card issued during the decade.
But when you look at the trend from beginning to end, the stark dropoff in later decades — to 37 average submissions in the 80s and just 18 in the 90s — is a strong reminder of just why so many of us are sitting on so many cards from the junk wax era.
You can see the whole sordid story in the graphic below …
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So are all those beautiful swaths of cardboard really worthless?
Of course not … I mean, you really can’t put a price on your memories.
It’s just that, if you tried to put a price on them, you probably wouldn’t have many takers anyway.
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