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 …
Share this Image On Your Site (copy code below)
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.
If you liked this post and infographic, please share them on Twitter!
data-related=”syedbalkhi:Founder of WPBeginner”
Hello and thanks for a nice story that sheds light on the supply and demand issue with baseball cards from the 80s and 90s. Unfortunately the reality is far worse than your numbers indicate. They are directionally correct to be sure. However they suggest, for example, that my 5 PSA 9 rookie Mattingly cards will only be worth half as much as my PSA 9 George Brett. Turns out, based on recent eBay sales, a PSA 9 George Brett rookie goes for about $1,800.00 while a Mattingly PSA 9 goes for $23. My kids could get through college if the real ratio was 76/37 or approximately 2 to 1. The real ratio is 1800/23 or approximately 78 to 1.
The biggest factor that explains the reality is that in the 70s not everyone appreciated that baseball cards could be worth a lot of money, especially if kept in nice condition. By the 80s this was much more well known. Therefore not only is the demand on a per card basis higher for 70s cards, but the probability of finding any particular card in mint or bear mint condition is orders of magnitude lower.
Just thought I’d add that flavoring to your story. (Unfortunately the flavor is well known to me. In 1975 I excitedly rode home on my bicycle with my Nolan Ryan AND Hank Aaron in my back pocket, couldn’t wait to show my friends, while the George Brett I never heard of was clothes pinned to my bicycle spokes to make me sound like a cool motorcycle… uggghhh).
Thanks for reading and for adding your perspective. Card pricing is influenced by a complex stew of factors, for sure — always has been!
I’m curious if you have given thought to the future. Given the high quality of Topps offerings today. It seems that there will be far more cards graded EX-MT than from those of a previous generation printed on inferior cardboard. Are we going to be overwhelmed with twenty-year old PSA 9s and 10s owing to the beautiful job Topps has done of late?
I’m pretty far behind in my knowledge of current/recent cards, but I would guess the chase/insert/bling/auto/etc. cards might get more DNA/PSA play than the base cards. As you say, these should hold up a lot better than the cards from a generation ago. Why bother to have them graded? (rhetorically … I’m sure plenty will)