Saturday, June 30, 2012

Where the hobby might be if "the magazine" did not exist

I've been thinking about writing this post for months now, but have never got my thoughts together for a post.  I then spied Play at the Plate's post about the Toppsopoly, and wondered to myself:

What would our collecting atmsophere look like if the magazine never existed?
Now I know that there were assorted pricing guides/magazines that existed before Beckett Media was founded in 1984. As far as I know, none of them were as widely accepted in the sports card world as Beckett has been over the past 30 years. 

Again, the collectors that were born in or around 1980 or later probably have never known a day where there wasn't a price guide that could give them a rough idea of what their collection was worth.  Guys like me, who were kids in the late 70's and started collecting cards such as this,

pretty much had no idea what the card was 'worth'.  Cards were collected because they were fun, because they portrayed players that young kids idolized and wanted to be like.  It was a shock to my senses when I returned to the hobby in the early 90's, went to a card store to look for hockey cards and saw random prices on each of the cards.  Upon questioning the woman behind the counter I learned of the magazine and how it was used to determine pricing.

Speaking of the early 90's, many years after Topps monopoly on producing baseball cards ended, card companies saw that the industry is booming.  I'm sure that marketing geniuses at the big 3 were seeing the amounts of money that were trading hands for cards, and were trying to think of new ways to extract more dollars from the collectors pockets.

What do we start seeing?  Serial #'d parallel cards.  Inserts.  Autographed cards such as this..

image borrowed from

The hobby just ate these cards up.  Signed cards were going for hundreds of dollars.  The next progression in the great chase was relic cards.  Jerseys, bats, seats, bases, pants and anything that could be associated with a baseball game became a part of a card.  Cards such as the 500 Home Run club that Upper Deck featured were a smash hit.

Image borrowed from

Imagine if you will a cardboard universe today that has no price guides.  No concept of monetary value for baseball (or any sport for that matter) cards.  Do we even see cards like the Sandberg and Thomas shown above?

It's hard to say.  At least for me anyhow.  I would hope that common sense (yes, my definition of common sense in this case) would have won out and cards would have remained as simple as this:

Bat on shoulder.  Pitcher in a pitching pose.  A catcher in his squat getting ready to receive a pitch.  Cards as simple as the '64, '77 or '86 Topps sets that you've seen me post on here dozens of times.

But who knows, marketing people can be quite creative, and may have come up with the concept of relic cards and die cut inserts such as these anyhow, even if the money hadn't been flying around as it was:

Do these exist today without pricing?

I am not lamenting the progress that the last 20+ years has seen in the card collecting industry.   That is not what this post is about.  Some of the most "insane" ideas I've had for putting sets together have come from the progress we've seen over a generation:

#51/499  thank you Max!

I've wondered for several months now what people thought the state of our hobby would be like if the magazine had never come to fruition. 

Maybe there are people out there that can educate me further with facts, opinions or ideas that may shed some light on what the hobby would look like now if we had no idea what the value of the cards we collect were worth.

Thanks for reading, Robert


  1. When I was a kid and had two people I could trade with, my friends Eric and Bradley, the price guide acted as an arbitrator of our trades, a non-biased third party. When you only have two people in your world that will trade cards with you, it's nice to flip through a book and see a price for every card so that deals can be made quickly and efficiently. It also makes it easier to "sweeten" a deal if you both can agree that if Beckett says a 1993 Charles Barkley insert is "worth" $1.00. Anyway, I just know that were it not for the magazine, my childhood collecting days would have been much more difficult and I probably wouldn't have ended up loving cards as much as I do.

  2. Also, now that I'm older and am allowed to use the interwebs, I have access to the true "value" of cards because there are many many people competing to get my card money. If I don't like a price, I go somewhere else. I also have one hundred people to trade with instead of just two. When I was a kid, I got cards from two places, Target/Walmart/KMart and my two trading partners. If one of them had a John Stockton card I needed, they had a monopoly one my supply. Now, I can probably find a card in multiple places. So, ultimately, the price guide isn't as useful anymore.

  3. Funny how things have turned in the past 10+ years or so. Beckett is a fine "guide" for a cards value but thats as far as it goes. Very seldom do dealers actually get that full book value due to eBay being pretty much the number one source for single card sales and thereby being the ultimate 'guide' of sorts. Beckett may say that card books at $400 but if its selling on eBay from anywhere between $150-275, that is the cards value. Cards (and things in general) are only worth what people are willing to pay for them. Dealers tend to take 'the guide' too seriously and feel that it is an absolute but it's not. A guide is merely a provision for what something is currently trading hands at, not a definitive value of a given card. Dealers who want to charge half of book are more than welcome, as are those who want to charge 10% higher than book. I guess it all depends on area but the internet has certainly changed everything as far as what value of something is.

    An excellent case in point is the 1966 Topps Mickey Mantle I picked up on eBay. Beckett says it books at $300 yet I paid about $50. It's far from mint but even mint ones don't reach that $300 mark. I do think that Beckett had it's place in the industry in the 80's and early 90's and I also feel the hobby wouldn't be the same without it. Heck there may not even be a hobby to speak of without them. It's hard to say, so we'll just call them both a blessing and a curse.

  4. Price guides are the lamest thing to ever happen to the card collecting hobby. It brought a bunch of people in to the hobby that cared more about the money or investment aspect. Once those people were now in the hobby, Topps, and others, began to make business decisions that did not enhance the fun of collecting cards, but more likely appealed to an investor. Example, serial numbered, parallels and/or any other chase card.

    Baseball cards are for flipping, putting in your spokes, laying on your back on your bedroom floor and reading stats, making up games to play with a pair of dice and a pad of paper and ultimately wrapping a rubber band around and throwing in a shoebox until next April rolls around.

    "Money" has ruined a lot of what was fun about it and to me, it's partly the fault of that magazine.

  5. Beckett and Baseball Cards Magazine had a very significant role in the card collecting hobby. It brought a level of education to the hobby that wasn't there before they came on the scene. Providing information on the value of the cards was part of that education. In Baseball Cards Magazine the guide portion was almost secondary - the articles were the reason people purchased the magazine. Beckett took the valuing of cards the next step with a more scientific approach from various dealers across the country and other factors weighing in. Where Beckett has lost it's way in recent years is that it no longer reports pricing activity but instead sets pricing activity. It is no longer a guide to work with but it is used as the standard - what Beckett says goes. It has ignored the buy/sell activity that occurs on E-Bay and the various sports card trading sites. If it truly reflected the buy/sell activity of cards from the past few years the value they report would be significantly lower than the values they publish in their guide.