On collecting

Adam Worcester
4 min readFeb 2, 2023

It’s not as simple as just buying cards

Photo by Mick Haupt on Unsplash

Maybe, like many middle-agers, you rediscovered sports card collecting through your offspring during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now the pandemic has ended, your children have moved on, but you’ve caught the bug.

If so, maybe you’ve found yourself facing a dilemma. How should you collect?

Maybe it occurs that you’ve never truly collected cards before. During the pandemic you were day trading. Cards could be, and were, flipped quickly for profit. Remnants of childhood collections could, and did, fetch outsized prices. But you knew it wouldn’t last forever.

As a kid you didn’t collect cards either. You traded them. You played with them. You shoved them in your pockets and stuffed them in your bike spokes. There were some kids who collected sets, but none in your circle. Everyone coveted superstar players, of course — not for the allure of future riches but for the status it bestowed by envious friends begging trades. The extent of “collecting” was organizing your cards by team or player in neat shoebox rows. Then you put the shoe boxes in your garage or attic or and forgot about them.

In a sense not much has changed. We still group cards by teams, players, and sets. We still keep cards in cardboard boxes because we’re still not exactly sure what to do with them. But there are so many choices these days. So many different kinds of cards, and so many cards of each player. It’s beyond overwhelming. How, and where, to start?

A better question: why do you want to collect cards? For enjoyment? Short-term profit? Long-term profit? A little of each? Think about it. Take your time. Once you have answers, let them guide your collecting strategy.

Whatever you decide, here are some tips to get going:

· Set parameters and stick to them. Are you going to collect one sport or multiple sports? Are you going to collect a certain player(s)? If so, will you collect only the seasons he played for your team? Or for only the seasons he played, period? (They’re still churning out Babe Ruth cards almost a century after he died.) Will you collect only ungraded cards? Only graded? Only rookies? Only Hall of Famers? Only a certain brand or set? Modern? Vintage? Both?

Also, within your parameters: How many cards of each player are you aiming for? Every card ever made? One super-expensive card? Base cards only? Rookie cards?, etc. If you’re collecting rookies, is there a certain type/brand/style? (Keep in mind that some modern players have more than 10,000 rookie cards.)

Once you’ve chosen, collect strictly within your parameters. For example, if you’ve decided to collect Ken Griffey Jr. but only during his Seattle Mariners playing days, you can skip right past listings for cards with Griffey in Reds or minor league uniforms — right past all listings, in fact, before 1989 and after 2000. Don’t make exceptions! Manipulate eBay settings to show only the listings that fit your criteria.

Think of it like buying a car or a house. Shop within your price range, get the best you can afford, then celebrate! Don’t look back; stop comparing prices. Tune out all white noise beyond your parameters.

· Budget realistically. Given your goals and parameters, how much can you afford to spend on your hobby, weekly, monthly, or yearly? Are you going to reinvest profits or pocket them? How are you going to save for a grail card? Do you need to factor in the IRS?

Budgeting is tough; this will likely be your biggest challenge. You might consider a separate bank account dedicated to cards. It’s a good idea if you have the fiscal discipline. Can you find someone to hold you accountable?

· Get creative! Compiling sets and chasing rainbows and parallels is straightforward. This can be fun and there is nothing wrong with it. But consider putting your own stamp on your collection. Maybe you want to create themed sets. How about every baseball player with 3,000 hits? The top five all-time NFL rushers? Each pitcher who’s thrown a perfect game? Every Hall-of-Fame quarterback? Each Hall-of-Fame NBA center?

Or maybe offbeat collecting is more your style. How about players with the funniest names? Players who share your birthday? Players from your home state, or your alma mater? Your personal favorite players growing up, regardless of stats?

How about cards that have the best action photos? Or the best portrait shots? Cards from years that your children were born? Error/miscut cards? Promotional and “oddball” cards? Only cards with a specific grade, say a PSA 8 or CSG 10? The possibilities are endless.

· Have fun. Building a card collection should reawaken your childhood wonder. If it starts to feel more like a burden or a job than a joy or a hobby, take a break. Leave and come back. Or switch it up! Sell off one collection and start another. Collect a different sport. Adopt a different player. Start a non-sports collection. Or go find a new hobby.

· Show it off. Like paintings or photography, sports cards can be works of art. It’s OK to display your collection! You’ve worked hard to assemble it, and it’s natural to want to share with others the pleasure it gives you. So check out card albums, card stands and card display cases. Go for it; don’t be shy!

I’ll share the best advice on collecting I’ve heard: If you had to stop today, and couldn’t collect anymore, would you be satisfied with the cards you have? If the answer is yes, good for you. If it’s not, what would you need to do to make your answer yes?

Go do it! And happy collecting.

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Adam Worcester

Adam Worcester is a freelance writer who lives near Seattle