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Sports card collecting changed through the years

Posted: March 13, 2012 - 11:06pm

Some of my fondest memories of childhood were the rides home from football practice with my dad. We had a deal: If I practiced hard, we would stop for a few packs of football cards.

I am not sure why, but I fell in love with collecting cards at an early age. The first packs my dad bought for me were from 1975, so I had cards before I was even in school. By the time I was in fourth or fifth grade, I had more than 1,000 football cards.

I had also started buying baseball cards when I got money for cutting grass or doing chores. Back then, $1 would get you several packs. I would sit and memorize the statistics on the back, and, to this day, I think collecting cards helped me find the career I am in now.

By the time I was a junior in college, I had amassed a huge and fairly valuable collection. I was setting up and selling cards at shows and had become somewhat of an expert on football and baseball cards. I decided to open a sports card shop, and within a few months I was making a small profit.

After nearly 11 months in business, a man came in the store and offered to buy me out. At the time I was 21 years old. I was running the store, going to class and playing basketball, so I was spreading myself pretty thin. I accepted his offer. The money and new-found free time were great, and I had picked a good time to get out.

In the early 1990s, cards were starting to be mass-produced and companies were oversaturating the market. I kept a few cards that were my favorites – a 1957 Ted Williams and a 1956 Mickey Mantle – and a few rookie cards of my favorite players, including Michael Jordan. Other than that, I quit collecting cards until 2001.

That year, Upper Deck produced a line of golf cards. Golf had become one of my favorite sports, Tiger Woods was hugely popular, and the cards looked great.

To make a long story short, I bought a few packs, found out you could buy cards on eBay, and I was hooked again. Within a few months, I heard that my friend Richard Oglesby, who owned the only local sports card shop still in business, was interested in selling his store. After a few weird looks from my wife, she was on board, and I bought the store from Richard.

I was a sports card shop owner again, but the business had changed greatly. It was no longer a hobby for kids. The packs were extremely expensive, some as much as $149. Kids were priced out of the market. You still had some of your basic sets that cost $1.99 per pack, but even that made it tough for young collectors. Despite that, I was having fun with the store and, because I still had my full-time job, it didn’t matter that I was barely breaking even.

My wife and I had our first baby in 2004, and after a year or so, I realized there was no way I would be able to keep the store. I sold the store and all of its contents, meaning for the second time in my life I had sold virtually my entire collection. Once again I was away from the hobby for a few years.

That all ended several months ago. My son asked for a pack of cards. I bought him a couple of packs of Topps Chrome Football cards. Those packs led to a few more, which led to a full box, which led to us going on eBay trying to complete a set.

The online auction site had really changed the way people collected cards, for good and bad. It made it tough for sports card shops to stay in business. People could go online and buy cards for nearly the same price as store owners.

It was not all bad though; eBay made it easy for collectors to find their favorite players and teams. It also gave them an outlet to sell cards they did not want to keep. Most importantly, it has generated interest in the hobby again.

My son is now 7, and we are having a ball collecting together. I am teaching him about vintage cards, while he gets me to look for cards of his favorite Pittsburgh Steelers players that he can afford on eBay, even though he knows I will buy them for him. My dad did the same thing for me on those stops at the 7-11 on the way home from football practice.

I just hope one day my son has the same fond memories of our time collecting that I do of my trips to buy cards with my dad.

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Comments (2)

gocarlin

Great story about going full

Great story about going full circle in the hobby. Upper Deck is producing a series of "How to Open a Hobby Shop" on their corporate blog in case you get inspired to open a shop again. Go for the hat trick!!! :)

Lhop

Does the old rule still apply?

Recently, my wife and I found ourselves in a junk store. Tucked away in the corner of the store was what looked to be an old card album. I hadn't thought about or looked at any old cards in a long time. I walked over and was fumbling through what turned out to be many albums, mostly mid to late 80s items. I then looked over and found some unopened packs of 1990 Upper Deck baseball cards. This was the first year and brand of card I really collected. My wife glared with an awkward look, but a feverish rush had come over me. I bought four packs and thought about not opening them, but like a grown 10 year old, I had to know what was inside. Does the old rule, "Unopened is more valuable" still apply to the trading card industry? I don't know, but it felt like 1990 for about 5 minutes...

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