Investing in trading cards



2015-06-26 11:05:08

Investing in trading cards is a potentially lucrative hobby. Building a collection can be extremely enjoyable for trading card fans and can form part of an alternative investment. Rookie cards of major sporting stars are seen as the holy grail of trading cards, although rare non-sporting cards can also change hands for significant sums.

Other factors to consider when investing in cards include condition, rarity, age and card manufacturer.


Most pre-1951 trading cards are known by their catalogue numbers recorded in the American Card Catalog, a reference book by Jefferson Burdick best known for its categorisation of baseball cards. This tome is still used as an important reference today.

Some magazines keep track of the fluctuations in the trading card market. The now defunct Scrye maintained price indexes for many trading card varieties until its final issue in April 2009.

Tuff Stuff magazine also provides online price guides for a range of sports trading cards, dating back to the first T206 baseball cards in 1909-1911.

Size of markets

The US is widely regarded as the largest market for trading cards although the hobby is also very popular in Japan.

How to invest and where to buy

Trading card shows can be good places to find missing parts to a collection. There are also many auctions, including online sales, each year. It is also possible to find rare gems at flea markets and the like.

Another option is to buy unopened packets of trading cards from past years in the hope of discovering a rare rookie card. Some collectors will buy crates of unopened packets of new and old sets alike in the hope of discovering a rarity.

Storing cards for a number of years will help increase their value, especially if a player “makes it big”. An out of print card will generally be more valuable than one for which the print run is continuing.

Main article: List of notable trading card collections

Most valuable investments

Rarity of a card is vitally important to its price. A Babe Ruth Baltimore News 1914 sold for $517,000 in 2008. Its high price was in large part to there being only 10 known examples of the card in existence.

Rookie cards of top players in a sport are particularly sought after. It is worth noting that rookie cards are not necessarily cards from a player’s first season but the first time a player appears on a trading card.

The condition of a card is vital to its price. There are a number of different systems used by graders. Most are on 10 or 100 point scales. Cards devoid of blemishes, creases or dirt are especially desirable.

Many cards in a set are numbered serially. Usually, the lower numbered cards are for the rarer, higher profile athletes or characters.

Most expensive trading card

The Gretzky T206 Honus Wagner Baseball Card is the world’s most valuable trading card. The card, produced by the American Tobacco Company between 1909 and 1911, depicts Pittsburgh Pirates player Honus Wagner. The card was bought in 1991 by Wayne Gretzky. It sold for $2.8m in 2007. Only 50-200 of the cards are thought to have been produced.

Main article: List of notable trading cards

Researching the markets

As with all forms of collecting, understanding the market intimately is important when investing. It is crucial to know as much about a card as possible as this enable you to compare previous sales of similar items.

Getting sound advice from respected dealers is also important. Attending pre-auction viewings is another good idea. This provides the opportunity to pick up advice from auctioneers and to meet like-minded collectors.

Main article: List of trading card dealers

Main article: List of trading card collectors' clubs and societies


When investing in trading cards, buying cards that have been authenticated can ensure you are making a sound investment and will enable your card to be that much more attractive to prospective buyers when it’s time to sell on.

Cards are graded on four points: surface, edges, corners and centering.

Leading authenticators include BGS (Beckett Grading Service), PSA (Professional Sports Authenticator), SGC (Sportscard Guaranty Authority), SCD (SCD Authentic), and GAI (Global Authentication).

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