My draconian card buying philosophy – and why I don’t buy online

I’ve been asked to explain my buying philosophy when it comes to baseball cards.

Buckle up, everyone. This is going to hurt, and it’s not for the faint at heart.

I went to my first card show when I was 10 or 11 at the local mall. The way I bought cards then is the same way I buy cards 25 years later: I want to look at cards with my own two eyes before I pull out my wallet.

Let me repeat this for the younger crowd: I want to look at cards with my own two eyes before I pull out my wallet.

Yes, this means that only on EXTREMELY RARE circumstances will I buy cards online. For the most part, though, I don’t buy cards online. No eBay. No Amazon. No Beckett. No Burbank. No online catalog. None of all of that.

These days, it’s easy to simply buy baseball cards with your fingertips. However, what is being described to you doesn’t necessarily mean that what’s described is what you’re going to get when the package arrives. There are different interpretations of condition, there are sellers who don’t even know the products they are selling, and sellers who are looking to find every stinkin’ way to squeeze out as much money as possible.

You may get a card(s) and go, “Wait a minute, this isn’t what I wanted.” Then you got to go through the entire hassling process, which involves a mix of argument and stories of how sellers need a roof over their head and food on their plates. Then the seller tries to make you look bad to their hobby buddies through social media. Et cetera. Et cetera.

My biggest kick is when sellers on eBay think their life is going to be over if their feedback score falls to 99.999999999999999%. You’re human. You’re not Superman. You’re not a robot. I have heard stories where sellers make legitimate mistakes, properly receive the negative feedback, and then try to bribe their way into a change in feedback status.

Not to mention: There are several bells and whistles in online card buying, such as shipping, insurance and whatnot. I’m paying for the card, not the envelope.

I’ve decided that I’m not going to go through all of the drama, and I’m going to stick to my own buying philosophies.

I buy cards in 2 ways:
1) Face-to-face at local card shops (“LCS” in hobby lingo)
2) Face-to-face at card shows

In both ways, I get to see the cards with my own two eyes before I pull out my wallet. Now, I don’t carry around a scientific microscope with me to each place I visit, that’s just overdoing it for the reason why I collect.

Card shops and dealers at card shows sell their vintage cards in one of two ways: 1) They have a sticker attached to the hard plastic sleeve, and 2) They don’t have a price at all, and the dealer just throws out a random number – and often times that random number is one that is determined after much squeezing to get as much money as possible.

I make it a point to study the book value of card prices before I determine my initial interest in the certain cards that I want. I study vintage pricing tiers, high-number premium prices, and the “sliding scale” grading values based in vintage card condition (for example, a 1950s poor card is approximately 10% of listed book value).

When I pluck a card out of a box, I have a ballpark estimate of what the card is worth in the condition it is in. When I finish with a stack of cards I’m interested in, I’ll sift through them one more time to add up my total ballpark estimate and come up with a number (No less than $1 for cards 1971 and earlier, and no less than $0.50 for 1972 and later). Then I hand it over to the dealer and await their number. They won’t be an even match, but if it’s close enough I’ll go with the dealer’s number. Otherwise, I’ll try to meet in the middle; or if their price is way out in left field of my ballpark estimate, I’ll go through the stack and cut out some cards to make it worth my while.

Having preset prices is perhaps the best way that you’ll get my business. Then I’ll immediately know if your number is a deal, priced right, or over my expectations. I’ve passed on several cards on my “Interest List” because I didn’t think the price was right. – That right there is the reason why I changed my list from a “Want List” to an “Interest List.” Dealers see this, perk up, and I have to tell them to hold their horses.

Sometimes I will mull over a card for minutes to figure out if I want to buy it for that price or not. Many dealers are quick to pull the “but it’s on your want list” trigger, but I have both my hobby knowledge and the cash in my wallet to base my decisions on. Which, by the way, I ONLY pay for cards with cash at stores and shows; I keep the plastic at home and will write checks at a gas station or grocery store. This curbs any impulse buying that these dealers extremely hope that people like me do. I’ll set a predetermined cash limit before I leave the house.

I don’t travel a whole lot, but I’ve visited card shows in Madison, Peoria, Orland Park, Schaumburg, Rockford, Janesville, Peru and maybe a couple of others. I’ve been to card shops in Madison, the Quad Cities, Rockford, Peoria, Freeport, and the Chicago suburbs. The vintage cards niche is a narrow one, now that many dealers are only concentrating on the big money stuff that moves a lot. Many times, I get to see the same dealers at different shows, so I have a good idea of what their stock is going to be like.

I also have developed a trust with some dealers. These dealers are people who I feel especially comfortable buying cards from. Most importantly: These dealers also are people who I have a legitimate conversation about vintage baseball cards and know what they are talking about, and WHO they are talking about. Yes, I did mention having conversation with people – and I’m the one with Autism. During these conversations, I can get a feel of whether you truly know your products, or if they are just pieces of cardboard with a dollar figure attached to it.

I expect vintage baseball card sellers to have a certain level of understanding of the players they are selling. I expect superior knowledge of all Hall of Fame players, intermediate knowledge of HOF “should bes” such as Vada Pinson, Rocky Colavito and Dick Allen; and some understanding of notable players of the vintage era such as Denny McLain, Ken Harrelson and Vida Blue. I don’t expect everyone to have knowledge of every single player who ever played, including many minor stars.

If you have a Ken Hubbs card in full view on your table or in your case with the appropriate price sticker on it, I expect you to know who Ken Hubbs was. Anyone can look up a card in a book and slap a sticker on it, but there’s much more trust earned when I know that you have knowledge of the products you are selling.

A lot of this seems very draconian – but it is. I don’t deal with buying and selling and moving cards like stocks on the stock exchange. I collect to collect. I also only set aside a portion of my finances toward my collection. While it’s great to be in the hobby, it’s not the only thing I do, or is the only thing that I am interested in. It’s just one spoke of the Cody Cutter wheel of life.