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Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Collector's Loss: A View from Outside

It's tough to talk with non-collectors about baseball cards. They just don't understand.

I'm not talking about the standard "how can you spend so much time and effort on something like that" response. We already have our answers for that discussion, and that in itself is a whole other post.

My aunt and uncle are in town, and if you remember my posts from yesterday, there was discussion of card value. I've thought of insurance several times in the past decade or so, even since well before I moved out of my mother's house into an apartment of my own. What would happen if I lost everything?

What would I lose? What would I want to replace? What are my "assets" worth?

Many of you are probably the same as me in this respect: trading cards aren't the only thing I collect. I have gigs of digital collections - music, photos, and videos, family and personal files, etc. I have souvenirs from my travels and the events I attended, plus hundreds of baseball trinkets. I have a small collection of books, mostly baseball.

In storage, I have clothes, furniture, and housewares. I took my entire life, and shoved most of it in a cube and left it as I crossed the country.

But what would it cost to replace my life?

The digital files would be gone forever. I'm horrible about backing up my images, videos, and mp3s, but I know I'll be leaving a backup here before heading to Japan (maybe leaving backups in two places out here). 

As for the household goods and furniture, I'm not attached to any of it. There is monetary value attached to such things, but I don't have "nice things" when it comes to basic living necessities. I could refurnish my entire life (furniture, clothes, and housewares) for $7500 or less.

But then I come back to my collections. Really, my collectibles are the only things in my life that I can't bring myself to get rid of, and I can't take with me to Japan.

The discussion a couple days ago was about what it would cost to replace my collection. What is the monetary value of all those trinkets, game-used jersey cards, 1990 Donruss singles, books, movie wardrobe items, etc? I threw a number out there - $200,000.

How realistic is that number? I'm sure it's way too high. But I threw that number out there as a talking point.
But the conversation today turned from insurance to money and selling cards from my collection. I'm not going to get into too many of the details, though I'm not happy about it. The relevant part of the discussion went something like this, but in conversation form, of course.

What if I was to sell off part of my collection? If my cards are worth $200,000, surely there is money to be made there selling off a portion of my cards. Perhaps I could sell a portion of my cards and have a few thousand dollars! Well, you know that isn't going to happen.

Take the above Josh Willingham card from my collection. It's a $12 card, if you look at high Beckett value. That would probably be an insured value (and makes a number like $200,000 make a lot of sense very quickly, when you add up all those $8-12 "common" jerseys in your collection). How much did this card cost me? I'm not entirely sure, but I'll guess I bought it for $1 + $3 shipping on eBay, as did most of my cards similar to this. This makes my cost $4 - a good deal for a $12 card. But let's say I want to turn around and sell my Josh Willingham card. How much will I get for it? A buck.

I could probably list it on eBay as a Buy-It-Now for $5 and hope I get a sale, or ship it to COMC and do the same, but realistically I'm not going to even get my full $4 back, unless I'm patient enough to wait several months or more for the right buyer. Stores work on this philosophy, and it's why they can charge high book for a card like this.

This is where people who don't collect get lost. I had to explain that while I had lots of cards, and value-wise it might be worth a lot, there's no way I could get that kind of money back selling back to other collectors. And even though it would cost me $4 to replace the Willingham, I could never expect to get $4 back for it.

I used the following analogy. My uncle loves to read, and let's say he buys a book for $10. Let's say over the years he buys more and more books, for $10 each, and then he has 1000 books, all worth $10 each - $10,000. He couldn't then sell those for $10 each again. He could hope to get $5 each for them, but it would be tough going. He might get $1 or $2 a book. But if his books were lost in a fire or flood, it would cost him $10,000 to replace those books.

I referenced the "trade bait" post I made a few days ago. While there were nearly 100 jerseys, autographs, and low-numbered parallels, I'm not going to see $100 for them. Most of you are trading for them (which is fine), and those who are buying are getting the cards pretty cheap. If I listed on eBay, I'd end up with less after fees, per card. Budget collecting means that I don't have big ticket items that I can easily flip on eBay for cash.
I'm still not sure he understood. Maybe I explained it wrong. But this is how Collector's Loss works. And while collectors aren't really in it for the money, when it comes to cards, people want to attach a dollar sign to our collections. They think that we can simply take a portion of our collections and liquidate it as necessary. There's just more to it than that.

For those of you who made it to the end of this long, rambling, possibly incoherent rant, I give you a reward:
Please, leave comments below.


  1. You said this in about the best way I have ever seen it put. All collectibles are ALWAYS worth more to the collector than the person selling them, therefore the collector spends more to get that item. All you have to do is ask a Beanie Baby collector from the 90s the difference between what they paid for their collection and what its monetary value is today.

    A lot of the value in my collection is sentimental which is impossible to quantify.

  2. Awesome post! I remember last Christmas my little brother and Dad asked how much my Seneca collection was worth, and I had to explain it in a similar way. Aka "See Beckett Book Value says this, but Ebay sale value says this, and realistic sale value says this...and then I paid this..." So many factors!

  3. Certainly the sentimental value has a huge role in this. There's time invested in finding the card, a reason for it being in the collection, and attachment to that card as it reminds the collector of something. Even if it's just a common from 2011 Topps, it is part of a pack you remember opening, or it's the first set you collated, or it's the set you collated while something important happened in your life.

    In 2003, I sold off the "best" of my collection to get some money. It was an amazing group of autographs and relics, many of which I have since repurchased because I was sorry to see them go. I can't do that again. Some of the cards I sold are now impossible to find, and many of the ones I repurchased took years and years to find. I'm all for whittling down a collection when it gets out of control, and several of the cards I sold in 2003 mean nothing to me now. The cards I have with me now were all bought in the past year and all mean something to me. It has been rough this year and my cards helped get me through some tough emotional times, and I can't just give away that reminder of some accomplishment so easily (especially for pennies on the dollar).