Growing Small Traditions

As we prepare for a third year of Monthly Masterpieces Plus and Premium Auctions, it’s a good time to reflect on Small Traditions, on both the collecting concept and the auction company, on where we came from and why we started, how far we’ve come, where we plan to go, and the changes we will make as we continue to grow while still working hard to remain true to our name.

Small Traditions: The Experience and Value of Collecting

cokesignforblogSmall traditions are the little wonders in our American lives that bridge one generation to the next. They are the material illuminations of our parents’ and grandparents’ dreams, imagined and realized and then passed on to us as reminders of where we come from, who we are, and why we exist. Paintings and pictures, books, handwritten letters, autographs, toy soldiers and stuffed animals, coins, stamps, comics, a carte de visite, a Topps baseball card, an advertisement for soda pop. Tchotchke to some, treasured collectibles to others, these small traditions are the threads that give the fabric of our popular American culture its endless color. Without the passion of generations of mantle311_8xlcollectors, however, much of this rich American inheritance would have been lost, so we thank them for keeping small traditions alive. We also encourage current and future collectors to return to the important work of small traditions, for “heaven and the future’s sake.” Invite your friends and your family, connect the past with the present and the future, discover, or rediscover, “the hobby,” and build your own small traditions.

Small Traditions LLC: The Online Sports and Americana Collectibles Auction Company        

807345toysoldierforblogSmall Traditions, the company, was originally the name of a hobby and small business started by my grandfather, “The Soldier Man,” and his father, who owned a toy store in Passaic, New Jersey. My grandfather was paid for his labor in toy soldier molds instead of cash, and with guidance from his father, he learned the meticulous art of toy making. Years later, he passed both the craft and the business along to me, which helped sustain me through graduate school, AmeriCorps, and my years as a writing instructor, setting up at craft shows and selling on eBay.  After a decade in education, I then headed the writing and research for multiple auction companies. I handled and helped to sell more collectibles than I ever thought existed, and I wrote more than I ever imagined possible. I also established many contacts, and with my knowledge of the hobby and my contacts in place, I decided to start Small Traditions Monthly Auctions.

The Future of Small Traditions LLC: New Shipping Policies and Introducing “Cost-Free Grading”

74db008612671a88b1b3cbd3fb661265_w350_h350_sc coinThe original goal of Small Traditions LLC was to create a highly visible and cost-free auction as an alternative to eBay and to other high-priced auction services. After fees, labor, and shipping, selling on eBay costs upwards of 15%, and most other services charge as much as 20%, with an additional 20-25% from their buyers. Our decision was to create a drastically different formula than either eBay or these high-cost services. The total inverse of eBay, we decided to charge our sellers nothing and instead charge our buyers 15%, which we add to their final bids. This provides us a modest profit and creates a structure not only fair, but comparable to the expense of selling on eBay and far cheaper than selling elsewhere.

Superman_1 scan for blogSince our inception, we’ve been the only auction company in the industry to offer both free shipping and free grading and authentication services with the hobby’s leading third-party certification companies like PSA and BGS.  Our auctions have nearly quadrupled in size since we started, and so has the value of the items they contain. To manage this growth and to continue providing both our buyers and our sellers with a cost-effective expense structure, we will be making two changes. First, beginning in 2014, we will be charging full shipping and handling fees. Please be sure to review our updated rates in our rules section. Secondly, we will replace our free grading promotion with a “cost-free grading” program. This program will allow consignors to submit to Small Traditions LLC however many cards they would like to have graded. Submitting cards on your own to third-party certification companies is not only a very expensive, time-consuming and lengthy process, but one that is extremely delicate and very frustrating. Use our expertise and bulk submission rates, and let us do the work.  Inverted_Jenny stampWe’ll pre-screen your cards for grading candidates and prepare those selected for submission. We’ll also use our expertise to ensure that your cards are graded accurately. We’ll do all the work, and we’ll cover the cost up front, only charging consignors after the sale of their graded items. Click here to learn more about our “Cost-Free Grading” program now, and consider the following benefits when choosing to work with Small Traditions to grade and sell your collectibles:

  • 0% selling fee for consignors
  • Modest 15% Buyers Premium charged to bidders after their final bids
  • Cost- free card grading & authentication with PSA & BGS
  • $1 starting bids on all lots, a formula that engages multiple bidders early in the bidding process, endearing them to the items they want and thereby increasing the odds for significantly increased bidding competition
  • Absolutely no reserves on all lots

GARBAGEPAILKIDSSERIES1BOX for blogMy biggest pleasure in growing Small Traditions LLC has been to work closely with lifelong collectors who are unfamiliar with grading and other changes the hobby has seen since its heyday in the 80s and 90s. The educator in me still strives to teach and to inform others as much as possible about the curious nature of our hobby, and I am proud of where Small Traditions LLC is today.

  • Our network of collectors’ blogs has helped to establish a knowledge-based brand associated with expertise and experience.
  • We have developed an engaging auction system, one that is recognizable and reputable.
  • Our registered user base has grown into a strong and trusted pool of several thousand pre-screened bidders.
  • The unique page hits for many of our premium, no-reserve items often reaches totals comparable to those generated by similar listings on eBay.
  • The size of our auctions, both in terms of total lots as well as the value of lots, continues to steadily increase.

jeter mirror gold sgc 96 photoPeople often call Small Traditions and ask that we check our warehouse for particular items. I’m flattered by the idea that our brand can convey the idea that we’ve grown so large as to require a warehouse, but the truth is that we are just a small team of a few lucky guys, working round-the-clock to grow Small Traditions LLC. As we look to the future, we pledge to remain true to that name, keeping our regular monthly auctions at a modest 1,000 lots or less and our quarterly premium auctions at 100-200 exclusive lots. Most importantly, we will strive to maintain the close working relationships that we have already developed, and we look forward to helping others grow and further enjoy their own small traditions.

Happy Collecting,

Dave Thorn and the Small Traditions Team

 

Record-Breaking Results in Small Traditions Inaugural Premium Holiday Auction

jeter mirror gold photo 2

January 7, 2014 — Denver-based Auction firm Small Traditions LLC recently concluded its Inaugural Premium Holiday Auction on Saturday January 4th, and the results were nothing short of breath-taking, with record-setting prices realized for any cards produced after 1969 and graded PSA 9 Mint and PSA 7 NM. In addition to dozens of other staggering sales, a PSA 9 Mint 1996 Select Certified Mirror Gold #100 Derek Jeter Rookie Card, one of just thirty copies in existence, sold for a staggering $13,479, making it one of the most expensive PSA 9 Mint-graded baseball cards in the hobby, and a 1980 WBTV Charlotte O’s #16 Cal Ripken Jr. Rookie Card fetched a record $12,307.

ripken wbtv psa 7 frontAccording to vintagecardprices.com, only a handful of post-1950s baseball cards have ever realized higher prices in the grade of PSA 9 Mint than the rare Mirror Gold Derek Jeter, including the famous trio from the condition sensitive 1962 Topps set — Roger Maris at about $27,000, Sandy Koufax at about $15,000 (but once for as high as $66,000) and Mickey Mantle at $17,500 — plus a record-setting 1963 Topps Pete Rose Rookie Card at $14,044, a record-setting 1968 Topps Nolan Ryan Rookie Card at $15,986, and finally the infamous 1969 Topps Mickey White Name Variation, a Pop 4 in PSA 9 condition, which has fetched between $13,500 and $17,000 the few times it has surfaced over the last decade. That’s some pretty high-class company for baseball’s newest member of the elite 3,000-hit club.

Mantle7As for the record-breaking PSA 7 NM 1980 WBTV Cal Ripken Jr. rookie card, we have to go back to Mickey Mantle’s 1952 Topps high-number to find a more expensive card in the grade. One of the most famous baseball cards ever produced, a PSA 7 NM 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle runs anywhere between $26,000 and $42,000, with the highest prices paid for nicely centered copies. And before the The Mick’s iconic ’52 Topps card, we have to go all the back to the 1930s to a find a more expensive PSA 7 NM, with the scarce 1933 Goudey #106 Nap Lajoie card realizing about $35,000. Of course, Babe Ruth is also featured in the classic 1933 Goudey set, on four different cards in fact, but only two of those famous four Ruths command higher price tags than the 1980 WBTV Charlotte O’s Ripken RC in PSA 7 NM condition, including the 1933 Goudey #53 Babe Ruth yellow back, which runs anywhere from $14,000 to $26,000, and the 1933 Goudey #149 Babe Ruth red back, which costs about $13,000. The other two Ruths,  the #144 full body pose and #181 green back, average about $8,500 and $6,800 in PSA 7 NM condition, respectively.  And so baseball’s “Iron Man” continues to set records. 14995a_lg

In addition to these historical sales, a number of other significant hobby masterpieces also realized strong final prices in Small Traditions’ Inaugural Premium Holiday Auction. A 1979 Topps #18 Wayne Gretzky Blank Back Rookie Card graded BVG 9.5 Gem Mint led the pack at $12,983, while a BVG 9 Mint example of The Great One’s O-Pee-Chee rookie realized a near record at $5,275. The only 1968 Topps #5 NL Home Run Leaders card graded PSA 10 Gem Mint realized $3,810, while a 1983 O-Pee-Chee #83 Ryne Sandberg brought $1,290, and a pair of Bo Jackson 1987 McDag Auburn Tigers Greats cards fetched $2,931. One of the hobby’s finest 1984 Topps #63 John Elway RCs graded BGS 10 Pristine sold for $6,154, and a 1986 Fleer #57 Michael Jordan RC gretzky bgs 9.5 blank back frontshattered recent eBay sales figures for the card with a final price tag of $4,982. With its extremely detailed descriptions and high-resolution scans, that seemed to be the theme of Small Traditions’ most recent monthly auction, with strong prices and happy consignors across the board. Returning to Jeter and Ripken, a 1992 Little Sun Derek Jeter Autograph RC graded PSA 10 Gem Mint brought in $6,447, and a 1982 Fleer Test Cal Ripken Jr. RC graded PSA Authentic sold for $2,580, both records for public sales (a PSA 10 1992 Little Sun Jeter Autograph sold privately last summer for a whopping $15,000).

Top Sales from Small Traditions Inaugural December Premium Holiday Auction:

  • 1996 Select Certified Mirror Gold #100 Derek Jeter RC PSA 9 Mint   $13,479
  • 1980 WBTV Charlotte O’s #16 Cal Ripken Jr. RC PSA 7 NM                $12,307
  • 1979 Topps #18 Wayne Gretzky Blank Back RC BGS 9.5 Gem Mint   $12,893
  • 1992 Little Sun High School Autographs Derek Jeter RC PSA 10        $6,447
  • 1984 Topps #63 John Elway RC BGS 10 Pristine                                 $6,154
  • 1979 O-Pee-Chee #18 Wayne Gretzky RC BGS 9 Mint                        $5,275
  • 1986 Fleer #57 Michael Jordan RC BGS 9.5 Gem Mint                       $4,982
  • 1996 Topps Chrome Refractors #138 Kobe Bryant RC BGS 9.5         $4,982
  • 1968 Topps #5 NL Home Run Leaders PSA 10 Gem Mint                   $3,810
  • 1951 Bowman #253 Mickey Mantle RC PSA 4 VG-EX                          $3,224
  • 1996 Leaf Signature Extended Century Marks Derek Jeter PSA 10    $2,814
  • 1986 Fleer Stickers #8 Michael Jordan RC PSA 10 Gem Mint             $2,697
  • 1997 Bowman’s Best Atomic Refractors Derek Jeter Auto PSA 10      $2,697
  • 2009 Bowman Sterling Gold Refs Mike Trout Auto RC BGS 10           $2,697
  • 1982 Fleer Test Issue Cal Ripken Jr. RC PSA Authentic                      $2,580
  • 1986 Topps #161 Jerry Rice RC BGS 9.5 Gem Mint                            $2,462
  • 1963 Topps #537 Pete Rose RC PSA 8 NM-MT                                   $2,228

1984 topps elway bgs 10 front   mj 9.5 rc bert front   rice bgs 9.5 front

18_8950b_lg   ripken psa front   jeter little sun deer psa 10 front

Free Grading with PSA and BGS on Items Valued Over $100

Unique within the industry, Small Traditions also offers free grading with PSA and BGS on cards valued above $100 and free authentication with PSA/DNA and JSA on autographs valued above $200. Most of the items in its Inaugural Premium Holiday Auction, in fact, were graded by Small Traditions at no cost to its consignors. The company is currently seeking consignments for its January, February and March Monthly Masterpieces Plus Auctions, and it will be returning to its exclusive 100-Lot Premium Auction format in April to mark the beginning of the 2014 MLB season. Please call 303.832.1975 or write info@smalltraditions.com for more information.

Small Traditions Celebrates One Year of Monthly Masterpieces Plus Auctions

August 26, 2013

3This month marks the one-year anniversary of Small Traditions’ Monthly Masterpieces Plus internet auctions, and the company couldn’t be more pleased with the engaging and unique mix of cards it is currently offering in its Monthly Masterpieces Plus #12 Auction, which accurately represents the direction in which its team is working hard to grow Small Traditions. The company made a splash last year when it established itself as one of the leading auction firms within the hobby to offer a significant selection of high quality modern cards outside of eBay, but over the ensuing months the company began offering a larger and larger selection of vintage cards, autographs, and other memorabilia, clearly evident in this month’s auction, which culminates this Saturday night, 8/31 at 11:11 PM EST at www.smalltraditions.com.

2According to Small Traditions founder, Dave Thorn, “One of my hardest tasks each month is to organize our auction in a way that engages our wide ranging user base, highlighting our masterpieces while still giving appropriate attention to all our consignors’ items. The harder an auction is to organize usually means the better the auction is, overall, and that was definitely the case this month.”

4Indeed, browsing the company’s auction in gallery format shows a compelling mix of cards quite unlike anything else you’ll find within the hobby. In typical Small Traditions fashion, the current auction begins with a handful of some of the most sought after Derek Jeter Rookie Cards in existence, including PSA 10 Gem Mint examples of the famous 1996 Mirror Blue and Mirror Red cards from The Captain’s ROY season of 1996, which were limited to just 45 and 90 copies produced, respectively, followed by a PSA 10 Gem Mint example of Derek’s 1996 Leaf Signature Autograph Rookie Card.  The auction then briefly turns to some high-grade vintage non-sport rarities from the 1965 Topps Battle and 1966 Batman sets before presenting some exceptionally high-grade, low pop masterpieces from late 1960s Topps baseball, including Pop 1 PSA 10 Gem Mint examples of Don Drysdale from the 1969 set, Big D’s last regular Topps card, as well as that season’s AL ROY, Lou Piniella, plus others. Up next are a handful of scarce modern rookie cards, including a seldom seen 1982 Fleer Cal Ripken Test Rookie Card, a pair of Michael Jordan Rookie Cards, a pair of rare Bo Jackson Auburn Greats Rookie Cards, and then some of the hobby’s rarest Ken Griffey Jr. and Frank Thomas Rookie Cards.

6After another round of exceptionally low pop Derek Jeter rookie card proofs and parallels, which include a PSA 10 Gem Mint example of Jeter’s 1993 Classic Best Autograph, the Captain’s only signed card from his traditional rookie card year of 1993, the auction then turns back the clock to offer presentable upper grade examples from early Bowman and Leaf sets, with high-grade copies of Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Warren Spahn, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, and more. After a 1958 Topps complete set, the auction then takes an interesting turn to the frozen pond with one of the hobby’s highest grade cards from the 1953-54 Parkhurst set followed by a unique selection of Rick Nash Rookie Cards and Game-Used Autographs.

5The auction then takes yet another turn back to Derek Jeter, with an alluring selection of late 1990s inserts, which are then followed by a lengthy list of early 50s Topps and Bowman cards from the likes of Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, and Yogi Berra, before the presentation of a partial 1954 Topps high-grade set break, offered in single lots. More vintage card offerings follow, with many Mickey Mantle cards and other stars, before returning to a lengthy run of modern baseball cards, with many desirable high-grade rookie cards and refractors. Up next is a compelling mix of vintage and modern football cards, and then the auction returns to baseball with a healthy offering of presentable mid-grade examples from the popular 1954 Bowman, 1953 Topps, and 1952 Topps sets, before closing out with a colorful selection of print art and another round of high-grade vintage non-sport cards.

1An alternative to eBay and to other high-priced auction services, Small Traditions conducts monthly internet auctions with $1 starting bids, no reserves, and free shipping on single graded card lots, whether you win one or 101 of them. Small Traditions also offers a 0% sellers fee for consignors plus free grading with PSA and BGS on cards valued over $100, and it is the only auction company in the hobby to offer both free selling and free grading services. Call 303.832.1975 or write info@smalltraditions.com to learn more and to see if your cards qualify. Currently, the company is aggressively seeking rare vintage and modern single graded card consignments for its September 28 and October (Nov. 2) auctions.

Small Traditions Delivers Big Results In Monthly Masterpieces Plus #11 Auction

August 7, 2013

6061a_lgDenver-based auction firm, Small Traditions LLC, successfully concluded its 11th consecutive Monthly Masterpieces Plus auction late Saturday night from the 38th Annual National Sports Collectors Convention in Chicago, and the results were big. “Our favorite motto is ‘Small Traditions, Big Results,’” said company founder, Dave Thorn, a former teacher and research writer for catalog auction companies like Mile High and Goodwin and Co. “We say it often, usually to motivate us through the long days and nights that go into preparing each of our auctions, but it’s encouraging to see so many of our realized prices standing behind those words.”

After concluding the company’s largest-ever auction in June, consisting of nearly 1,200 lots and 10,000 bids, and then preparing6072a_lg free consignor graded card submissions for last week’s National in Chicago and also next week’s East Coast National in New York, the company faced a serious challenge in pulling off its Monthly Masterpieces Plus #11. Thorn admitted that he had reservations about conducting the auction from Chicago on the last night of The National, the country’s largest and most attended sports collectibles show. However, the gamble appears to have paid off. The hobby’s newest and fastest growing auction company realized exceptionally strong results for the popular products around which it appears to have generated a niche, including graded rookie cards, autographs, oddball items, and, most notably, Derek Jeter cards.

5928a_lgA 2002 Bowman Chrome Joe Mauer Gold Refractor Autograph BGS 9 RC Rookie Card sold for $1,367, and a 1967 Dexter Press Roberto Clemente PSA 9 card sold for $1,242. A 1990 Leaf Frank Thomas Rookie Card and a 1991 Bowman Chipper Jones Rookie Card, both graded BGS 10 Pristine for their respective consignors at no cost, each sold for $846, strong prices for items from the so-called junk era of the early 1990s. But that’s nothing new for Small Traditions, one of the hobby’s leading sellers of ultra high-grade cards from the modern period, that is, the 1980s through today. A quick search of the company’s Results for these years from its first eleven auctions displays extraordinary price tags, and yet Small Traditions continues to also realize premium prices for high-grade cards from the 50s and 60s, such as these 1951 Topps Team Cards and 1955 Topps PSA Mint 9s from its recent auction.

The most impressive sales, however, came from the Derek Jeter market. Despite the Yankee Captain’s inactivity this season, demand for Derek’s collectibles has remained strong, a good indicator that demand will be even stronger when the 39 year old returns to play. According to Thorn, “Jeter has entered that rarefied air of sport nobility, with other world famous players like Michael Jordan and Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth, in which demand for his collectibles will always be strong, always rising. Even if Jeter never played another game,” continued Thorn, “he’ll be remembered as one of the most accomplished and beloved players, ever, and those heavily invested in his collectibles should expect serious spikes in demand when Jeter retires and then again when he enters the Hall of Fame. But for now, I think most fans are hoping Jete can teach himself to stop playing like a 20-year old and tough out another 3 or 4 years of play, taking aim at becoming baseball’s third-ever player to join the 4,000 hit club, behind Ty Cobb and Pete Rose.”

5728a_lgWhile a 1996 Select Certified Blue Parallel Pop 2 PSA 10 RC brought in $1,655 in Thorn’s most recent auction, and a handful of other rookie cards topped $1,000 in bids, what was most surprising about many of the Jeter sales from Small Traditions Monthly Masterpieces Plus #11 auction was that some of the strongest prices came from non-rookie card material. Among many other record prices, a 1997 Topps Gallery Peter Max Autograph Insert Pop 1 PSA 10 sold for $3,554, a 1997 Pinnacle Certified Mirror Gold PSA 9 sold for $1,504, a 1999 Skybox Molten Metal Titanium Fusion Pop 2 PSA 10 earned $1,242, and a 1999 Fleer Brilliants Gold Pop 1 PSA 10 brought $1,129. Thorn attributes much of his company’s success in the Jeter market to the strong core of Jeter collectors in his rapidly growing customer base and to the work he puts into JeterCards.com, but the math behind the big sales is pretty basic as well. The latter three cards listed above, for example, were produced in extremely limited print runs of just 40, 30, 50, and 99 total copies made, respectively, and Michael Jordan cards from some of the same brands and low-numbered insert sets from the late 1990s have been consistently selling for $5,000 to even $10,000 for years.

5710a_lg“I’ve been encouraging my Jeter customers to learn more about the late 1990s insert market because, just like the Jordan market, I think that’s where we’ll see the strongest numbers in the future.” According to Thorn, there are only so many Jeter rookie cards—about 330 different ones, to be more specific—and late 90s insert cards number in the 1,000s and encompass the Yankees so-called dynasty years of 1996 to 2000, and they’re also some of the rarest and prettiest cards ever made. “It’s the perfect storm,” says Thorn. “Younger collectors might not think anything special of cards numbered to 50 or 100, since you can pull one from just about every single wax pack these days, but it was a different story in the 1990s, when the manufacturers first developed the concept.

5881a_lgThe problem is,” continued Thorn, “this is also the period when baseball cards, a very simple collectible until that time, became incredibly confusing, with multiple parallels and various tiers of print runs, some as low as 20, 10, 5, even 1.” Thorn insists that for all the quality cards from the late 1990s in the market, there are 1,000 times more junk cards that scrupulous dealers will try to push on uninformed customers. “It happens every day on eBay,” he says. “Just because a card is a Pop 3 PSA 10, for now, doesn’t mean it is necessarily rare. More likely, the card is just so common and insignificant that no one has graded very many. So some sellers will try to charge $300 for a card like this, when any Joe could easily buy 30 raw copies and grade 20 of them Gem Mint, all for the same price.”

5884a_lgAs such, Thorn stresses caution and knowledge when shopping for late 1990s Jeter cards, and he encourages collectors to learn as much as possible before clicking the Buy-It-Now button on eBay. “I hate to see collectors I know paying absurd prices for common cards when they can purchase a PSA 10 card numbered to 100 in our no reserve auctions for the same price. In his final remarks, Thorn concluded that “the Jeter market is a true community. Most of the bigger Jeter collectors and dealers know each other, and most are very friendly and happy to share the information they’ve collected over the years. For most collectors, in fact, figuring out that information has been just as fun and challenging as collecting the actual cards. Got a question? All you have to do is ask. Start by contacting advanced collectors on the PSA Set Registry, try the Collectors Universe and Freedom Cardboard forums, or call or write Small Traditions. You’ll be glad you did.”

An alternative to eBay and to other high-priced auction services, Small Traditions conducts monthly internet auctions with $1 starting bids, no reserves, and free shipping on single graded card lots, whether you win one or 101 of them. Small Traditions also offers a 0% sellers fee for consignors plus free grading with PSA and BGS for cards valued over $100, and it is the only auction company in the hobby to offer both free selling and free grading services. Call 303.832.1975 or write info@smalltraditions.com to learn more and to see if your cards qualify. Currently, the company is aggressively seeking rare vintage and modern single graded card consignments for its August 31, September 28, and October (Nov. 2) auctions.

10,000 Bids in Small Traditions Monthly Masterpieces Plus #10 Auction Sets Company Record

July 7, 2013

4678a_lgDenver, Colorado’s Small Traditions LLC marked its tenth consecutive Monthly Masterpieces Plus auction of sports cards, memorabilia, and print art with a two-session event that concluded late Saturday night and generated a record 10,000 bids. That’s no typo. Small Traditions conducts monthly internet auctions with just $1 starting bids and no reserves, a structure reminiscent of the bygone days of eBay before the profusion of overpriced Buy-It-Now listings. The $1 starting bid strategy engages multiple bidders early in the auction process and then encourages multiple bids in order to bring items to their market values, hence the 10,000 bids.

4801a_lgSmall Traditions’ latest monthly auction also set firm records for total lots, total bidders, and total sales. With 1,200 items and over 1,000 registered users, the company’s monthly sales nearly doubled its previous record. “It was a lot of work,” says company founder, Dave Thorn, who many hobbyists may remember as a lead voice behind the descriptions for catalog auctions like Mile High Card Company and Goodwin and Company. “And we’ve got a lot of shipping to do this week,” laughed Thorn. “But I think we realized what we’re capable of this month, in terms of capacity, and we’ve also identified some areas for improvement that we’ll incorporate when we want to take our monthly auctions to the next level.”

5363a_lgTrue to its name, Small Traditions has no plans to compete with auction industry giants like Heritage and SCP. Thorn instead identifies his company as a sort of “Mom and Pop” shop, characterized by expertise and close customer relationships. “We are willing to do things that other companies are not,” says Thorn. This month, for example, the company completely redesigned its website with a creative “Pirates takeover” theme to accommodate a large Pittsburgh Pirates collection dating back over 100 years, and the company is currently seeking additional team and player themed collections for similar projects. There were no six figure T206 Honus Wagner cards in the Pirates sale, but the effort did not go unnoticed. Jay Wolt, owner of Quality Cards and a member of the well known Net54baseball.com baseball forum, says Small Traditions is “rock steady” and that he enjoys the company’s free shipping policy on single graded card lots. “I like the little guys,” says Wolt. “They try harder.”

5471a_lgIndeed, in addition to its site takeovers for themed collections, Small Traditions offers a number of other perks in order to enhance user experience and to help establish its place in the competitive sports collectibles market. Small Traditions runs multiple blog sites, such as blog.smalltraditions.com, where Thorn writes “How To” articles about the hobby. At JeterCards.com, he catalogs and describes Derek Jeter cards, and he is currently developing a similar blog project at RuthCards.com. Small Traditions is also an enthusiastic user of social media, generating nearly 1,000 likes on both Facebook and Twitter in under 6 months. In the half-century old tradition of The Topps Company’s wax pack redemption programs, Thorn attributes his company’s success on social media to its many giveaway promotions, which include daily $100 card giveaways on Twitter and monthly $1,000 collection giveaways on Facebook. “We try to engage our users on every level, not just with sales,” he says. “And so instead of sending out generic emails announcing our auctions, we’ll send emails with links to new blog articles and compelling giveaways, and then, of course, a link to the current auction.”

5589a_lgWhen Thorn started his company, he recalls a conversation he had with PSA President, Joe Orlando, who advised Thorn to try to do things that other companies were not doing. Thorn’s first response was to create a marketplace off of eBay for modern cards, a niche that most other auction houses avoid. “Modern cards can be very confusing,” says Thorn. “And most vintage collectors dislike them for one reason or another.” But with companies like Topps and Panini experiencing record sales in the $100s of millions, Thorn may be on to something. Not only did he recognize and take advantage of this niche market opportunity, but he is also committed to helping to promote the hobby on all levels, both vintage and modern, and so Small Traditions is one of the only auctions where you will see a 1959 Topps Hank Aaron card alongside a 2009 Hank Aaron Game-Used Jersey card, or Bryce Harper cards alongside those of Mickey Mantle. “One of my greatest pleasures,” says Thorn, “is turning vintage collectors on to newer cards.” He says he understands that they are very different products, but he doesn’t understand why a long-time baseball collector wouldn’t want to collect Mike Trout or Derek Jeter, who’s got something like 330 different rookie cards, with some that exist in fewer quantities than the T206 Honus Wagner.

4863a_lgSmall Traditions’ most compelling perk, however, is its free grading offer on cards valued above $200. Free grading is certainly something that no other company is doing, and it makes sense because grading is a fine and sometimes frustrating process that requires a good deal of expertise, from handling cards, to knowing what cards to grade, to knowing what grades the cards should receive. “Of course, everyone wants their cards to grade high,” says Thorn, a former college English teacher who thinks his customers and other collectors should be as educated as possible. “But it’s a much finer science than most people realize, and a lot of dealers out there will take advantage of a seller’s lack of knowledge, not letting the seller know what he or she really has.” Thorn’s solution? His company will pay to grade his customers’ cards and then work in consultation with the customers so that they understand their grades before selling off their cards.

5406a_lgSmall Traditions pays its consignors 100% of an item’s final bid price, but it charges a 15% buyers premium on each sale, which their buyers pay on top of their final bids. This formula motivates the company to ensure that consignors’ cards have earned the grades they deserve, especially since a graded card’s value increases so dramatically at the higher end of the grading spectrum. For this reason, Small Traditions will pay to review or even to re-grade a card multiple times until Thorn and his consignor are comfortable that the card has been graded properly, and this, too, is something most other companies will not do. So far, the formula has proven to be a win-win scenario for Thorn and his growing number of consignors. To join them, or for more information, call 303.832.1975 or write info@smalltraditions.com.

 

EXPLAIN IT TO ME: The 15 Minute Rule

A throwback to the earliest days of online auctions, the much maligned 15 Minute Rule is an automated method for ending an auction. It is the reason so many auctions last into the wee hours of the morning, and it is also the reason why some of the most coveted items in a given auction sometimes sell for multiple times their estimated values. At its simplest, the rule stipulates that the auction will not close until 15 minutes have passed with no bids being placed on any item within the entire auction. At that point, we assume, all bids are in, everyone has had a fair chance to bid, and so the proverbial gavel hits the sound block, the auction ends, and we all go to bed. I’ve been in the auction business for almost a decade now, and I’ve participated in hundreds if not thousands of auctions both as a buyer and as a consignor (or seller) and also as an auctioneer. On more than a few occasions, I’ve been kept awake until 4:00 AM to guarantee my winning bids. Other times I’ve set my alarm for 2:00 AM to enter my final bids, and still other times I’ve slept through an auction closing and completely missed my opportunity to bid. Today is the final day of Small Traditions Monthly Auction #6, and many of my customers have asked me to explain the 15 Minute Rule, so here’s an explanation of how the Small Traditions 15 Minute Rule works as well as a brief discussion of its pros and cons.

At Small Traditions, we’ve adopted the simplest version of the 15 Minute Rule. Our Monthly Auctions close on the final Thursday of every month at precisely 11:11 PM EST, at which time they enter into Extended Bidding. At that point, the 15 Minute Rule goes into effect, and each time a bid is placed within the auction, a new 15-minute timer begins to clock down to zero, and the auction will not close until a full fifteen minutes has passed with no bids being placed within the auction. IMPORTANT: All active Small Traditions bidders in good standing are permitted to bid on ANY item within the auction during the Extended Bidding period.

Of course, the primary reason we do this is simple: to generate more bids and to maximize prices for the lots within our auctions. For this reason, our consignors tend to love the 15 Minute Rule, while our bidders tend to hate it. The inevitable result of the rule is that most auctions last until 2:00 AM, 3:00 AM, or even 4:00 AM. But 4:00 AM where? 4:00 AM in New York is just 1:00 AM in Los Angeles, and while that’s still pretty late for a Thursday night, it’s just 10:00 PM in Hawaii and just 6:00 PM in Japan and Taiwan, where we have more than a few registered bidders. And so another primary reason we use the 15 Minute Rule is to give ALL bidders (east coast, west coast, far east cost) a fair chance to bid on the final night of our auctions.

The obvious complaint against the 15 Minute Rule is that it keeps bidders up too late, and several companies have developed alternatives to the rule to placate their bidders. Some auction houses apply the fifteen minute rule to multiple sessions within a single auction, while other houses apply the rule on a lot-by-lot basis, meaning that each lot closes individually after 15 minutes pass with no bidding activity. To the angst of consignors, a third alternative is to abandon the 15 Minute Rule and simply close the auction at an appointed time, but where’s the fun in that? In all sincerity, some of my fondest memories in this business have come on auction night, when bidding wars ensue and consignors realize record prices for items they were reluctant to sell, and when bargain-hunting bidders score incredible deals about which they brag to their friends the next day on chat forums across the internet.

A final note and a few suggestions regarding the 15 Minute Rule. Like all auction houses, Small Traditions reserves the right to use our discretion and to end our auctions at any time, especially when bids have slowed to a snail’s pace and the sky is paling. If you prefer not to stay awake until mid-morning, then consider setting your alarm for midnight, 1:00 AM, or 2:00 AM in order to check your status. The average ending time of our first have dozen auctions has been about 2:00 AM MST (Mountain Standard Time; we are in Denver). Alternatively, you can decide upon a price you are willing to pay for an item and use the Max Bid feature, available on all lots, or you can always call Small Traditions at 303.832.1975 and request a telephone bid up to a specific price before the auction ends. After all, more so than on other nights, on auction night, we work overtime.

Thanks for supporting Small Traditions, and good luck!

Dave Thorn

Monthly Masterpieces Plus #7 Auction Results & Contest Winners

Small Traditions continues to grow. Our Monthly Masterpieces Plus #7 event, which culminated late Saturday night, established several new sales records for individual lots and reached new milestones, yet again, for total bids, total active bidders, and total sales. We registered over 100 new bidders, soared past 20,000 total bids, and awarded more cash and card giveaways than in any month since starting our auctions last year (please see below for a list of winners). In response to user demand, and after successfully experimenting with a Saturday night closing, we have decided to permanently change our auction closings to the final Saturday of every month, with auction start dates scheduled for the middle Monday of every month. Finally, we are still aggressively seeking consignments for our next several events, and we are pleased to continue to offer 0% selling fees as well as free card grading and reviews with PSA and BGS for new consignors. Please visit our site or call or write for details.

Notable sales from Monthly Masterpieces Plus #7 included the third highest price ever paid for a sandy1955 Topps #123 Sandy Koufax RC in the grade of PSA 8 NM-MT at $3,230 and the second highest price ever paid for a 1951 Bowman #253 Mickey Mantle RC in the grade of PSA 2 Good at $2,004. Both cards were extremely high-end for their grades. On the Derek Jeter front, we saw $3,554 paid for the hobby’s only PSA 10 example of the famous 1997 Bowman’s Best Atomic Refractor Autograph, and we realized some outstanding prices for a number of PSA graded cards from The Captain’s RC years of 1992 to 1996, including $1,655 for a 1995 Columbus Clippers Team Issue graded PSA 10,jeter blue $2,426 for a 1996 Select Certified #100 Mirror Blue graded PSA 9, $1,655 for a 1996 Mirror Red graded PSA 9, and $1,367 for the only PSA 10 example of the Interleague Insert Sample from the same issue. Several BGS Jeter cards realized strong sales as well, with $1,367 paid for a 1992 Little Sun Unsigned Proof graded BGS 9.5 and $1,821 for a 1993 SP Foil graded BGS 9.5, plus dozens of BGS 10 Pristine graded Jeters that fetched between $100 and $300 each. Some other notable BGS sales included $322 for a 1981 Donruss Tim Raines RC graded BGS 10 Pristine, $241 for a 1982 Fleer Lee Smith RC graded BGS 10 Pristine, $634 for a 1982 TCMA Tony Gwynn RC graded BGS 9.5, $575 for a 1987 Donruss Greg Maddux RC graded BGS 10 Pristine, $523 for a 1987 Leaf Will Clark RC graded BGS 10 Pristine, and $431 for a 1989 Topps Randy Johnson graded BGS 10 Pristine. sperryAnd who could forget the awesome price of $769 paid for a Widespread Panic 2010 New Year’s Eve “Winter Lady” Poster by famed San Francisco print artist, Chuck Sperry?

Remember, you can search all of our past auction results with just a few quick clicks from our website, and don’t forget to reverse sort by highest price for some mind-blowing numbers.

Now on to our March contest winners. We are very happy to announce that Will Lowry was the winner of our March Auction Giveaway Promotion. Incredibly, Will’s guess of $1,237 was just $3 away from the $1,234 book value we calculated for the Derek Jeter collection using NM-MT pricing at www.beckett.com. Congratulations Will! In the long traditions of Topps and other card manufacturers’ giveaway promotions, Small Traditions regularly awards significant cash giveaways to our registered users for helping us reach new milestones and significant card giveaways to both our Facebook and Twitter followers. Below is a list of additional winners. All prizes have been shipped and/or applied to the March Auction invoices. If you did not bid in the March auction, cash bidding credits can be applied to our web store or to any future auction. Thanks for playing, and a special thanks to Josh Ellis for his thoughtful suggestions—look for many more simplified contests to come—and a sincere thanks to you all for supporting Small Traditions! jeter promo

  • $1,000 Derek Jeter Collection to Will Lowry
  • $100 to Chris Williams for our 200th Facebook page like
  • $100 to Charles Cottone for our 100th Twitter follow
  • $100 to Jae Byun for our 20,000th bid
  • LoneRanger @SYOBWOCFAN won a 1999 Finest Team Finest Blue Derek Jeter graded BGS 9.5 for correctly guessing its serial number of 0234/1500 on Twitter
  • Will Lowry @wdlowry4 won a 1999 Bowman’s Best Franchise Best Mach 1 Derek Jeter graded PSA 10 for correctly guessing its serial number of 0123/1500 on Twitter
  • Drew T @ESPNFanatic4 won a 1987 Donruss Greg Maddux RC BGS 9.5 Quad Gem Mint for coming closest to guessing the $575 final price of our BGS 10 example of this card
  • Drew T @ESPNFanatic4 also won a 1996 TSC Members Only Derek Jeter NM-MT RC for coming closest to guessing the $1,129 final price of our PSA 10 example of this card

HOW TO: Submit Cards For Grading Part 1, Cleaning & Handling Your Cards

People often ask if Small Traditions has special arrangements or back door deals with PSA and BGS, two of the hobby’s leading grading firms. How else could we get so many PSA 10 Gem Mints and BGS 10 Pristines for our consignors every month? The answer to the first question is invariably no. PSA, or Professional Sports Authenticator, is a division of Collectors Universe, a relatively large company that is publicly traded on the Nasdaq stock market under the handle CLCT, and Beckett Media, home of Beckett Grading Services, or BGS, is an established publishing firm that has been in business for nearly 30 years. Ever see the magazine Victorian Homes at the supermarket? That’s them. Or how about Gun World or Diesel World or Drive? Yup, all products of Beckett. Although some casual collectors on the fringes of the hobby suspect the worst of authentication companies—and for good reason; the hobby has endured countless forgery scams and inquisitions by investigative journalists and even the FBI—to those who work closely with PSA and BGS, the idea that these two respected companies would ever engage in collusion or some other type of fraud is laughable.

The answer to the second question—how does Small Traditions get so many PSA 10 Gem Mints and BGS 10 Pristines—is almost just as simple. We sort millions upon millions of cards every year. Every day at Small Traditions, USPS, FedEX, and UPS deliver packages stuffed with old cards from our consignors, and we also buy product by the pallet load. We don’t crack wax boxes, we crack cases: set cases, vending cases, cello and wax cases, hundreds of cases every year. But anyone can accumulate cards. Indeed, every other house in every town in middle America has a stack of shoe boxes or white vaults or monster boxes somewhere in its attic or in the dusty recesses of its garage or cellar—please, get them OUT of the cellar; they should be in the attic, where it is dry. These boxes are mostly filled with worthless, overproduced trash from the 1980s and 1990s. But you know the old saying, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure? It’s true. Even the most worthless of cards from the so-called junk era can now fetch $10s if not $100s in top grades, and many insert cards from the 1990s are now selling for $1000s and even $10,000 and more.

So you’ve got some old cards. Who doesn’t? The hard part is figuring out what to do next. Sell them as is? Grade them? Give them away? Trash them? Or better yet, recycle them? This blog post is the first in a multi-part series about preparing your cards for professional grading. Even experienced hobbyists often assume that they can submit their cards “as is” to PSA and BGS (or SGC or ISA or GAI, there are more than a few grading companies in the market). However, these submitters couldn’t be further from the truth, and this is precisely the reason so many hobbyists are often disappointed with the results of professional grading.

In addition to using up to 10x magnification beneath bright white halogen light to examine every square millimeter of both surfaces and all four corners and edges of every card you submit for grading, it is important to learn how to handle cards by their edges so that the oil and dirt of your fingerprints don’t mark the cards. Unfortunately, many cards, especially newer, glossy cards, have already been mishandled, and even if the cards are perfect in every other way—centering, corners, edges, and print quality—they won’t grade higher than Mint 9 if their surfaces are marred with smudges and fingerprints. But who wants Mint 9s? We want Gem Mint 10s, right? So here’s a detailed 10-step prescription for cleaning and handling dirty cards in preparation for storage and/or professional grading. You’ll need a few things to get started, including penny sleeves and semi-rigid Card Savers from Cardboard Gold or Ultra Pro, lens cleansing cloths from your local camera shop, a damp sponge or paper towel, a bunch of a free time, and a whole lot of patience.

  1. Always wash your hands before handling your cards, and repeat as necessary when your fingers get sweaty, as they often will. It also helps to have a fan against which to dry your hands when they do get clammy. 1
  2. Work on a clean, smooth, and clutter-free surface. I often like to work on top of an over-sized top loader to ensure that there aren’t dust and other particles that might scratch the susceptible surfaces of newer cards.
  3. Holding your first card by its edges, the way you might hold a CD or DVD, examine first the reverse surface by tilting it under the reflection of your light.
  4. 2If you encounter smudges or other unidentifiable grime on the card’s reverse surface, lay the card face down on top of your clean surface.
  5. Using a plastic penny sleeve to hold the card in place, use your lens cloth to clean the area of the surface that is not covered by the penny sleeve. If the grime won’t fully disappear, then lightly touch your lens cloth to your dampened sponge or paper towel, and repeat. Wipe in the same direction, and wipe until you see no more smudges, only the perfect reflection of a clean and totally pristine surface.
  6. 3Flip the card around and place the penny sleeve over the surface area you just cleaned, and then repeat the same process as above. Take your time, and repeat as necessary.
  7. Once the back is perfectly clean, use the penny sleeve to help lift the card off of your surface so that you don’t smudge it again. Remember to hold the card only by its edges, and hold it lightly.
  8. Flip the card over and repeat the same cleaning process for the front surface. Be patient, and repeat until all smudges are gone. Understand that scratches won’t disappear, but this process can certainly help to lessen their impact. Please also understand that a dirty lens cloth will only continue to smudge the card. Even though they are expensive, you should replace them often.
  9. 4Using a penny sleeve to lift the card off your surface again, and holding it only by its edges, carefully insert the clean card into a fresh penny sleeve so as not to nick any of its corners. Now insert the penny sleeve-protected card into a semi-rigid Card Saver, and move on to your next card. Note: I like to put my finished cards into plastic bags so even the Card Savers stay fingerprint- and dust-free. Also, penny sleeves are not necessary for cards produced in the 1980s and earlier, and they can be both annoying and dangerous, but for the newer, glossier cards, they give graders something to grab onto when they pull the cards out of their semi-rigid holders, thereby preventing them from leaving their own fingerprints behind.
  10. Fill out a submission form from PSA or BGS, and then package up your cards per each company’s particular submission instructions. Address and insure your package, drop it into the mail, and then move on to your next round of orders. Don’t forget to stand up and stretch, go for for a walk, talk to a friend. Working with cards can be long, lonely, and laborious.  5

As you can see, preparing cards for professional grading is a very delicate process, but this is only a very small part of that process. What about cards that appear a little smaller than other cards? How can you be sure that these cards have “natural” edges and haven’t been trimmed or otherwise altered? Surely you don’t want to ruin your hard work of preparing your submissions by accidentally including “doctored” cards. And what about cards that appear to be dirty or smudged but that have already been graded? Can you regrade them? Can you remove them from their holders? Or what about cards that have a protective skin on their front surfaces? How the heck do you peel that thing off without ruining a corner or an edge? And finally, what about older cards that have wax on their front surfaces? Isn’t it possible to remove that wax without damaging the card? After all, if your 1960 Topps #350 Mickey Mantle card had a bugger stuck to its front surface, wouldn’t you just flick it off? Of course you would! 6

The controversy over so-called card doctoring is more relevant today than it has ever been, but at Small Traditions we draw the line at either adding or taking away anything that isn’t essential to the card. You cannot add extra color or gloss to a card’s surface. Neither can you trim or shave an edge or file a corner. Evidence of these sort of shady tactics is about as obvious to a professional as are the signs of an impending summer thunderstorm to a stadium full of baseball fans. If you’re buying raw cards off of eBay or from dealers at card shows and conventions, nothing can guarantee that all your cards will be clean and unaltered, and unfortunately, altered cards abound in raw, ungraded form. Neither PSA nor BGS will ban you from using their services if you occasionally submit a questionable card, but the same cannot be said if the activity becomes a trend. 7

To conclude on a more positive note, however, I’d like to briefly answer the final few questions proffered above. The answer to the issue of wax is remarkably simple and can be summed up in just two words: ladies pantyhose. That’s right. Or in one word: nylons, stockings, leggings, hosiery, call it what you want. But if8 you apply the same process as above and rub the surface of a wax-stained card with a small swatch of pantyhose instead of a lens cloth, the mesh fabric will lift and trap the wax as you go, leaving nothing but an ultra clean and polished and bugger-free surface in its wake. Just don’t let your wife of your girlfriend catch you stealing her favorite pair or, worse yet, shopping for your own!

EXPLAIN IT TO ME: BGS 10 Pristine

JordanrookieHow does a piece of cardboard printed less than 30 years ago and for a fraction of a single cent grow in value to $100,000 today? To those familiar with the curious world of high-grade sports collectibles, the answer is simple: BGS 10 Pristine. To those not in the know, however, the answer is a little more complicated. Non-hobbyists (or citizens, as we in the hobby sometimes call them) have a difficult time understanding why such a piece of cardboard is worth anything at all, let alone 100,000 bucks, and even many long-time dealers and collectors can’t adequately explain the strange economics of graded baseball (and other) cards. This article, however, is an attempt to do just that, to explain, to both collectors and non-collectors alike, the freakonomic nature of the high-grade sports card market.

BGS 10 Pristine is the toughest, most elusive, and most coveted professional third-party grade in the card collecting hobby. To be clear, a “grade” is a numerical value that a paid expert assigns to a collectible trading card after he has thoroughly examined it from every angle and determined that it is original and unaltered. Grades range from 1 to 10, with 1 being Poor and 10 being either Gem Mint or Pristine. Once the professional grader has determined a card’s grade, the card is then sealed inside a tamper proof plastic case along with a label (we call it a “flip“) containing the card’s name, number, and year, as well as a unique certification number that allows the newly graded card to enter a database with all other graded cards in order to track how many total examples have been graded and how many examples in each grade have been realized. These databases are called population reports, or “pop reports,” and they form the mathematical basis for the economics of the graded card market.

BGS 10 Pristine is the highest grade awarded by Beckett Grading Services, a division of Beckett Media, the same Dallas-based publishing firm that first began hawking price guides nearly 30 years ago in 1984. On their website, they describe the Pristine 10 grade as follows, “Centering: 50/50 all around on front. 60/40 or better on back. Corners: Perfect to the naked eye and Mint under magnification. Edges: Perfect to the naked eye and virtually free of flaws under magnification. Surface: No print spots. Flawless color, devoid of registration or focus imperfections. Perfect gloss, devoid of scratches and metallic print lines.” The BGS 10 Pristine grade is a full step above the BGS 9.5 Gem Mint grade, which Beckett describes as, “Centering: 50/50 one way, 55/45 the other on front. 60/40 or better on back. Corners: Mint to the naked eye, but slight imperfections allowed under magnification. Edges: Virtually Mint to the naked eye. A speck of wear is allowed under intense scrutiny. Surface: A few extremely minor print spots, detectable only under intense scrutiny. Deep color, devoid of registration or focus imperfections. Perfect gloss, devoid of scratches and metallic print lines.”

The BGS 9.5 Gem Mint grade is generally equivalent to the Gem Mint grades at Beckett’s two primary competitors, PSA and SGC, and what’s important to understand about the Gem Mint grade at any of these companies is that it does not indicate perfection. Take PSA’s standards for its Gem Mint 10 grade: “A PSA Gem Mint 10 card is a virtually [my emphasis] perfect card. Attributes include four perfectly sharp corners, sharp focus and full original gloss. A PSA Gem Mint 10 card must be free of staining of any kind, but an allowance may be made for a slight printing imperfection, if it doesn’t impair the overall appeal of the card. The image must be centered on the card within a tolerance not to exceed approximately 55/45 to 60/40 percent on the front and 75/25 percent on the reverse.” The point is that the standards for Gem Mint at both PSA and BGS allow for slight imperfections. Another important point to understand is that while there are dozens of other grading firms in the market, PSA, SGC, and BGS are the most trusted and most utilized; they are the big three. However, the standards at each firm DO differ, and much to the chagrin of far too many collectors, a card deemed Gem Mint by PSA might not necessarily grade Gem Mint by SGC or BGS, and vice versa. The primary difference between the firms, however, is that PSA’s grading scale tops out at Gem Mint, while the scales at both SGC and BGS top out at Pristine, a full notch above Gem Mint. So, what does that mean?

jordan psa 10Simply put, a BGS 10 Pristine is a perfect card, and it is far scarcer and far more valuable than a Gem Mint card from any grading company. Let’s look at the famous 1986 Fleer Michael Jordan Rookie Card (RC) as an example. A PSA 10 Gem Mint specimen is currently worth about $8,000 to $10,000. According to PSA’s free pop report for the 1986 Fleer Basketball issue, there are currently 155 PSA 10s of this iconic Jordan card in circulation from a sizable sample pool of 13,324 submissions to the Newport Beach-based grading firm, while estimates of the total print run for Fleer’s famous 1986 Basketball set range from 60,00 to 100,000 of each card in the short 132-card set, a small fraction of the print runs for most other products distributed in the 80s. One of our favorite websites, vintagecardprices.com, tracked 25 different sales of these PSA 10 Gem Mint Jordan RCs in 2012, with a high of $11,800 and a low of $7,000 and a mean average around $8,700. That’s a nice price for a so-called “modern card,” which we generally define as anything produced after 1980, but let us not forget that “His Heirness” was also the greatest and most popular player in the history of the hardwood.

The picture is much different at BGS. According to their population report, BGS has graded a total of 6,481 copies of Mike’s iconic Rookie Card and awarded 288 Gem Mint 9.5s, which sold last year for as high as $20,000 and as low as $3,483. Vintagecardprices.com was able to track 88 of these sales in 2012, with a mean average around $4,500. However, and we’re finally getting to the important point here, if you look at the BGS population report, which is also free but requires a log-in, you will notice that they have also graded four examples of the famed Jordan RC in the pinnacle Pristine 10 grade. There are no sales records for three of these fabled four Pristine 10 Jordan RCs, probably because they are locked away in safety deposit boxes somewhere, but the first one ever realized sold on eBay in August 2009 for a whopping $82,000, and that same card later sold in June 2011 for $100,000. Now that’s some serious coin for a card produced not 30 years ago.

Before concluding, let’s turn down the volume on the value dial and explore the impact that the BGS Pristine 10 grade has on cards of lesser significance than the Michael Jordan RC. Most dealers and collectors of this sort of ultra high-grade material would agree that the BGS 10 Pristine grade tends to increase the value of a BGS 9.5 Gem Mint or PSA 10 Gem Mint card by an average multiplier of anywhere from 5 to 10 times, if not significantly higher in certain cases. For many years, the mere sighting of a BGS 10 on eBay or at a card show was a rare phenomenon, but they are more abundant now as a result of increased production standards at contemporary card manufacturers—cards nowadays often emerge from packs in Gem Mint if not Pristine condition—and also the sheer volume of submissions to BGS. Small Traditions is one of the hobby’s leading sellers of BGS 10 Pristines, and there are always dozens available in our popular Monthly Auctions, which always start on the middle Wednesday of every month and end 15 days later on the final Thursday of every month. Click here to be taken directly to a list of BGS 10 Pristines selling in the current month’s auction, and click here if you’d like to register to bid. Here are just a few examples of the premium prices collectors pay for BGS 10 Pristines:

Card PSA 10 Sale Date BGS 10 Sale Date
1982 Fleer #603 Lee Smith RC $62 eBay Dec 27 $600 eBay Feb 11
1983 Fleer #179 Wade Boggs RC $36 eBay Jan 19 $355 STs Nov 2012
1985 Donruss #273 Roger Clemens $69 eBay Jan 10 $293 STs Nov 2012
1987 Donruss #502 David Cone RC $15 eBay Dec 06 $380 eBay Mar 18
1989 Topps #49 Craig Biggio RC $25 eBay Dec 27 $316 STs Oct 2012
1989 Topps #647 Randy Johnson RC $25 eBay Jan 10 $384 STs Oct 2012
1989 Upper Deck #1 Ken Griffey RC $240 eBay Jan 26 $1,249 eBay Oct 29
1990 Leaf #300 Frank Thomas RC $69 eBay Jan 10 $921 eBay Nov 21
1990 Topps #692 Sammy Sosa RC $10 eBay Jan 11 $261 STs Oct 2012
1996 Score #240 Derek Jeter RC $12 eBay Jan 09 $355 STs Nov 2012
1999 TSC Triumvirate Derek Jeter $36 eBay Nov 28 $575 STs Nov 2012
2011 BP #BP1 Bryce Harper RC $270 eBay Jan 19 $1,200 eBay Nov 29

In addition to creating higher prices, the BGS 10 Pristine grade has another impact on the hobby that is important to mention before concluding. As Beckett rolls out its online Set Registry system over the coming months, the BGS 10 Pristine grade will have a significant impact on Set Registry collections. As collectors scramble to assemble the highest-graded Registry of sets like 1952 Topps, 1984 Donruss, or 1986 Fleer Basketball, to name just a few, demand for even common players in the BGS 10 Pristine grade will increase. Moreover, when it comes to Player Set Registries, expect to see increased demand for players’ cards beyond their rookie years. For an informative read on the Set Registry idea, please my first Explain It To Me Post: Pop 1, Pop 2, Pop What? – Understanding The Set Registry Concept.

In answering a few important questions about the economics of the ultra high-grade card market, we’ve opened the door to several more questions, with which I will leave you here but hopefully return to answer in subsequent posts. First, how can the prices for a PSA 10 Jordan RC, or any other card in the same grade for that matter, range by nearly $5,000, and how can the prices for a BGS 9.5 or BGS 10 Jordan RC range by as much as $20,000? Second, who’s to say what’s Mint or Gem Mint or Pristine, especially when the answer can create $100,000 of value? After all, isn’t grading an essentially subjective process? Third, why doesn’t PSA have a Pristine or Perfect grade like other grading companies? And last, are there other cards that will approach six figures because of the Pristine 10 grade, and will there ever be a seven figure Pristine 10? Forget Honus Wagner and “Shoeless Joe” Jackson cards, will there ever be a million dollar modern card? Thanks to the BGS 10 Pristine grade, I’m confident that the answer is yes, but I won’t tell you exactly what that is right now, because I’m still out there looking for it.

Thanks for reading, and happy hunting,

Dave Thorn

EXPLAIN IT TO ME: Pop 1, Pop 2, Pop What? – Understanding The Set Registry Concept

9194a_lgIf you’ve ever searched eBay or our Monthly Auctions at Small Traditions, then you’ve no doubt encountered the term “Pop” in listing after listing of professionally graded sport and non-sport trading cards. The term is is an abbreviation for the word ‘population,’ and it refers to the total number of cards that exist in a particular grade for a particular card from a given grading company. The famous 1993 SP Foil #279 Derek Jeter Rookie Card, for example, is a Pop 10 in the PSA Gem Mint 10 category, meaning that only 10 examples of this card have ever achieved the top grade from PSA out of 10,240 submissions, which helps to explain why the last two public sales of “Captain Clutch’s” most coveted rookie card shattered expectations when they realized $19,999 in 2011 and then $24,450 in 2012. I write this reluctantly because just two years earlier I had sold two of these PSA 10s myself for what I thought were the respectable prices of $5,000 and $6,000. I was a teacher at the time, moonlighting as the head writer at another auction company, and I tell the story now only to illustrate how quickly prices can rise (and fall) in the sometimes cutthroat world of high-grade trading cards. Then again, I had only paid $6,000 for the pair just a few months earlier, so who was I to turn down the equivalent of nearly two months of my teaching salary?

Understanding the idea of a graded card’s population is key to understanding the graded card market and the reason why even common cards often sell for thousands of dollars. To be clear, a “grade” is a numerical value that a paid expert assigns to a collectible trading card after he has thoroughly examined it from every angle and determined that it is original and unaltered. Grades range from 1 to 10, with 1 being Poor and 10 being either Gem Mint or Pristine. Once the professional grader has determined a card’s grade, the card is then sealed inside a tamper proof plastic case along with a label (commonly called a “flip”) containing the card’s name, number, and year, as well as a unique serial number that allows the newly graded card to enter into a database with all other graded cards in order to determine how many total examples of that card (and all cards) have been graded and how many examples in each grade have been realized. These databases are called population reports, or “pop reports,” and they form the mathematical basis for the funky economics of the graded card market.

wagner psa 8So-called “low pop” cards are cards that are mathematically scarce in a given grade. A “Pop 1″ is the only example in existence in its grade, a “Pop 2″ is one of just two examples in existence in its grade, and so on. The world famous $2.8 million dollar T206 Honus Wagner card, for example, is a Pop 1 in the grade of PSA NM-MT 8, with none grading higher. Of the scant 33 examples of that card ever graded by PSA, it is the single highest graded specimen on record, with the next best copy residing several rungs down the grading ladder in the PSA Excellent 5 category. That copy is also a Pop 1 and is still worth over a million bucks. Heck, even copies in the PSA Good 2 grade are worth about $650,000, and there are ten of those on record, but the T206 Wagner story, which is still (in)famously playing out in headlines to this day, is for another post. An important point to take away from this example, however, is that, unlike the famous T206 Wagner card, once owned by “The Great One,” Wayne Gretzky, a card can be a Pop 1 in any grade other than PSA Gem Mint 10 and NOT be the finest example in existence. Suspicious sellers often proclaim that a card is a low pop card or a Pop 1 or Pop 2 in a certain grade, fully knowing that multiple examples of that card exist in higher grades, so unless that card is a PSA 10, you’ll want to look for the helpful clarification of “none graded higher.”

But let’s forget “The Flying Dutchman” and suspicious sellers for now. Before we can understand why so many common cards often fetch such hefty prices at auction, we must also understand the Set Registry concept, which is the second key to understanding the graded card market. Since graded cards have numerical values, a set of graded cards can be averaged together to determine that particular set’s overall grade point average, or GPA, just like academic grades in high school or college. A Set Registry, then, is a collection of graded cards that a particular collector has assembled and averaged together, either for the simple perfectionist’s pursuit of assembling the highest graded set possible, and/or for comparison against other collectors’ sets of the same cards, for bragging rights. Indeed, PSA’s Set Registry Leader Board and Annual Set Registry Awards and Set Registry Hall of Fame have spawned some famously fierce competitions over the years, and it is this competitive aspect of Set Registry collecting that drives prices through the stratosphere. I mean, why on earth would anyone ever pay $5,300 for a PSA 10 of Johnny Moore from the 1986 Fleer hoops set? And who forks over $1,214 for a common Checklist card from the 1984 Donruss set, or how about almost $13,000 for a PSA 9 copy of Virgil Stallcup from the 1951 Bowman set? Virgil WHO? Exactly. That’s roughly the same cost as a PSA 9 Whitey Ford rookie card or a PSA 7 Mickey Mantle rookie card, both from the same set, and both ranking as two of the most coveted rookie cards in the entire hobby, in any grade.

stallcupHere’s the point. If you take a quick look at the 1951 Bowman Set Registry Leader Board, you will see that of the 71 registered sets, the top two finest sets are separated by a mere three one-hundredths of a grade point. Mathematically, in terms of grade point average, this breaks down to the difference between a PSA 8 and PSA 9 or PSA 10 on just a couple of cards, and so when one of these leading set’s owners is able to either fend off the competition, or gain a little ground on the leader, with the purchase of Virgil Stallcup in PSA 9 condition, he pays big. Understand, however, that these are no ordinary collectors who currently command these award winning 1951 Bowman sets. These are two of the world’s most famous collectors, and they’ve been going head-to-head on the popular ’51 Bowman set for almost a decade. As you could probably guess, they are both well-resourced, and they are both men of exceptional character as well. Despite the price tags of the cards they collect, in dealing with them personally, I can attest that there remains a strong echo of their cherished childhood moments when they finally get what they want, flipping cards with their best friends in the schoolyard, or simply trading for players of their favorite team, and finally acquiring… Virgil Stallcup. 

The Set Registry concept is huge. Collectors can assemble Set Registries of virtually any composition that their curious minds can conceive, and if you think the competition for Set Registry domination over the 1951 Bowman Baseball issue is fierce, then just imagine the competition for the world’s finest Player Set Registries of legends like Babe Ruth, Shoeless Joe Jackson, Mickey Mantle, Michael Jordan, Walter Payton, Derek Jeter. Indeed, there are thousands upon thousands of different Set Registry possibilities: Team Sets from just one year, Team Sets from championship years, Master Team Sets from ALL years, Player Sets, Manufacturer Sets, Rookie Card Sets, Rookie Card Sets by decade, Hall of Fame Rookie Card Sets. The Bowman Baseball Master Set Registry of all Bowman Baseball Cards produced from 1948 to 1955. The 1952 Topps Master Set Registry, inclusive of all variations, Red Backs and Black Backs, as well as all error cards. Or maybe just the 1952 Topps Basic Set Registry. The All-Time Topps All Star Master Set Registry of every Topps All Star card ever produced. The Topps Tiffany Master Set Registry of all Topps Tiffany Baseball Cards produced between 1984 and 1991. You name it. As you can see, the possibilities are truly vast, and PSA also provides Set Registry tracking for graded event tickets, graded wax packs, and autographs, among other collectibles, as well as for graded coins under their PCGS brand (actually, PSA and PCGS are both brands of their parent company, Collectors Universe, which is a public company traded on the Nasdaq under the symbol CLCT).

Hopefully, this entry has helped to increase your understanding of the graded card market, but before I close, I want to clearly state my reason for explaining this information so carefully. I’ve been in the card business for a long time, as both a collector and a dealer, as a wax-pack cracking 8 year-old kid in the back of my Mom’s station wagon and as a professional writer, and now as the owner of Small Traditions. Like most people in the hobby, I’ve had some amazing experiences. I’ve handled Babe Ruth jerseys, I’ve made new discoveries, I’ve shared drinks with Joe Montana and Rickey Henderson, who spilled my martini on me. However, like most people in the hobby, I’ve also had my share of letdowns. I’ve purchased counterfeits and altered cards from crooks, I’ve been cheated and robbed, and Rickey Henderson never bought me a new martini. As a former educator, the thing I value most in the hobby is access to free and accurate information, and one of the things that bothers me most is when non-hobbyists seek out the advice of us experts, only to be swindled. I’ve seen it happen a thousand times. A recently retired 65 year-old gentleman walks into a card show with one of his life’s most cherished treasures, a shoe box full of 1951 Bowman baseball cards. He knows they are worth tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars. There are multiple Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays rookie cards. There’s Whitey Ford. There’s “Teddy Ballgame” and Yogi Berra. He thinks he knows what he’s doing when he sells the box for $75,000 on the spot, cash, only, he never asks, and no one ever tells him about, you guessed it, Virgil Stallcup.

Thanks for reading. As PSA’s President, Joe Orlando, always says, don’t ever get cheated! Keep reading at blog.smalltraditions.com, and I promise, you never will get cheated, at least not for quality information.

Happy collecting,

Dave Thorn