Tag Archives: Michael Jordan

Ultra High-Grade 1951 Bowman Set Break, High-Grade HOF RCs & Scarce Oddballs & Inserts Highlight Small Traditions’ 4th Annual Holiday Premium Auction

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November 21, 2016 – Denver, CO. Widely considered one of the top-ten sports card sets ever produced, 1951 Bowman baseball is world famous for two simple reasons: Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle. In addition to Hall of Fame rookie cards of Whitey Ford, Nellie Fox, Monte Irvin, and others, the ’51 set contains the first-ever cardboard appearances of Willie and The Mick. For this reason alone, the set has enjoyed more popularity than almost every other post-war set produced after World War II.

However, the 1951 Bowman baseball set boasts several other virtues that have endeared it to collectors for two-thirds of the last century. With 324 cards comprising approximately 85% of Major League Baseball’s 400-player roster on Opening Day in 1951, it is the largest-ever baseball offering from the famed Philadelphia gum manufacturer. There are 27 total Hall of Famers, with key cards from Yogi Berra, Ted Williams, Duke Snider, and more. Last but not least, the set’s design consists of artistically enhanced color photographs that capture an almost palpable and transcendent timelessness as ably as the smell of fresh cut green grass, the taste of bubble gum, and the sights and sounds of the game itself.

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Denver-based auction firm Small Traditions LLC is pleased to kick off its 4th Annual Holiday Premium Auction with an ultra high-grade 1951 Bowman PSA-graded set break unlike almost any that have ever come to market. The offering consists of five of the 149 different 1951 Bowman cards to ever grade PSA 10 Gem Mint, 19 cards graded PSA 9 Mint, 27 cards graded PSA 8.5 NM-MT+, and over 100 other cards graded PSA 8 NM-MT, with stars and high-numbers offered as singles and low-number commons offered in four different groups of 20 cards each.

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In addition to a healthy selection of high-grade Hall of Fame rookie cards highlighted by a 1939 Play Ball Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams pair graded PSA 7.5 and PSA 7, respectively, the auction also contains a fine selection of scarce regional and over-sized oddballs, foremost among them a 1960 L.A. Dodgers Team Issue of Sandy Koufax graded PSA 9 Mint, the single highest example ever graded, plus a Canadian-printed 1972 Pro Star Promotions Pete Rose graded PSA 10 Gem Mint, also ranking as the single highest ever graded.

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Operating in its fifth year of monthly auctions, Small Traditions LLC has garnered a reputation for seeking out and offering unusually challenging low population or “low pop” cards from its many consignors’ collections, and this month is no exception. Take, for example, the offered 1960 Topps #300 Hank Aaron card graded PSA 8 NM-MT, one of the most challenging Hank Aaron Topps cards in the hobby. Or how about the 1970 Topps #434 Johnny Bench card graded PSA 9 Mint, which is one of only nine in existence, or the hobby’s first-ever 1976 Hostess #33 Rod Carew graded PSA 10.The biggest surprise in the auction, however, might just turn out to be the 1980 Topps #230 Dave Winfield card graded PSA 10, the popular 1980 Topps set’s toughest Hall of Fame card, with only one other PSA 10 ever graded.

If you think you might have rarities like these hiding in your treasured collection, be sure to contact Small Traditions and to ask about the company’s popular Cost-Free Consignment Program, in which a representative of the company will work directly with you to identify candidates from your collection for consideration for professional third-party grading. Small Traditions will pay the expensive grading fees up front and then auction off your cards at a 0% sellers rate, the best deal in the hobby.

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Of course, the current month’s Holiday Premium Auction wouldn’t be a Small Traditions event if there weren’t an impressive selection of modern rookie and insert cards up for grabs, and this month’s selection does not disappoint. From Mario Lemiuex and Derek Jeter, to Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, there is something for every collector. Highlights here include a borderline Gem Mint 1985 O-Pee-Chee #9 Mario Lemieux RC graded PSA 9 Mint, a centered 1986 Fleer #86 Michael Jordan RC graded PSA 8.5 NM-MT+, an exceptional 1996 Leaf Signature Extended Century Marks Derek Jeter Autograph RC graded PSA 10 Gem Mint, a notoriously challenging 1996 Finest Refractor #74 Kobe Bryant RC graded BGS 9.5 Gem Mint, and a 2003 SP Signature LeBron James Autograph RC graded PSA 10 Gem Mint, among many, many others.

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Finally, the auction also contains a sampling of unopened cello and rack packs, a fine selection of signed baseballs, lithographs, and other memorabilia, plus a wide range complete and partial baseball and non-sport sets dating back to the early 1950s and culminating in the hobby’s largest ever offering of late 1970s Hostess cards, offered as partially graded sets, low pop and Pop 1 PSA 10 graded singles, and groups. If you are a Hostess collector, or thinking of becoming one, don’t miss this opportunity to add a significant number of high-grade cards to your new or existing sets from 1975 through 1979.

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Records Fall In Small Traditions Exclusive 100-Lot Summer 2015 Premium Auction

Denver, CO – Small Traditions’ recently concluded Summer 2015 Premium Auction established several new records on file at VintageCardPrices.com for a number of iconic Michael Jordan, Mickey Mantle, Derek Jeter, and Mike Trout cards. To bidders and other followers of Small Traditions, which now number over 20,000 on the company’s Facebook page, this came as no surprise, as the auction featured selections from the legendary DrPSA Michael Jordan Fleer Showcase Collection. For nearly two decades, the DrPSA collection has been known to contain several of the single finest Michael Jordan Fleer cards in existence, and the prices did not disappoint.

21320a_lgA PSA 10 Gem Mint example of the iconic 1986 Fleer #57 Michael Jordan rookie card led the way with a final price of $19,586, the highest price ever paid for a PSA 10 example of the Chicago legend’s rookie card since VintageCardPrices.com began aggregating eBay and other auction  prices in 2006. While Small Traditions would like to claim the auction listing as the highest price ever realized for the card, Dr. Stephen Hlis (AKA, DrPSA) has reported several PSA 10 sales that he personally conducted in the late 1990s and early 2000s in excess of $33,000, a clear indication of the iconic card’s renewed potential.

As with Dr. Hlis, Small Traditions owner Dave Thorn expressed satisfaction with the strong results, but stated his belief that the card could easily have cleared $20,000. “Not all PSA 10s are the same,” he commented. “Some show fuzzy edges or marginally imperfect centering, and those have been averaging between $16,000 and $18,000 over the last six months. Also, a handful of the half dozen BGS 10 Pristine copies in existence have sold for over $100,000, and this copy was every bit as nice as those, so from our perspective, the winning bidder, a well-known collector within the hobby, scored a relative bargain.” With a strong upward trend in prices realized for the hobby’s very best cards, both Thorn and the high bidder indicated their predictions that the 1986 Fleer #57 Michael Jordan rookie card could easily top $20,000 to even $25,000 by year’s end.

21350b_lgThat’s a lot of money for a basketball card from the 1980s, but most collectors are well aware of Fleer’s limited print run, with estimates ranging from as low as 60,000 to as high as 125,000 copies of each 1986 card produced. All of those cards are well known to be condition sensitive, and the Jordan card, being so popular, has yielded just 220 total examples in the PSA 10 Gem Mint grade in nearly 20 years of professional third-party card grading. From an investor’s viewpoint, it’s an ideal item to stockpile. It might take a few decades, but the card will eventually be a six-figure item at some point in the future.

Some other noteworthy sales from the DrPSA Michael Jordan Fleer Showcase Collection, almost all of which established new sales records, included the following:

  • 1988 Fleer Stickers #7 Michael Jordan PSA 10 Gem Mint — $13,611 RECORD
  • 1986 Fleer #57 Michael Jordan RC BGS 9.5 Gem Mint — $10,802 RECORD
  • 1986 Fleer #57 Michael Jordan RC PSA 9 Mint — $4,036
  • 1986 Fleer Stickers #8 Michael Jordan RC PSA 10 Gem Mint — $5,460
  • 1987 Fleer #59 Michael Jordan PSA 10 Gem Mint — $3,086 RECORD
  • 1987 Fleer Stickers #2 Michael Jordan PSA 10 Gem Mint — $4,511 RECORD
  • 1988 Fleer #17 Michael Jordan BGS 9.5 Gem Mint — $772

21351d1_lgIn addition to these impressive prices for Michael Jordan cards, several of the following items from Mickey Mantle, Derek Jeter, and Mike Trout also approached and topped existing sales records:

  • 1951 Bowman #253 Mickey Mantle RC PSA 4 VG-EX — $5,342
  • 1952 Star Cal Decal #70G Mickey Mantle PSA Authentic — $5,460 RECORD
  • 1993 Classic Best Greensboro Hornets #1 Derek Jeter BGS 10 — $1,899
  • 1996 Select Certified Blue #100 Derek Jeter RC — $2,671 RECORD
  • 2011 Bowman Sterling Purple #22 Mike Trout RC — $1,365 RECORD
  • 2011 Finest Red Refractors Autograph #84 Mike Trout RC — $2,137 RECORD

Grade & Consign For Free with Small Traditions

With massive support from the collector community, Small Traditions LLC has been conducting its Monthly Masterpieces Plus (MM+) auctions since 2012, offering a 0% consignment rate to its customers on consignments numbering up to 100 pieces, as an alternative to selling on eBay and through other higher-priced auction services. The company also offers a collection management service through which it will liquidate entire collections for a reasonable fee ranging from 10-20%. Finally, the company’s most popular program, its Cost-Free Grading initiative, allows consignors to submit raw (or ungraded) cards for review by the Small Traditions staff, who then use their expertise to help consignors determine whether their cards are worth the time and expense of professional grading with PSA, SGC and/or BGS, the hobby’s leading third-party grading and authentication firms. Small Traditions pays for all shipping, insurance, grading and listing costs up front, and it only charges its customers their discounted grading fees after the eventual sale of their items.

In addition to these compelling consignment programs, every fourth month’s auction at Small Traditions features the company’s trademark Exclusive 100-Lot Premium Auction, in which all lots are valued at a minimum of approximately $1,000, and each receives an engaging and scholarly description composed by the academics on the Small Traditions staff, two of whom are in fact college professors. Small Traditions owner Dave Thorn has taught composition, literature and creative writing at Union County College in New Jersey and Red Rock Community College in Colorado, and Dan McHale teaches history at the State University of New York.

Consign Now To The Following 2015-16 STs Auctions:

  • September MM+36 — Graded Cards Considered by Thursday 9/17 Hurry!
  • October MM+37 — Raw & Graded Cards & Memorabilia by 10/20
  • November 100-Lot Holiday Premium — $1,000+ Rookies & Icons by 11/17
  • January MM+39 — Raw & Graded Cards & Memorabilia by 1/19
  • February MM+40 — Raw & Graded Cards & Memorabilia by 2/16
  • March MM+41 — Raw & Graded Cards & Memorabilia by 3/15

Please visit the company’s auction pages and its consignment portal for more information, or call 303.832.1975 or write info@smalltraditions.com for more information today.

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Boasting MJ’s Best, The DrPSA Michael Jordan Fleer Showcase Heads Back To Auction At Small Traditions Starting Wed. 8/19 & Ending Sat. 8/29

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The DrPSA ’86 Fleer Jordan #57, possibly the finest Jordan rookie card in existence, is back up for auction after 15 years in hiding

August 6th, 2015 – Auction Open Aug. 19th to 29th

Denver, CO – If you think that sports memorabilia and collectibles are hot commodities right now, then you’ve probably forgotten all about the 1990s, and who could blame you? It was in the 90s that personal computers and email became part of our daily lives, followed of course by the massive growth of the Internet, the dotcom boom, and the ensuing redistribution of trillions of dollars to businesses around the world, both real and imaginary. Indeed, by the late 90s, perhaps the only things keeping up with the unprecedented growth in dotcom stocks were the equally unprecedented growth in bicep sizes of Major League Baseball players and, in the same Herculean ways, prices paid for Michael Jordan basketball cards.

We’re talking about the Silicon-coated late 1990s here, folks, years before many readers were even born. It’s late in the summer of 1998, and while Slammin’ Sammy battles Big Mac for home run heroism on Professional Sports Authenticatorthe field, inflated bottom lines and cheap muscle mass reach deeply into the furthest corners of American popular culture. Previously for the most part innocent, even the baseball card and collectibles communities witness a massive proliferation in forged autographs, counterfeit memorabilia, and fake and altered cards and other material.

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Tougher than it looks, this 86 Fleer Jordan Sticker RC is 1 of only 79 copies ever graded PSA 10

Enter PSA. Under the umbrella of its Nasdaq-traded parent company, Collectors Universe (CLT), and following the 1985 lead of its sister company PCGS, or Profressional Coin Grading Service, Professional Sports Authenticator was founded in 1991 as the world’s first, third-party grading and authentication service for collectible trading cards. In 1998, the Newport Beach-based grading firm then expanded its service to also include autograph authentication under its PSA/DNA label, specifically, as the company’s constantly improving website states, “in response to widespread counterfeiting, forgery and piracy of autographed collectibles.” Two decades later and both PSA and PSA/DNA are the undisputed leaders in their respective fields, growing their expertise to include the “slabbing” and authentication of wax packs, tickets, baseballs, gloves, bats, photos, rings, awards, and even trophies.

Simultaneously working his way through the early years of sports card grading and authentication was a young optometry student by the name of Stephen Hlis. Veterans of the hobby might better remember Stephen by his nickname, DrPSA. After buying his first Michael Jordan rookie card with $300 of his student loan money in the early 90s, Hlis was hooked. Determined to find the finest Michael Jordan cards in existence, he set out across the country, attending card shows big and small, where he would characteristically employ his optometry equipment to measure the centering, first and foremost, on any decent Jordan encountered — on both sides — and then the corners, edges, surfaces… A pioneer in his own right, his quest was perfection.

21322b_lgBy the early 2000s, Hlis had amassed a legendary Michael Jordan collection. His goal had been to own the finest possible examples of each of Mike’s regular 1980s Fleer cards, all 12 of them. Condition was everything, and so when he learned about PSA and the concept of third-party card grading, he started submitting the special cards he himself identified as high-grade. Constantly seeking to upgrade each and every one of those 12 regularly issued Fleer Jordan cards from 1986 through 1989, Hlis (and the rest of the card world) soon learned that some of those iconic Jordans would prove to be far more difficult to find in perfect condition than others. On the rare occasions that he did find a higher-grade copy than he already owned, however, he’d proudly place it into what he soon dubbed his “Fleer Showcase,” the creme de la creme of his graded card collection, and he’d then sell or trade the inferior copies to finance his Jordan insert efforts or to feed his growing Carl Yastrzemski appetite.

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Hlis paid $40,000 for the first ’87 Fleer MJ Sticker PSA 10 in 2000

When someone offered $115,000 for the collection in 1999, DrPSA reluctantly decided it was time to tell his wife what he’d been doing with his optometry equipment after hours. Although she was upset to have been uninformed, MrsPSA encouraged the young doctor, who had just opened his own optometry practice, to keep his cards. Happy she did, Hlis made a website for the collection, and he continued to add to it, paying a record $40,000 for the first 1987 Fleer Sticker to surface in PSA 10 Gem Mint condition in early 2000. Like we said at the start, if you think that sports cards are hot now, then you’re forgetting the years preceding the dotcom and sports card crashes of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

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Hlis paid $22,500 for the first ’88 Fleer MJ Sticker PSA 10 in 2000

Case in point, when Hlis ultimately decided to sell his collection the following year, it fetched an astounding sum of $475,000, on eBay of all places, a record for basketball cards. Payment for the entire collection was split in two parts, with $250,000 paid up front for the inserts and non-traditional cards, and the $225,000 balance to be paid for the Fleer Showcase. The sale can still be verified to this day with surviving bank records, showing the first $250,000 payment, but when the dotcom bubble soon burst, precipitating an even steeper crash in the sports card market, DrPSA was stuck with his Showcase, albeit with a quarter million dollars in toe.

21312d_lgFinally making its way back to market for the first time in nearly 15 years is the DrPSA Michael Jordan Fleer Showcase Collection, which consists of all regularly issued 1980s Michael Jordan Fleer cards, all graded PSA 10 Gem Mint, except for the regular ’88 and ’89 cards which are in BGS holders. Because he was truly a freak — and we say that with all due respect and admiration — the DrPSA Fleer Showcase collection also contains another extremely high-grade 1986 Fleer #57 Michael Jordan rookie card. To be complete, Hlis insisted that his collection also contain the finest BGS-graded 1986 Fleer #57 Michael Jordan rookie card that he could locate through his obsessive searching for the ever-more-perfect Jordan, which at the time meant this incredibly high-grade BGS 9.5 Gem Mint 21321d_lgspecimen pictured here, boasting Pristine 10 subgrades for both its perfect centering and perfect corners. On top of this, the DrPSA Michael Jordan Fleer Showcase Collection contains yet a third high-grade 1986 Fleer #57 rookie card, chosen to represent the very upper limit of the Mint 9 grade from PSA, that is, a card that looks Gem Mint on first inspection but later reveals a few microscopic imperfections inconsistent with the top grade.

All 15 cards are currently available in Buy-It-Now listings with the option to make offers in the Small Traditions web store and on eBay, where we are previewing them for the first two weeks of August, in accordance with our consignor’s wishes. Any cards that have not sold by August 19th will then be listed with no reserve in our Third Annual Exclusive 100-Lot Summer Premium Auction, featuring The Supermen of The Hobby: Superman, Mickey Mantle, Michael Jordan, Derek Jeter and Mike Trout. In addition to some incredible items featuring these other hobby icons, the complete DrPSA Michael Jordan Fleer Showcase will be available in one lot, and the individual cards will also be listed in individual lots, with the cards selling via whichever format delivers the highest aggregate price for our consignor.

Additional reading:  Please click here to read an article about Dr. Hlis and his Michael Jordan collection, published by the San Francisco Chronicle.

Visit the auction August 18th to the 29th: http://smalltraditions.com/catalog.aspx

Limited Consignments Considered at 0% by Aug 17th

To make private offers, or to consign additional Jordan, Mantle, Jeter, Trout, or Superman items, please write info@smalltraditions.com or call 303.832.1975.

Big Results in Small Traditions Exclusive 100-Lot April Premium Auction

2Small Traditions LLC recently concluded its Exclusive 100-Lot April Premium Auction, setting several industry-wide sales records and reaching new milestones for the Denver-based auction firm. Despite its compact size, the auction closed at nearly a quarter million dollars, a new high for Small Traditions, which conducts monthly no-reserve auctions at its website, with every fourth month’s auction limited to just 100-200 premium lots. Each item in the premium auctions must have a minimum value of approximately $1,000, and the company strives to present each of these higher-end lots with a thoughtful and interactive description that links to hobby resources like PSACardFacts and BaseballCardPedia, and to player statistics, video highlights, and more — an engaging and information-rich approach that is at the core of the Small Traditions experience.

“The Premium format allows all lots to share in the spotlight, and 3the limited selection really encourages bidder competition,” says Small Traditions founder, Dave Thorn, a former teacher and research and writing coordinator for a pair of larger auction companies at the forefront of the hobby. Those are nice side effects of a decision Thorn made, he admits, strictly to help pace him and his small team, who work almost round-the-clock to coordinate their much larger Monthly Masterpieces Plus Auctions, which average anywhere from 500 to 1,500 lots. “We needed to take a break, but we didn’t want to miss a month, so the limited format developed naturally.”

5In addition to some staggering prices realized for both vintage and modern sports cards, perhaps what was most surprising about the company’s April Premium auction was that at least half of all the cards sold had come to Small Traditions in raw, ungraded form. As a part of its cost-free consignment process, Small Traditions will pay up front to grade its customers’ cards, only charging for the grading services after the sale of the cards, pending their owners’ approval of the grading results. The fee for selling on Small Traditions is 0%, so there’s absolutely no out-of-pocket expense to its consignors.

“So much work goes into sorting and closely inspecting our 15customers’ cards to identify candidates for grading,” says Thorn, “and that’s just the start of what is really a very expensive and challenging process, as it should be. So many customers expect high grades for their cards because they’ve been carefully preserved, but most don’t understand how rare Mint or Gem Mint cards from the 50s, 60s and 70s really are, how the perfect ones, even in many products from later years in the 80s and the 90s, are extreme statistical anomalies.”

That’s when the former teacher in Thorn steps in, as he works to ensure that every Small Traditions consignor understands not just the process of grading, but the stringent standards involved and the many challenges submitters face. The end result 9is that the grading process increases the value of the consignors’ cards, it increases the company’s profit from the flat 15% buyers premium it charges, and it brings some “great new-old cards” back into the hobby, a win-win-win for everyone involved.

“Great new-old cards” might be an understatement. Check out the following highlights from Small Traditions’ Exclusive 100-Lot April Premium Auction, which will be view-able at the company’s website until it begins its next auction on May 21st (consignment deadline Friday May 16th) . You can always search all of Small Traditions ended items, however, through the company’s user friendly results section, where you can reverse sort up to 5,000 items to see the top selling material in any search category. Small Traditions is also very active in social media and conducts compelling giveaways through both its Facebook page and its Twitter account, where it has awarded tens of thousands of dollars in giveaways since starting its monthly auctions just two years ago, all for free. Just “like” and/or “follow” today in order to play. 

  • 1996 Select Certified Mirror Gold Derek Jeter SGC 96 — $16,995 RECORD
  • 1980 Charlotte O’s Police Issue Cal Ripken Jr. RC PSA 4 — $11,721 RECORD
  • 1964 Topps #541 Braves Rookies Phil Niekro RC PSA 10 — $9,670 RECORD
  • 1987 Fleer #57 Michael Jordan RC PSA 10 — $9,963
  • 1979 O-Pee-Chee #18 Wayne Gretzky RC PSA 9 — $8,791
  • 2000 Bowman Chrome #340 Albert Pujols RC BGS 9.5 — $7,033
  • 1971 Topps #5 Thurman Munson All Star Rookie BGS 9.5 — $5,568 RECORD
  • 1990 Topps #USA1 George Bush White House Issue BGS 8 — $5,568
  • 1992 Little Sun High School Signatures Derek Jeter RC PSA 10 — $5,275
  • 1952 Topps #311 Mickey Mantle SGC Authentic — $4,982
  • 1993 SP Foil #279 Derek Jeter RC BGS/BVG 9.5 — $4,396 RECORD
  • 1954 Topps #8 Gordie Howe PSA 8 — $3,810
  • 1954 Bowman #66 Ted Williams PSA 8 (OC) — $3,517 RECORD
  • 1998 Fleer SI Extra Edition 1 of 1 #64 Derek Jeter PSA Authentic — $2,462
  • 1996 Select Certified Mirror Blue #100 Derek Jeter PSA 10 — $2,228 RECORD
  • 1986 Houston Astros Miller Light Nolan Ryan PSA 10 — $1,408 RECORD
  • 1951 Connie Mack’s All Stars #8 Christy Mathewson PSA 5.5 — $1,056 RECORD

Dave Thorn and his team extend their thanks to the countless collectors both past and present whose passions have made a place for Small Traditions to exist, with special thanks to the company’s growing list of consignors and bidders, without whom its monthly auctions wouldn’t exist, as well as to its many fans on Facebook and followers on Twitter.

Consignments Wanted for Multiple Summer Auctions

Small Traditions is currently seeking consignments for its next three Monthly Masterpieces Plus Auctions as well as its Exclusive 100-Lot August Premium Auction and its Exclusive Derek Jeter September Farewell Auction. Please write info@smalltraditions.com or call 303.832.1975 for more information and to reserve premium space for your collectible treasures today.

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Record-Breaking Results in Small Traditions Inaugural Premium Holiday Auction

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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

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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 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.

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