Tag Archives: PSA 10

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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Bid Now on 1,500 Lots in Small Traditions Massive Spring Training Oddballs & Autographs Auction w/ Spring Premium Sneak Peak

With 1,500 lots, Small Traditions LLC’s current Spring Training Oddballs & Autographs Auction is our biggest event yet. The auction is underway and closes on Saturday night, March 5th. There aren’t any five-figure Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays rookie cards — we’re saving those for our April Premium Auction, a sneak peak of which appears below — but up for grabs is a staggering number of graded cards from regional and oddball sets, plus wax boxes, autographs, rare game-worn patch, jersey, and bat cards, and other memorabilia.

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Navigate All 1,500 Lots with Just a Few Clicks of Your Mouse

The auction has been organized and interlinked to help bidders navigate all 1,500 lots with just a few clicks of their mouses. When programmed to display 100 lots per page, there are 15 catalog pages, each of which presents a hyperlinked and expandable category menu along its left side. Similarly, each individual lot listing presents a smaller group of hyperlinks related to that particular lot below its title. Simply click the hyperlinks to explore all 1,500 lots within the auction. Highlights from some of the more popular (and populous) categories include the following:

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Premium $1,000+ Items Wanted at 0% For Our Fourth Annual Spring Premium Auction

Please call 303.832.1975 or write info@smalltraditions.com today to consign your high-end collectibles to our 4th Annual Exclusive 100-Lot Spring Premium Auction. The auction is already filling up fast, so don’t wait until the consignment deadline of April 15th, especially if you’d like to guarantee premium placement for your premium items, and especially if you’d like to take advantage of our Cost-Free Grading program.

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Exceptionally Presentable 1951 Bowman Mickey Mantle Rookie Card

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Joe Morrison 1959 New York Giants Rookie Jersey

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Joe Morrison 1959 College All-Stars Jersey

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Immaculate 1959 Giants Team-Signed Eastern Division Champions Football

The Tucson Find: One of The Largest & Most Comprehensive Collections Ever Assembled Up For Auction

Beginning with our current Super Bowl 50 Auction, which ends this Saturday night, February the 6th, Small Traditions will be offering several thousand PSA-graded single cards and complete sets in binders from the historic Tucson Find this past summer. What exactly is the Tucson Find? Without exaggeration, the Tucson Find is among the largest, most comprehensive and impressive sports card collections ever assembled. The collection consists of nearly 4,000 binders, most of which contained multiple sets, complete with all inserts, errors and other variations, spanning all brands from all sports, dating from the 1940s through the early 2000s.

Not only is the Tucson Find remarkable for its breadth and inclusiveness, but the collection is noted for its meticulous attention to the condition of the hundreds of thousands of cards it contains. Even the cards from the 1940s and 1950s display immaculate, pack-fresh qualities, with particular attention to centering and to bold colors. In fact, the collection yielded the hobby’s second-ever 1953 Topps Mickey Mantle to grade PSA 10 Gem Mint at The National Sports Collectors Convention in Chicago this past summer, and every one of the 1,000s of single cards submitted by Small Traditions and being offered this winter has graded either PSA 10 Gem Mint or PSA 9 Mint, with ample opportunities for upgrades or crossovers to BGS 9.5 Gem Mint and BGS 10 Pristine.

Small Traditions is honored to have been selected to handle the modern portion of the Tucson Find, dating from 1980 through the early 2000s, and we are offering several thousand PSA-graded singles and complete sets still in binders in the following events:

Importantly, sets that contained key rookie cards of considerable value, such as the 1998 SP Authentic Football set, have been broken for grading and are not being offered in set form. An overwhelming number of complete sets, however, still offer an abundance of grading opportunities. Judging by the PSA 10 1953 Topps Mantle and the thousands of other cards graded PSA 9 Mint and PSA 10 Gem Mint, the offered sets are likewise in Mint to Gem Mint condition and boast considerable value, especially with their minimum bid prices of between $25 and $50.

If you have not already, register for Small Traditions monthly auctions here.

Learn how to grade and auction your cards and don’t spend a penny out-of-pocket.

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.

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