Friday, October 11, 2013

Breaking Hearts and Taking Names

I came across these auctions this morning.  It makes for a good laugh and a better start to the morning.  And heck, $32 seems like a pretty solid deal if you're in the market for a 1984 Fleer Carl Yastrzemski.

But it also brings back a familiar narrative for most serious collectors.  There are thousands and thousands of people who did not get the memo that their 1988 Score cards are not a valid retirement plan.

Anyone who has ever been to a large card show or spent any time in a card shop has seen the story play out.  Person approaches with literal shoebox full of cards, asking if you want to buy some great vintage star cards.  The box is opened, revealing all the Bo Jackson's and Lee Smith cards the heart could possibly yearn for.  When said person is informed their cards are quite literally worthless (unless they're interested in a new heating source this winter), they become belligerent, accusing anyone and everyone around them of trying to cheat them out of their fortune of cards.

But the laughable situation does bring up some interesting points about the finer intricacies of our hobby.  The 80's/90's overproduction boom was driven by a speculative market and a sudden spike in the collectibles market in general.  Baby boomers suddenly wanted to get their hands on those cards mom supposedly threw out.  But as they started trying to track the cards down they discovered apparently everybody else's mom did the damn dastardly deed.

Supply, meet demand. 

The story is simple enough, and gets simpler.  Driven by speculation and renewed collector interest, the presses went into high gear in the 80's.  Hobby innovations and developments kept most of those collectors there for the better part of a decade.

And then poof.  Gone.

So my question becomes what do we make of the current lull in the market, and what can we expect from the next boom (which, unless you subscribe to the sky is falling view of collecting, will undoubtedly come at some point).  You see, the supply is once again limited.  And I'm not just talking about the ones with a number stamped on them.  Odds put the total number of 2013 Bowman Chrome cases at about 6,500 cases.  And that's one of the more popular product.  How many cases of 2003 Fleer Box Score or 2007 Topps 52 do you think hit the streets?

Of course the hobby landscape has changed.  People don't chase base cards the way they once did (well, except in blog-land, where we still love the simple stuff).  So maybe the drastically reduced production will have no real impact, since people will only want the glitzy stuff.

But we can't avoid the elephant in the room.  The cut in production also coincides with what is now called the steroid era.  While baby boomers can fondly go back and revisit their childhood idols of Mantle, Aaron, and Mays - undoubtedly men far from sainthood - their trials and tribulations didn't reach the public spectacle that today's environment created.  After all the insults, jokes, special sessions of Congress, and many adults will decide to scratch their midlife crisis itch with a collection of Barry Bonds cards, or tracking down those those beloved Rafael Palmeiro base cards.  More bluntly - how many kids collecting during that period even have fond memories of cards at all, let alone of those players.

I don't have any real answers, or even suspicions.  I enjoy the hobby for what it is, what is has been to me, and hopefully what it can continue to be.  It's not about the dollar signs, though I am curious to see where hobby trends go in the coming years.  With a little luck, maybe one of these days I can sell that 2002 Topps Total Greg Maddux for $32. 

On second thought, maybe not.

1 comment:

  1. And that's how to write a blog post. Find something ridiculous about this hobby, reel it in, and reflect on the cult of personality that it has created. I was seriously tempted to send a message to that seller until I realized they only had a rating of 3 and the prices on the similar cards he sold were no where near the 1991 Tuff Stuff prices he is using to value these things now. Crazy people do crazy things.

    At any rate, I know there have been similar posts done before by others but this was probably my favorite blog post that I have read in quite a while. Thanks, Mark.