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Thursday, May 7, 2009

Upside down question

I'm always intrigued when I get a comment on a post that's six months old. Reader justjennie71 left a comment on my conspiracy theory post about the 2008 Topps Updates and Highlights inverted photo errors:

I'm a new collector, just started a few months ago. I bought a pack of the U&H's at Fred Meyer and one of the upside down Jay Bruce Rookie Cards (UH100) was in the pack. How do you know what the value is on one of these?
tl;dr version for anyone wou doesn't wan the Econ 101 lesson: About 30 bucks give or take a Hamilton or two most likely. Read on if you want to know how I came up with this number.

The first place I go to check is here. Good 'ol eBay. The best place to find out the value of something is to see what other people are actually paying for it. Do a search for the card and see what the prices are on the cards. Even better is to check the completed auction listings to see what the final auction price were for the cards. Here's an example of completed listings for "Ken Griffey Jr. Rookie Card". You have to have an eBay account to see these listings but if you do, you'll see that a Junior rookie sold anywhere from $50 for an Upper Deck rookie to sixteen cents for a Fleer rookie. In this case we have a slight problem, because I couldn't find a single Jay Bruce inverted error card for sale.

So now what do we do? There were two other inverted short print variations in the set, of Kosuke Fukudome and Evan Longoria. I couldn't find a Fukudome, but I did find a Longoria with a buy it now price of $60. This is a good baseline for the value of a short print variation card but still isn't exactly the same. Bruce and Longoria aren't the same player and have different collecting bases. Ok, eBay can't help, so let's try some other card selling sites. A Google shopping search also came up empty. Sportlots also had no Bruce variation offered for sale. Finally Naxcom/Sportsbuy gives us a result. If you look under the #21 best selling item on that page, you'll see a sale price of $40 or best offer for the Bruce variation. Unfortunately, if you click on the auction, it is no longer listed. So there's a start, the Bruce that you have at one time was being offered for $40, and a similar variation of a different player is on sale for $60. So now what? Where do we go from here?

Check a price guide like Tuff Stuff or, ahem, Beckett.

(brief pause to let the howling subside)

Price guides are just that. A guide to the approximate value of a collectible. The actual value is what someone will actually pay you for the card. A friend of mine back in my college days one told me that my entire card collection was worthless because I'd never ever actually sell any of the cards. I was probably showing off the prices of them in my Beckett at the time. Ultimately, he was right, I've sold off very few cards and the ones I was bragging about in the early '90s sure as hell don't have the same number in the price guide they used to have. So remember it's a guide, not an absolute value. You can see real life examples of this in this post.

So, back to Bruce. I hit the Wally World magazine rack this morning and checked the value of your Bruce in the most recent Beckett Baseball, the one with Griffey on the cover. According to the guise the price ranges from LO $20, to HI $50 for the Bruce. Now, there's a lot of confusion about what LO and HI means. Some say HI is the price you would pay at a shop and LO is the price you would get if you sold the card to a shop. Others see it as the difference between a mint copy and a not-so-mint copy. Far too many see the HI price as an Edict from The Lord on the exact value of the card that must be upheld at all costs lest you fall into Sin. These ideas are all incorrect.

Basically what those numbers mean is that is the approximate price people were willing to pay for that card a month or two ago. I think at one time there was purportedly some sort of complicated formula where Beckett polled hobby shops and auctions and the like and put the prices into a computer and after some gyrating and billowing smoke, the final numbers would pop out. I don't know exactly how they do it today, but the fact of the matter is that Beckett is trusted by enough collectors to make whatever numbers end up printed on that page actually mean something in the hobby. If you were to try to sell or buy the card it is entirely reasonable that the price would fall into that $20-$50 range.

However, there are still a lot of economic factors to consider. The set has been out for 6 months so a lot of the people who desperately wanted that card have already gotten it and moved on to other pursuits. Jay Bruce is playing well right now, so collectors might be more interested in the card. The economy is a wreck so many people who could at one time blow a lot of dough on a card like thins might be putting that money towards trying to pay the mortgage. There are very few of the cards actually for sale, so if there are two collectors out there who desperately want the card a single auction listing might end up causing a bidding war. This is all just basic economics, supply and demand. Since that magazine was printed at least a month ago, economic conditions may have changed so you can't use that price as an absolute value, but it is a good starting point.

Say you want to sell the card on eBay. The guide can help you decide how to sell it. If you had no idea what it was worth, just that it was rare, and listed it at $1000, you'd likely get laughed off the internet and be out of a large listing fee when no one bought the card. Knowing the price guide range, you could list it at a $50 buy it now which is more reasonable. It could be snapped up immediately, get a lowball best offer bid or be ignored completely at that price. If you went the pure auction route and opened the bidding at 99 cents you'd have a shot at selling it for more than expected while risking that it will go for less than you wanted. The card could go for the 99 cent opening bid (it's doubtful it would go without any bids at all) or a sniper war could erupt and it could sell for $100 or more. It all depends on the luck of the draw and who is willing to bid on the card. If one guy bids $100 to open up the bids and he is the only one to bid on the card, then the card may be worth $100 to him, but it's selling for 99 cents because no one else valued it at all. That's why seeing the value as a flexible price range is so important. If 100 Bruce variations were auctioned in the space of a month and the average price of the sales was $30, there are still going to be outliers like the $100 bidding war and the 99 cent bargain. That doesn't mean that the card is worth $30, or $100, or 99 cents. It means that it's worth about thirty bucks give or take a few bucks up or down depending on who is buying at that particular moment.

So the value on that card is most likely somewhere in between 20 and 50 bucks but there's no guarantee you can sell it for that price. At any rate, it's a nice pull of a good player (even though the variation is quite stupid in my opinion) and you picked it up in a retail pack from Fred Meyer. Good luck with the collecting, I hope this answered your question.


PunkRockPaint said...

Wait, wait. I missed that part you said in the middle. Can you start over?

dayf said...

No! You'll read the tl;dr version and like it!

Bay Rat North West said...

If you can put justjennie in touch with me I would like to work something out with her to obtain that card.

dayf said...

They left a comment and their blogger profile has no e-mail. IF Justjennie sees this post and wants to make a deal, click on bay Rat's name to go to his profile and e-mail him.

Squeeze Play Cards said...

Great Job Dayf. If I weren't so lazy I would print this post out and keep a copy on me. That way the next time someone asks me how much a box full of "big name" Rookies from the 80's and 90's are worth I could just hand them this guide.