A Beginner’s Guide To Selling Vintage Baseball Cards At A Show – Forbes

I spend a lot of time writing and reading at a cafe in the heart of Brooklyn. I love the strong coffee and homemade muffins. I’m also fond of a regular named George. Twice a day he comes for a small pot of hot tea, walking around the corner from his house, as fast as his frail 81-year-old legs will take him.

George struck pay dirt, trading a few coins for this lot of 1955 Topps cards. They are all Hall of Famers, except Gil Hodges who should be enshrined. (Photo by David Seideman)

George struck pay dirt, trading a few coins for this lot of 1955 Topps cards. They are all Hall of Famers, except Gil Hodges who should be enshrined. (Photo by David Seideman)

George supplements his modest Social Security and pension by picking at flea markets and stoop sales. Brooklyn’s equivalent of yard sales. While focusing mainly on old American and foreign coins, he has dedicated a room in his house to a mountain of bric-a-brac that would be a hoarder’s dream. 

His biggest score ever, $600, occurred recently with an assist from me. He traded a few coins for nine 1955 Topps baseball cards of Hall of Fame players which belonged to an acquaintance who cleans out Brooklyn homes.

George gave me his cards wrapped in paper towel. Dealers love seeing fresh, vintage merchandise, especially old shoe and cigar boxes. (Photo by David Seideman)

George gave me his cards wrapped in paper towel. Dealers love seeing fresh, vintage merchandise, especially old shoe and cigar boxes. (Photo by David Seideman)

Since George knows nothing about baseball cards, I offered to sell them for him if he let me share the experience with readers. In return, George asked that I not divulge his full name or post a current picture of him.

My success selling George’s cards at a J.P.’s Sports Cards’ show in White Plains, NY surprised me. And you should be able to have similar success if you come across vintage cards and need some quick cash.

George grew up in the Bronx before moving to Brooklyn. He went to only one baseball game, at Yankee Stadium where Joe DiMaggio hit a home run during his final season in 1951.

George grew up in the Bronx before moving to Brooklyn. He went to only one baseball game, at Yankee Stadium where he saw Joe DiMaggio hit a home run during his final season in 1951.

The good news is, at a time when mint cards are setting auction records, there remains a market for old baseball cards with soft corners and multiple creases. Such “raw” specimens aren’t worth grading by a third-party company because of their low value. But as I reported on a Babe Ruth card missing his face, which sold for $510 in December, not everyone can afford to spend tens of thousands of dollars on old bubblegum cards.

In fact, several dealers at the show told me that most sales are between $200 and a $1000. The star power of all-time greats like Willie Mays and Duke Snider never dims. And Sandy Koufax’s rookie card, wrinkles and all, is always hot. Plus there are still set collectors looking to plug holes with reasonably priced cards.

Steve Gadziala sealed the deal for George's cards with $600 in cold hard cash. (Photo by David Seideman)

Steve Gadziala sealed the deal for George’s cards with $600 in cold hard cash. (Photo by David Seideman)

I also underestimated the appeal of fresh merchandise. Unlike much of the tired inventory on the show floor, George’s cards had never been seen before in the collecting world. Few things excite dealers more than sellers walking the aisles with shoe and cigar boxes containing cards. (George wrapped his with paper towels and a rubber band.)

It pays to get offers from more than one dealer. The first patiently wrote down on the back of an advertising flyer what each card was worth and offered about 80 percent of their value, or $500. The second dealer offered $550.  By the time I reached Steve Gadziala, the co-owner of Champion Sports Cards & Collectibles in Boston, I was ready to get on with my life and take his $600.

As soon as Gadzilia put George's fresh, vintage cards on his table, a small feeding frenzy started with other dealers. (Photo by David Seideman)

As soon as Gadzilia put George’s fresh, vintage cards on his table, a small feeding frenzy started with other dealers. (Photo by David Seideman)

None of the dealers tried to take advantage of me. Yes, I knew all of them from my covering previous shows. But these are hard-nosed businessmen who pay as much as $875 for a weekend show booth. To stay in their good graces, I made sure not to play one off the other and I thanked them after selling them to Gadziala.

With George’s $600 in my pocket, I watched Gadziala lay the cards out on his table. Pretty soon other dealers got wind of the new find and began circling like a school of fish around chum. Gadzilia plucked out the best card in the lot, a Harmon Killebrew rookie in mid grade condition and a couple of others. He would later submit the Killebrew to PSA for grading, and sold the rest for $650. He ended up selling the Killebrew, which came back a strong PSA 6, on eBay for $228.

The dealer who paid $650 planned to give them to his father who sets up at a flea market in Maine. Affordable cards, I learned, sell well at flea markets.

The most valuable card was not the rookie Sandy Koufax or early Willie Mays, but this Killebrew in mid-grade condition. Condition, like location with real estate, is everything. (Photo by David Seideman)

The most valuable card was not the rookie Sandy Koufax or early Willie Mays, but this Killebrew in mid-grade condition. Condition, like location with real estate, is everything. (Photo by Steve Gadziala)

George was thrilled with his $600 which paid some bills and got his wife off his back for his hoarding habits. A few days later, he returned to the cafe with 100 more 1955 cards that had also seen better days. They included a bedraggled Yogi Berra, two Monte Irvins, and a rookie Ken Boyer. The rest were nobodies like the immortal Reno Bertoia.

Nobodies, or commons, have value, too. It also turned out that George’s were high-series. These carry a premium because they were printed later in the baseball season in lower quantities. Gadziala paid $60 for this lot and within minutes flipped it for $90.

This time the buyers were the show’s promoters. Jim Ryan and  Brian Coppola put the cards in their bargain bin. Plenty of customers still pay a few bucks a pop —even in this age of million dollar cards. I went to another bargain table and acquired  a 1955 Topps card of the Brooklyn Dodger World Series championship hero Sandy Amoros for $15, my weekend’s biggest buy. 

George DiBendetto, a friendly dealer at the show, sells nothing but mid-grade vintage baseball cards for which there remains a strong market. (Photo by David Seideman)

George DiBendetto, a friendly dealer at the show, sells nothing but mid-grade vintage baseball cards for which there remains a strong market. I bought my mid-grade $15 Amoros from him. (Photo by David Seideman)

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