All collectors have, at some point, asked themselves the dreaded question……….”What is my collection really worth?” This usually doesn’t correspond to the amount of money that you paid out to obtain the cards. Many of us (and especially our spouses) would have a ‘fit’ if we truly looked at the amount of money (not to mention the time) that has been invested in the collection over the years (though too few of us have the determination and will to track this figure with any kind of accuracy). As far as the collector goes any money spent was well spent….. after all ‘it’s my collection and to me it’s priceless’. If only it was so!! Cards, whether they are in boxes, sets or just loose, all have a ‘real’ value. Ultimately the value is determined (as with many collectibles) by the rarity and condition of the card and the amount that a buyer is willing to pay to obtain it at that time. The problem is determining exactly what this value is.
The first thing that you will need to decide is the purpose for the valuation. Is it for insurance purposes (where you’ll want to provide as accurate a pricing as possible so that your collection is valued at ‘replacement cost’) or are you trying to get a rough estimate of the value for your own personal reasons? Are you looking to sell off your cards and you want to have an idea of their ‘real world’ value to help guide you when you come to sell? The reasons for putting a value to a collection vary for individual collectors and each one needs to find a method and the resources that makes sense to them in their situation.
Rarity is one of the main variables affecting the price of the card. For the most part, Marvel cards are relatively easily to find and the prices tend to reflect this. For example many of the sets from the early 1990’s can be found very cheaply……..much cheaper than you would have paid for them at the time that they were released. On the other hand there are ‘gems’ in the Marvel Universe! Three of the items that come to mind are the Mirage cards from the 1995 Masterpieces set, the Bronze Holofoils from the 1994 Masterpieces series and the Silver X-Overs from the 1994 X-Men Ultra collection. These cards were low in production numbers or available only through retail outlets such as Walmart stores. Earlier sets can command good prices especially if they are in NM/Mint condition. Even some of the insert sets seem to have cards that are more limited in their availability.
The condition of the card is also very important. Some collectors want to buy cards that have been professionally graded and they are willing to pay a premium for them. Others will buy lower quality cards as fillers for a set that they have on the go or to start collecting a set that they are looking for. Most of us however want to get the best possible card (usually in a NM/Mint condition – as graded by the vendor) at the best possible price. It’s important to note that it’s the vendor who provides the information as to the card’s condition. For the most part this is satisfactory…………who of us are really qualified to grade a card according to the established standards? But beware, unless you actually get to see the cards before buying them you may get a surprise when you receive them and you may disagree with the advertised condition of the item. Fortunately, in my experience, most online vendors provide fair gradings for their cards and I have seldom had to return a shipment (though it has happened).
A quick thought about having your cards professionally graded. Personally, I don’t see the need for this. Certainly if you are selling high end cards that will fetch premium prices, it may be worth your while to have the items professionally graded. This way both the buyer and seller are assured of the quality of the card and they can conclude the deal without any surprises. I on the other hand, can’t really see the need (or the additional expense required) to purchase ‘professionally graded’ cards, it doesn’t fit with the goals for my collection. While I see my collection as an ‘investment’, I’m comfortable in getting my cards in a ‘pack fresh’ condition and relying on the vendor to give a good description of the cards. Of course, I always ask questions to pull out more details for the card and to see if there are any imperfections in a card that has been listed as NM/Mint.
As far as resources go for valuing my collection, the main ones that I use are the Non-Sports Update’s Price Guide and the ‘real’ world sales prices from Ebay’s auctions and stores.
The Non-Sports Update’s Price Guide was, in the past, the bible for pricing cards. In the days before the widespread use of the internet, this magazine was about the only regular source for card values that was available. Most dealers based their prices on the guide and this provided a bit of stability to the pricing. Unfortunately many sets (i.e. the early Marvel Comic Images sets) aren’t included in the Guide and in most cases the values provided in NSU don’t correspond to the prices that you will actually pay for the item on Ebay or some other auction site. Nevertheless, the Guide is useful as a quick reference tool and when you want to get a baseline value that can be used for trading and other activities where both parties should be using the same source for their pricing. Of course there are other publications that provide pricing information but they tend to be published infrequently and, though I have doubts as to the validity of the prices that they quote, they can be a valuable resource for card identification and in depth information on the sets and promo cards. Two of these publications are: The Encyclopedia of Non-Sport & Entertainment Trading Cards Volume 1: 1985-2006 (by Todd Jordan) and The Sport Americana Price Guide to the Non-Sports Cards (by Christopher Benjamin).
I find Ebay to be the most important resource for valuing my cards. Here you get a ‘real’ world price for your cards and you can find quotes for most of the sets and cards that you want to value. The prices however can swing widely (especially for the more rare items) and the set you bought for $75.00 at auction can turn up later at a $45 Buy-It-Now price (and the reverse as well). The final sale prices can be all over the map (one vendor may not be able to sell the item for $10.00 while the next seller gets $25.00 for the exact same item). Also, the shipping charges need to be considered……some online vendors really overcharge for the shipping (especially to out of country destinations).
Using Ebay for determining the value of your collection can be a very time intensive task. Nevertheless by tracking the sales for a while you can get a fairly accurate idea of what a buyer is willing to pay for that item in the stated condition. Often I’ll look first at the stores where the items tend to be listed at Buy-It-Now prices. By comparing the prices, I am able to get a good sense as to what these vendors value the sets at. This doesn’t mean the best price…………a good auction can save you many, many dollars off these prices! But they provide a price point that you can use if you want to replace the item quickly (i.e. for an insurance claim) or for identifying a ‘quick’, relatively high ‘real world’ value for the cards.
One ‘problem’ with Ebay (and I’ve heard this from local and online dealers) is that the base and insert sets can be purchased at ‘fire sale’ prices especially when you consider the collation issues that many sets have and the actual cost of the boxes. The online dealers hope to make the bulk of their money back from the sale of the Sketch and autograph cards as well as the dealer’s incentives that they obtain for buying multiple cases. Many of them open so many boxes of cards that they are left with a large inventory of base and insert sets, many more than they can hope to sell online even at prices that are marked way down. These items end up collecting dust on their shelves or are ‘bulk sold’ to someone else. For a collector, this is an ideal situation. You can often get a base set, all of the basic insert sets and the case toppers for less than the price that you would have to pay for one box! But will the prices really go up in the future? Card publishers have reduced the number of boxes that they produce. Ultimately this should be good for the value of the cards but will the stockpiled inventories have to be sold off first and put in the hands of collectors before we notice any real change in values? I suppose time will tell!
When I value my collection, I use a combination of both the NSU Price Guide and the prices found on Ebay. Presently I have valued the collection for insurance purposes and as such have used the Non Sports Update as the main resource (it’s relatively easy to get a documented price for most cards/sets though the prices quoted, especially from the early to mid 1990’s, tend to be quite high). I use Ebay prices (either what I paid for an item or an evaluation of the sample prices over a period of time) for most of the rarer cards and those not listed in the Guide. These prices tend to reflect what you will actually have to pay to replace the cards and are often valued way above the amounts quoted in the Guide (as if I’m really going to find a 1994 Venom Bronze Holofoil card for $10.00!). If I were to want a more realistic valuation of the collection, I would put much more emphasis in determining the prices through Ebay.
I use an Excel spreadsheet as a simple tool for cataloguing my collection. This spreadsheet serves as a basic database, allowing me to sort the cards while the numerical functions allow me to track the value. I always thought that I’d like to use a more powerful database such as Access so that I could ‘jazz’ up the inventory data and layout with pictures and more detailed information. But at this point, this remains a dream (I’m not sure that I want to tackle the work that would be involved in developing the database and entering all of the information). However, I’ve learned that should ‘never say never’ (especially when it comes to my collection) and at some point I will make the change and develop a really functional means of inventorying my collection.