Rationalizing is a powerful human motivator. If the human race stopped rationalizing, the American economy would collapse. From retail therapy to holiday splurging, we shop to get over a lay-off, to buy love, or project love onto an object. Collecting isn’t any different. A new addition to a pre-war baseball card collection always perks up a collector’s serotonin, if only for a short time.
Now with the recession draining wallets with lay-offs and foreclosures, the move to personal austerity quickens. This means avoiding therapeutic mall runs and, for some baseball card collectors, a cut-back in auction bidding and an avoidance in private sales. Telling oneself ‘I need this card.’ or ‘This other guy has one, and I need one too.’ doesn’t work anymore, especially now when people see collectors as materialistic.
In a previous article, I gave advice on budget collecting, but how does one realistically and logically rationalize purchasing a $100, 100 year old baseball card during the current financial malaise?
1. Pre-war baseball cards do not plummet in value. Vintage baseball cards aren’t shoes or video games or Beanie Babies. Once a card is in the collector’s hands, the card doesn’t suddenly lose 50% of its worth (unless the collector rips it to shreds). Unfortunately, unlike older baseball cards, the worth of modern baseball cards drops precipitously after the next year’s cards are released. One caveat: Cards are not stocks, bonds or commodities. They should not be deemed investments. A collector may hit the jackpot, but, based on my experience, one should expect to get back around 80% of what he or she puts into a collection.
2. Pre-war baseball cards can go up in value. Depending on the rarity and condition of a collection, the timing of the financial environment, and length of time collecting, a collector who decides to cash out his collection can expect a tidy profit. Even collectors of low-grade cards may ring up a profit, especially on the crap-shoot that is eBay. New collectors continue to enter the pre-war baseball card arena, even as older collectors leave, so demand is always high.
3. Collecting a piece of history. It’s too bad the first two rationalizations center on money, but it stems from the current economy. Truthfully, most pre-war baseball card collectors are not only die-hard fans of the game, but they also love history. They see themselves as amateur archivists holding onto and caring for artifacts of a bygone era for future posterity. That statement drips with hyperbole, but holding an obscure player’s card in your hand, one can’t help but wonder who the player was, how popular he was, or where did he end up after his playing days were over. One also asks who owned this card before me, or who put this card inside a shoe box 80 years ago to be discovered again today?
4. Family time. Once children are mature enough that they will not drool, color, or otherwise destroy a baseball card, they may show interest in collecting. With most kids priced out of even a standard pack of Topps, chances are they will show a little curiosity, especially if you mention the cards’ ages. Nothing is more fulfilling than sharing a collection with a young family member, especially if the child shows as much exuberance for the cards as you do.
5. A healthy addiction: This can be said for many collectibles, but is especially true for pre-war baseball cards. Cards don’t have the dangerous connotation of motorcycles (nor the sex appeal, unfortunately). Due to their small size, they don’t take up much space like comic books or record albums. Finally, while they aren’t high art or antique furniture, 80 to 100 year old cards have a bit more gravitas and respectability than Beanie Babies or navel fluff. As long as you’re not an uncontrollable hoarder with a negative bank account balance, then there is no harm in picking up a card or two.
So, when the next person (or yourself) questions your hobby of collecting ‘old baseball men’ (a quote from my girlfriend) tell him: ‘I have a benign addiction that interests me, keeps my mind occupied, helps me bond with my children, niece, nephew, etc. (if applicable), and may pay dividends in the future.’ The End.