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A Beginner's Guide to Buying, Selling, and Trading Baseball Cards

I am a former sports editor and currently serve as a historian with the Society of American Baseball Research and manage a valet operation.


Baseball Card Collecting

So you've decided you want to learn how to collect baseball cards, huh? Well, from 30 years of experience, I can tell you that you've chosen a rewarding hobby that you can make your own. Baseball cards provide the unique ability for an individual to specialize in collecting just about anything, so let's learn how to begin building your dream baseball card collection.

Some of the more common themes collectors gravitate toward include player collecting, team collecting, set building, vintage collecting, and what is called parallel rainbow collecting (more on all these types of collections later). However, there is nothing to stop you from collecting players who graduated from your college, live in your home state, or who share your birthday.

Perhaps you only want to collect cards that show pitchers hitting (or hitters pitching), or cards that show head-first slides into bases, or cards that picture the player blowing a bubble gum bubble, or cards with an American flag in the background, or players with unique names (like Oil Can Boyd, Wonderful Terrific Monds, or Razor Shines). I even once kept any card I found that had the Wrigley Field ivy in the background, and any card that showed a player from my favorite team (the Cleveland Indians) in the background. The possibilities are endless.

How to Start a Baseball Card Collection

Whether you're an adult looking to rekindle a childhood passion or a youngster looking for a great hobby, you've come to the right place to learn how to collect baseball cards! From online and brick and mortar resources to collecting communities where you can make purchases, sales, or trades, to the places you'll want to avoid, follow these steps and you'll be on your way to building your dream baseball card collection.

In this article, you'll learn all about how to start your own baseball collection from scratch.

  1. The Basics of Baseball Cards: We'll start with the basics so that you can get an understanding of their history and the rise of their popularity.
  2. Types of Baseball Cards: Learn all about the different kinds of baseball cards, from base cards to relic cards.
  3. Selecting a Focus for Your Collection: You can focus on players, teams, collecting vintage cards—learn how to choose a theme for your collection.
  4. How to Get Baseball Cards: Learn how to buy, sell, and trade baseball cards to get all the cards you need for your ideal collection.

Baseball Card Collecting 101

In their simplest form, baseball cards are a small piece of cardboard featuring photos of baseball players on the front, a card number, typically another photo, a biography, and statistics on the back. The first baseball cards doubled as advertisements for businesses and came into circulation in the 1860s. By the early 1900s, cards were most commonly found within packs of cigarettes, including the world-famous 1909-11 T206 Honus Wagner. Several companies began producing baseball cards into the 1930s, like Goudey Chewing Gum, but it was after the end of World War II when mainstream production of baseball cards began.

In 1948, cards were produced by Leaf and Bowman, as well as a small set from Topps. In 1952, Topps produced one of the most sought after sets to this day, and its first big set helped the company purchase Bowman by 1955 (Leaf ceased production in 1950). Topps essentially held a monopoly until 1981, when Donruss and Fleer were granted licenses to print baseball cards after a successful lawsuit claimed Topps had a monopoly. In 1982, Topps was awarded exclusive rights to distribute baseball cards with gum, so Donruss began to produce puzzles and Fleer inserted team logo stickers into its packs as incentives to collectors.

As card collecting gained popularity, two price guides surfaced in 1984 (Beckett and Tuff Stuff), and both stayed relevant for many years until the internet became the primary venue for dealing cards (Beckett's magazine is still mass-produced, but its valuations are considered inaccurate by the majority of the hobby because of the ability to search real-market value by viewing completed eBay auctions). In 1988, Score began producing baseball cards, and a year later, Upper Deck debuted and introduced a premium card that included an anti-counterfeit hologram on the back, as well as the most popular rookie card of Ken Griffey Jr.

1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card

1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. rookie card

Also in 1989, Topps re-introduced the Bowman brand, but with Upper Deck on the scene, premium cards were in play as the baseball card industry boomed into a billion-dollar market. Donruss re-launched the Leaf brand in 1990, and in 1991, Topps produced Stadium Club, and Fleer produced Ultra as premium alternatives. One year later, gold foil became a hot seller, as all brands donned cards with shine and Score produced its Pinnacle set for the first time. Then, starting in 1993, even higher premium issues began getting released—Topps Finest ('93), Fleer Flair ('93), Upper Deck SP ('93), Bowman's Best ('94)—and by the late 1990s, there were more than 30 base sets being produced each year, as Pacific had also joined the mainstream fray.

Companies started inserting a handful of autographs into releases in the early 1990s, but it was the 1996 Leaf Signature Series full run of autographs that began a new craze. In 1997, Upper Deck produced a three-card set that included swatches of game-used jerseys of Griffey Jr., Tony Gwynn, and Rey Ordonez (then an up-and-coming shortstop, who was very strong defensively but never matured into a complete player). That same year, Fleer produced the first 1-of-1's with its Masterpieces parallel in the Flair set. All three types of cards remain prevalent in today's collecting landscape.

But as the market became saturated with too many products, the bubble burst and companies began to fold. Pinnacle was out of business in 1998 and Pacific closed shop in 2001. Donruss did not produce cards in 1999 or 2000 and eventually lost its MLB license in 2006. Fleer went bankrupt in 2005, and its assets were purchased by Upper Deck, though it lost its own MLB license in 2009, still produced cards for a few years through an agreement with the MLB Players' Association, which allowed player names and likenesses to used without copyrighted logos. Panini, which owns the rights to the Donruss brand names, operates under the same measures in today's market and competes with Topps. On August 19, 2021, it was announced Topps would lose exclusive rights to produce MLB trading cards after the existing contract runs out following 2025. In 2026, Fanatics will become the only fully licensed producer of baseball cards.

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Types of Baseball Cards

Now that you know a little history about baseball cards, let's breakdown what types of cards exist and how to build your collection!

  • Digital Cards
  • Base Cards
  • Subsets
  • Rookie Cards
  • Insert Cards
  • Parallels
  • Autographs
  • Relic Cards

Digital Baseball Cards

Increasing in popularity are digital baseball cards or sets offered for purchase exclusively online. Some examples of these products have included:

  • Topps Bunt
  • Topps Now
  • Topps Living Set
  • Topps 2020 Project
  • Topps Throwback Thursday
  • Topps Project 70
  • Topps 206
  • Companies are also beginning to produce digital NFTs

Topps has also developed several sets that were only available to purchase online. Included were sets designed and collated by superstars like Bryce Harper and Francisco Lindor or pop culture icons.

Base Cards

The most basic of baseball cards are called just that—base cards. Those are the individual cards that comprise regular sets. Examples of common brands that feature (or featured) base cards are Topps, Panini, Bowman, Stadium Club, Upper Deck, Fleer/Skybox, Donruss/Leaf, Pacific, and Pinnacle/Score. Base cards typically make up sets of hundreds of cards—often broken down into two series—featuring the best players from the season before, though some base sets target only the top stars and can run fewer than 100 cards.


Considered sets within regular sets, subsets are runs of usually 10-40 cards within a base set that feature players who have similar traits (such as power hitters, rookies, base stealers, top pitchers, league leaders, World Series highlights, etc.). Subsets are defined by a different design than the traditional base cards (such as hand-painted Donruss Diamond Kings or multi-player Topps League Leaders) or by a printed symbol (such as Donruss Rated Rookies or Topps All-Star Rookies). Despite their uniqueness, subsets typically hold about half the value of a player's base card.

Rookie Cards

Rules regarding rookie cards have changed throughout the years, but at its core, a rookie card is a base card from the first year a player is included in a major set. As such, these cards carry a premium because there is a higher demand for them. Oftentimes, a player's rookie cards do not reflect the year the player made his Major League debut, such as Derek Jeter, who had rookie cards in 1993 but didn't debut until 1995. In the 1990s and early 2000s, players often had Bowman rookie cards, as the company would produce cards of promising draft picks or low-level minor league players, which led to a lot of players who never made it into MLB having licensed Major League cards produced.

In 2006, Major League Baseball stepped in to make rules about rookie cards, creating a rookie card logo and only allowing players to be in base sets starting the year of their Major League debut. Companies circumvented that rule by producing insert cards of minor league players, which is why New York Mets rookie Peter Alonso has cards with the rookie card logo in 2019 products but had his first Bowman card released in 2017.

Insert Cards

Special edition cards inserted into packs are called inserts. On the back of packs of baseball cards are odds for all the insert cards. These are smaller specialty sets that, like subsets, feature players who have similar traits, but are rarer than cards in the regular series and hold additional value. Common inserts sometimes are inserted one per pack, while others can be very rare and found only once every case or more infrequently. Inserts are often distinguished by foil serial-numbering on the front or back of the card or by a design that significantly differs from the base series.


Parallel cards are those that use the same photo and design as the base card but implement a small change to make it different. The most common parallels feature colored borders, colored foil, die-cutting, or Refractor technology (a rainbow effect on the card's surface). Parallel cards are often serial-numbered, but can also be found on a per pack or per case basis in some sets. For example, a red-bordered retail exclusive parallel card may be found once per pack, while a red-bordered Refractor serial-numbered to five may not be found in every case of boxes.


A card featuring a certified autograph of the player shown on the front are among the most popular in today's market. The cards may be hand-signed by the player, the autograph may be signed on a sticker that is placed on the card by the manufacturer, or the autograph could be cut from a check or other document if the player is deceased. Sticker autographs allow for faster signing and easier inclusion of a player in multiple sets but are frowned upon by many collectors because sticker autographs often are not as aesthetically pleasing. Hand-signed—or "on-card"—autographs also give the experience of the player handling the actual card. Autographs used to very rare to find, but are now usually found at least once per box.

1997 Upper Deck Game Jersey Tony Gwynn

1997 Upper Deck Game Jersey Tony Gwynn

Relic Cards

Game-used memorabilia was a big hit when introduced in 1997, and it has continued to be one of the most popular trends in card collecting. Everything from jerseys, to bats, to gloves, to bases, to baseballs, to shoes, to stadium seats have been used as relic cards throughout the past two decades. Card companies even made controversial decisions to cut up memorabilia used by legends such as Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays, Ty Cobb, and Ted Williams to place onto baseball cards.

Patches and laundry tags are the most sought-after relic cards. A patch often includes multiple colors of a jersey (such as from a nameplate or the team logo), and the more colors included in the patch window, the higher priced the card will be. Typically, patches are only found on cards produced with a low serial number. In the early 2000s, however, fake patches became a problem in the industry, so unnumbered cards from that era with extraordinary patches should be carefully examined.

In today's market, "game-used" memorabilia can be a little more difficult to find, as companies began producing "player-worn" memorabilia cards. This means a player may wear a jersey for a photoshoot or while signing autographs, and the company will then cut it up and use it for cards.

Additionally, some relics are just that—manufactured relics. These types of cards will include a custom fabric patch, commemorative coin, etc., produced by the company for a specific set. The cards are often printed on very thick card stock and can demand a premium.

Which Cards Are Worth Collecting?

Many baseball card collections start broad and become more focused over time, especially among novice collectors, who may be learning more and more about baseball cards with every one they receive. Perhaps the biggest foundational block of a collection is determining exactly what you plan to collect, and how much you're willing to spend on your new hobby. Luckily, single packs of cards can be had for just a buck or two or for thousands of dollars, so there is an unopened product for every budget, and the same can be said for singles sold on secondary markets.

But before you start just buying everything you can find, here are some common types of collections you may want to consider starting.

  • Set Building
  • Player Collecting
  • Team Collecting
  • Parallel Rainbow Collecting
  • Vintage Collecting

Set Building

Among the best places to start a baseball card collection is by set building. This is the practice of compiling one example of every card in a particular series of cards. In today's market, the most common set to build is Topps Series I and Series II. In 2019, the first series included 350 cards, featuring many of the top players and rookies in baseball. Subset cards (sets within the set) include World Series highlights, stadiums, league leaders, future stars, and Topps All-Star Rookies.

Additionally, the series includes 75 short-printed photo variations and 25 super short-printed legends, and those 100 cards are sought after by master set builders. The second series is set up much the same, minus the World Series highlights and league leaders. An Update Series is released every year, as well, and Series I and Series II cards are later combined into a factory set that is sold separately.

Working to complete the entire run of cards can greatly help a new collector determine how to build a more specific collection. One of the first sets I remember attempting to complete as a young collector was 1998 Topps Series I. The main reason was that packs of the cards were available at a local store in the small town where I lived, but another was because it was a cool set. Topps really stepped up its photography with that release, and I remember unique cards such as Billy Wagner wearing a fireman's hat because he was a dominant closer, Brian Jordan swinging a baseball bat at a football because he played both sports, and Jay Bell using a golf club while standing on a base. Because of cards like those, I began to save other unique cards I would find—some notable examples I recall are the 1997 Collector's Choice Omar Vizquel card where he is pictured with a yellow car and some Gold Glove awards, the 1984 Fleer Glenn Hubbard card where he is holding a boa constrictor, and the 1996 Collector's Choice Rex Hudler card which shows him milking a cow on the back.

While building the set, however, I also became more of a Mike Piazza collector because he was featured on the most significant insert card I pulled from any of the packs—a Topps Mystery Finest Refractor, which was inserted once every 144 packs. I already liked Piazza (I called him Mike Pizza when I received a card of his during Little League), but that pull really pushed my collecting of him to a new level. These are perfect examples of how set building can lead you to a new collection.

A sampling of cards included in my personal player collection of Tim Salmon.

A sampling of cards included in my personal player collection of Tim Salmon.

Player Collecting

To build a player collection, many collectors make an attempt to collect every card issued of a certain player. While that is pretty well impossible given the low print runs of some parallel cards (including highly sought after 1 of 1's), the chase of acquiring as many cards as you can of a specific player is thrilling. For me, I am a "super-collector" of Tim Salmon, the 1993 American League Rookie of the Year and longtime Angels star who won a World Series in 2002. His first release came in 1988 as a minor league issue, and he continued to have cards produced regularly until 2006, the year following his retirement. However, because he was a popular player but not a superstar, he has only had a handful of post-retirement cards produced, giving a fan like myself an opportunity to continue my collection. Bigger name Hall of Famers, however, continue to have hundreds of cards released every year, making collections of those players that much more difficult to complete.

What follows are two examples of players who played the bulk of their careers in the 1990s and two players who are stars in today's game, and the breakdown of the baseball cards they've had produced:

Ken Griffey Jr.

  • As of July 1, 2019, according to, there have been approximately 18,750 cards produced of him.
  • This includes 291 cards released in 2019.
  • One his most produced years was 1998 when he had about 1,040 unique cards produced.
  • Approximately 4,548 of his cards (24.3 percent) have been released since 2012, which is two years after his retirement.

Mark Grace

  • As of July 1, 2019, according to, there have been approximately 3,357 cards produced of him.
  • That includes 24 cards released in 2019.
  • Approximately 907 of his cards (27 percent) have been released since 2005, which is two years after his retirement.
  • Grace had no cards released in 2010 or 2011, and of his post-retirement releases, 451 of those cards (49.7 percent) came in 2005.

Bryce Harper

  • As of July 1, 2019, according to, there have been approximately 8,400 cards produced of him.
  • This includes 528 cards released in 2019 (he had 2,024 cards in 2018).
  • Of his releases, about 6,300 (75 percent) are serial numbered, and more than a quarter of his cards include a relic, autograph, or both.

Edwin Encarnacion

  • As of July 1, 2019, according to, there have been approximately 3,390 cards produced of him.
  • This includes 185 cards released in 2019.
  • Of his releases, about 2,495 (73.4 percent) of his cards are serial numbered.

Many factors contribute to these figures, but you can see a lot of similarities in many of these numbers, despite one player being a prominent superstar and one being more of an under-the-radar star. The bottom line: The less popular a player, the more likely you'll be to acquire a significant portion of the player's baseball cards (unless you have a lot of money to pour into the hobby), but the fewer cards you'll have to chase.

Just for fun, let's take a look at another example.

One of the most collected players is Nolan Ryan, and because he retired in 1993, the number of cards released during his playing career is limited. However, because he is such a sought-after player, card companies continue to produce his cards today, driving up his total number of cards to among the highest levels in the hobby. Below is a breakdown of some of his card stats:

  • As of July 1, 2019, according to, there have been approximately 14,737 cards produced of him
  • This includes 398 cards released in 2019
  • Approximately 12,900 of his cards (a staggering 87.5 percent) have been released since 1995, which is two years after his retirement
  • That includes 1,588 cards from 2004 and 2,597 cards from 2005. Those years alone account for 227% more cards than Ryan had produced during his playing career (1966-1993)!

Player collecting doesn't have to just be a chase for every card, though. Some player collectors will only collect cards with serial numbers (some even go farther to only acquire cards where the serial number matches the player's jersey number), and some player collectors will only collect cards that are visually appealing to them (such as Refractors, cards first produced by Topps with a Rainbow effect; or Dufex, a 1990s technology started by Pinnacle that blurred backgrounds).

One of the more well-known player collectors is Tanner Jones, who specializes in Jose Canseco cards. Not only has Jones spent a day with Canseco, he's appeared in magazines and written a book about his collecting experience, which I would personally recommend to both novice and experienced collectors. He is one of the most knowledgeable collectors out there, and in his book, provides an entertaining look at the world of baseball card collecting. (Another awesome book about baseball cards is The Wax Pack by Brad Balukjian, which chronicles his journey to follow up on the players featured on the cards he found inside a single pack of 1986 Topps).

As you can see, the possibilities for player collecting are truly endless, and if you have a player you like, I hope you'll find a way to make a unique collection of him!

Team Collecting

Another popular type of collection is team collecting, which entails acquiring as many cards as you can of your favorite team. Some individuals keep only one of each unique card, while others do things differently. A team collection can give a collector the historical view of their team, as the larger regular issues include at least one card of most every prominent player on the team from that season, and accomplishments, such as records and World Series wins, are often commemorated by card companies.

The popularity of the team can once again dictate how many cards you'll have to collect. Again using's catalog of cards, a search for "Cleveland Indians" produces just under 100,000 unique cards, while using the keyword "New York Yankees" brings back over 225,000 results. These are just ballpark figures, but you can see how a team's general popularity can determine the number of baseball cards produced of its players.

Many team collectors store their cards in chronological order, displaying them in binders or keeping them in boxes, while others may sort the cards by brand and then in chronological order, showing both an evolving history of the team and each baseball card company.

Parallel Rainbow Collecting

The term "rainbow" has a very important meaning in the current baseball card landscape. Unlike the natural phenomenon that occurs when sunlight shines through moist air, a rainbow in baseball card collecting is a set of parallel cards that have different colored foil or borders. Among the most popular rainbows to complete are those found in Topps Chrome and Bowman Chrome products. A complete rainbow from 2019 Topps Chrome would include:

  • Base card
  • Refractor
  • Prism Refractor
  • Sepia Refractor
  • Pink Refractor
  • Negative Refractor
  • Purple Refractor (serial-numbered xxx/299)
  • Blue Refractor (/150)
  • Green Refractor (/99)
  • Green Wave (/99)
  • Blue Wave (/75)
  • Gold Wave (/50)
  • Orange Refractor (/25)
  • Orange Wave (/25)
  • Red Refractor (/5)
  • Red Wave (/5)
  • Superfractor (/1)
  • Printing Plates (/1)

If a player also has an autographed version of a card in a set, the autograph often has similar parallels, meaning some rainbows need a lot of cards (and luck) to be completed. Some collectors will also combine the regular series (also called paper versions) with the Chrome series to create an even larger rainbow. The regular series for 2019 Topps has 14 parallel versions, leaving a completed non-autograph paper and Chrome rainbow to include 32 different parallels of the same card (38 if you try to get all four printing plates from both paper and Chrome).

While rainbow is more a modern term, the idea of collecting parallels has been around for many years. In 1975, Topps produced a mini version of its set; in the 1980s, multiple brands began to produce Glossy or Tiffany parallels to mimic the regular issues; and into the 1990s and 2000s, certain companies began making multiple colored parallels of every card in various sets. Completed rainbows can be one of the most aesthetically appealing displays, and there is even a fairly large Facebook group dedicated to the chase.

Probably the most complicated rainbow to complete came from 2000 Pacific Prisms, a higher-end set that included a number of parallels, some of which are so close in design, it's impossible to know the difference if you aren't educated on the set. To see what I mean, click here.

A graded 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle baseball card. In poor condition, the card would command thousands of dollars at auction because it is one of Mantle's rarest cards.

A graded 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle baseball card. In poor condition, the card would command thousands of dollars at auction because it is one of Mantle's rarest cards.

Vintage Collecting

Other collectors choose to keep collecting a lot more simplistic, and focus only on vintage cards (commonly referred to as cards from 1979 and older, though definitions vary individually). Vintage collecting combines set building, player collecting, and team collecting all into one category, but those who strictly deal with vintage cards don't have to worry about getting 30-some-odd variations of the same card. They just try to find an example of the card they want in the best condition possible.

Vintage baseball cards are treasured by many collectors today. For some, because they've been able to reacquire cards they possessed when younger, and for others, because the history and legends of the game are all they care about. Collectors of vintage cards, however, do need to be aware of counterfeits, which is why grading has become of such importance to vintage collectors.

Because an authentic 1950s card of, say, Mickey Mantle can fetch thousands of dollars at an auction, some scrupulous con artists may try to pass a reprint or fake card as authentic to try to rake in the profits. For this reason, many collectors won't purchase the most expensive vintage cards available unless they are graded by reputable companies such as PSA or BGS (in fact, eBay won't even allow sales of a Michael Jordan basketball rookie card unless it has third-party authentication). The old adage reigns true here—if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Some would argue grading has hindered the hobby more than it has helped (and in some cases, I'd agree), but when it comes to authenticating vintage cards, grading is crucial for the most popular cards, as even a poorly graded example can bring in plenty of value, simply because it is genuine.

A 2020 Bowman Camo parallel card of Jasson Dominguez, the top-selling prospect in the set.

A 2020 Bowman Camo parallel card of Jasson Dominguez, the top-selling prospect in the set.


Prospecting is collecting cards produced of young players who have yet to reach the majors. Obviously, this type of collecting involves a high degree of risk but can deliver a huge windfall of profits. Imagine stocking up on Mike Trout cards before he became the best player in baseball. Likewise, imagine if you bought into the hype surrounding Rusney Castillo when he came to the Red Sox from Cuba in 2014 (for those who don't remember, he signed a seven-year, $72.5 million contract but has played just 99 Major League games).

The Bowman brand is the preferred choice for prospect collectors, as they produce Major League cards of minor league players. Cards marked as "First Bowman" are the most sought-after cards in the set, especially the autographs and low-numbered parallels. After the release of the regular Bowman issue, the Bowman Mega Box set is released to Target and a Bowman Sapphire set is produced. The rarest cards of top players in the series can command thousands of dollars. Someday, they could be worth tens of thousands or simply $10.

Several sets of unlicensed prospect cards are also produced by Panini under the Leaf brand.

How to Get Baseball Cards

In days gone by, buying baseball cards at a retail store, local card shop, or card show were about the only ways to acquire a collection. But with the rise of the internet came a rise in ways to build a collection, as well as changes in the traditional ways of purchasing. Here are some other ways to obtain baseball cards:

  • Trading
  • Stores and Shows
  • Online Buying and Selling
  • Box Breaking


Trading was at the forefront of everyone's mind when baseball cards became a mainstream hobby. Led by the production of Topps starting in 1948, baseball card collectors had limited options until the 1980s (from 1956-1980, Topps was the only major licensed brand). With packs costing as little as a nickel, youngsters would often trade cards with friends to complete sets or get the players they liked best. Trading today is slightly more complicated, given the many types of baseball cards now available, but remains one of the premier ways to build a collection.

Of course, there are still opportunities to do old-fashioned trades in person (usually at local card stores or card shows), but most trading of baseball cards is now done online. While eBay is a great resource for buying and selling cards, many more sites offer the opportunity to trade cards by sending another person a package through the mail. Obviously, any new collector should do some due diligence on the best places to trade, as not to get scammed, but many websites specifically created for trading baseball cards have safeguards in place to keep its users from bad transactions. Keep in mind, as a new collector, you may be required to send first when trading to establish a reputation. Personally, I have been involved with buying, selling, and trading baseball cards online since 2001, and I have never had a bad experience (I consider myself lucky, considering I've had thousands of transactions). Some platforms I like to use for trading include:

Many other collecting forums exist, as do other niche Facebook groups and social media pages. The best thing to watch for is a list of comprehensive rules, as that usually means the group or website has some sort of reputation and following. If dealing on Facebook, a great group to consider joining is Sportscard Scammers Exposed, as it provides a documented list of known scammers. Many collectors also host personal blogs and will trade with other card bloggers.

Stores and Shows

Retail stores—most notably Wal-Mart and Target—each carry a wide selection of baseball cards, with companies offering retail-exclusive cards as a way of driving sales. Arguably the most popular retail-exclusive product in an ordinary market year is the Bowman Mega Box, which offer cards of top prospects and the chance to find rare autographs of up-and-coming players (prospecting, as it's called, is very popular among people investing money hoping to find cards that will skyrocket in value later when the player becomes an MLB star). The boxes are only found at Target, and when it is first released, collectors often scoop up the entire display as soon as the shelves are stocked.

During the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020, however, the card collecting industry boomed. This was in part due to retail "flipping," which is where someone buys out the store's entire selection and sells it online for a profit. There are rumors of backroom deals with distributors, which has caused an even more tremendous gap in supply and demand. As the calendar flipped to 2021, more and more retail outlets began limiting the number of sports card products a single customer could purchase or forming queues for cards on certain days of the week.

Common products found in retail stores include blaster boxes, rack packs, and single packs. But like the online trading community, a handful of bad apples also infiltrate retail stores. Some individuals will open blaster boxes and return them with the best cards removed. The same can happen with single packs that have been resealed. Worst of all, however, is pack searchers. These individuals have techniques that allow them to fairly accurately guess which packs have relic cards or autograph cards, and they will purchase those and leave the rest for unsuspecting buyers. If you ever see someone actively searching or weighing packs in a retail store, you should report the activity to the store management immediately.

Local card stores are not as prevalent as they once were—many focus more on gaming cards like Magic nowadays—but there are still true sports card stores out there. There is not a store close to where I live, but I still look for shops any time I am out traveling.

The same can be said for local card shows. The Beckett price guide used to have a lengthy calendar listing in every month's magazine that showed multiple shows every weekend, but now there are only select shows, and they aren't held as frequently. By far the biggest show each year is the National Sports Card Collectors Convention, which rotates between Cleveland, Chicago, and Atlantic City. Outside of searching Facebook, show listings can also be found at these websites:

Lastly, cards can often be found at flea markets or antique malls. Many deals can be found on bulk purchases at these venues.

Online Buying and Selling

Cards are often bought and sold at all the aforementioned links, but there are plenty of other online avenues for buying baseball cards. Most notably is eBay, where hundreds of thousands of cards are listed on a daily basis. Other notable online resources for buying and selling individual cards include:

The Facebook marketplace often has cards for sale, as well, and while many of those individuals overvalue their collections, it's still a good place to check periodically. Cards can also be purchased on Amazon, and through card dealers' online stores. Possibly the best place to buy unopened packs and boxes online, however, is from Blowout Cards, which has a vast selection of cards and often runs specials.

If you are looking for higher-end cards, the best place to start is with the PWCC Marketplace. PWCC offers regular auctions and has vault storage available to its buyers.

Box Breaking

A gamble, box breaking can be a fun way to add cards to your collection. In a box break, the breaker will open a box or case of baseball cards on a live stream. In advance of opening the box, the breaker will sell teams, players or divisions for set prices, and if you buy in, you get the cards pulled for the team, player or division you purchased. Some breakers ship all cards, while some only ship "hits," which include rookies, parallels, inserts, relics, and autographs. Basically, a box break allows you the chance to get a rare card for cheap, but it also could leave you spending money and receiving nothing.

Finding a reputable breaker can be a difficult process, as many have been called out for scamming. I do not regularly partake in box breaks, but I can recommend a legitimate breaker in Kinsey Caruth at Bratpack Breakers. My best advice is to watch multiple previous videos done by a specific breaker before joining one of their breaks. If anything strikes you as uncomfortable or out of place, be it video angle, how they open and handle cards, etc., it's best to find a different breaker. Always keep in mind: Even a reputable breaker can go rogue at any time, so there is always a risk. But as long as you're careful, box breaks can be a very fun way to add to your collection and network with fellow collectors.

Start Your Own Collection

While there is so much more I could go over in this article, you should now have a good foundation for building your baseball card collection. I hope you find as much joy in this hobby as I have for the past almost 30 years. From sorting and learning statistics as a kid to working on player collections today, this hobby has always been a part of my life. Sometimes, it is more prevalent than other times, but at the end of the day, the cards are always there on my desk.

Keep in mind, this is as much a business as it is a hobby, and some people treat it exclusively as a business. Personally, I have a solid balance between hobby and business, but some business dealers are all business. That may ruin it for some, but don't let it keep you from collecting. There is always someone else to buy from or trade with.

If you have any questions about how to collect baseball cards, click here for an expansive encyclopedia on baseball cards, or leave me a comment, and I'll try to get your question answered as soon as possible.

Now, go get started!

Questions & Answers

Question: Is there a good cloud-based app geared toward cataloging cards?

Answer: I do not know of an app I would recommend, but Sports Card Forum does offer a cataloging inventory system on their website. You can find it here:

Question: I have just inherited a trunk full of mainly baseball cards from my 67-year-old brother-in-law. He collected as a kid, but then started again in the early '80s until the mid-'90s. He was a die-hard Red Sox fan. He has some long card boxes with years written on them and some large notebooks with nine cards per page. I cannot figure out how he was sorting them. I am a Cubs fan and have an interest in collecting, but I would also like to know how best to organize them. Where do I begin?

Answer: First off, congratulations on acquiring a collection of baseball cards! From what you are describing, it sounds to me that the boxes may include sets and the binders likely include what would have been his personal collection (his favorite cards). My personal method of organization follows along the same basic principles, where I have sets in boxes and my favorites in pages and binders, but it really comes down to personal preference.

As for where to start in organizing, that depends on what you are planning to do with the cards. If your intent is to keep them all, then you would need to decide if you want them sorted by team, by year, by brand, etc. If you only intend to keep part of the collection, you'd likely be better off sorting them by team and then trading or selling the extra cards.

Feel free to post more questions as you go!

© 2019 Andrew Harner

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