The term "common" is a bit misleading. Most folks think that commons are printed in greater quantity than cards not considered commons (i.e., stars, rookies, etc.). And while there are some cards that were intentionally underprinted (called SP or short prints) most all baseball cards in a particular year are printed in the same quantities. So why are commons so inexpensive? It is simply supply and demand. A Barry Bonds rookie card is in far greater demand than a Rick Rhoden card from the same year and team set. Anyone who is a serious collector or investment speculator wants the Bonds card; most folks don't even know who Rhoden is. But that's only part of the story.
Beckett prices are only a guide. And they consider commons to be almost worthless given that there are many, many tens or hundreds of thousands of them floating around with little demand. But that's the problem; they're floating around. When card shops break down sets and collections, they take the "money" cards and immediately place them in sleeves and toploaders. Those cards then go on display for sale. The commons are generally thrown into 5,000 card count shoeboxes without regard to year, manufacturer, team or even sport. Boatloads of people over the years then rifle through those boxes looking for those few cards they may need. At the same time, all those grimy hands are leaving nasty stuff on the cards, the act of flipping through them damages the cards, and they are exposed to a wide range of temperatures, humidity, lighting and mold. Those conditions do not bode well for the survival of a baseball card over time. So sure, you can find those commons if you want to take long enough for the hunt for them and you don't really want them in new condition.
Then there are card shops who meticulously arrange and catalogue their commons so that they are kept in excellent condition and so that they can find them readily when someone asks for a specific card. Intalling a long-term inventory control system, though, costs time and money and also ties up a lot of capital in actually keeping cards that do not sell often (if at all) on hand. You will be hard-pressed to contact any card shop who makes single cards available and be able to obtain a card for less than one dollar. Of course, that card will be very pretty and well taken care of, but it will cost you at least one dollar nonetheless (plus postage to mail it to you or your gas and time to go to it.)
When I first started to put together my Mets collection, I found that almost every card shop in the country had a Seaver rookie for several hundred dollars. Just try to find a mint Bruce Boisclair, though.
2. Given that many of the individual cards in an Ultimate Team Set are worth $50 or more and that individual commons can not be found for less than a quarter each, why are the Ultimate Team Sets so inexpensive?
Economics of scale. We create Ultimate Team Sets on demand. To obtain enough cards to guarantee that every card in your set is in NM/M condition or better we need to purchase over 100,000 total cards. For instance, to acquire three good sets of 1980 cards, we need to find and purchase at least seven complete 1980 year sets. Even if the cards are not damaged though wear or gum/wax stains, we still lose almost 60 percent to centering errors or slightly fuzzy corners. But because we are purchasing so many cards, our cost per card goes way down.
We estimate that if you were to obtain high-condition cards individually at retail prices, then an average Ultimate Team Set would cost you between $1,200 and $2,000 and would take three to six months to assemble.
You can put together your own team sets by purchasing individual-year team sets of a particular team. There are plenty of places that sell those "team sets" as they are called. If you purchase a full 36 years, you may think that you are done, right? Wrong!
The team sets that you see for sale do not generally include all the Topps® Traded sets and I have never seen a single one that includes the Debut series. Further, it is a rare day when you can find a single-year team set that includes any cards with multiple players on it. Essentially, you get the regular Topps® cards from the factory year sets and that is all.
So you still have to hunt around for all the other cards to complete your set and good luck since there is not a resource guide that will tell you what team is featured on the cards themselves. Sure you know the players, but what team did they actually play for in that year? And with trades so common nowadays, you really can't be sure. That means that you have to physically touch each card and then you're investing a ton of your time. Also, I have never seen a team set sold in sleeves and toploaders; they generally sell them as naked cards in a single plastic pouch. So you now have to purchase the sleeves and toploaders and insert each card into one yourself.
Ahhhh....the only downside to baseball cards.
I ran into the same dilemma when I first started this whole venture. I am a diehard Mets fan and I wanted every card that Topps® put out which featured a player in a Mets uniform. I found two problems, though.
I had a complete roster of every single player from 1962 through 2003 who either pitched one ball, played one second on the field, or stepped into the batter's box at least once (those three things being the official criteria as to whether someone ever played in the major leagues or not.) I also had a complete list of all the baseball cards Topps® ever produced with the name of the player and the card number. Those two lists did not match, however.
It turns out that a significant number of players who played for the Mets and another team during the same year -- and who had a card -- were featured with the other team's uniform. It also turned out that Topps® (or any other card manufacturer for that matter) does not print a card for every single player who wore the uniform during that year.
As such, the lists I had were not complete and comprehensive with respect to each other so my only option was to actually purchase every single card in factory sets and physically look at each card. I got my Mets, but I also had 100,000 cards left over. So I figured that if I wanted my Mets, then others would want their own favorite teams. And that was the birth of the Ultimate Team Sets.
There are also some other notable omissions from the card runs. Two come to mind. A-Rod has no rookie year card since he could not come to a contractual agreement with Topps® in time for the printing. And the biggest of all was the early Mantle cards. He signed with Bowman cards in an exclusive deal and Topps® was shut out. After four years and failed negotiations, Topps® finally bought Bowman out completely including the Mantle contract. If you see someone offering a early 1950s Topps® Mantle card, it is completely fake, though it has been tried from time to time.
But back to the original issue at hand. Topps® generally prints their cards in two series. The first series comes out in April and it is based on the 40 player roster. It includes generally all the stars, semi-stars, up-and-coming rookies and draftees, and a handful of players who have been with the same team for a bit. The second series comes out after the cut to the 25 player roster and fills in the rest of the regular players to a great extent and also includes a lot of the special issue cards like MVP and such. Then there are the Topps® Traded sets which come out right as the year ends. They include players who (obviously) have been traded and also some more first-year players who came up from the minors during the present year just completed.
Over the course of a given year, there are perhaps 45 to 50 players who have actually put on a team's uniform, but Topps® only prints about 25 of them. There are also the short-year printings that affected all card companies.
In the wake of the 1994 strike, the interest in baseball cards collapsed. The card sets from 1995 through 2000 are generally half the size of what they normally are. And for three of those years, Topps® didn't even print any of the Traded sets. It wasn't till the interest started coming back with the Sosa/McGwire home run derby, the Bonds record, and the Subway series in 2000 in the largest market in the world that everyone started caring about cards again. Topps® and everyone else then boosted production and are now coming out with more cards per year in their regular issue sets than ever before. But the bottom line is that no card company actually prints cards for every player who plays on every team in any given year.
The closest thing I have ever seen to a comprehensive player set was with something called Mets Wiz. That was a set of 439 cards that were handed out at Shea stadium in a promotion and featured every player who had ever worn a Mets uniform from 1962 through 1991. Very cool.
Shipping is based on weight, size and distance. The weight is affected by the fact that every single card of your Ultimate Team Set is housed in both a sleeve and a toploader (Deluxe Packaging only). Those protections add a lot of weight. Secondly, the set boxes themselves are just slightly over the size limit for a shipping price break. That slightly larger box jumps the shipping charges into the next category. I can assure you, though, that the shipping charge is far less than the postage you would have to pay if you tried to order and ship each card in the set. Far less. Do the math...1,200 cards times 43 cents per card...plus the envelope...and the handling charge.... And just how much is your time worth?
It's simply never been done before. That pretty much qualifies it as unique. Folks have sold year sets with all the cards Topps® has released, annual team sets with all the regular-issue cards of a single team in a single year, player sets with all the cards of one particular player, and many other variations. I have even heard of one set offered for sale that has all those players who are from California; it was from a private collection, though, and one-of-a-kind. And rarely does one hear of a complete collection of all cards from a particular decade or, rarer still, all the cards that Topps® has ever produced. (Can you say several million dollars?) But no one has ever thought to put together complete sets of teams spanning a significant period of time.
Expense and availability. Prior to 1977, annual Topps® sets start to get expensive and the overall condition goes down. By the time you get back to 1970, it costs a good $3,000 or more for a complete year set and it would probably take twelve sets or more to pull one or two clean Ultimate Team Sets.
There is also the problem of continuity. For instance, are the Brooklyn Dodgers included in the Los Angeles Dodgers set or are they separate? Where does one put the Braves? in Atlanta or Milwaukee? Kansas City/Oakland...SanFran/New York...and don't even get me started on the recent Washington Senators/Montreal Expos debacle. It was bad enough that the California Angels decided to change their name to the Anaheim Angels, but at least they are the same team in the same city.
One day I have a dream of putting together two complete sets of all Topps® cards ever issued in the best condition available with each card in a four-screw down and housed in about 750 hand-made mahogany boxes with brass trim. One set is for me and the other will be available for about $7,000,000. You can place your order now. :)
Marketing and player quality. Much of the differential can be explained by those two items. Topps® is going to print more cards from teams where the market for cards is bigger; New York Yankees comes to mind. And then you have some teams that had a lot of league leaders or World Series cards; New York Yankees again come to mind.
In the event you slept through the 1990's, there are two teams -- the Colorado Rockies and the Florida Marlins -- that were added in 1993 and two teams -- the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the Arizona Diamondbacks -- that were added in 1998.
That was a tough one to deal with, but here is what I decided is the criteria.
We don't. We offer a set of TeamUSA cards, though.
Yes. The Ultimate Team Sets do not include any of the checklists. Nor do they include any of the special tribute cards like Bart Giamatti's card since he was not a player. There are also several reprint cards featuring a Washington Senators player. Those cards are placed in either the Minnisota Twins or Texas Rangers sets depending on the year featured. There is a set of cards called Father/Son in which the card is included only in the set with the current player and not the father's old team unless the dad's uniform is identifiable and not a minor league team uniform. Another small group involves manager cards featuring their current team uniform and a picture of the team they used to play for. Most of those old photos have them in minor league uniforms that I can not identify. As soon as I do, they will be included in the team set who owned the minor league franchise at the time the photo was taken. Don't hold your breath, though. I've been working on idenfifying them for ages now and am no closer to figuring it out than when I first started. Finally there is a small group of tribute cards that are reprints of a former player's card from the 50s, 60s, or 70s that are included with the modern team. Probably the only exception to that last one involves one card featuring Mays in a Brooklyn Giants uniform that I put with San Francisco.
Basically, an Ultimate Team Set includes all those cards that feature identifiable players from one of the 30 teams currently in major league baseball. The exceptions are players in uniforms of an old team that moved to a new city. They are included with the current team set.
12. I have been collecting Boston Red Sox cards for the last couple years. I was wondering about how much it would be worth and how I could store it. Currently I have them all in the shoe box storage boxes.
First, get them out of the shoebox and place each card in a Ultra-Pro® soft sleeve, then into an Ultra-Pro® toploader. That will protect the cards from damage. I use Ultra-Pro® since they are the only ones that advertise their product as archival grade meaning that plasticizers do not leach over time and ruin the cards. Presumably other brands are the same, but since they don't make the claim of being archival quality, I assume for the sake of my investment that they are not. Hence, I use only Ultra-Pro®. You can find sleeves and toploaders at any card shop. And the toploaders come in different thicknesses so that they can accomodate any thickness card from the standard issue all the way up to very thick Piece of the Game stuff.
By the way, the reason you use both sleeves and toploaders is twofold. One, the card will not accidently slide out of the toploader; the sleeve provides surface tension and holds it in. And two, the sleeve prevents surface scratching of the card by the toploader if you want to pull the card in and out from time to time. Room air is filled with microscopic suspended materials that are very hard and will scratch the card surface over time. And just as a side note, much of that hard grit material is actually microscopic dust from disintegrating meteors, generally iron or silicate-based compounds. Much of the balance of it is almost too disgusting to mention, but I will anyway because I am a generally disgusting person -- it is suspended organic matter, i.e., skin cells and parts thereof, dried saliva aerosols, and other aromatics that ooze from various parts of your body. It is also important to protect your cards from that stuff as well since bacteria thrive on microscopic organic matter and bacteria excrete acidic compounds which can damage card material. (And if you really want to know what bed bugs are...hehehe. Let's put it this way. If you really knew what a bed bug is -- and not the quaint-sounding, little bed bug that your mother warned you of when you were a small child -- you would probably never sleep again. Or at least you would spray your bed down with chlorine dioxide before you got into it every night. But I digress...)
Then take the stuffed cards and place them in either two or three row cardboard boxes, again making sure that the boxes are archival quality.
Finally, take the stuffed cards and store them where it is not too hot or cold and not too wet or dry. If you cannot get the humidity right and it is too humid. get some silica gel packets and place them in the box to absorb the humidity, but remember to change out the packets when they start to get soggy. By the way, don't put the packets in the sleeves. Put one in each box. Also make sure that you get only two or three row boxes. Toploaders will not fit in four or five row boxes. The slots are too narrow. Plus, the boxes would weigh too much anyway.
Any particular card that you have which may be especially valuable or may one day become especially valuable you may want to have protected in a hermetically-sealed pouch. If Beckett does not provide this service independent from grading the cards (which can get expensive if you have a lot of valuable cards to have graded) then it is something that they ought to provide. If not, then check with a local archivist or preservationist society and they can do it for you. Just don't try to take the cards to Kinko's and do something like laminate the sleeved card. Though the sleeve will probably protect the card from lamination damage, the plastic used to laminate is not archival and will leach over time, destroying the card.
You can also place the cards in four-screw down holders made out of Lucite. They come in varying thicknesses up to one inch and create a magnificent collection. They are expensive, though. You may want to consider taking your most valuable cards and putting them in screw downs. Unfortuantely, no one make an archival box that can accomodate a screwdown so the lids on the two or three row boxes will stick up just a bit.
Never forget that there are five things you must keep your cards away from -- extreme temperatures, extreme ranges of humidity, ultraviolet light (like sunlight or flourescent lighting,) fine grit particulate matter, and organic material (which includes the natural oils found on your skin.) In fact, you may want to get a few pair of archivist's white cotton gloves. They are really inexpensive and can do wonders for protecting your investment.
If you really want to get anal with protection -- something I would suggest for things like a mint graded 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth card say -- there are things you can do involving de-acidifaction of the card and placing it in a hermetically-sealed environment with an argon gas fill. The you take the whole thing and bombard it with neutrons to kill any organic matter. Then you put the card on loan with the Hall of Fame, getting a plaque with your name on it next to the card. A bit pricy, but well worth it as the card would be valued at $300,000 or so. :) On the other hand, you Boston folks really hate Ruth so you would probably be better off just burning the card in some sort of ritualistic sacrifice held somewhere in center field at Fenway.
Now, you want to know worth...
You're not gonna like the answer, though. Any baseball card or baseball card collection (or any collectible for that matter) is worth what the buyer is willing and able to pay for it and what the seller is willing to accept. Remember, Beckett Price Guide is just what it states -- a guide. And price is also heavily dependent on condition. I was missing a Jim Rice from my 2004 Topps® All Time Fan Favorites set and I could absolutely not find one in gem mint condition no matter how many packs I opened. I finally got frustrated and paid $20 for what books at about $4. Now, if I just wanted a regular Jim Rice, I could have picked up a mint one for less than a dollar. But I wanted Gem Mint and I needed it as the last card to fill in an entire set; it was worth the premium since I had no idea when another true gem mint would turn up. I once bought a limited edition Mets team picture of the 1986 team and paid $50 for it; that seemed like a fair price to me for what it was. I later found out that the "book" on it was $8. Did I feel ripped off? No way. I got something I wanted at a price I considered fair given my desire to own it at the time I had the opportunity to purchase it. On the other hand, I once bought an official 1986 World Series ball signed by both Mookie Wilson and Bill Buckner for $40 with a valid COA. The guy had no idea what he had. It was a fair price to him and a really fair price to me. (Have you gotten the feeling that I am a die-hard Mets fan yet?)
With the Ultimate Team Sets, we have based our pricing on a number of different inputs. One being the generally recognized average price of the individual cards as indicated in Beckett. Two is the cost of the materials and labor amoritized over multiple sets to select, pull, collate, and package the cards. Finally, as with any business, enough profit to make it worth my while. Is a Boston set worth $595 to you? How about $1,500? And if you are a major-league Yankees fan, what is it worth then? Perhaps $20 or so? Value is relative. And in the collectibles market, it is always perceived value that ultimately dictates the selling price.
You have put many hundreds of hours and money into acquiring your set. If you tried to price it, your price would necessarily reflect ALL that you have invested -- both time and money. But if you tried to get your asking price in North Carolina, you might be able to trade your entire collection for a half-cord of firewood. In Boston among rabid Red Sox fans, I can guarantee you that there would be at least a handful of people who might consider taking out a second mortgage on their house to acquire the collection.
The advantage of obtaining an Ultimate Team Set is that you do not have to put in all those hundreds of hours and all that extra money towards getting what you want. You get it now at a price that is more than reasonable. But I would suggest that if you are going to purchase an Ultimate Team Set, do it soon. As demand picks up for them, the price will go up. Remember that part about supply and demand? Well, the supply of Ultimate Team Sets is currently set at about 20 per year. If they really take off, we may be able to put together 50 or 60 sets per year, but then we start running into serious problems with the supply of raw cards and hiring qualified people to pull the sets properly. I really don't see any circumstances in which the Ultimate Team Sets will be "mass produced." If nothing else, since every card is hand inspected for grade, finding qualified people to do that while not having to mortage my house to pay them is a feat in itself.