This post has been updated and rewritten as a tutorial called The Real Card Price Guide
Since the inception of our Price Guide I get a handful of emails each week asking me what a card or set of cards is worth. The majority of the time it’s for a card that people are having trouble pricing. They turned to our Price Guide as a last resort and still couldn’t find a value. The remainder of the emails are from people who “disagree” with the prices we’re giving them. In either case, I have a “card value pricing” process that I go through to try to give them an educated answer.
First and foremost, every collector needs to understand that a card is only worth what someone will pay for it, and the only way to “value” your card is to find sales data for the same card as yours. The more data, the more certain we can be of our price. We also need to consider market conditions, grading, and the overall physical condition of the card.
For simplicity I’m using Baseball cards in this example. All of the data I have from SportsLizard suggests that Baseball cards are still far and away the type of card/collectible that people are looking for prices on, so it seems like the obvious place to start.
- Figure out what card you have. This might sound obvious, but I’ve seen several instances where the sole cause of confusion over pricing is a misunderstanding of what card the collector has. For example, I had someone email me thoroughly confused over the value of their 1986 Mark McGwire Donruss Rated Rookie Card. They couldn’t get a price from anywhere except our Price Guide, but the data seemed waaaay off. That’s because McGwire’s Donruss Rated Rookie was from 1987! The best way to confirm that you’re looking up the correct card is to find a few pictures of it online and make sure you’re using the same verbiage to describe it. A quick Google Base search will give you photos and validate that you’re looking for the right card.
- Find out what it’s being sold for right now. This is where SportsLizard’s Price Guide really shines. Type in the name of the card and hit “price it”. Take a look at the cards we return, and use the “don’t include” box to weed out any outliers. You now have data for every active eBay auction, NAXCOM listing, Beckett listing (when available), SportsLizard listing, and more. We give you a price of what we think it’s worth and a “confidence” value based upon the standard deviation of the data. You also have the option of viewing the raw data and seeing important stats (average selling price, standard deviation, min, max, etc). For our McGwire Rookie Card, I searched “1987 Mark McGwire Donruss Rookie” with “don’t include” words “lot, set, pack, box”. The Price Guide returned 114 cards and gave it a value of $10.77. In looking at the data, it seems to be in the $5-$8 range without being graded. Graded cards were less common, but seem to go in the $15-$30 range depending on how high the grade is.
- Find some recently completed eBay auctions. When you log in to your eBay account and run a search, you have the option of filtering results by “Completed Listings”. This enables you to view any auctions that have closed in the last 15 days. This data is importance because it really lets you know how hot or cold a collectible is at this very moment. In most cases, this data will align with everything else you’ll find. However, if a player is really popular at the moment (see Adrian Peterson about a week ago) you’ll be able to spot the trend in this data. In our McGwire example, a quick scan of the data shows auctions closing in the $5-$10 range – he’s not in the news right now so we’d expect his cards to be relatively stable.
- Look it up in Beckett Baseball and Tuff Stuff. Both Beckett and Tuff Stuff employ people whose sole jobs it is to determine the values of collectibles. They use a plethora of methods to get their data, and from my experiences their prices are usually pretty good. They obviously fall short when it comes to trend detection (in the print magazines at least), but they more than make up for it with their enormous historical databases. Tuff Stuff also makes the majority of their prices available for free in PDF form on their website. Our McGwire card was priced at $4 in a recent issue of Beckett, and $6 in the latest Tuff Stuff. Again, pretty much in line with our other data.
- Use other tools if necessary. Depending on the rarity of the card, you might not get a lot of data points from steps 2-4. If that’s the case, you can try the Auction Database on SCD or a yearly guide like the 2008 Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards on CD or the Beckett Almanac of Baseball Cards.
- Determine a range of prices. Now that you’ve gathered all of your data, the value of the card should be pretty obvious. For our McGwire, it’s become pretty clear that an ungraded card in mint/near mint condition will probably sell for around $5, plus or minus a few bucks. That is our price. To just say “it’s worth $6″ doesn’t tell the whole story, and I think that’s part of the reason collectors don’t trust a lot of the price guides out there as much as they should. They are a great data point and tool, but no single tool tells the whole story. At this point I also try to factor in any market trends and special circumstances. If McGwire comes clean about steroids and you live in Oakland or St. Louis, how does that now impact the value of the card? Use your common sense here.
Anyone looking for a single “magic” way to figure out the value of a card doesn’t understand what it means to determine what a card or collectible is worth. If you stick with that six-step process, you’ll almost ALWAYS have several sources of prices that will enable you to come up with an accurate, data-driven price in less than 15 minutes. And it all costs about $10/month in subscriptions – well worth it for any serious collector.