What’s a buyback card?

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By Ryan Cracknell | Hobby Editor

On the surface, sports cards seem like such simple things. To most, they’re small rectangles of cardboard with athletes on the front and some sort of write-up on the back. In reality, things are a lot more complicated than that. And with the added complexity comes the possibility of confusion as we try to figure things out. But sometimes we might be too afraid to ask what something is. Like buyback cards. What exactly are these things?

What’s Old Is New Again

At its most basic, a buyback is a term used for old cards that have been included in a new product. Sometimes there’s some sort of addition to the card like a stamp or even an autograph. Other times these original cards might be included in packs as-is. It varies from company to company and product to product.

2015 Topps Heritage Buyback 1966

The name comes from the idea that the card manufacturer went out onto the secondary market and purchased their own cards back.

One of the ideas behind buybacks is that they leverage off nostalgia and a second chance to get something they might have missed or a classic card with a new spin. In reality, the response towards buyback cards has been mixed.

Are Buyback Cards Valuable?

When you get a buyback out of a pack, you might quickly wonder if it’s worth anything. Actually, that might be second after you try to figure out what you’ve pulled.

The answer on value is, it depends. When Upper Deck put signed versions of the 1986-87 Fleer Michael Jordan and 1993 SP Derek Jeter rookie cards into packs, they were extremely popular.

1993 SP Derek Jeter Autographed Buyback

There’s also the ReCollection Collection line, which has been going on for years with Panini, Donruss and Playoff. These have brought some impressive signatures to previously unsigned cards.

Recollection Collection Autograph Wade Boggs

They might not fetched nearly the same amounts as a signed buyback of a classic rookie card, but 2007 Topps Star Wars 30th Anniversary has one of the more popular basic buyback programs. Each hobby box of the product came with an original card from 1977 with a special stamp. With a good number of collectors going after a full run from all five series, the cards took off. Some of the series are tougher to pull than others.

2007 Topps Star Wars 30th Anniversary Buyback Red Border

However, most of today’s buyback sets come with a scattered mix. They often come from a bunch of sets from multiple years. And there’s no telling who has buybacks and who doesn’t. Cataloging is a big part of the hobby. Collectors like to know what they’ve got to chase, especially with so much out there to chase. And when they don’t know what there is, it can be overlooked. And when something’s overlooked, it can hinder both interest and values.

Without a cataloged list of cards, it also makes tracking values difficult.

Your best luck with a lot of basic buybacks is to try to find team and player collectors.

Stamped or Not Stamped — What’s Better?

When a buyback card comes stamped or with some sort of factory-created alteration, it creates a new card. Sort of. You might liken it to a parallel. For some, that might be interesting.

2016 Topps Buybacks 1990 Nolan Ryan

Others prefer old cards to be left as is. They might be able to use them to fill an existing set. They’re pieces of hobby history. The subject gets even touchier when you see a stamped buyback of a vintage Hall of Famer.

Like anything else, personal preference is a big part whether a card should be stamped or not. If you’re a fan, you’ve got something to chase. If you’re not, don’t worry. Just move on to what you do enjoy.

Dinged Corners

Sometimes, buyback cards aren’t the prettiest. That might even be an understatement. Dinged corners, creases and other imperfections can all be found, particularly when you get into the mass buyback programs that have lots of older cards. If you’re looking to turn over your cards, this probably doesn’t help matters. Since it’s already “wrecked” you might want to enjoy it for what it is and try to think about the card’s personal history. It might not put money in your pocket, but history can be fun — especially when it involves 1960s and ’70s sports.

Buybacks vs. Repurchased Cards

Buybacks and repurchased cards are essentially the same thing. They’re both existing cards that have been reinserted into new products.

The term “buyback” implies that someone originally owned something and they’re taking possession of it once again. But how does that work for a product from Leaf or SuperBreak? They acquire cards for their products like Best Of off the secondary market. But can they “buy back” something that wasn’t their’s? Even still, you often hear companies use the term buyback, so it’s interchangeable, really.

But if you hear either term, buyback or repurchased card, think old cards in a new product.

Comments? Questions? Contact Ryan Cracknell on Twitter @tradercracks.

9 Comments

  1. IamNotARobot
    Posted Thursday February 4th, 2016 at 10:01 AM | Permalink

    I agree that it would be great to have stamped buyback cards listed for value purposes, especially since there are different tiers of buybacks (common, uncommon, rare, 1/1. Is an old card with a 1/1 stamp really a true 1/1 card (the stamp is the one of one, not the card, right?) I have a few of the buyback card for my personal collection, but how can I track them for value? Let’s say I get every tier of Walter Payton rookie buyback (I can dream, can’t I?) how would I be able to value them for insurance purposes? I suppose I could use my purchase price, but what if I received them as a gift? While I like the idea of buybacks, I believe the programs could be executed better. Maybe have a limit number of buyback cards from a member getting into the Hall of Fame (with a HOF stamp on it or an autograph.) Maybe have one complete 20th anniversary set as a random insert.

  2. Chris
    Posted Thursday February 4th, 2016 at 08:28 PM | Permalink

    it sickens me when they ruin vintage cards with the stamps. Just put them in packs and let a new generation enjoy them without ruining the card

  3. Mike Pereira
    Posted Thursday February 4th, 2016 at 09:58 PM | Permalink

    It’s such at hard topic to pick a side. One side of me doesn’t want items to be altered or cut up, but the other side likes the chance to get a vintage card that is updated with an auto or made limited. I have a bigger problem with memorabilia getting cut up into little pieces than a couple of old cards with some supply being altered. I think it’s awful to see Babe Ruth anything get cut up.

  4. kris buonocore
    Posted Sunday February 7th, 2016 at 08:58 AM | Permalink

    i believe most older cards should be left alone with a few exceptions like limited autos 1/1 maybe 1/10. what if we started cutting up older cars. i bet it would cause a big issue

  5. Mike
    Posted Sunday March 6th, 2016 at 05:57 PM | Permalink

    I purchased a jumbo pack of 2016 Topps Baseball and pulled a buyback of a 1987 Reggie Jackson, stamped with “65th Anniversary”. Any idea of it’s value, if anything?

  6. Jeff K
    Posted Saturday April 30th, 2016 at 09:29 PM | Permalink

    I think it greatly depends on the situation and whether or not whats being added truly ‘adds’ value or anything to the card. Taking an old card just stamp something like ‘XXth Aniversary’ on it is totally stupid and defacing a card that is now worthless after being vandelized with a worthless stamp. However, if you are actually enhancing it in some way, like with a extremely limited autograph or something that is another story. Honestly, i dont think they should be including random old cards in new packs just for the sake of doing that, when the card isnt even worth anything depsite its age. They should stick to the inserts being something truely special, something worthy of a limited autograph on an old card. Otherwise your just pawning off junk cards on a new audience, whos common value is many times less than that of a card in the set its included in. Irregardless, throwing a pointless stamp on an old card is absurd and should be put to a stop.

  7. Jonathan Iwanski
    Posted Thursday September 1st, 2016 at 12:56 PM | Permalink

    From whom do companies offer to buy cards? Is it an open call-out, or do they contact certain people?

  8. Ryan Cracknell
    Posted Thursday September 1st, 2016 at 03:52 PM | Permalink

    I believe they have people who gather them for them from shops and online.

  9. Gary Woodard
    Posted Wednesday May 17th, 2017 at 03:52 AM | Permalink

    A good way to acquire a lot of buyback cards for a low price is to go to Walgreens drug store and the toy isle to purchase the 100 baseball card boxes for $5 each! I love it!

    Woody out!

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