AT THE NATIONAL: Forget me not … tales from the bargain bins

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 By Ben Aguirre Jr. | Contributing Writer | Commentary

BALTIMORE | “Everything over here is $1 or $2, and everything over there is 50 cents,” one dealer says.

“And if you pick out a lot, I’ll give you a good deal.”

That was an actual selling point one dealer was shouting Friday as he was drawing customers to his booth to dig through the various so-called bargain boxes.

In reality, words to this effect are fairly common place at sports card shows such as the National Sports Collectors Convention.  There are bargain bins at just about every other dealer booth.

And to me, those selling points are music to my ears.

As I noted in the latest Beckett Sports Card Monthly, one of my primary objectives in attending regional card shows is to raid the bargain boxes.

I came to Baltimore this weekend not to talk like a pirate, but to act like one – to pillage and plunder through box after box until the treasures within these chests were mine.

And after two days of surviving the stormy seas of the crowded showroom floor at the Baltimore Convention Center, I have managed to acquire roughly 250 cards from two dealers, cards that collectively have book values between $1,200 low book and $2,000 high book value.

Rookies, inserts, low-numbered serial-numbered parallels, short prints, variations, etc. You name it and they are all there.

My cost for these treasures?  A mere $112 – less than a box of 2012 Bowman Platinum. (Those are running $119 on the showroom floor, by the way.)

Mickey Mantle and Michael Jordan were never commons in this hobby, yet some of their cards these days are being treated as such as they are left to wade in the choppy waters of the bargain boxes — their corners and edges subjected to damage as collector after collector begins their journey through the boxes.

Luckily, for these two players, I managed to save their cardboard lives before they could be destroyed.  As soon as I found them for 50 cents each, I plucked them from the sea and brought them aboard the proverbial Jolly Roger.

From one dealer I acquired 70 Mantle insert cards for $35. The high book value of these cards alone was upward of $900. And not a single one of these are those 2006 Topps Mickey Mantle Home Run Continuity cards that collectors love to hate.

Also from the same seller I located not one, but two, 1980-81 Topps Magic Johnson Rookie Cards.  True, they were detached from the original three-panel perforated card that also featured Julius Erving and Larry Bird, but these were legitimate RCs of perhaps the greatest point guard to ever play in the NBA.

At that price, and with the boon in miniature card craze, these Johnson cards were a no-brainer.

With more than 200 cards being purchased thus far, I obviously am not going to attempt to list each one I’ve found, but there are a quite a few that are listed in the Beckett Online Price Guide as having values between $10 and $40 each. (Oh, and the cards numbered to 25 above? Just 50 cents apiece.)

And if you’re sitting there shaking your head asking the question: “How does this happen in a day and age of so many buying to resell” you’ve essentially answered your own question by asking the question.

A lot of these cards in the bargain bins were part of massive collection purchases where their existence was forgotten.  They were not the prize of the deal in which they were acquired.

The result is a winning situation for collectors who are willing to take the time to treasure hunt.

Ben Aguirre is a Contributing Writer for Beckett Media and author of the blog You can follow him on Twitter

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  1. Richard 5 August, 2012 at 19:16

    And this tells you the reason why Beckett is a “guide”.
    If you paid $100, unless you manage to be able to sell it for more, its worth (perhaps) the $100
    you paid, unless you bought it solely with the expectation of flipping the cards for more, in that case,
    you over paid.

    A “steal” to me is when you find the one guy willing to sell you something you need for less money than
    anyone else (who actually has the card) is willing to sell it to you. Or its a card that you realize is a rarer
    card than the guy who is selling for does. For example, the Charlie Sheen card that took Chris Olds a
    decade to find and at a price far higher than the guide said it was retailing at.

  2. chrisolds 5 August, 2012 at 20:40

    Richard: He will easily — easily — come out ahead. Hunting for bargains is what he does. (And it’s why I selected him to do this story.)

  3. Josiah Cecil 6 August, 2012 at 00:08

    Ya I mean /25 cards for 50 cents a piece thats a great bargain plus I bet not one of them is valued less than 5 or 6 bucks a pop, plus its the love for the hobby heck he has one of the 25 ever printed of those cards and to me thats what makes it fun and exciting knowing you are one of the 25 people in the entire world that has that card. Either way its a cool story and I wish I was able to go with a couple hundred bucks to the bargain bins!

  4. Jeremy Robinson 6 August, 2012 at 11:43

    This is great! This is how I build my collection. I love surfing the bargain bins for players I find a general intrest in. It may not be worth anything to the seller, but to me its a steal!

  5. XstreamINsanity 6 August, 2012 at 12:54

    This gives me hope that if I make it to next year’s National I’ll be able to make my PC a little “prettier”. My plan was to go and try and get as many low end Pistons cards as I could for as cheap as I could, even $0.05 cards for $0.01 each (if anyone has that low end with them) but this gives me hope that I can get some more rarer cards for my PC, hopefully. I know basketball isn’t that big lately, so hopefully they’ll be easier to find in the $0.50 bins. :) Good story.

  6. Ben 6 August, 2012 at 13:13

    I’ve said all along in my Thrift Treasures posts that the book value on these cards is essentially for entertainment purposes … it’s part of what makes the bargain hunting fun. And just because a card was found by me for 50 cents doesn’t mean it is worth 50 cents. I buy stuff I want or things that I am almost certain of that someone else will value at more than 50 cents.

  7. Tyler 6 August, 2012 at 14:30

    Chris I like how you collect and love that you have rules like never spending more than $10 on a single card. But dont come on here and brag about what amazing steals you got, when you really didnt. At no point in your article do you make any mention of the condition of the cards you found yet you insist on listing High Book. Honestly I cant remember the last time I recieved High Book on a card for cash trade with any of my cards.

    Card values are based on two things, rarity and demand. Id be very surprised if any of those cards you picked up were Gem 10s. As for the cards #’ed <25, we all know the deal there, the rarity is merely artifical and manufactured, not genuine If a Rookie has 6 RCs in 6 different products all numbered to 25 or less than he really doesnt just have 25 Rookies does he? And really thats a best case scenario, the reality is typically much worse with several variations and print runs in a single product.

    Bottom line is you had fun, and thats all that matters.

    Nearing tldr, thats enough.

  8. chrisolds 6 August, 2012 at 15:29

    Tyler: I have gotten more than high book in the past. I’m not bragging about a thing as … I didn’t write the story. And, again, when he gets rid of all those cards? He will be coming out way ahead compared to what he paid because he was selective with what he bought.

  9. Jeff 6 August, 2012 at 15:29

    That’s what is so great about the National. It has everything for everyone. It is part card show, part flea market, part collector’s heaven, and part museum. This is a great story that isn’t told often enough. There are still bargains to be found because there are still tons of collectors and tons of sellers. The price guides are great because they help buyers and sellers make informed decisions. But like the stock market, past performance is not an indication of future performance. The “book value” shows what the market was…at the moment of your purchase, you and the seller are creating a new market; tomorrow’s price guide if you will.

    Ben, this was a great article. Thanks for sharing and thanks Chris for posting it.

  10. Deezy 6 August, 2012 at 15:38

    Agree you find some good deals in the dollar boxes. I bought a couple Chris Herrin SP Authentic Rookie Autographs played on the Fresno State Bulldogs with Tark the Shark. I only paid 3 bucks for 2 of his cards. I like him college and they were so cheap I just bought them. Then last year ESPN did a special on his story with his problems he had in his life. I decided to check on Ebay the card I had were selling for at least 10 bucks. I sold the cards its weird how some cards of little value sometimes can sell for a lot whem people regain interest in a person or a player.

  11. Ben 11 August, 2012 at 17:16

    Tyler … the cards were mint, except the Magic Johnson rookies. which weren’t because they were detached from the triple panel with Larry Bird and Julius Erving.

    Don’t hate.

    Was this bragging? Maybe … and I hate that it comes off that way. BUT the point in doing this story for this publication is to show that there are great finds in the bargain bins, which sometimes are completely forgotten.

    Not everyone has to spend $95 at a table to find something nice. You could spend 50 cents or even a buck and feel like a winner. The point is to feel like you came out ahead.

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