Taking My Hacks

The Future of the Term "Vintage"

Joe Orlando

As the years go by, the issue of what is and is not considered "vintage" comes up quite a bit. There are many factors that enter into our own belief as to what "vintage" means in the hobby and a lot of it has to do with our age or when we started collecting. You have extreme examples of those who only consider pre-war cards as "vintage" and others who think that anything older than 10 years as "vintage."

While there may not be one universal definition, what is the best way to define what is and is not a "vintage" collectible?

First, we have to consider the type of collectible. When it comes to trading cards, there is a large contingent that believes the definition falls somewhere between 1970 and 1980. The real hobby explosion happened during the 1980s but there were signs of the hobby developing before that time period and it took place during the 1970s. Unopened material was being preserved, intentionally, at a much higher rate and collectors started to do a much better job of protecting their cards.

To me, that is the key when it comes to trading cards... the time when hobbyists decided to proactively protect their cards with the help of binders, sleeves and various plastic holders. From that point forward, cards were being almost universally preserved. Now that doesn't mean that certain cards issues were not condition sensitive, it just means that preservation and protection was becoming commonplace.

The end result is that no matter how old a 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey, Jr. card gets, even if it is 100 years from now, the supply of quality cards will always be relatively plentiful. The age of a card becomes less and less important. So, whether the exact year is 1970, 1972, 1975 or 1980, there is no doubt in my mind that this was the era where the use of the term "vintage" ends and the term "modern" begins... at least as it relates to trading cards.

So, what about other collectibles? When it comes to autographs, once again, the hobby started really developing around the same time. Here, however, the evolution took a little bit longer than it did in trading cards. Private signing sessions and show appearances by athletes did not become commonplace until the 1980s. In fact, it can be very difficult to find single signed baseballs of any athlete before that period of time. So, the key for a lot of autographs is whether or not the athlete was active during this era.

Game-used equipment was probably the last segment of the hobby to evolve and develop into a business. In the late-1980s, you started to see bats and jerseys offered directly from some athletes or representatives of athletes. This became much more prevalent by the mid-to-late 1990s. Players like Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Sammy Sosa and Frank Thomas were some of the more notable names who did this.

In addition, players started to receive more bats and jerseys to use each year during this same period. In the past, players would only receive a fraction of the gamers they receive today and that is part of why vintage game-used equipment is so rare and desirable. So, what should be labeled as "vintage" when it comes to gamers? I would use the same criteria mentioned above. Once the hobby became an industry and the equipment was distributed or saved, everything changed.

Looking forward, comparing a bat or jersey from 1950, 1960 or 1975 to one used in 2003 is, as they say, comparing apples to oranges. That is not to say that gamers from the modern-era forward cannot have great value. They will just never quite fit the description of a true "vintage" gamer... when gamers were not recognized as collectibles at all and often discarded.

Never get cheated,

Joe Orlando

Joe Orlando
Editor In Chief


Joe Orlando has been an advanced collector of sportscards and memorabilia for over 25 years. Orlando attended Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California where he studied communications and was the starting catcher for the baseball team. After a brief stint in the minor leagues, Orlando obtained a Juris Doctor from Whittier Law School in Southern California in the spring of 1999. During the last fourteen years, Orlando has authored several collecting guides and dozens of articles for Collectors Universe, Inc. Orlando has also authored two books for Collectors Universe. Orlando's first book, The Top 200 Sportscards in the Hobby, was released in the summer of 2002. His second book, Collecting Sports Legends, was released in the summer of 2008. Orlando has appeared on several radio and television programs as a hobby expert including ESPN's award-winning program Outside the Lines and HBO's Real Sports, as the featured guest. Currently, Orlando is the President of PSA and PSA/DNA, the largest trading card and sports memorabilia authentication services in the hobby. He is also Editor of the company's nationally distributed Sports Market Report, which under Orlando's direction has developed into a leading resource in the market. Orlando also contributed the foreword and last chapter to The T206 Collection: The Players and Their Stories, a 2010 release, and to The Cracker Jack Collection: Baseball's Prized Players, a 2013 release.