Taking My Hacks

The Rise of Autographed Cards

Joe Orlando

There was a time, not too long ago, when I can remember how opposed many collectors were to the idea of obtaining autographs on trading cards. The card purists felt that an autographed trading card was, in essence, defaced and no longer appealing like an unmarked trading card was. This line of thinking was prevalent during the hobby explosion of the 1980s, however, times have changed.

This is a topic I have written about in the past but, after noticing another surge in this particular area of collecting, it made sense to cover it once again. There is no doubt that autographed trading cards have become increasingly popular over the past several years and many hobbyists feel like there is even more potential for growth based on a number of factors.

The irony is that trading cards were one of the most popular mediums for obtaining signatures dating back to the first half of the 20th century. Yes, fans would present postcards, albums, baseballs and the like when seeking autographs from their favorite players but trading cards were very popular as well. Then, when the hobby became a huge industry in the 1980s, things seemed to change.

The influx of private signings and public appearances provided the collecting community with large quantities of things like autographed baseballs, photos, bats and jerseys for the first time. As a result, the market seemed to become more defined, almost segregated. Autographed collectibles were placed on one side of the hobby while traditional cards lied on the other. At that time, the distinction between the two segments was made abundantly clear and lines were drawn.

Card collectors, as a whole, did not like the idea of trading cards being written on... even by the athlete depicted on the front. At the same time, now that there were so many options through a variety of sources, a large segment of autograph collectors no longer found trading cards as an appealing medium. Legendary athletes like Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio were signing all sorts of items and by the thousands. It wasn't hard to get a beautifully-signed baseball, all you needed was the money to buy it.

Three decades have passed since the hobby became a nationwide phenomenon and, as always, many collectors seek out areas that are untapped or overlooked. Autographed trading cards, especially vintage examples, are one of those areas. Why? Ask yourself this... how many 1951 Bowman Mickey Mantle rookies exist? Now ask yourself how many autographed examples exist? Furthermore, how many baseballs did Mickey Mantle sign during his lifetime? Once again, compare that figure with how many original trading cards he may have signed from his playing days.

In addition to the relative scarcity factor, autographed trading cards can be visually appealing but perhaps more important is the fact that, like their unsigned brethren, autographed trading cards are easy to store and display. Space is a factor when it comes to collecting yet volumes of these items can fit neatly in fairly small spaces, even when encapsulated by PSA. This is not the case when it comes to collecting things such as autographed football helmets, bats or jerseys. You need to allocate serious space for any quantity of items like these but a collector can amass hundreds of signed cards without putting any major stress on your available living area.

There is no doubt that more and more collectors are giving new life to a old-time collectible and, from the looks of it, there is no end in sight.

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.