My name is Joe Orlando and I have been an avid collector of sports memorabilia for approximately 20 years. I currently work for the world's leading collectibles company, Collectors Universe, Inc. At Collectors Universe, Inc., I am the editor of the Sportscard Market Report (SMR) which is the official monthly price guide for PSA and PSA/DNA authenticated products. PSA, the world's leading trading card grading service, grades more cards each month than all other major grading services combined and is currently recognized as the industry standard. PSA/DNA, the world's leading sports memorabilia authentication service, has certified some of the most important pieces in sports history. Some of those items include Mark McGwire's 70th home run baseball and Sammy Sosa's 66th home run baseball from the 1998 season, Hank Aaron's 715th career home run baseball, Mickey Mantle's 500th career home run baseball, all of the Super Bowl game footballs from the 2000 event and many of the top autographed items in the hobby.
Like many collectors of sports memorabilia, I was a victim of collectibles fraud as a child and my interest in helping protect consumers from hobby scams brought me to Collectors Universe, Inc. PSA and PSA/DNA provide a much-needed service to collectors as both companies help ensure buyers that they are getting the real thing. As a member of the staff here, I hope to improve buying conditions for hobby enthusiasts by educating collectors before they spend their hard-earned money. This hobby can be a lot of fun for your family and very rewarding but first you must become an informed buyer. In this chapter, I have provided a basic guide on how to get your family started in the sports memorabilia hobby. This guide should prove to make collecting fun and safe for anyone interesting in building a collection.
There are several ways to get your family started in the sports memorabilia hobby. Local dealers, conventions, and catalogues are the traditional places to find sports memorabilia for sale. Today, there are three new and very popular places where buyers can find a tremendous amount of sports collectibles: auctions, television and the Internet. Each year, more and more sports items are offered either via the auction route, on television or online. With all of these places to look for sports memorabilia, buyers have more options available to them than ever before. Collectors are no longer are limited to the local baseball card shop; now they buy items from all over the world. With the proper training, you can protect yourself and really enjoy this wonderful hobby of ours.
Before you ever decide to purchase an item, the first thing you must do is educate yourself about what you are buying.
Even if you trust the dealer you are buying from, it is imperative that you truly understand what you are receiving. The key is to ask questions. Now some dealers will be very unresponsive to questioning and that should tell you something about the dealer right away. If the dealer is not willing to answer questions for you or allow other parties to inspect the item in question, you probably are wasting your time with this seller. If a dealer is confident in the product that he or she is offering, they should have no problem allowing customers to ask questions about the item or allowing hobby experts to inspect the collectible for authenticity.
Quite often, I will have collectors ask me, "How much do you think this is worth?" The problem is that they ask this question after they have already purchased the item. This is where the problem lies. Do yourself a favor and ask this question before you spend money on any piece of sports memorabilia. If you do this, you will know if the seller is giving you a good deal or not. The market for sports memorabilia is constantly changing so it is very important that you are aware of market changes before you empty your wallet. Respected monthly price guides and websites can assist you in keeping up to date on values.
Another problem to look out for is the perception of rarity. Many dealers will tell you that an item is a limited edition product and use that fact to add a strong premium to the price of an item. The bottom line is simply this; demand will determine the value so make sure that the item, no matter how limited it is, is a good product regardless of the limited edition factor. For example, if you want to purchase an authentic autographed baseball bat of Mark McGwire and it happens to be a special limited edition bat commemorating his rookie season home run record, that makes sense because any authentic Mark McGwire autograph is a very popular collectible and in high demand. On the other hand, if a dealer offers you an unautographed, limited edition Mark McGwire bat and the only reason it is priced so high is because of the limited production, that is probably not a good value. Remember that anyone can create a product that is technically "limited" so make sure the item is of high quality before you consider a purchase. The market is flooded with so-called "limited edition" items so don't be tricked by this factor alone.
In conclusion, ask as many questions as you can before you purchase any sports collectible. Part of a dealer's job is to provide customer service and answer your questions. If a dealer seems to be eluding your questions or uncomfortable allowing third-party experts to analyze his piece, then it is time to move on to a dealer who is confident in the product he is selling. There are plenty of wonderful items to buy out there so don't waste your time with someone who will not back up his merchandise. Remember, it's your money.
Authentication and Reputation
If you were going to only read one section of this chapter, this would be the one to read. Authentication and reputation are probably the two most important topics that need to be understood before you begin building a collection. You need to make sure that what you are buying is real and, if you are buying a sports collectible based on a third-party opinion, that the opinion comes from a reputable expert.
To begin with, I cannot stress the importance of authentication enough. This is the only way to ensure that you are getting what you are paying for. It makes buying a lot easier if a baseball card is graded and certified prior to purchase but, even if a card isn't graded yet, make sure that the seller is willing to guarantee that his item will pass any third-party examination. There is an inherent bias when a dealer sells you something that he has graded himself. It is simply a product of human nature and not necessarily a product of intentional deception.
For example, I have a 1982 Topps Cal Ripken Jr. rookie card for sale. When I sell it, it is human nature for me to think that the card is in better condition than it actually is because I own it. Furthermore, even if a dealer is truly unbiased and honest, that does not mean he is capable of grading a card or authenticating an autograph. The fact remains that most dealers are not qualified to render expert opinion on the products they sell. Many dealers will tell you that their item comes with a certificate of authenticity and that there is no need to worry. Trust me, there is. A certificate of authenticity is only as good as the person it comes from. No matter how honest you feel that dealer is, the more important question is whether or not that dealer's opinion holds weight in the hobby. More likely than not, it doesn't.
In addition, I cannot tell you how many times this inherent dealer bias affected my collection. There were times where I would purchase a card from a dealer that he described as being "mint" and, when I wanted to resell it back to that same dealer, the dealer would tell me that the card was now two grades lower than he originally described. This happens to collectors all the time. Collectors end up and talking to themselves and saying, "He said it was mint last week, why is it near mint now?" It's all part of the inherent dealer bias. It doesn't matter how many years the dealer has been in business, how honest he seems on the surface, how fancy his retail store looks or if he appears on television, the problem exists and it needs to be addressed by you the consumer.
Enter authentication services. Probably the biggest reason for the upswing in sports memorabilia sales is third-party authentication. If an item has been inspected by a reputable third-party expert, the dealer bias is no longer an issue. Sportscard grading and memorabilia authentication services are incredibly important because they are designed to protect you. Outside experts have no financial interest in the sale of the item once the item has passed their inspection procedure; therefore, there is no bias when it comes to describing the quality of the collectible. Again, if a dealer seems to object to having outside services inspect his merchandise, that should alert you to "proceed with caution" because a dealer with quality product should not fear outside opinion.
Another great advantage to buying graded sportscards is that the cards are sealed in a special plastic holder so no one can switch the card or dispute the grade after it changes hands a few times. For example, if you were to buy an ungraded card through the mail, how do you know that you are getting the same card that you saw in the advertisement? With graded cards, you never have that problem. Each graded card comes with its own serial number and the holders cannot be opened without destroying the holder entirely. No card switching can occur with this system in place. Again, because the cards are placed in secure holders with a grade assigned, it doesn't matter how many times the card changes hands. The grade will follow the card wherever it goes so, when you decide to sell your card back to the same dealer you bought it from, he cannot tell you that the card is now two grades lower. Grading puts the power in your hands.
Grading can also give you power in other ways. With the advent of the Internet and mail order, grading has become a key. Whether you are buying or selling a card, graded cards sell for more money and they are more liquid than ungraded cards. Why you may ask? When you by a graded card, you know exactly what you are getting. If the holder rates the card as being a 1968 Topps Nolan Ryan in mint condition, that is exactly what you are getting. With this in mind, many collectors are starting to buy cards "sight-unseen." If they know a card is graded near mint by a reputable company, they can rest assure that's what they will get. Grading gives the buyer and the seller piece of mind because of this. People are more willing to buy and sell graded cards because the grading service takes the guesswork out of the transaction.
Reputation is the other important topic in this section. After you have decided to buy graded sportscards or get your own sportscards graded, what service should you deal with? Not all grading services are equal so it is very important that you use the services that are most respected in the hobby. Just like with sports memorabilia dealers, there are grading services that are not respected by the industry. A card graded "mint" by one grading service may not be equal to the same card graded "mint" by another grading service. This is where you need to ask questions once again. Ask around and find out what grading services receive the most submissions and which one quality auction houses and dealers are using. Don't take my word for it; ask the top dealers in the country.
When it comes to autograph and memorabilia authentication, reputation is even more crucial. Many so-called autograph experts will flash fancy credentials in front of your face in order to entice you to use their services. Again, there is a simple rule when it comes to using third-party, expert opinion. The question is, once again, do top auction houses and dealers respect that expert nationwide? It doesn't matter if they have fancy credentials or have been in business for years, all that matters is whether their opinion holds weight in the hobby. Chances are that their opinion doesn't because there are only a handful of recognized autograph and memorabilia experts in the hobby to speak of. Whether you're talking about game used bats, uniforms or autographs, only a few opinions really matter.
Collectors encounter a similar problem here as they do with certain dealers of sportscards. If you are contemplating the purchase of an autograph and the dealer does not have some type of respected third-party certification, then you should ask that the dealer guarantee that the item will pass your authentication service of choice. Don't let the dealer tell you what service to use. If he tries to steer you in some direction, that is usually a sign to proceed with caution. Also, even if he does have some type of letter, it doesn't matter unless that letter comes from an expert who is respected in the hobby. Remember that the certification is only as ood as the person it comes from.
Another problem you might encounter is the "It came from here" story. During my years as a collector, I have heard them all. "It came from Babe Ruth's maid," one seller exclaimed. Another seller said," I bought this Lou Gehrig autographed baseball from the brother of the mother of the cousin of the sister of the grandfather of the family dog..." Collectors have to deal with this all the time. Trust me, provenance is very important but there is a difference between legitimate provenance and attempted provenance. Here's another that collectors see or here often, "I have a picture of him signing it." First of all, what are the chances that item in the picture is the exact item that the dealer is selling? Second, even if the event in the picture actually took place, how many hundreds of items do think the dealer is selling while using that one picture to ensure authenticity? It's a shame, but some dealers use this tactic all the time and it works much, much too often.
In conclusion, I would suggest that you make sure you are buying sports memorabilia items that are authenticated by a reputable expert in the hobby. You don't want to find out, 10 years down the road, that the Mickey Mantle autographed baseball bat you purchased is not real. When something like this happens, not only does it cause you to lose money on your investment, but it also causes collectors to lose faith in the hobby and it really takes the fun out of building a collection with your family. Just remember that some day, when you decide to part with your collection, you want to be sure that buyers will want to purchase your items. If the items are authentic and properly graded, you should have no problem finding a buyer.
Anytime you are looking to buy a piece of sports memorabilia, you want to make sure that you are not overpaying for the item.
Pricing sports memorabilia is quite tricky in itself so it is important for you to realize a good value when you see it. Here is another area where you need to ask questions. Consult those who might have more experience than you and those, more importantly, who are really in tune with the market. I have been collecting for nearly 20 years and I ask questions every day about different items. You can never know enough.
There is one principle that, while it may sound simplistic, it is very important for the buyer to understand. That principle is, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Whether you are looking to buy a baseball card, autograph or a piece of game used equipment, you must understand that you are most likely going to get what you pay for. If someone offers you a Ted Williams autographed baseball for $75, the "red flag" should go up in your head. You must ask yourself, "Why is this guy offering me a Ted Williams baseball for $75 when they retail for $300 or more?" In addition, quality items will always sell for more than mediocre or fake items. Now, that is not to say that great deals don't appear now and again but, the reality is, that they are few and far between. Is the seller giving you a great deal because he is just a really nice guy or is he doing it because he paid $25 to have the autographed forged? The seller might not even realize it's fake. He may think it is authentic, but you need to protect yourself.
In conclusion, before you purchase any item of sports memorabilia, make sure that the price is a reasonable one. Ask questions, consult those who have experience and try to refrain from bargain hunting. Bargain hunting usually leads to financial misery and disappointment after you realize that the item you purchased wasn't the real thing. If you are willing to pay for quality, there are some fabulous items that you can own.
Collecting should be fun.
For me, collecting sports memorabilia has been an incredibly enjoyable experience. I have learned a lot about the hobby, sports history and have made wonderful friendships throughout my collecting years. Along the way, I have seen the darker side of things. I was once susceptible to unethical dealers and I have purchased my share of "bad" items. I still have an autographed Mickey Mantle plaque on my wall that my mom gave to me on my 16th birthday. It turned out to be a fake but I keep it there because it serves as a subtle reminder of how important it is to educate yourself about collecting. How was my mom to know it was fake? It had museum quality framing and she bought it from a fancy store in the local mall that had been in operation for years. This is the type of unfortunate result that you can prevent.
An incident like this may have prevented some people from ever participating in collecting again but I have learned from my mistakes. Buying conditions are getting better and better in the sports memorabilia market. With the advent of authentication and third-party experts, people are feeling more and more secure about building their own collection. Many collectors who were once "burned" are now coming back into collecting and it has made the sports memorabilia hobby a phenomenal success. There have never been so many choices for sports memorabilia enthusiasts and collecting today can be more enjoyable than it has ever been.
Collecting sports memorabilia can be a very interactive experience. I always love having people over at my house, whether they are collectors or not, and sharing my sports memorabilia with them. It's a lot of fun to watch their eyes light up when I hand them Mickey Mantle's bat or show them a old baseball card that is nearly 100 years old but somehow survived in pristine condition. Collecting is an activity that can be shared by the young and old, it's fun for all ages. I still get excited when a sports convention comes to town, I feel like a kid in a candy store whenever I go. This is what the collecting is all about.
In conclusion, if you are not having fun with collecting, then you are doing it for the wrong reasons. The majority of this section was devoted to protecting collectors and explaining the reality of the sports memorabilia market. On the surface, it may seem like a scary endeavor but the point was not to scare people away from the hobby, the point was to make sure that collectors have the information they need to make collecting an enjoyable activity. The sports memorabilia hobby is so vast and has so many positive things to offer. If you follow the basic concepts outlined in the aforementioned paragraphs, collecting will be a safe and rewarding experience.
The goal is to get your family involved in something they all can enjoy, the goal is to have fun.