There's no question that the Internet and PSA have both, in their own way, changed and improved the way collectibles trade each and every single day online. Never before have so many buyers enjoyed access to so many collectibles and these treasures are all just a click away from being added to your collection. In addition, never before have so many sellers enjoyed access to so many buyers across the globe. Conventions and traditional mail order have all taken a backseat to the Internet auction when it comes to reaching qualified buyers.
We hope this guide proves to be a valuable tool for anyone considering buying or selling items on the Internet.
Tips for Buyers
If it sounds too good to be true - it usually is
There's no question that great bargains do exist but becoming a "bargain hunter" can lead you down a very dangerous road - a road to forgeries and sub par quality items. In collectibles, you really do get what you pay for. If you want the best quality, you will have to pay a premium. Is it possible that a deal will come along? Sure, but do not take things at face value, do your research and protect yourself. In the end, only you know how much you are willing to pay for an item. By doing as much research about the item as you can, such as locating prior sales of like items at auction, you will build confidence as a buyer.
Expertise versus Origin
Always evaluate an item on its own merits first and then factor in its origin (in other words lineage, provenance or history of the item). Anyone can fabricate a mere story about how they obtained an item but, if the item is as good as the seller claims it to be, then the item should be able to stand alone without the story. If you can find an item that combines merit with verifiable origin, history that truly supports authenticity, then you really have something.
Buy Authenticated Items
Even if you witness the signing yourself, 3rd party authentication is still necessary. Here's why. Many collectors will claim that they do not need to have the item authenticated, not only because they witnessed the event, but they also contend that they never intend of selling the item. There are two problems evident. First, if you do try to sell the item at some point in the future, potential buyers are going to require more than the word of the seller in regards to authenticity. Secondly, even if you never actually sell the items yourself, you will most likely hand them down to a relative or friend. If you do not provide authentication for those items, then the person you bequeath it to will suffer the same fate and, in most cases, be taken advantage of if he ever tries to sell.
In the end, if you buy authenticated items, you will feel secure about their authenticity and you will have a better understanding of what to pay since the authenticated items have very strong and defined market values. In addition, when it comes to professionally graded items such as sportscards, the condition of the item has already been identified. Once again, making it easier for you to not only determine condition (since it has been done for you) but also to determine general market value. Authenticated items help relieve some of the stress associated with a purchase and let the buyers focus on the fun part of this hobby - building their collections without the authenticity or condition doubts.
Find a reputable seller/dealer
While it is true that factors such as the Internet and 3rd Party Authentication/Grading (such as PSA) have changed the way people do business in the current state of the market, finding a trusted seller/dealer is always a top priority. Ask around and do as much research as you can; a trusted seller/dealer can provide you with helpful information, advice and, hopefully, quality items at reasonable prices. A quality seller/dealer can help you assemble the type of collection you want. If the seller/dealer is a good one, trust him - his experience can benefit you in a number of ways. Keep in mind that eBay has a feedback program that details the selling history of each user - using this system will give you a great start.
Learn to recognize a reputable authenticator There are a host of authentication services in the hobby with a host of reasons why they think their service is the best; however, many of them are not recognized or respected in the industry. The key for the collector is to be able to distinguish between services. Ask yourself a number of questions. How long has the service been in business? Do other respected dealers, collectors or auction houses use this service? How large is the collector base for that service? How many items have they authenticated? What kind of reputation do they have? How does their authentication process compare to the competition? These are mere examples but asking questions can really help separate the best from the rest. Remember that anyone can provide a letter or certificate of authenticity so you have to ask more questions, like the ones mentioned above, to be sure.
Tips for Sellers
Find a reputable authenticator
We ended on this topic for the buyers but begin with it for the sellers. If you have decided to take the next step in offering your items with 3rd party authentication, make sure that the service you use is one that collectors want and one that is recognized in the industry as a leader. Otherwise, you might as well not have the items authenticated at all. Using the same criteria mentioned above (under buyer/bidder tips), find a service that has the reputation necessary to help increase your business. If the service is not nationally recognized as a top authenticator, the value of that service disappears no matter what features that service offers.
Authenticated items = More Buyers
Once you have taken the step in having your items authenticated by a reputable 3rd party, the number of potential buyers/bidders for that item will naturally increase. With the potential for fraud in the market today, buyers/bidders are increasingly insisting on authenticated items. As more and more collectors become aware of the concept of authentication, fewer and fewer collectors will have interest in non-authenticated items. Keep in mind that, even if you witness an item being autographed yourself, buyers will continue to demand 3rd party authentication. Non-authenticated items tend to sell for a much lower price or, more importantly, not at all in many cases.
Authenticated items = More Money
When a reputable 3rd party authenticates an item, two major things happen as it pertains to buyers/bidders. First of all, as mentioned above, you will naturally increase the number of interested buyers/bidders. Secondly, the potential buyers/bidders now interested in your item are likely to pay a premium for that item. As the seller, you have taken the additional step in having your items authenticated and the buyers appreciate that fact - they will pay more now because they feel an additional sense of security and they can avoid the hassle of getting the items authenticated themselves.
The bottom line is that authenticated items sell for more and, in many cases, significantly more. For example, a 1951 Bowman Willie Mays rookie card might, if you are lucky, sell for about $5,000 if the card was in very high-end condition. A PSA certified Mint 9 Mays rookie sold for $109,639 at auction - over 20 times the ungraded value. The small investment in having the item authenticated is certainly outweighed by the increased value of the item itself.
Taking the risk away
One great benefit to having your items authenticated by a 3rd party is the fact that the opinion of the item, whether it is graded or just authenticated, has been rendered by someone other than the seller. So, in essence, the seller no longer has to bear the responsibility in that regard. For example, if a Mickey Mantle autograph is purported to be genuine, in their opinion, by PSA, the seller is not the one claiming that the Mantle ball is genuine, PSA is and they have no financial interest in the sale of the autograph. The risk, for the seller, is virtually eliminated and there is no conflict of interest perceived by the buyer anymore. Everybody wins.
Building credibility as a seller
In the sports collectibles industry, reputation is everything whether you are an authentication service or a seller. The sellers who seemingly have the best reputations in the industry are the ones that take the time and effort to have their items authenticated. Not only do those sellers protect themselves and enhance their own businesses, they also, in turn, protect their customers by providing them with quality product. Collectors talk and the industry recognizes these efforts over time. If you are a seller that becomes known as one that makes the extra effort, credibility will build as the seller earns a solid reputation. If you are a seller that becomes known as one that refuses to seek 3rd party expertise, credibility will wane as buyers continue to ask questions and speculate as to the reasons why.
There you have it. Hopefully, these tips for both buyers and sellers will prove useful for those of you who continue to participate on the Internet. If you take the proper steps as a buyer, the Internet can be a safe and convenient way to build a collection. As a seller, the Internet has become a prime venue for collectibles transactions. If you take the right steps, you can increase your business and build a great reputation all the while. Buying and selling authenticated items will help provide answers to some of the most difficult questions you face in the marketplace.