Taking My Hacks

The Collecting Cycle Continues


Joe Orlando

When PSA first opened its doors in 1991, the focus was almost entirely on sports cards since the market was dominated by the genre, hence the name Professional Sports Authenticator. While sports cards continue to be the primary force in this collectibles business, the overall landscape has changed and non-sports cards have clearly gained momentum.

The evidence is perhaps most clear within the PSA Set Registry, where thousands of hobbyists share their collections and compete with others all over the world. When the Registry was in its infancy, the non-sports segment was barely a blip on the radar screen. Today, the Registry has become far more diverse. At the time of this writing, the non-sports segment of the online venue ranked third when it came to the sheer number of registered sets, trailing only baseball and football on the site.

The ascension of the non-sports market, especially in the graded card world, is not surprising. This specific market offers a wide range of subject matter. There is something - literally - for everyone, from history to fantasy to popular games. The genre-wide growth happened over time and required some effort. The third-party grading concept had to be properly marketed to and digested by another base of collectors.

The combination of diehard non-sports collectors coming in and sports collectors expanding their horizons helped change the market. All you have to do is look at archived prices realized for issues like 1940 Gum, Inc. Superman or 1976 Topps Star Trek to see how the increased exposure and interest brought the values to an entirely new level. Just like the sports market, there are instances where dramatic shifts occur almost overnight, but it usually takes time. That said, during the past year, one subject seemed to explode without warning: Pokémon.

PSA has graded Pokémon cards for years, but a clear jump in submissions occurred in recent months. The surge was so dramatic that we almost ran out of holders for those cards. Yes, this is somewhat embarrassing, especially since we currently process well over 125,000 total cards per month. The reality is that we should never come close to running out of any customized holder, but the change in demand was so great and quick that it was hard for our vendors to keep up.

I have been at PSA for nearly 18 years and it was the first time we ever experienced anything quite like this. That should say a lot. So, what is the cause of this spike in demand? It is a result of a few different things, some of which we covered above, but the most glaring reason is the natural progression of the collecting cycle.

It happens in sports all the time. A good portion of adult collectors tend to go back to the time that made the biggest impression on them. They try to rekindle memories of watching certain players or teams. In the case of non-sports cards, a set of Star Wars cards may bring them back to the theatre when they saw the visual spectacle on the big screen for the first time. The cycle usually occurs when kids have become adults, ones who now have some disposable income to spend on the hobbies they love. If enough adult collectors hone in on one collectible genre and increase their spending at the same time, the market can change quickly.

Pokémon cards first arrived on the U.S. scene in 1999. What seems like yesterday for us aging folks was 18 years ago. That means a 12-year-old in 1999 is now 30. Yes, I wanted to show the world I could do basic math. It's a gift. Moving on ... the point is that I do believe that part of the upswing is because those who grew up with the game are now entering those adult years. It is nostalgic to that group and that group's size is one to be reckoned with.

The collecting cycle is at work. This time, instead of Michael Jordan, it's Charizard's turn.

Never get cheated,

Joe Orlando

Joe Orlando
PSA President