Contributor: John McTaggart
The figure is staggering.
The realization how much the hobby has shifted is even more remarkable to me.
Recently, at a Heritage Auction, a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle SGC 9.5 sold for an eye-popping $12.6 Million.
It’s one of the highest-graded copies of this iconic card to ever hit the market, and that is significant.
Still, for someone such as myself, someone who has literally been in the hobby for 40 years, it’s amazing, and somewhat bittersweet.
Although there have always been certain cards that have been held higher than most in the hobby, cards such as the ’52 Mantle and the ’86 Fleer Jordan, for example.
And these cards have a limited scope of collector because of their pricing, undoubtedly.
For me, however, the hobby has never seemed more out-of-touch to the collector it was designed for to begin with.
This recent sale further illustrates this point.
No, I don’t mean a ’52 Topps Mantle SGC 9.5 is a card that everyone should be able to add to their collection, but it is indicative of the trend we’ve all witnessed over the past few years — increasingly rising prices from top to bottom of the hobby.
There is a trickle-down effect happening here, or perhaps a trickle-up effect.
Low-end cards are exactly that, low end, and hold little or no value within the market, despite the cost of the initial product — which is often out of whack right off the bat.
Mid-range cards, wax included, teeter on unaffordable for the majority of collectors, and high-end, well, a box of 21-22 NBA National Treasures, for example, runs around $6,000 — and it’s one pack of cards.
I’ve been buying, selling and trading since I was in high school, and that was more than a few years ago, I should add, and as a small business owner in the hobby, I’m glad to see a robust market.
That said, I’m alarmed by how drastic the demographic of collectors has changed, particularly in the past few years.
I seem to be buying, selling and trading from middle-aged men who drone on about comps, pull up apps on their phones and point out graphs and charts, discuss grades, and generally don’t have much regard or reverence for the actual player, sport or hobby at all.
The cards have always been a commodity, but never have I felt that more than I do nowadays.
I used to get emails and have conversations at shows with kids, or their parents, asking if we had a rookie card of a certain player from their hometown, or any team sets of their favorite teams.
Now, the emails and conversations are about dollars and cents only.
Usually, they’re shooting out an offer that is significantly lower than the asking price, then supporting this with some random figure they pulled off some website. Or, they’re over-valuing their own cards based on some sort of logic that is completely unreasonable.
Never does the conversation lead to an exchange about a player, team or the sport itself that isn’t related to money
When I counter, or try to discuss my point of view, it’s too often met with general dismissiveness or even an argument.
The hobby has transitioned from conversational and unifying to transactional and divisive.
The love of the hobby has evolved (and I use this term loosely) to a love of money.
The sale of a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle SGC 9.5, for $12.6 Million, only widens the eyes of those who are looking to make a quick buck or see the hobby solely as an avenue to profit.
This is frightening to me.
I’m venting — I know.
And honestly, I don’t have any ideas on how to turn this around and give the hobby back to those who actually love it, to children, in particular.
But we’re on a trajectory that is, I believe, misleading.
On paper, many would argue the hobby is in a great place.
There’s a lot of money flowing in, and I suppose that’s good for some.
In my heart, however, the hobby is not in a great place at all.
So although I’m happy for those involved with the same of this $12.6 Million Mantle, I’m sad for the hobby I have loved most of my life.