Updated on 07.18.07

Dealing With Those Piles Of Old Baseball Cards In Your Closet

Trent Hamm

memories are made of thisLike many people who were children in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I was an avid baseball card collector. I had numerous complete sets and a pretty big book of various individual cards of my favorite players.

My parents, fueled on stories of people selling their vintage baseball card collections from their childhood, told me over and over again that these cards could be an investment and that I should put them up in my closet. So, for more than a decade and a half, those cards sat in my parents’ closet under a sheet, waiting patiently to be rediscovered by me when they would hopefully be worth a lot of money.

I know this to be a common story. I often run into guys my own age (or slightly older) who have tons of baseball cards in their closet and can fondly recall the days when they would trade them on the playground, seeking out that coveted Will Clark card to finish out their 1988 Topps set.

Not too long ago, these cards were rediscovered by me. Unfortunately, the part about the cards having a great deal of value turned out to not be the case. Here are four lessons I learned from the experience – hopefully, these lessons will be useful to you if you also have a collection of baseball cards from your 1980s or 1990s childhood in the closet as an “investment.”

Late 1980s and early 1990s baseball cards simply aren’t worth much. Most of them are barely worth the cardboard they’re printed on, sadly enough. Complete sets, particularly from 1986 to 1993, are worth only small amounts (excepting some of the premium sets from late in that year range), usually less than $40. I had five complete 1988 Topps sets and seven more complete sets from this time frame and only the 1989 Upper Deck set was worth significant money.

Grading has become huge, but… In recent years, a number of professional firms have opened up, offering a service in which they grade the condition of an individual card, seal it in plastic, and provide a label and a verification number indicating the condition of the card. This seems great if you were like me, keeping your cards in meticulous shape, but even if you get individual cards graded, only a few individual cards from this timeframe are even worth the cost of the grading service. Thus, with the exception of a very small number of individual cards, professional grading isn’t worth it for people with collections from the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Use eBay to appraise specific cards Like I said, there are a few individual cards from this timeframe that do hold value – the first one coming to mind being the 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. card. It’s at least worth an hour looking up the most coveted cards of your collection on eBay to determine if they have value. Unfortunately for me, my obsession with Will Clark didn’t really pay off – his cards are worth very little today.

Don’t be afraid to sell the whole collection at once to a dealer Given that these cards are discounted, it will take a lot of legwork to make a significant income on these cards. Once you’ve looked up some of your individual cards, you’ll likely discover very quickly that most of them have little or no value. Pull out the ones that do have enough value to make the individual sale process worthwhile (cards less than a dollar on eBay aren’t worth the effort, trust me) and then take the entire collection to a dealer or two to be appraised. I took mine to a baseball card show and showed it to multiple dealers, getting three offers.

Keep them for nostalgia I wound up keeping a number of the cards, specific ones that had sentimental value for me, and using them as decoration in my office. I currently have a small, framed array of Will Clark cards (1987 and 1988 Topps cards being the focus) and a framed 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey, Jr. card on my desk. Only the Griffey card has some monetary value, but they all have personal value to me. When I glance at them and think back to great memories of watching baseball as a kid, collecting the cards, and trading them with my friends, I see that the cards have much more value in a frame on my desk than they ever would have being sold to a dealer for a couple dollars.

Loading Disqus Comments ...
Loading Facebook Comments ...
  1. Rich says:

    Trent – You have hit the head on this topic. I also had a Will Clark obsession – I have so many ’87 Topps rookie cards of his that I wish I could remember what I was thinking when I was going after them. I do remember getting in a heated debate with a buddy about the merits of Mark Grace vs. Will Clark and both of us being extremely confidant that we were backing a future HOF member.

    Most treasured card – autographed Ripken ’82 Topps rookie card.

    Keep up the good work! Someday I’ll get around to selling some of those Greg Jeffries rookie cards…

  2. Dan says:

    Wow. Perfect post at the perfect time.

    I just moved into a new apartment and my parents have finally gotten fed up with me leaving some of my childhood belongings in their attic, so they begged me to take them all on, the bulk of which were all my sports card from my childhood. I have no attachment to the things anymore and was wondering if I could make any cash off of them. Afterall, Beckett monthly used to tell me they were worth so much, but it seems like no one is in the market to actually buy cards. So I was planning on doing exactly what you said… rather than trying to sell all the high value cards individually, I was going to just try to dump the entire package for one price, taking them to a dealer so I can highlight the “better” cards in my collection.

    So did you end up taking any of the offers you got? Or are you still sorting through everything?

  3. You just burst my bubble!!! I just found that pile in a box the other day :(

  4. Eric says:

    I’m in the same situation. I was an avid collector during the 80’s and 90’s. Now, I’m stuck with a bunch of cards that I’d like to sell.

    Did you take any of the offers?

  5. guinness416 says:

    Some people have fun blogging about/around their wortless cards. Check out buntcake.joshmillard.com or cardboardgods.baseballtoaster.com both of which are kind of fun.

  6. Matt says:

    What a coincidence. I’m going through the same process now. I have two large bins full of hockey and baseball cards. I was about 7 when I started collecting cards and did it mainly for fun. Unfortunately being born in 1981, all my collecting was done in the late 80s/early 90s period you mention. By searching on the net, I’ve realised my collection is virtually worthless and since I’m not nostalgic about it I just want to get rid of it at any cost.

    The card show idea is good. I’ll look around for some in my area.

    I’m also curious about the offers you received in ballpark figures.

  7. Max cascone says:

    How do you think this applies to comic books? I have about 200 comics that I have been moving from place to place for a number of years that I don’t read anymore. Some have significant personal value, like the almost-complete Akira collection, the also almost-complete Vigilante collection. Most of the others though I could definitely do without. I figure the process for sports cards applies similarly to comics?

  8. kev says:

    Ah, Will Clark. I remember when he used to be THE MAN when it came to rookie cards. Remember when Mike Greenwell’s rookie was in high demand? I never understood that one. Bo Jackson, Kevin Mitchell, Jose Canseco…wow, the memories.

  9. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    I stripped my collection of a few cards with nostalgic value (the Will Clark and Griffey cards mentioned above, a few Bo Jackson cards, a couple uncut sheets) and sold the whole thing off as a lot to a single dealer.

  10. David says:

    This is a great post. Yea that griffey card was the card to have from those few years at one point it was worth over $100. not sure anymore though. I have bins and binders full of cards in my basement. I might try to find a dealer who would take them off my hands for a lump sum, because otherwise they are useless.

  11. Sean says:

    Interesting that i came across this article now, i’ve been debating on what to do with my huge collection (40,000 cards +). Not to mention my 150 page 3×3 plastic card sheets of my own Will Clark collection. I’m only 24, and dont really have a lot of time on my hands, so figuring out what to do with all those cards will have to wait until i find myself unemployed or something =).

  12. Peggy says:

    Max —

    Yes, for comics it is much the same. There are so many copies printed nowadays that the rarity level is pretty low.

    At least in my experience (and I have LOTS more than 200 comics to get rid of… ish).

  13. Matt says:

    I’ve been debating what to do with my old cards as well; I doubt any of them have any significant value to them but it might be worth trying to sell on e-bay as a lot.

  14. Andamom says:

    This actually brings to mind other posts on http://www.unclutterer.com recently about inherited stuff and a few others related to collections.

    The gist of it though is most of this stuff is sheer clutter. If you think that any aspects of the collection have value, you should have them appraised by dealer or skilled appraisers. And, if you are keeping them, you should add these items to your homeowner’s policy.

    If you don’t have a sentimental attachment to the stuff, get rid of it. There is no point in holding any item that serves no purpose but to collect dust. Further, the more stuff you can rid yourself of, the less space you’ll need.

    As for baseball cards, I’d suggest only keeping/holding (or selling) the great ones… Like if you have a Lou Gehrig rookie card — you might want to have that appraised and not just pass it on.

  15. Flexo says:

    When preparing for my recent move, I *threw out* hundreds (thousands?) of cards from the late 80s and 1990-1991. Most of the cards would have been worth 1-5 cents. I saved all the Mets cards (and Wille Randolph’s Yankees cards) for my gf who is an avid Mets fan.

  16. Ted Valentine says:

    Funny I just randomly popped into one of the Ebay auction stores to see if they could sell my baseball cards. He said, generally, no. Most are worthless and won’t sell, unless it is an older hard to find rookie card.

    I collected Dale Murphy cards when I was a kid. I thought they were really going to be worth something. Then steriods came along and guys with stats like Murf are no longer HOF worthy. Sadly his cards aren’t worth much today. I should’ve sold them in the mid-80s when they were high.

  17. Brad says:

    Another Will Clark fan here! I have the same situation– tons of cards, mostly between 1987 and 1993, and they’re not worth that much. When I get up the courage to get rid of them, I’ll remove some good ones. I’ve got some Barry Bonds rookies, some Griffeys, and some other sure-fire HOFers and I’ll keep my Will Clark cards. The rest I’ll probably just sell as a lot as you did. It’s unfortunate that baseball cards took such a downturn. I was looking forward to hanging on to them for a long time, hoping to see appreciation like the earlier cards saw. Unfortunately that is just not going to happen. Great article, Trent.

  18. Tubaman-Z says:

    I’ve got about 2,000 comics, bagged, boarded, and boxed. While quite a few date from the 60s and 70s (my dad was a mailman who would occasionally pick up a grocery sack full at a garage sale while walking his route), there really are few with much value. Every couple of years I get in a nostalgic mode and read through a bunch. Not too long ago my 13 year old daughter was watching “Teen Titans” and I dug out some Teen Titans comics from the 1970’s. She enjoyed seeing the TT in the “old days”. That alone made them worth keeping for me.

  19. Grant says:

    I think there’s a larger lesson about collecting as a hobby or as an investment. I, too, collected baseball cards in the late 80s (both as a hobby and as an investment). When this hobby became “hot,” and it became clear that there was money in it, a lot of people started collecting and the card companies were cranking out the cards by the millions. Consequently, there are very few rare cards or sets from the mid-80s on, and thus they are not worth much.

    Also, more card companies popped up (Upper Deck, Bowman, Sportflicks) in order to get in on the action, and the existing 3 major card companies (Topps, Donruss and Fleer) started making more and more sets in order to increase their sales, resulting in a completely saturated market. I remember looking in Beckett Monthly in the early 90s and counting over 100 sets for one year. It couldn’t even be a fun hobby anymore since the the goal of collecting a set (or the 3 different sets) was gone. If you liked a certain player, were you expected to collect 100 different cards of that player each year? It was ridiculous. So the hobby of collecting new cards was dead as far I was concerned, and the investment potential pretty much died with it.

    Anyway, to get back to the lesson, this same thing seems to happen every few years. Remember when Beanie Babies were hot? It’s possible to make a few dollars on these fads in the short term, but treating them as a long-term investment just doesn’t work. Pretty soon the supply far exceeds the demand, and you end up with a closet full of baseball cards or Beanie Babies that nobody wants.

    I learned to try to cash in on things when they become “hot.” For example, when Mark McGwire was going after the home run record, I sold a couple of his rookie cards for something like $50 each. I don’t know if it’s gone up or down since then, but I think I made a good move.

    As far as the hobby side of things goes, it isn’t/wasn’t a waste of time or money if you enjoy it. I still like looking through my collection (most of which I still have) every once in a while. I recently started putting cards in display cases that I can hang on the wall. For example, I have every Mike Schmidt card in a nice display case, and I have every Brooks Robinson card (except the rookie) in another display case. They are nice to decorate a wall or act as conversation pieces. The cards themselves are still worth something (because some are older and scarcer), but I’d rather own them and enjoy displaying them than trade them for a few dollars.

  20. Patrick says:

    I still have all of my cards.For awhile my best friend and I went to a lot of ball games to get autographs. I’ve got 300 signed cards – some of them from Hall of Famers or future Hall of Famers.

    I know the monetary value of my cards (also from the same era :)…) are not worth much. But one day I would love my children to have the opportunity to got through them and hold a Tony Gwynn, Cal Ripken, or Greg Maddux card. I have kept all of my cards, and usually once or twice a year I will buy a pack of the newest Topps cards that come out. I don’t ever do it as an investment. I do it for the nostalgia. :)

  21. Tammy says:

    The one collection I actually made good money off of was Disney videotapes. Way back when, when I used to be librarian, I always bought all the Disney movies when they came out on video – at library prices (usually about 30-50% of retail). I bought them thinking I’d keep them until the day my husband and I had kids… well, we never had kids, and I got tired of carting around all these videos. Many were unopened. Most hadn’t been watched more than once. All still in their nice pretty clamshells.

    I sold them on eBay back in the late 90’s and made a BUNDLE – especially off some that were no longer available on video.

    My husband used to be an avid collector of football cards. He’s spent far more than he ever made selling them. :-(
    When he realized that most would end up worthless, he quit…

  22. Rick says:

    Will Clark was always my favorite as well (since he played at Mississippi State, my alma-mater). That 1987 Topps card is still my favorite! I have just a handful of cards that are worth keeping (again, for nostalgia), but the rest probably aren’t worth keeping.

  23. gloria says:

    I remember my dad getting them for me and not letting me open them. I nver wanted them but he said when I turned about 20 they would be worth $$, 24 and no money. I just pulled them out earlier today and have no clue what to do with them

  24. Abel says:

    Same here i must have thousnds of cards from 1981 to 1992 and goin through them now , picking out all the Griffey”s Bonds, Clemens, Majic, Jordan,Gretsky and the probably donating the rest to the local Boys club, alott of work .

  25. Don says:

    Instead of throwing your cards out, you could contact a disabled sports league (such as the Buddy League in Garland Texas), or a hospital that takes care of children with debilitating illnesses (like Scottish Rite in Dallas Texas), and they may be happy to take some off your hands.

  26. Troy says:

    I am trying to find out how much my baseball cards are worth, I have 3 huge boxes and don’t know where to start. Some have already been filed into a few card books… Where do I go that is honest????

  27. Angus says:

    It was basketball for me, right in the middle of the Instant Superstar days of the early 90’s. I was looking through some of my cards the other day and saw tons of Shaquille O’Neal, Penny Hardaway, Shawn Bradley, Jamal Mashburn…yeah, THAT worked out great. Even the Shaq cards aren’t worth that much.

  28. Amy says:

    My dad left me over prolly 2000 baseball cards when he passed away.well im trying to buy a house and i know he would rather see the money spent wisly. But i have no idea were to go or how to talk to ..i have some from my dads dad back in the 50’s i have no idea what they are worth ..SOMEONE PLEASE HELP

  29. willie says:

    The card shows sell all these cards real cheap. If these dealers sold these cards more than book value, the cards would go up each month.The card shows are hurting the value of these cards. Get rid of all the card shows and sell on line. Then the cards would be worth money.

  30. cha says:

    I have been reading all the posts and i am more depressed then before i read them it is about 1 yr later and I to have a 5000 count box and 1988 uncut sheet of baseball cards the or worthless. I started collecting them for my son when he was 2 yrs old. I dont have the heart to tell him that they are worthless now….ohhh the money i spent back then well maybe in another 20+ yrs they will be worth something for his kids

  31. Kevin says:

    I have a couple decent cards – Ozzie Smith rookie among them, but I should probably go your route and get rid of them. I think they’re at my parent’s house somewhere though, so that might take some digging. I remember trading and having “baseball card shows” in our garage as a kid.

    I read an article once that said my Don Mattingly rookie would be worth enough by 2000 to buy a Porsche. Needless to say, I’m not driving a Porsche right now. Was there a baseball card bubble in the early 90s?

  32. Mara Cain says:

    I sent a question about this very thing a few weeks ago. I have decided to donate the thousands of cards my husband left when he passed away. Someone may get a kick out of them and a charity will benefit as well.
    Thanks for a great article!

  33. ajay says:

    nice topic…hit a note from the past I would love to share – I remember collecting cards in 81 I’m from montreal, 34 now and back then all i could get was o-pee-chee. In 1985 I collected a complete leaf set having no idea where it came from but it was a welcome. I travelled to vermont and new york state often and picked up these weird cards with names like topps and fleer. I had collected sticker albums in completion of both hockey and basebal, again o-pee-chee from 80-89. In 1986 for the first time a friend showed me a magazine called beckett and it listed values for cards! Something totally out of mind for me. I had either collected or played knock downs with these things and it was like living in the past in canada compared to the us because there really isnt much a sports craze in montreal except for hockey seeing as our expos are in your state capital now. So from 1987 – 1988, having played tee ball at age 4 and in baseball leagues then on to the age of 25, I was an avid fan of baseball cards. I went to shows I had common cards from 1909…complete sets, rookies, I even bought 1 pack of 1984 donruss hoping for mattingly and getting strawberry and the store owner (a rip off artist to kids and a lesson in guide values and real values) offered me guide value and I bought a 5$ Case watching it go up slowly. By 88 – score came out. I had by then understood the connection of all the comapanies and read about upper deck and then the amount of cards entering reminded me of the us stock market crash. The valuation was screwed up and even at 13 years old I got this. I sold everything and preached a crash and ever since I love someone who agrees…

  34. avy says:

    Thanks for the memories. I m from montreal, canada I collected 1980 opeeche sticker albums and cards from 1980 to 1989. Im 34 now and I remember playingknockdowns and collecting leaf in ts entirety because it was new to me. Travels to mew york and vermont, maine, I got to see fleer and topps making no connection and still no values. By 88 I saw a beckett and learned of store owners and the way they manipulate and remember the crash in 87. So I also collected and preached of a crash in baseball cards…why? because of score and upper deck and the later me too companies or spin offs (cards jumped the shark). Old cards will go up up up

  35. jerry says:

    I took my whole collection from basically 86-90 and i had a ton. But like most say, these were all garbage. So i gathered them all up, approximately 30,000+ cards and took them to the local auction. I was hoping for alot, but knowing $100 would have been generous. Low and behold at the end of the auction i got a check for $280. I was like yeahhhh!! So i went home and got on ebay and bought a NICE 1975 topps set. I thought now thats a nice trade.

  36. joker55 says:

    All these good players and there cards gone to waste 80s and 90s. Over print run sucks

  37. Eric says:

    If we get enough people to just throw them away, they might be worth .02 per card in 10 years!

  38. I too was an avid card collector in the late 80s and early 90s. It is kind of funny how little these cards are worth now.

    Maybe I’m crazy, but I’ve actually gotten the itch recently to try and complete the sets from the cards I collected as a kid. No one talks about cards anymore, but I often wonder how many guys are like me with boxes of cards stashed in their homes that would be interested in some old fashioned trading. My goal is to complete sets from the time I collected as a kid and put them in binders to look at myself and with my boys when they get older. As for all the doubles perhaps I could trade some away if I found a trading partner or donate them to a childrens hospital.

    Anyway, my dreams of reliving childhood through my baseball cards will probably be put on hold by the demands of adult life, but it is fun to think about.

  39. June says:

    I enjoyed reading all the coments,we laughed at ourselves for thinking we had a goldmine n Dale Murphy cards.

  40. Jerry Davis says:

    To BillyOceansEleven – I have tons of cards from the late 80’s and early 90’s and would be interested in trading, to help you fill your sets. I’m one of the old die hard collectors that still buys cards and tries to build sets. If you are still interested, let me know.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *