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Perception of Value: Then and Now.


I have a thought regarding the biggest difference in perception of value of cards today versus cards of the past.  Specifically, I’m targeting insert cards of the nineties versus the memorabilia cards, autographs and serial numbered cards of today.

In the early nineties, the price point on basketball card packs generally ranged from $0.50 to $2.00. Then, once Topps Finest hit in 1993, packs in general  rose anywhere from $1.50 to $10.00. The mid-nineties probably saw most packs range from $2-$10.  I think once the late-nineties were around packs were already $5-$20. I don’t think I ever bought a single pack of 98 SP Authentic or 99 SPx, so I’m taking a guess there.

During this period, the rarer inserts were usually seeded 1:180, 1:360, 1:720, or serially numbered (mid to late nineties).  Of course, production was still large on all this, and cards per pack were still roughly anywhere from 24 cards/pack to 10 cards/pack.  I recall SPx as the stingiest at 1 card per pack.

So the perception of the rarity and thus, value, whether it was serially numbered or not, actually lied in the the hundreds and hundreds of base cards that got in the way of the prized inserts people were hunting for.  I think a good amount of collectors still actually collected base cards, so those cards weren’t absolutely disregarded.  It was actually essential to have tons and tons of base cards.  This helped keep costs low for Topps, UD and Fleer.  Everyone knows that the more you produce, the cheaper it is, per card.

Another factor that helped was there there were some rare insert sets that contained a large number of cards per set.  So actually landing any specific player was pretty rare in itself.  For example, the Skybox Metal Precious Metal Gem Red /90 (with 100+ players in the set) meant that even if you pulled one, it was remarkable if it was a star player.  More than likely, it was a common player. THAT is where the value came from.  Even in an insert set that contained 25 players, if it was 1:720 or 1:360, it is was still amazing to pull any specific player.

As the first decade of the 2000s comes to an end, the hobby has changed dramatically.  Price points are anywhere from $3-$500 per pack.  It isn’t uncommon to see $100 packs.  The perception of the value of the inserts is built into the price point and our mindset that if it costs more initially (box/case wise), it must be worth more on the secondary market. That is NOT true.

The biggest difference is that production is way down and most everything is serially numbered.   Have you ever heard the saying that “if everything is rare, then nothing is rare?”  I think that it has come to that point in the hobby.  A card might be numbered to 10, but you’ll find it on eBay the day after the cards are released.  Simply click and bid. Do that for all 40 cards numbered to ten of Player X that are released in a given year.

To me, the value isn’t there.  Yes insert cards have memorabilia and autographs now, but that doesn’t mean they are valuable.  The reason why they was valuable in the nineties was because there wasn’t many to go around (because there were alot more collectors) AND they were seeded so rare that it still meant busting boxes/cases to find ONE.  Now they can be found in every pack.  It will cost you more per pack/box/case to open and the chase isn’t as difficult, with the internet making everything readily available.

We no longer have large base sets that get in the way of finding the inserts.  In most cases, the inserts actually out number the base sets now.  Most base sets only consist of the same star players anyway.

I haven’t really paid attention to Panini’s stuff in the last year and a half, but they have a few things that I personally think are going against them. First off, I think that the designs are very similar in their products.  It is hard to distinguish their lower end brands from their mid and upper ends brands.  Secondly, as the sole maker of cards, I think they make way too many brands.  I think five would be plenty. One low end for younger collectors. Two mid ends for the majority of collectors. Two high end for those who want to spend money.  They could put the majority of nicer inserts within the mid end product while sprinkling a few in the lower end to have some vale and then truly limiting the high end stuff for the rich.

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