Buying Collectible Trading Cards Online

Find your next gem, complete your collection, and have fun with collectible trading cards. People have been creating, enjoying, and collecting trading cards since the 1800s. Although they’re most commonly associated with sports such as baseball, football, and basketball, there’s a variety of non-sport trading cards that people love to get their hands on, too. Let EBTH teach you more about the hobby itself and what to look for while you begin shopping for trading cards online.

A Brief History

Some of the earliest trading cards were prizes found in packs of cigarettes. Called “trade cards,” they were used to advertise the products inside. In 1886, Allen and Ginter, a Virginia tobacco manufacturer, was the first to use this format for print advertisements. A few years later, the subject matter on the cards expanded to a nearly endless range of topics, including sports, nature, and war. Trade card production halted during World War II, and it never picked back up with the same fervor because collectors turned their attention to bubble gum cards.

Meanwhile, baseball cards also began emerging in the late 1860s. They originally came inside packages of products like candy and tobacco. During the early 20th century, the American Tobacco Company produced the T206 tobacco card with Honus Wagner, which many collectors consider one of the most popular and valuable cards. It wasn’t until 1950 that these trading cards began appearing in packs of bubble gum, when Topps Chewing Gum started supplementing packs with collectible cards featuring television, film, and sports stars.

Types of Collectible Trading Cards

If you’re new to collecting trading cards, you might not realize the extensive array of options — sporting and nonsporting alike. Popular types of collectible trading cards include:

Baseball
Basketball
Boxing
Football
Hockey
Car Racing
Sports Autographs
Presidential Autographs
Unopened Packs
Non-Sporting Cards (war, entertainers, radio stars)
Game Cards (Pokemon, Magic: The Gathering, etc.)
Vintage Cards
Refractors or Hologram Cards

Consider the Condition

When it comes to buying collectible trading cards, condition is one of the factors that help determine the card’s value to a potential collector. In determining a card’s condition, the corners, edges, surface, and centering of the image are all considered, along with any imperfections. In general, the better the condition, the higher demand for the card. The following are common conditions you may encounter when you’re shopping for collectible trading cards online:

Pristine: No damage or imperfections
Mint/Near Mint: No printing imperfection or damage at a glance; there may be minor imperfections when the card is examined closely
Excellent: Noticeable imperfections on the card
Very Good: Moderate wear, minor scuffing
Good: Severe imperfections, no gloss, and notable tears or scuffs

What to Know Before You Buy

In addition to noting the condition of the card, you should also have a reasonable idea about the demand and available supply for the card in question. Like other collectibles, trading cards aren’t priced out in a straightforward way; supply and demand play a big role, which means you’ll pay fair market value for them. When a card is in high demand and isn’t readily available, it often commands a higher price than a card with high inventory available and low demand. Some of the other factors that contribute to demand include the age and attractiveness of the card, its scarcity, the subject matter on the card, and the popularity of the card’s issue.

Collector Card Buying Tips

If you’re new to collecting trading cards or new to shopping for them online, the pursuit of discovering hard-to-find or desirable cards can seem equally fun and overwhelming. To help simplify the process, consider the following tips as you start to see what’s out there:

Don’t jump at every card: There are a lot of collectibles out there, and if you try to collect everything, you’ll be collecting for a long, long time. Instead, set an attainable goal based on what you enjoy the most about the hobby. For example, do you prefer collecting a specific person, or all rookies?

Accept that some cards cost a lot of money: Even new sports cards aren’t as cheap as they once were, and this can make some of the prices you might see during your quest a little hard to fathom. You’re going to see a range of prices out there — don’t be afraid to stay within a certain price range when you’re just starting out.

Don’t expect too much from your own collectibles: Have you been hanging onto a set from the 1980s in hopes of making big money? The 1980s and 1990s produced great sports cards, but they also produced large numbers of those cards. In general, most of the cards from these decades are tough to sell for any substantial sum. It all goes back to supply, demand, and fair market value, so you may want to turn your focus toward other decades or topics.

Collectible cards aren’t easy money: If you’re getting into the hobby in hopes of getting rich quickly, you might want to rethink your plan. The most successful collectors look for opportunities to fill gaps that other people aren’t covering. Start with what you love!

Buying Collectible Trading Cards Online

Are you ready to start searching for cards to build a new collection or fill up one that’s in progress? Check out our trading card auctions from estate sales around the country. With hundreds of estate sales every month, and all bids starting at just $1, you’ll always have new collectibles to discover.