Trading Card Values Across Eras

What Makes Specific Cards Valuable?

Date: Jan 25, 2024
Author: Greg Bates, Senior Writer
Topics: 2023 Bowman Draft Baseball, Eddie Plank, t206, Tom Brady
Length: 1015 Words
Reading Time: ~6 Minutes

When trading cards on opposite ends of The Hobby’s eras nearly overlap on the auction block and simultaneously capture public consciousness, it’s interesting to break down what makes these cards so desirable to a cross-section of collectors.  

Recently, a highly sought-after pre-war card and a gem ultra-modern card hit the auction block.

In mid-December, PWCC offered an Eddie Plank 1910 Sweet Caporal T206 graded SGC 1. A few weeks later, Goldin ran a special, standalone auction with the Tom Brady 2023 Bowman Draft Baseball Superfractor in a PSA 9.

Scarcity Determines Card Value

Despite these two cards being produced 113 years apart, parallels can be drawn. The scarcity of both cards plays a crucial role in desirability from collectors as well as determining the final price of the hammer.

To help differentiate the card eras, it’s important to know the time frames. Pre-war denotes any cards produced before World War II. Vintage cards were produced before 1980. Modern signifies any cards released after 1980. Ultra-modern cards have been produced in the last five to 10 years.

Those who know vintage cards know the significance of the Plank card, considered the second rarest tobacco card behind Honus Wagner’s famous short-printed T206. SGC has only graded 27 examples of that particular Plank card, while PSA has slabbed 79.

For those into collecting ultra-modern cards, Brady’s card marked his first official baseball card after he was drafted by the Montreal Expos in 1995. Brady’s card is a 1-of-1, so only a single collector can have this in their possession.

2023 Bowman Draft 1995 Bowman Dream Draft Picks Auto Superfractor #95 Tom Brady 1/1

The final price tags: Plank sold for $45,600; Brady went for $158,600.

The Plank and the Brady cards should be considered chase cards for whichever era a person collects.

“The common thread is how much scarcity drives appeal and value with collectors, vintage and modern alike,” Heritage Auction Executive Vice President Joe Orlando told Topps RIPPED. “Whether we are talking about cards or any other type of sports collectible, rarity rules in many cases. Rarity has played a significant role in why some modern-era cards have sometimes escalated to six- and seven-figure levels.”

Brady [Cards] Reigns Supreme

Vintage card collectors love the stability of how former players’ careers shaped their card prices. Ultra-modern collectors seek present-day players that they can watch and gauge their market.

So, is the Plank or Brady more sought-after amongst collectors?

If it were a popularity contest, Brady, with his seven Super Bowl titles, would win by a landslide. Sure, Plank is a National Baseball Hall of Famer, but most ultra-modern collectors couldn’t pick the pitcher’s headshot out of a lineup.

Ken Goldin – founder of Goldin Auctions – believes the Brady card being in higher demand is a no-brainer.

“Honestly, there are millions of more people that would want the Brady than they would want the Plank,” Goldin said. “When you deal with something so esoteric – not just a T206 card, but a T206 of Eddie Plank – it’s going to be somebody who wants to complete the T206 set that is looking for that card. With Brady, you’ve got tens of millions of Brady collectors throughout the world, and there’s not a single one out there who would not want to own one of the variations of the 2023 Bowman Draft Brady cards.”

Screenshot of “Lot Sold” page on Goldin Auctions

The Brady card, fetching a healthy price tag, could give a little jolt to the modern and ultra-modern markets.

“Strong sales are always a positive for the general market in a specific segment,” said Orlando, a former president of PSA. “That said, the modern market, in general, is subject to and impacted by so many variables. As a result, it is harder for isolated sales to change the general sentiment. What buyers want to see is more stability and a pattern of strong sales.”

One area that Goldin has recently seen a resurgence in popularity and prices is for singles cards from the 1980s and ’90s. Products from the early 2000s with Albert Pujols, Ichiro Suzuki, and Miguel Cabrera cards have also increased. “I think the market for these ’80s through 2000s cards has really strengthened over the past couple of months and is where you’re going to see the first turn back to increasing in pricing as opposed to declining pricing,” Goldin said.

’52 Diamond in the Rough

Jason holding his 1952 Bowman Baseball one-card park

Occasionally, a significant find in The Hobby happens when family members stumble upon a stash of cards one of their deceased relatives left behind. What happened in Cape Cod played out a little differently.

Jason, who preferred not to use his last name, runs a heating and cooling company on the Massachusetts peninsula. While assisting in demolishing a 1930s-era house in 2019 or 2020, a rectangular item in a wrapper was found under a staircase.

“I literally picked it up off of a garbage pile,” Jason said. “I picked it up, and I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to check this out later.’ I threw it on my dash in my truck and left it there for a little while.”

When Jason had the time to research the item, he discovered it was an unopened pack of 1952 Bowman baseball cards. “In ’52, it seemed like the kid was running up the stairs, somehow dropped it, and it went through a crack, and he never got it back,” Jason said. “That’s what I envision, at least.”

That year, Bowman produced packs with one card for a penny and five cards for a nickel. Jason found a one-card pack — which, according to his research, is rarer and more desirable than the five-card pack.

Jason’s pack is in excellent condition for being over 70 years old. He is undecided whether to sell the cherished pack or rip it open via livestreaming. Either way, Jason realizes his find was unique. “It’s like finding a pirate treasure off a boat in the ocean,” Jason said. “It’s pretty wild.”

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