By RGM81 aka Richard McAdam

When I rejoined the hockey card collecting hobby in January 2008, things had changed considerably since the last time I opened a pack of cards. Seeing autographs and memorabilia pieces on cards was a bit of a shock to my system, and I can easily see how somebody completely naïve to the hobby market could see one of these cards for the first time and spend an amount drastically higher than what a seasoned veteran would pay. Given how much trading, buying, and selling is done online now, it is all the more important that people educate themselves on real values of cards before they decide to acquire or part with them.

My basic philosophy when it comes to trading, online or otherwise, boils down to this: I get the cards I want in exchange for the cards you want. How we arrive at that endgame is often contentious, sometimes really easy, occasionally frustrating, and unfortunately from time to time impossible. As one would expect, the same can be said for my potential trade partners, and this is where secondary market resources enter the picture. The most well-known and reliable source available in early 2008 for assigning card values was the Beckett Price Guide, either the print version or the online one. At the time, the Beckett OPG was on a reliable server and the information was easy to access. As a novice in a hobby that has some participants that reap great benefits from preying on novices, the OPG levelled the playing field for me and allowed me to operate on equal footing with those who had been around much longer. Over the course of past three years, however, I have consistently moved further away from relying on Beckett towards using other sources and my own intuition to assess what constitutes fair value when trading online.

Beckett - The Old Gold Standard

My primary objective when entering into a deal is, and always has been, is to make a trade. Even when using Beckett as my primary resource, I have never had a problem with the concept of a trade that was not an exact BV-for-BW swap. If I saw two cards that I wanted that had a combined BV of $32, I was not going to scuttle a deal because somebody wanted three cards from me that totalled $36BV. When the shoe was on the other foot, this was not always the case, and no doubt some pretty good deals never took place because I would have “won” an additional $2-$3 of BV vis-à-vis my potential trade partner. Indeed, in some cases I even volunteered an additional card or two to “make up the difference” or get the deal done, but alas it was not always to be. Looking back on it today, it is pretty easy to smile and chuckle over how minute some of these differences were that prevented good trades from being finalized.

The absence of a rigid adherence to BV in my mind made it fairly easy for me to get deals done. If somebody had a nice Montreal Canadiens card that I wanted, of course I would part with a prime piece of trade bait and throw in an extra card or a few bucks. My basic philosophical rule came into play on many occasions: soon enough I found that I would “trade up” $40BV to get a $25BV card, and move other cards that were booking higher to get cards I truly wanted of my main PC players. I always kept my Beckett close by—I’m passionate but not irrational—but by early 2009 there was a growing understanding of the market taking place in which I came to realize that over time certain players would drop off value-wise while (at least I hoped) Carey Price cards would retain their strong position in the hobby. A player like Sam Gagner is a great example of someone that had a lot of hobby love in his rookie season, thus pumping up his BVs, but when you look now at where his status is at, it does not line up with what the book states.

Upper Deck’s Montreal Canadiens Centennial set was a landmark for me in this hobby in a number of ways. It was the most fun I ever had putting together a set and breaking wax by the box. In what other release could every single card be a PC item? It really deepened my engagement with the hobby, as my desire to get as many cards as possible from the set had me searching high and low for them. That wide range of sources naturally included eBay, which set up for the first time in my experiences a real disconnect between what the market was showing and what Beckett was stating for card values. Autographs that regularly sold for $60 or more were being tagged with a high $20BV, and one of the super short-printed autos, that of Steve Shutt, was inexplicably marked as a $30 high value card even though not a single copy of it had yet surfaced on eBay. To me it seemed as though Beckett was attempting to set, rather than reflect, the market. I sent them a number of messages with links to completed listings but never saw a change. A couple of months later a Shutt sold as a Buy It Now listing for $1000. About a year ago the only ever auction-style listing of the card ended at an amazing $2500. Not too shabby for a $30 card!

The Centennial experience really opened my eyes about the way we, or at least I, looked at assigning values to cards. Which was the best way to go: Beckett’s guide or completed actual sales? Around that time I started shifting towards what is now commonly called Sales Values (SV) because it was a concrete piece of evidence that said, “This card is worth this much on the open market.” On a set like Centennial, it was truly the only way to fairly navigate deals, particularly when I made the decision to break up my autograph set. I had the great pleasure of encountering a similarly-minded trader, and we negotiated a mammoth exchange. The deal would not have been possible if we relied upon BV. Since that deal, this trader and I have become very good friends and we have shared many discussions about this hobby and where it is going. This all transpired because of two people operating with an open mind and consulting multiple sources for their deals. That has been my blueprint for trading ever since.

The Straw That Broke The Camel's Back

If Centennial had me with one foot out the door when it comes to Beckett, an experience in November 2009 firmly pushed me out, slammed it, and locked it behind me. At the time John Tavares was the hottest rookie card on the market. There was a card show in Halifax on a Saturday, and a person could not find a Tavares UD1 Young Guns for less than $100 there. eBay was showing similarly strong sales for the Tavares. The following Tuesday Beckett released their pricing for Series One, and they pegged the Tavares at a high value of $50, less than the Steven Stamkos YG from the previous year’s release, which was then a $60 card. I was incredulous and I blasted Beckett on their forums for their out-of-touch pricing. They were not reflecting the market, which is what a price guide is supposed to do, in my view. I cancelled my subscription and I have not renewed it, nor will I.

From that day forward my approach in determining value has been a combination of common sense and completed sales. If I have a Taylor Hall card that sells regularly for $25, I’m not necessarily going to trade it away for a regular Carey Price jersey card that also sells for $25. Hall is a hot commodity right now so I am going to want to utilize that to get the best Price card available in that price range. A new-release Price GU card is something I will be collecting for many years to come, so I like to get something special with the Hall. At the same time, I do not expect somebody to give up an increasingly tough-to-find Price autograph or rookie card for this year’s best-selling rookie just because Hall is hot now. It is, as always, about striking the right balance that works for both parties in a deal.

Regarding sales values, I understand that eBay as a sole source for card values is not ideal by any means; people have bought Wayne Gretzky RCs from a flea market for $5, it does not mean that a Gretzky RC is a $5 card. eBay is somewhat like that flea market, only it is a lot bigger with a lot more people attending it. It is a place where people look to buy cards for the lowest possible price. If the hobby were to switch to a purely eBay-based SV approach, it would likely collapse because those who break cases and multiple boxes of products would not want to go through the experience of selling patch cards for $4 from a $100 box simply because the first two copies of that card went for only a couple bucks on eBay. This is where the common sense approach applies. I know the market for my main PC player very well, and I have a range in mind for what I am willing to pay for an autograph or a jersey card. I respect that somebody that has just spent the dollars and time breaking open a case of product is hoping to recoup some of those costs and therefore will want something a little higher than “eBay prices” for their hits.

Is there a perfect solution to assessing card values? No. Each collector will have their own way to approach their trading material, and some of them will vary greatly. It is not my place to say that one approach is superior to others, nor would I ever disrespect somebody that holds fast to Beckett Value even though it is a tool I choose not to utilize. Collectors are intelligent people and will use the formula that is best-suited to their needs and interests, and part of the great joy in the hobby is making deals work in which both parties walk away happy.