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Investing 101

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As a youngster, I never once considered my sports card collection as an investment. I’d lay down two quarters for a pack of Pro Set football cards and pass the day pouring over the stats. It didn’t matter what is was worth, if I liked the card I’d put it in a binder, if not, it went into a box. It was a boy’s hobby, not an investment.

My first “investment” in sports cards came in 1998, the summer Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were chasing Maris’ record of 61 home runs. The homerun chase didn’t just captivate the baseball world, it captivated an entire nation. Every where you looked you saw McGwire and Sosa (and Ken Griffey Jr., who hung strong until September). Hobby and Retail stores had a hard time keeping McGwire and Sosa merchandise on the shelves. With $80 saved up from cutting grass and washing cars all summer, I took the money to the local hobby shop and plunked it down for a 1985 Topps Mark McGwire USA rookie card.

Even though it took me the entire summer to earn that $80, I looked at the purchase as an investment. The shop owner had casually mentioned that a few years earlier, during McGwire’s 1993-94 injury-riddled seasons, the card was selling for $5. The home run chase had increased his rookie card value 1600%. With the prospect of him breaking the home run record, I drooled at the prospect of how much that card was going to increase in value over the coming years, as his career home run total headed towards 500 and beyond.

As the old saying goes, “500 and the Hall will come a knocking.” Okay, I made that old saying up, but you get my point. Every time a McGwire homer left the ball park, his RC increased in value. And I wanted in on that investment.

“This may put me through college,” I thought as I gave the man my $80.

Well, it’s 12 years later and I’d be lucky to get $20 for that card. The only schooling that card will pay for is a babysitting class down at the YMCA. However, I did learn a valuable lesson in using sports cards as an investment: never buy in when the players popularity is at an all-time high.

When the economy turned sour in October 2008 and the ensuing financial crisis began, I, like many other Americans, started hoarding my money. The monthly 6% that usually went into the stock market was now put into my savings account. I skimped on the luxuries and managed to make out like a bandit.

However, the recession cost many people their jobs and as a result, many ‘collectors’ were forced to sell off their stuff at bargain prices, just to make ends meet. Autographed Ted Williams baseballs were selling for $100, high end rookie cards for 10% of their book value and memorabilia was being sold for “best offer.” Ebay and Craigslist was, and still is, flooded with sports memorabilia on the cheap.

And as a result, the investment aspect of sports memorabilia took hold. As the stock market continues to fluctuate, money spent in the hobby continues to hold strong. A Ted Williams autographed baseball will always holds it’s value, as does a myriad of other items. As long as the player is a Hall of Famer, your money is safe in the market. Just be leery, especially with the steroid scandal that looms with a dark cloud, of players who have yet to make the Hall of Fame.

In these desperate times, however, always be cautious when purchasing autographed memorabilia. Make sure they come from a reputable seller who has been in the business for several years. Any shyster with a printer can make up a Certificate of Authenticity. I made the mistake of purchasing an autographed Warren Spahn baseball from a shady seller and it didn’t pass authentication. It was a worse investment than the McGwire rookie card.

There are good deals out there to be found. A friend of mine bought a box of baseball cards from an older lady for $200 on Craigslist, a box filled with baseball cards from the 50’s. He made his money back after selling just one Mickey Mantle card. I wouldn’t be surprised if he makes a few thousand dollars off the purchase. Perez-Steele postcards are popping up left and right, some as low as $20 authenticated. And never underestimate the autographed baseball, a staple of the memorabilia hobby, many selling for as low as half their book value.

There are other options to investing than just stocks and bonds. When you buy a share of IBM, you don’t get to see it, but an autographed Perez-Steele of Joe DiMaggio can be hung on the wall. And when it comes to investing, it’s important to diversify: put some money into stocks and bonds, and some into Wes Stock and Barry Bonds…or not. Just don’t forgot my McGwire mistake!
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