Saturday, August 29, 2020

The Guiding Lights

This third and final part of my study of pricing structures in the hobby, which will be much more compact than what has come before, will show a dramatic shift from traditional hobby publications to the slicker formats of newsstand magazines and retail books. By 1981 the hobby had effectively "grown up" and was a big enough phenomenon to routinely enter mainstream publishing circles and monthly and annual price guides became the norm. It also became easier to track pricing in certain conditions, although there was enough variance between all publications to make it necessary to extrapolate pricing in some grades.

I used the following books and magazines plus Bill Henderson's Pricing Grid in The Trader Speaks for a portion of 1981 and 1982 as it was practically set up like the TTS Grid, to track prices from January 1981 to May 1990 (where my run of hobby publications ends for the most part):

1981: Sport Americana Baseball Card Price Guide, The Trader Speaks, Baseball Cards Magazine (two issues per year during baseball season)
1982: Sport Americana Baseball Card Price Guide, The Trader Speaks, Baseball Cards Magazine (two issues per year during baseball season)
1983: Sport Americana Baseball Card Price Guide, Current Card Prices, Baseball Cards Magazine (two issues per year during baseball season)
1984: Sport Americana Baseball Card Price Guide, Current Card Prices, Baseball Cards Magazine (four issues per year, issued bi-monthly April through October) 
1985: Baseball Cards Magazine (four issues per year, issued bi-monthly April through October) 
1986: Baseball Cards Magazine (four issues per year, issued bi-monthly April through October) 
1987: Sports Collectors Digest Baseball Price Guide, Baseball Cards Magazine (8 issues as it went from baseball season to bi-monthly to monthly this year)
1988: Baseball Cards Magazine (12 issues)
1989: Sports Collectors Digest Baseball Price Guide, Baseball Cards Magazine (12 issues)
1990: Sports Collectors Digest Baseball Price Guide, Baseball Cards Magazine (5 issues January through May)

Full disclosure-I worked for Current Card Prices (CCP) for two-and-a-half years (covering the first 25 issues) where I assisted with the initial development of pricing and then a large portion of the monthly updates thereafter.

I gave up on TTS pricing in this study after 1982 as Dan Dischley was clearly losing momentum and the price grid practically disappeared thereafter. He sold out in September 1983 and the new owners (his neighbors) tried to turn it into a price guide publication like CCP but it was not to be and I was not able to verify their hobby bona fides. It ceased publication after the March 1984 issue when Krause Publications (Sports Collectors Digest parent company) bought the mailing list. You can also see my Sport Americana Guides are bereft after 1984, when I stopped purchasing them.  After 1990 I will only show sporadic pricing as my run of publications is not as robust as it could be. I'll conclude with PSA's current pricing, which will amaze and or/anger many of you, depending upon when you sold off some of your cards!

This mostly 80's overview will be presented in the form of yearly averages with commentary regarding each along the way.  It was an unexpected challenge to wrangle the pricing for Ex-Mt, NM and Mint conditions into a cohesive whole. For pricing through 1986 I used Ex-Mt as the baseline, then NM thereafter.  I extrapolated prices for the other grades according.  From 1981-86 the NM price was extrapolated to 120% of Ex-Mt and Mint to 140%.  After that, the spread between Ex-Mt and NM grew and I calculated Ex-Mt at two-thirds of the NM price and Mint at 120% of NM.  It's not perfect but it's close enough to show what I want to show. Rounding to the nearest penny or dollar sometimes occurs, especially for the latter years of the decade, as it seemed silly to show trailing cents for $100+ cards.

As noted in my last post, the 1981 edition of the Sport Americana Baseball Card Price Guide had a key article that revealed three 1952 Topps high numbers had been double printed, including one of my research subjects. This had a deleterious effect on the pricing of this card in what also turned out to be a little bit of a down time for 50's and 60's cards that lasted into 1982. That revelation, coupled with a huge amount of interest in current issues thanks to Donruss and Fleer issuing sets along with Topps, plus a little thing called Fernando-mania, together with the player's strike mid-season and poor economic conditions generally, resulted in that utmost rarity, a Mantle card pricing depression.

The averages for the year are as follows (order is Ex-Mt/NM/Mint) and I've put the 1980 Sport Americana pricing in parentheses.  I decided to add the 1961 high numbers, which at one point later in the decade were considered in some collecting circles to be the hardest of all the 60's high numbers and in fact considered replacing the 57 mids with them (and didn't) but they debut here, blog-wise. I didn't track the full year, nor did I do so for 1982 either. Tough noogies.

1952 Highs: $42.50/$51.00/$59.50 ($55.00). Slight uptick as collectors continued to chase these for sets.
1952 Mantle: $1,095/$1,315/$1,534 ($2,500). Mantle prices plummeted and were down to $750 or so for an Ex-Mt example by December.
1957 Mids: $2.17/$2.60/$3.04 ($1.80). As with the 1952 highs, sets were being filled in by collectors.
1961 Highs: $6.00/$7.20/$8.40 ($4.00). Gotta start somewhere.
1966 Highs: $1.94/$2.33/$2.72 ($1.80). Gotta get those high numbers for your set!
1966 Perry: $43.39/52.07/$60.75 ($10.00). Only Sport-Americana picked up on this trend, first noticed at conventions around the summer of 1980 and even commented upon in The Trader Speaks yet bizarrely not addressed in their pricing grid.
1967 Highs: $1.42/$1.70/$2.00 ($1.50). Their pricing would lag the 66's for the entire decade.
1967 B. Robinson: $63.58/$76.30/$89.01 ($120.00). Brooks was plummeting along with the Mick.
1972 Highs: 37 cents/44 cents/52 cents (22 cents). You could still buy large quantities of mint high numbers in 1981 but these and the 1970 and 1971 highs were poised for increases.

I want to show you the Bill Henderson Pricing Grid, which was ubiquitous for many years in the hobby guides and magazines. He was the self proclaimed "King of Commons" and boy was that an appropriate moniker, especially if you saw the mountain of cards he used to bring to the National and other major shows:

Some of those pricing ranges on 60's high numbers were due to grouped together All Star or Rookie cards bringing more then regular commons. His 1967 high number pricing spread may indicate Bill knew about the short prints as there's just plain old commons, tough cards, Rookie Stars and Team cards randomly sprinkled throughout.

On to our pricing averages for the year:

1952 Highs: $38.13/$45.76/53.38.  Down a smidge, possibly just due to the relatively high price per card.
1952 Mantle: $677/$812/$947.  The low point for the Mick came in the November TTS, where he was listed at $695 in Ex-Mt. Still a lot of money at the time but just an absolute bargain in retrospect.
1957 Mids: $2.61/$3.13/$3.65. Holding their own.
1961 Highs: $5.93/$7.12/$8.30. See 1957.
1966 Highs:  $2.00/$2.40/$2.80. See 1961.
1966 Perry: $31/$36/$43. Overheated too early, cooling down period ensued.
1967 Highs: $1.39/$1.67/1.95. Steady as she goes, just down a couple of cents.
1967 B. Robinson: $59/$71/$83. The idea this was a true short print was wearing thin.
1972 Highs: 47 cents/56 cents/68 cents. Up a little but ample supply in Mint was still out there.

The first full year of tracking the 1961 highs here, after a high-atus (sorry). 

1952 Highs: $36.74/44.09/51.44. Still down a little.
1952 Mantle: $941/$1,130/$1,318.  The comeback at last.
1957 Mids: $2.62/$3.14/$3.67. Rock steady in the extreme.
1961 Highs: $4.62/$5.54.$6.47. A down year, not sure why.
1966 Highs: $1.82/$2.18/$2.55. Just down a hair.
1966 Perry: $41/$49/$57. No hair, but growing.
1967 Highs: $1.61/$1/93/$2.25. First time these went up and the 66's went down it seems.
1967 B. Robinson: $78/$938/$109. Looking up for Brooksie in '83 with his HOF induction no doubt helping.
1972 Highs: 48 cents/58 cents/67 cents. Another steady series.

The big change this year was the introduction of Short Print and Double Print Pricing for the 1967 high numbers in Current Card Prices. This was partially the result of my research at CCP, which was the only publication to track these at all in the 1980's from what I can tell and only identified the Double Prints in the last six months of the year. The publisher and I disagreed on some of the Single and Double Prints and he listed far less of the former and far more of the latter than I had uncovered based upon his years of experience as a dealer. Fair enough as the current research indicates there may be three or possibly four levels of scarcity, some of which may be related to a production problem and not the array of the press sheets.

The standard pricing in my figures down below is essentially a blended figure of "DP" and "regular" prints.  I've not parsed it further as the pricing in this study from 1985 onward does not include anything further from CCP; I have the January 1985 issue, which was the last one I worked on but have not included it in any figures here.

If you include the #531 checklist, there are 77 cards in the 1967 high numbers. CCP identified 23 DP's and 5 of the cards broken out in the individual listings were shown as as Short Prints: #553 Yankees Rookies, #558 Orioles Rookies (Belanger), #563 Adcock, #581 Mets Rookies (Seaver) and #586 Jimenez; the dot meant a card had been added to the listings. The rest of the highs were just treated as "regular" prints" although there are six other cards I believe to be true short prints and 11 others that could be as well. I regret that I do not have all of my original notes anymore.

Meanwhile, things were decidedly looking up for Mickey and friends in the '52 highs:

1952 Highs: $43.02/$51.62/60.23. They would never be this cheap again.
1952 Mantle: $1,360/$1,632/$1,904. It's off to the races from this point. Still racing...
1957 Mids: $2.62/$3.14/$3.67. Stagnation nation.
1961 Highs: 4.67/$5.60/$6.54. Very little movement.
1966 Highs: $2.03/$2.44/$2.84. The separation between these highs and those from the following year was starting to grow.
1966 Perry: $45/$54/$63. Steadily going up in the first year of his retirement.
1967 Highs: $1.61/$1.93/$2.25. Nowheresville, as all the action was in SP/DP activity.
1967 Short Print Highs: $4.07/$4.88/$5.70. The short prints priced here are really just three commons.
1967 B. Robinson: $76/$91/$106. A little down. It seems to me that a good supply of 1967 high numbers were still out there, whereas the 66's were drying up.
1972 Highs: 58 cents/70 cents/81 cents. It doesn't seem like much but this is a 20% increase from 1983.

A big focus on 80's rookie cards (yawn) was developing in the hobby and articles about speculating on same were starting to permeate Baseball Cards magazine.  That trend would continue for the rest  of the decade.

My "grid" now excludes the 1967 Short Print highs.

1952 Highs: $43/$51.00/$60. Hopefully you stocked up on these in 1984.
1952 Mantle: $1,200/$1,440/$1,680. Same here.  Wonder if FOMO was starting to take hold?
1957 Mids: $2.50/$3.00/$3.50. Surprisingly down just a hair.
1961 Highs: $4.75/$5.70/$6.65. Unsurprisingly up by a hair.
1966 Highs: $2.13/$2.56/$2.98. These just kept up their slow grind upwards.
1966 Perry: $48/$57/$67. Following the herd.
1967 Highs: $1.60/$1.92/$2.24. This is getting ridiculous.
1967 B. Robinson: $74/$88/$103.The decline continues.  
1972 Highs: 68 cents/82 cents/95 cents.Almost a 20% jump again.  It's amazing but the 1970-72 high numbers, which were all trading in this kind of range, were creeping up on the 67's.

This was the last year default Ex-Mt pricing was a thing.  It was a useful description back in the days of letter-writing and hobby publications that were all text but more and more it came to signify cards that were "pack fresh" but with potential to be wildly off-center. And with millions of new cards issued every year, everybody wanted "NM or better" anyway.

1952 Highs: $49/$58/$68. They just kept going up, up, up.
1952 Mantle: $1,800/$2,160/$2,520. 50% increase from 1985. Mickey was a fixture at card shows at this point, certainly helping his popularity.  I saw him at a show once around 1983-ish (I was waiting on line to get a Duke Snider autograph) and he was a good signer, great with kids, probably due in part to his ever present glass of "water."
1957 Mids: $2.56/$3.07/$3.58. Down just a tad.
1961 Highs: $4.75/$5.70/$6.65 UNCH, as the old daily stock market tables used to show.
1966 Highs: $2.38/$2.86/$3.33. Grinding, grinding.
1966 Perry: $49/$59/$69. Just about unchanged. 
1967 Highs: $1.60/$1.92/$2.24. Essentially three years in a row of stagnant pricing.
1967 B. Robinson: $78/$94/$109. The ebb and flow of Brooks continues.
1972 Highs: 70 cents/84 cents/98 cents. These had cooled off a bit.  

1987 (Standard Pricing is now NM, other grades are calculated from that baseline with a 20% increase for Mint and deduction of one-third for Ex-Mt. Grading spreads were changing as condition became paramount to collectors. "Mint freaks" were once derided by some Long Island dealers I knew but the joke turned out to be on them).

There's finally some decent movement on a lot of my subjects.  1987 was the year when things exploded in terms of new card production and it seemed interest in the hobby was growing almost exponentially.

1952 Highs: $58/$87/$104. First good increase in a couple of years.
1952 Mantle: $2,121/$3,180/$3,816. If Mickey was a hobby (race)horse, he'd be Secretariat.
1957 Mids: $3.44/$5.15/$6.18. Perhaps the most amazing story here, a noticeable increase after half a decade.
1961 Highs: $5.77/$8.65/$10.38. These too were showing signs of life.
1966 Highs: $2.93/$4.40/$5.28. Up almost 20%, just like the other highs above.
1966 Perry: $52/$78/$94. Priming the pump as the HOF got closer.
1967 Highs: $1.68/$2.52/$3.02. Still lagging the 66's.
1967 B. Robinson: $79/$104/$125. As the highs went, so did Robinson.
1972 Highs: 68 cents/$1.02/$1.22. A surprising, albeit slight, retreat.

If 1987 was the year of great hobby interest, 1988 was the year prices really stared zooming. I became a part time dealer starting in the Fall of 1988 and there were literally people walking around shows with large paper bags full of cash.  Somehow, in the year of crisis following one of the biggest stock market crashes in US history (Black Monday anyone?) people were shelling out huge bucks for old cardboard.  This may seem like a familiar theme to us all in this pandemic year.

1952 Highs: $91/$136/$163. Up close to 35%.
1952 Mantle: $3,928/$5,889/$7,067. Mickey was almost double from the prior year's average. With a bad stock market, invest in good cards I guess.
1957 Mids: $6.26/$9.38/$11.26. Huge jump for these.
1961 Highs: $9.59/$14.38/$17.26. And these.
1966 Highs: $5.26/$7.88/$9.46 Same.
1966 Perry: $102/$153/$184. Samer.
1967 Highs: $2.59/$3.88/$4.66. Not quite as much as the other subjects above but a healthy bump.
1967 B. Robinson: $87/$130/$156. A 20% boost.
1972 Highs: 92 cents/$1.38/$1.66. Close to a 40% rise from the year prior.

Things cooled a little as a recession was teeing up.  The trend was still up though. Of note, 1966 Short Prints were finally being broken out and priced.

1952 Highs: $99/$149/$178. Up 10% or so after a hot 1988.
1952 Mantle: $4,336/$6,500/$7,800. 10% as well on the upside.
1957 Mids: $9.81/$14.71/$17.65. Almost a two-thirds rise on a percentage basis.  I can't recall if this was a particularly hot set at the time but it sure seems like it was.
1961 Highs: $12.10/$18.14/$21,77. Lagging the 57's, practically a first.
1966 Highs: $12/$18/$21.60. These more than doubled-wowsers!
1966 Short Print Highs: $13/$19.50/$23.40. Baseball Cards Magazine picked up on these at the beginning of the year, although I'm not sure of their source. The SP/DP spread would grow but eventually wane a bit.
1966 Perry: $160/$240/$288. His HOF vote inched ever closer and prices escalated accordingly. 
1967 Highs: $3.20/$4.80/$5.76. Best bump yet.
1967 B. Robinson: $110/$165/$198. Following along with the highs still.
1972 Highs: $1.29/$1.93/$2.32. The best year yet for this psychedelic favorite of mine.

Given the recession was essentially in full swing by Summer, my meager collection of Baseball Cards magazine that ends in May is not a huge help for annual pricing studies. Still, here's a snapshot before things went awry.  I can tell you that shows in the latter half of 1990 were not good from my perspective as a part-timer. The trend would continue into 1991 after which my partner and I gave up; a lot of smaller shows were dying at this point too.

1952 Highs: $100/$150/$180. This is not really movement at all.
1952 Mantle: $5,136/$7,700/$9,240. The road to five figures was paved and just waiting for traffic, recession be damned.
1957 Mids: $10/$15/$18. Stagnation nation regeneration.
1961 Highs: $13.44/$20/$24. These were still going up a little.
1966 Highs: $10/$15/$18. The SP/DP split was affecting the DP pricing it seems.
1966 Short Print Highs: $13.34/$20/$24. It's worth noting there is still no true consensus on which SP''s are really SP's. A debate over which high numbers and their respective SP's are harder to find in 1966 vs. 1967 rages on.  These two years have oddly printed and/or produced and/or collated and/or distributed high numbers, for reasons that are still unclear.
1966 Perry: $167/$250/$300. Little bit o'bumpage.
1967 Highs: $3.34/$5/$6. Same as Perry.
1967 B. Robinson: $117/$175/$210. Same as the highs.
1972 Highs: $1.50/$2.25/$2.70. Nice increase on these toughies.

And now I punt...half the fun of this exercise was re-reading all the old hobby publications.  Price guides are just not the same and from about 1987 they really supplanted the tradition hobby 'zines in terms of setting the pricing pace.

Fast forward to 2011 and things are, well, interesting when looking at The Standard Catalog, which basically supplanted the old SCD Guide and is sorely missed by me and the hobby in general.  I'm only going to use NM pricing as the spread to Mint turned into a chasm and Ex-Mt was but a distant memory.

1952 Highs: $400 - you need a Brinks truck full of cash to collect the high numbers in any kind of decent shape.
1952 Mantle: $35,000 - Make it two Brinks trucks for the Mick.
1957 Mids: $25 - They finally grew up!
1961 Highs: $20 - They finally calmed down.
1966 Highs: 12.50 - Equlibrium.
1966 Short Print Highs: $16 - Shrinking spread.
1966 Perry:  $170 - Great pitcher but not all that popular in the hobby other than with certain team and HOF collectors.
1967 Highs:  $12 - Parity with 1966 achieved.
1967 B. Robinson: $250  Compare to the Seaver rookie at $500.
1972 Highs: $12 -  As I mentioned w-a-a-a-y back in the first of the posts in this series, these were thought to be the hardest (i.e. printed in lesser numbers than 1970 or '71) of the 70's high numbers.

I'm going to jump ahead here again and show PSA pricing as of August 2020, in NM 7. Once grading really came to the fore in the mid 90's, the old "raw" guide prices became somewhat outdated in a way.

1952 Highs: $300 - eBay has made it clear these are not as difficult as believed by prior generations of collectors. In demand certainly and definitely not common but not the ne plus ultra of major tough postwar cards either. as collectors of the 50's and 60's once thought.
1952 Mantle: $115,000 - This speaks for itself. Holy crap.
1957 Mids: $32 - This feels about right if you ask me.
1961 Highs: $28 - This too, as their perceived scarcity has also been both unmasked and affirmed in a way by eBay.
1966 Highs: $15 - These look like they hit an early peak and got stuck on the mountain.
1966 Short Print Highs: $25 - I still don't know how the SP's are determined.
1966 Perry: $135 - Party's definitely over for Gaylord.
1967 Highs: $20 per the series tranche at the top of the listing, $16 per the individual player listings and no mention of SP's or DP's.  Curious.
1967 B. Robinson: $250 - Stability has been achieved. Seaver is a $900 card in this grade with a lot more potential to grown that Brooks in my opinion
1972 Highs: $5.  Didn't see that coming.  1970 at $6 and 1971 at $12 have surpassed them but those both have full bleed color to the edges.

 I thought it would be interesting to show the PSA 7 results for all high or scarce numbers from 1952-1973 to finish this study off. I'll repeat the above figures from August 2020 for the sake of clarity, without getting too deep into Short Prints, Double Prints or Extra Prints:

1952: $300
1953: $110
1954: $45 for the "series" running from #51-#75. These are not really high or scarce series cards in actual fact but the print arrays beyond the first series of 50 cards are quite bizarre this year, with huge numbering gaps.
1955: $50 but there's not really much a spread on these vs. the lows.  1954 and 1955 were short sets and Topps didn't have to issue more than four series in either year.
1956: $30 for high numbers that are relatively abundant in comparison to prior series. Again, 4 series and not 5 or more helps smooth things out.
1957: $32 for fourth series of course.
1958: $14 for everything beyond the first series, which shows at $18.  With Stan Musial signed and a high number all star card of the Donora Greyhound was triple printed (same with the Mick), at the expense of four other subjects on at least one slit (132 card half sheet) or press run. Topps pumped the last series hard in the first year of truly national major league baseball.  First series issues were probably due to all the new pictures and write-ups that had to be made. The four cards that got short shrift in the all star shenanigans are listed at $25 each.
1959: $16 for the first high numbers of note (in terms of print run) since 1953. Noticeable color change on the back as well.
1960: $12 in a year where the highs are not too difficult.
1961: $28
1962: $16. PSA has a bunch of SP's listed higher ($20) but I don't know how they figured them out.
1963: $10, or $2 less than the semi-highs. There is semi-active research going on over at Net54 on the 1963 press runs and sheet arrays.
1964: $12 for another fairly easy year.
1965: $10 for an abundant series of highs priced just $2 more then the semi-highs.
1966: $15 for another year being dissected over at Net54.
1967: $20 (or $16) for a popular set and another being looked at over at Net54.
1968: $6 for the last two series vs. $5 for all below.
1969: $9 vs. $7 for all other series.  These are not hard at all but the year is very popular.
1970: $6
1971: $12
1972: $5
1973: $3 vs. $2 otherwise in a year where a good percentage of cards got distributed all at once from the get-go.

Other than 1952, 1953 and possibly 1954, it's not too hard to find highs or the tougher series in decent shape, although if you like truly good centering you may feel differently. Other years where production seems to have accelerated are 1959, 1965 and 1969. 1961 is still a bit tough, 1962 and 1963 have full bleed borders on some or all of the edges that makes nicer looking cards harder to find.  As always, your experience may vary!


night owl said...

This is tremendously enlightening.

John Bateman said...

The first Price Guide I ever saw was from Renata Galasso and her BHCR which she sent out free to everyone who bought cards from her. The initial guide was from early 1983, she had the 1952 highs at $30 and the Mantle at $750. The 57s mids at $2.50. The 61 highs at $5.00. The 66 highs at $1.95. The 66 Perry at $40. The 67s highs $1.50. The 67 Robinson was $85. The 72 highs were 50 cents. All pretty much on the low end compared to your list.

Galasso also had card prices for other sports with only 3 Topps football cards listed more than $25. The Unitas ($27), Brown ($40) and Namath ($125) rookies breaking that barrier. For Hockey the 1954-55 Gordie Howe was $45. The 1966-67 Bobby Orr rookie was $15 and 1979-80 Wayne Gretzky was $12.75. In the NBA, Bill Russell's 1958-59 rookie card was $55. The 1961-62 Fleer (sorry Toppps Archives) Wilt Chamberlain was $15 and the 1969-70 Topps Lew Alcindor went for $12.50.

The earliest price guide I ever bought was the August 1984 baseball card magazine which has a great article about the 1953 Topps Sheets. In this issue the Mantle was $950 Mint and $425 VG. tHE 52 highs were $35 mint.