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It’s a question that has puzzled collectors and investors for decades. Should I only focus on rookie cards when buying?
Quick summary… Short answer YES. Long answer YES… but… error and older cards may be the exceptions.
Best Rookie Card to Buy? Derek Jeter SP 1993 (shop for Derek Jeter SP 1993 on eBay)
Generally, the first cards that are released for a player are some of the rarest you’ll find. It’s one of the obvious reasons why rookie cards are more expensive than newer variants, even if they’re signed or shinier than older versions.
Everything from position to condition will play a part in the price of a card, but what is it about rookie cards that make them so special? Here’s everything you need to know before buying.
Older & Newer Rookie Cards
In the past, it was easier to decide on which rookie card to get, as there were only a couple on sale per year for each player. This is especially true for pre-1980’s cards, which were often given away as promotional items instead of being sold en masse like they are today.
Trading card companies soon realized that there was an expansive market for rookie cards, especially with collectors and investors hoping to pick up copies of the next big thing for a good price.
In the current market, almost every player has multiple variations of at least a couple of rookie cards from a number of manufacturers. The tradable market has been diluted heavily, even if a card has a signature and a patch that raises the price by a decent amount.
Rarity is still the most important factor, along with the general condition of the card. It’s why highly graded versions will often sell for multiples of the normal price, as there’s a guarantee of both the legitimacy and the quality. You can still strike gold with a rare edition, but this means that a typical rookie card you’ll find in a pack is probably next to worthless.
It’s worth remembering that the market for active players is always more volatile, as any misstep or heroic action is likely to have a ripple effect on their value in the short term. Anything from death to an MVP award will impact on prices, and it’s best to sell on hype if possible.
As a rule of thumb, some cards are going to be more valuable than their rookie equivalents. For example, a card that was subject to a printing error could be released into circulation before the manufacturer catches the error, causing there to be two sets of the same card.
The error card is likely to be much rarer, causing a bump in prices. For instance, the T206 Joe Doyle card was misprinted, listing the wrong league at the bottom. It was quickly corrected, but not before a few made it out into the wild. A PSA 2 sold for $160,000 in 2016, vastly exceeding the average cost of the normal version.
Meanwhile, it’s also worth remembering the “Junk Wax Era”. Between 1987 to 1993, it’s estimated that tens of billions of cards were produced by manufacturers, to a point where the majority aren’t worth more than a couple of dollars today.
If you’re looking at rookie cards for the best prices, it’s worth keeping an eye on the next generation if profit is your main goal. To that end, it’s worth keeping an eye on any player you’re thinking of investing in, especially while they’re still in the minor leagues. A future Rookie of the Year award is only going to add value, but only a select few can make it.
It’s best to avoid players that are mired in controversy unless prices are too good to be true, while you’ll want to avoid being caught up in the hype when investors are dumping the majority of their stock.
The majority of the time, it’s probably better to grab a rookie card over any other version. They tend to rise in price more rapidly, although it generally depends on the player and their personal circumstances.
Older rookie cards are typically more valuable, and you’ll be better protected against the various ups and downs that come with investing in a career along with a card. As well as rarity, it’s usually down to a players story or their achievements, while their legacy has a large part to play in the perceived value.
Sets like the fabled T206 series have helped to create a mystique about rookie cards, catching the public’s attention while selling for millions of dollars. While the majority of post-war cards aren’t worth much, there’s still a good chance to make a profit if you pay attention to current trends. Collectors can’t help but finish off their MVP sets, and there are some diamonds among the rough.
You can’t really go wrong with investing in rookie cards, as long as you remember that rarity and age tends to be the main factors when it comes to determining value.