10 Tips for Building a Better Collection8 min read

PSA President Joe Orlando reviews 10 tips for building a better trading card and memorabilia collection. Follow these guidelines to get the most from your collectibles. The ‘PSA10 Webcast Series: Tips, Lists and Guides from PSA and PSA/DNA’ is a bi-weekly webcast designed to give collectors the tools needed to build a better collection. Watch. Learn. Collect.


Hello, this is Joe Orlando, president of PSA and lifelong hobbyist. Several years ago I decided to put together a list of 10 tips for building a collection. I hope these tips can improve your experience and help you avoid collector frustration. It’s always best to lay out a plan of action before you start spending your hard-earned money. This short presentation will hopefully provide a few guidelines to help you plan your collection.

Tip number one: Select a collecting theme and stick to it. I can’t tell you how important this is. A random unfocused collection should be avoided if possible. With all the auctions that come every auction season and with all the collectibles available on the internet today, it’s very easy to build an unfocused collection. So what I would suggest is to come up with a theme that you’re really into. For example, you might collect items from 500 Home Run Club members in baseball. This may include single signed baseballs, game used bats, rookie cards or photos. To take it a step further you might narrow it down to one type of collectible within that theme such as single signed baseballs. Otherwise a lack of focus will lead to serious frustration.

Tip number two: Buy authenticated and/or graded collectibles.  Beyond the peace of mind that these types of certified items provide at some point in the future buyers and collectors today become sellers and you want to make sure that you could maximize the value of the items that you have. One way to do this is to make sure you’re dealing with the right company. Some key questions to ask might be how long has the company been in business. How many items have they certified? What is their reputation? What is their market share, which is extremely important because you want the most available buyers for your items. And finally, how strong is their following? All of these questions and more are important. Certified collectibles can reduce your anxiety as a buyer and increase your opportunities as a seller.

Tip number three: Ask questions and educate yourself. Onto the Internet there is more information available to the collector today than ever before. Use it. What Carfax is to the automobile buyer, PSA card facts can be to the card buyer. At PSA card facts, for example, we try to consolidate all the pertinent and valuable information such as price guides, auction prices realized, population reports. images articles, expert narratives and more. If you arm yourself with market data like this you will be much better off. Knowledge is power. An informed collector is a happy one.

Tip number four: Find and buy from a reputable seller. A good dealer is not one who simply sells you items at a good price; a good dealer is one that can also help you learn more about the collectibles that you’re trying to buy.  They can help you build a collection and keep in mind that as you develop a relationship with this seller at some point in the future you may decide to sell your items so you already have the relationship in place and they can help you liquidate your collection. A good dealer can be a great ally.

Tip number five: Consider display or storage issues. This is one many of us learned the hard way and that includes me when it comes to collectibles, especially memorabilia. Unlike cards it can take up a lot of room. Now not everyone displays their collection but even if you don’t display it, you have to store it somewhere. So it’s very important that as you come up with a theme and start building these collections and start purchasing items you have to keep storage and display issues in mind. Thinking about space will help you reach a better place.

Tip number six: Avoid becoming a bargain hunter in collecting. There is truth to the old adage if it sounds too good to be true it usually is. The key here is that we are all looking for the best price and there’s nothing wrong with looking for a good deal. But when you become obsessed with the price and focus solely on the price you start to take your mind off the authenticity and/or quality of that item and it usually leads you right down the path to counterfeits or juries and subpar quality material. Be price conscious but not price obsessed.

Tip number seven: Buy the finest quality you can afford. Now this is a very interesting subject.  We all have to realize that we have a certain sized bank account, a certain sized wallet, so you have to establish a fairly firm budget from the outset. That’s the reality of being a collector but when you can I would always suggest to buy the best quality you can afford. Quality material tends to survive good and bad economies; it’s the items that people want the most. Like I said, regardless of the state of the economy so I would definitely suggest focusing on the best quality of course you can afford which changes from person to person.  You also have to ask yourself what types of items will satisfy you as a collector. Some people insist on very high-grade material. That’s what there – so what they have to realize is if you’re into very high-grade material you may only be able to collect a very small number of items. For example, with a 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth card – whether it’s the number 53, the number 144, the number 149, or 181 of the Ruth cards they can range in PSA 8 from the low $2000’s to well over $50,000 apiece. You really do get what you pay for in this situation, but keep in mind that if you look at it from a different perspective you could have a number of Goudey Babe Ruth cards. For example you might be able to purchase all four Babe Ruth cards in PSA 7 for the price of one of them in 8 and that’s just something that you have to consider as you’re developing your collection. It really does come down to a matter of taste and your ability to spend.

Tip number eight: Manage emotions but don’t be afraid to pull the trigger. Now there’s no question that an emotional buy is never a good one or at least most of the time is not a good one. You don’t want to tell a seller that you’re willing to pay any amount for a particular type of item. It’s much like a boxer who telegraphs his punches. You’re waiting to get knocked out cold. You’re basically putting a big bullseye on your chest and you don’t want to do that. That being said the reality is great art and items are hard to come by, plain and simple, so going into this I mean how many times have you I know I’ve done this as a collector. How many times have we kicked ourselves after an auction closes whether it’s a day later, six months later, a year later and said: ‘Why didn’t I make that next bid? Why didn’t I buy that item? it was the one I really wanted. So when the opportunity presents itself I would say go for it. Collect with your heart but buy with your head.

Tip number nine: Value expertise over origin. This is something to be very, very aware of. Forgers love to create elaborate stories to divert your attention away from the merit of the item itself. That is something that is key in the marketplace. Remember that the bottom line is the item has to be able to pass muster on its own merit without the story.  Provenance can add terrific value, tremendous value to the item but it can’t be a substitute for it.  So in the case here on the screen for example, if you have a Ted Williams store model bat it doesn’t matter if it came from his dentist, from his family member, from a former player and umpire. Ted Williams did not use store model bats he was one of the most particular players when it came to the quality of the wood used on his bats. He would never do that so you have to focus on the item itself. Provenance can add great value but there is no substitute for merit.

Tip number 10: Keep collecting fun. Let’s face it, there is a financial aspect, in some cases a very big financial aspect to collecting. But if that’s your only reason to collect I would not suggest participating in this hobby. This is risky just like any other market. Just like real estate or stocks. The bottom line is with big-time collectors; some of the biggest collections that are known in the world, not just the United States. What I have found is that all of these collectors have something in common; they have a true passion for the material. Collect what makes you happy. If it’s not fun, it’s not worth doing.

There you have it. I hope these 10 tips can provide a better experience to the listeners out there. I know it’s something that’s helped guide me in my collecting pursuits.

This is Joe Orlando at PSA signing off. Talk to you next time.

Posted by Ryan Gaeta

Ryan is a sports fan and Non-Sports aficionado, who is still tormented by the fact he owned the entire 1st Edition run of Pokémon cards but traded them away or ruined them at one point or another.

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