Building a Collection on a Budget4 min read


One reason that card collecting is a fantastic hobby is that we alone define the scope of our collections. Another benefit is that a thick billfold is not a prerequisite for building a meaningful and enjoyable collection. Many hobbyists have budgetary constraints that affect their collections, so the key is to learn how to get the most enjoyment out of your hobby dollar. The following are a series of points that should be considered if you are not blessed with unlimited card money.

  • CONDITION – The higher the grade, the more valuable the card. This is a simple concept that typically drives us to purchase the nicest example possible of the cards we desire. However… As nice as a PSA 10 might be, consider the price tag that comes along with that grade. Modern cards that are graded PSA 9 or even PSA 8 are also extremely nice and can be had at a fraction of the cost of a 10. In terms of vintage material, I am a big proponent of the PSA 6. These cards present very well, and again, are priced far-below their higher-graded counterparts. Consider the following examples from PSA’s Auction Prices Realized:
    •  1961 Topps #290 Stan Musial – Here is an example of a nice vintage card of a hall of fame favorite. PSA 9s sell for around $500. The price of a PSA 6, however, is between about $35 and $50. Sure the 6 is not pristine, but an example with nice corners and decent centering is an outstanding value.
    • 1993 SP #279 Derek Jeter  – While PSA 10s have recently sold for more than $75,000 each, take a look at the pricing for a PSA 8. These cards are far more affordable and the condition is still extremely nice. Additionally, as lower grade cards are more prevalent, you can take your time finding the one that best fits your personal card requirements (i.e., favoring centering over corners, etc.).
  • ALL-STAR & IN ACTION CARDS – At least in the vintage world, the most desirable cards of a player are typically their standard issues from each set. However, top players often have multiple cards in a single set. I am speaking about All-Star and In Action cards, which I have always found to be of great value. Take a look at the 1959 Topps Willie Mays base card and then the 1959 Topps Willie Mays All-Star. Both cards are from the same set and feature the same player, but the base card is exponentially more expensive than the all-star. And there is really no glaring reason as to why that is the case. The Willie Mays card recognizing his historic catch in the 1954 World Series is also in the 1959 Topps set, and is even less expensive than the all-star.
  • HALL OF FAME SETS – A lot of the pre-war hall of fame cards fall outside the budgets of many collectors, even in lower condition. One great alternative to the originals is dedicated hall of fame sets, of which there are many from which to choose. Vintage cards (though not necessarily from their playing days) can be had of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Honus Wagner and many other legends at a fraction of the cost of career-contemporary cards. If you are not already familiar with them, take a look at the following vintage hall of fame sets.
  • ALTERNATE ACQUISITION METHODS – No, I am not advocating stealing. But there are more creative ways to acquire cards than simply making outright purchases at retail prices.
    • Buy bulk lots – If a card that you need is listed for sale along with a lot of stuff you don’t care for, consider buying the entire lot and reselling the extras. Bulk lots typically result in quantity discounts, and full purchase prices (and even profits) can be had if a collector is willing to do a bit of work.
    • Trade – Most message boards have a B/S/T section, with the “T” being the least-used option of the three. Propose trades before agreeing to purchase something. Everyone has different tastes, and there is always a possibility that something you no longer want would be highly-desired by someone else.
    • Get away from your computer – By this I mean go out into “The Wild.” Stop into card shops, antique shops, flea markets, garage sales and thrift stores. You truly never know what you will find. Your next find could be something you absolutely love, or something that you could sell to help fund the purchase of what you truly want.
  • GET EDUCATED – When it comes right down to it, knowledge will always be one of our greatest tools. The more you know about a card or set, the better off you will be. Take advantage of all of the resources available on the PSA website to truly immerse yourself in the hobby. Then, when you are ready to make a purchase, you can rest assured that you are doing so from a position of knowledge and that you are not simply settling because you have no other option. Some of the key research tools that are available to you free of charge include:

Posted by Todd Tobias

Todd Tobias is a longtime hobbyist and PSA staff member who is constantly on the hunt for vintage lacrosse issues and autographed cards for his American Football League (1960-1969) collection.

Johnny Robinson - Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2019!!!

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