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Bridging the Gap: Modern and Vintage Collectors

by Henry Woodruff
March 9, 2005


How many of you consider yourself to be collectors of only new sports cards? On the other hand, how many of you only collect vintage cards? Odds are, 60%-75% of you can be categorized as "modern" collectors and the rest of you focus on collecting cards of decades past and are known as "vintage" collectors. Then again, how many of you now find yourself collecting both modern and vintage cards?

The main difference between modern and vintage collectors is actually very simple to understand. Most vintage collectors grew up with the cards they now collect. Since vintage cards are what they grew up with, it is often hard for them to appreciate the value of newer cards. Often, modern cards are viewed as a "flash in the pan" since their cards have been popular for longer than the newer cards have been in existence. Meanwhile, the modern collector is just collecting what he or she has grown up with. Many modern collectors are younger in age and just don't have the financial means to chase down a high-grade copy of a Wilt Chamberlain rookie card.

With this basic understanding, let's learn a little more about each group and then take a closer look at what the hobby is doing to bridge the gap between modern and vintage collectors.

Imagine yourself as a collector only interested in newer sports cards. Supporting you is the fact that there are so many more choices as to what to collect, with well over 50 products put out each year for most sports. Within those sets, there are often over 20 separate insert sets including parallel, serial-numbered, game-used and autographed cards. Often times, a modern collector will not have to search very far for a specific player, since most newer cards are produced in a far greater supply than those of the past.

Another factor on the side of modern collectors is the sheer number of traders. If you look at online trading communities such as SportsCardSheriff.com, there are many more traders actively involved in the general listing and want forums than in the vintage forums. Once again, this makes it easy for you to find the cards you want.

Looking at these factors, it is easy to see why the majority of the hobby is interested in modern cards. However, there are several factors on the side of the vintage collector as well.

In general, there is a more tight-knit community surrounding the vintage area of the hobby and more focus among these collectors. While many modern collectors will attempt to dabble in a little vintage every now and then, many vintage collectors never purchase a newer pack of sports cards. Instead, they have a "purpose" to their collecting and they stick with it rather than spread out into many different brands or sets. The new fad is simply less likely to influence these collectors.

To offset the general lack of online trading of vintage cards, these collectors have embraced the online auction boom and are experiencing increased success at locating and purchasing cards. Where it was once almost impossible to find that Mint 1954 Topps Ernie Banks rookie while scouring tens (if not hundreds) of sports card shows, it is now as easy as typing in the year and set of the card and up comes a listing of at least 10 Banks rookie cards in great shape.

While the modern collector may have access to the incredible number of newer cards placed on eBay each week, it is a much better tool for those collecting vintage cards because of the limited supply of cards within their local area. For the modern collector, all he or she needs is a local card shop where they can pull that Eli Manning rookie card with ease from any number of the packs and boxes available at the shop. The vintage collectors often visit a multitude of shops and shows before they can find even just one card for their collection.

Thanks to the Internet and the online auctions and trading communities it offers, both modern and vintage collectors are increasingly finding the same level of success in finding and collecting the cards they want - helping to bridge the "availability" gap that once existed between modern and vintage collectors.

To help with the basic "familiarity" gap, sports card manufacturers have been recently looking for creative ways to bring modern and vintage collectors together. In fact, it appears that the two groups now finally have some common-ground products to collect. Newer sets with older designs, such as the popular Topps Heritage and Upper Deck Vintage products, have been embraced by the hobby. They have brought vintage collectors to the table by taking designs from many popular vintage sets, but have also brought in modern collectors by offering several levels of chase cards as well as giving them a small taste of what older cards looked like without breaking the bank.

Other very popular designs include the Topps T-205 and T-206 brands. Combining the great players of today with the look and size of some of the most beautiful looking cards of the tobacco era was a great way to bring both types of collectors together. With its Heritage, T-205, T-206 and Cracker Jack products all containing the look and feel of older cards, as well as including real vintage cards within packs, Topps appears to be the leader in bringing vintage and modern collectors together through new and innovative products.

Companies such as Donruss-Playoff have taken a different, but still valuable, step towards making sets popular with both types of collectors. Donruss Elite, for example, includes game-used cards of some of the superstars of the past, including one of the only Satchel Paige game-used patch cards to ever be produced. That helped to make Donruss Elite a huge hit with collectors across the board.

In 2004, the Exhibits run of inserts was introduced in Leaf. With a large number of modern stars and older Hall-of-Fame players, this set contained over 40 different versions of each player - all numbered to 66 or less. Modeled after the original Exhibit postcards of the 40s, 50s and 60s, these cards soon became one of the best insert sets of the year. This was recently followed up with the 2005 Leaf Sportscasters series, which is based much along the same lines - multiple versions of vintage players with low production figures. The Playoff brand has taken the combination of vintage and modern players to a whole new level with Playoff Prime Cuts baseball. With encased game-used and autographed cards of players from Babe Ruth to Albert Pujols, Prime Cuts was the high-end hit of the year for 2004. This goes to show that your cards do not have to look like older cards to attract vintage collectors.

Perhaps this is the true future of the hobby. One where new "throwback" products can bring both modern and vintage collectors alike into the same collecting groups. There will still be some collectors who refuse to "inter-collect", but most seem to appreciate the fact that there are now more people who collect both newer and vintage cards - further unifying a great hobby.


About the author
Henry Woodruff is a huge fan of vintage baseball cards. He also collects Josh Willingham and Atlanta Braves players from all years and currently has his own website, www.freewebs.com/writer2244/. In his free time, he plays baseball, basketball and soccer.

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