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Avoiding the Collecting Pitfalls Caused by Media Coverage

by Paul Angilly
August 1, 2005

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While earning his seventh consecutive Tour de France victory on July 24, Lance Armstrong once again generated a lot of attention in the media.

And just like any other athlete who generates a lot of attention, prices of his few legitimate trading cards skyrocketed in price, demand and availability.

During a span of time stretching from about 10 days before he completed the final stage through about five days after the victory, there were more than 660 different completed auctions featuring Lance Armstrong-related items listed under the Sports Memorabilia, Cards & Fan Shop - Cards category on eBay.

The top seller: a whopping $350 "buy it now" bid on a lot that featured a rookie card from the 1992 Impel U.S. Olympic Hopefuls set, graded 9.5 (Gem Mint) by Beckett Grading Services. The card was offered along with what the seller described as "an official autograph of Lance which I personally obtained in Paris last year after he won his 6th Tour De France. The autograph and pictures are in an 8x10 frame."

There were seven other BGS 9.5 copies of the same card sold, all drawing bids in excess of $100: one at $230 (a "buy it now" bid that also included a BGS 9.0 copy and two ungraded copies of the card), one at $210 (another "buy it now" bid that also included a BGS 9.0 copy and one ungraded copy of the card), one at $173.50, one at $162.50, one at $122.39, one at $119.99 and one at $105.15.

An ungraded copy of the same card sold for as little as $3.50, with a few other copies selling below $10.

Keep in mind that this card comes from a 110-card set that until just a few years ago could be easily found for $5 or less. Almost certainly, by the end of the current calendar year (possibly even by the end of the month), the 110-card set will again sink to a value of about $10, with the Armstrong single in the $5 range.

Sound too cheap? Keep in mind that these cards were issued at a time when nearly all card sets were massively overproduced, and there were probably about a million or more copies printed. Also keep in mind that with his retirement, he'll probably never again have the media attention that he did last week. Out of sight, out of mind and off the want lists of most card collectors.

Also beware of unlicensed cards - always a problem whenever an athlete is getting a lot of media attention. Some hints:

  • Check the card producer's history. Run a search for other cards from the same manufacturer. You'll see that there are many different Impel sets out there, as well as 17 years worth of Sports Illustrated for Kids magazine inserts (another popular seller on eBay recently has been Armstrong's SI4K card). You'll also see that many makers of Armstrong cards being sold lately only make cards of top-name athletes and not full sets, and that the cards are often sold in lots of 10, 25 or more - a likely sign that the card maker does not have a license to legally produce such cards and is merely printing them to meet demand.
  • Beware especially of supposedly limited-issue cards numbered to quantities such as 25 copies, or 1-of-1. Many such issues are actually homemade cards printed out on a personal computer. Check the seller's other items and you'll often see that such "cards" are the only things listed. Ask yourself: if only 25 copies of a certain card were made, how did one seller get 20 or more of those copies? Simple answer - he or she probably made them on a home computer.
  • Whenever there's any doubt, ask plenty of questions - who made the card?; was it part of a set?; where did the seller obtain it? If the seller is unable or unwilling to answer, then don't make a bid.

Hockey back in big way: Upper Deck is currently the only manufacturer fully licensed to produce NHL cards for the coming season, but there'll be no shortage of new sets to chase after. According to a report on Beckett.com, the company is scheduled to release 10 different products by the end of December.

The first is Be A Player - originally planned as a 2004-05 release but now officially a 2005-06 issue - which is due out soon. The set brings back the one autographed card per pack concept that Upper Deck first introduced with the brand during the 1994-95 season.

Two lower-priced brands will follow: Victory (99 cents per pack) is due on Aug. 15, followed by Power Play ($2.99 per pack) on Sept. 12. Then come two new brands: Artifacts (based upon the name, expect a high-priced memorabilia-driven set) on Oct. 20 and the retail-only ESPN brand (similar to recent baseball and football issues) on Oct. 25.

Upper Deck series one, which should include the first official rookie card of Sidney Crosby if he begins the season at the NHL level, is due on Nov. 1. Black Diamond returns on Nov. 21. Also scheduled for pre-Christmas releases are three more returning brands: MVP, Trilogy and SPx.

Upper Deck issued six different card sets during the 2004-05 season, but two (Legendary Signatures and Legends Classics) featured retired players and another (All-World Edition) pictured players in foreign leagues. The other three were Upper Deck brand, Ultimate Collection and SP Authentic.

The company had 15 releases for the 2003-04 season: Victory, MVP, Classic Portraits, Upper Deck series 1, Trilogy, Black Diamond, SPx, SP Game-Used, Upper Deck series 2, Honor Roll, SP Authentic, Bee Hive, Ice, Rookie Update and Premier Collection (the brand now known as Ultimate Collection).

I would expect Upper Deck series 2, SP Authentic, Rookie Update and Ultimate Collection to all return in early 2006. Ice is also a strong possibility. The new Artifacts brand will likely make SP Game-Used redundant (although still a very possible release). Classic Portraits and Honor Roll are likely to be cut from the lineup, I suspect, while the retro Bee Hive set was probably a one-shot release - although Upper Deck may introduce a new retro brand at some point next year.

About the author
Paul Angilly is a sports reporter for The Bristol Press in Connecticut, and has been collecting sports cards and memorabilia for 30 years. He is not a dealer, nor does he make a profit from buying and selling cards. His weekly sports card and memorabilia collecting column appears each week in The Bristol Press and several other daily newspapers in Connecticut.

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