This is an ongoing series on the differences between collecting vintage and modern cards. The previous installment discussed the two card collecting communities. This chapter covers where cards are bought and sold.
Where do people buy cards? Anywhere and everywhere, but modern and vintage cards are little different.
Modern cards can be found at local card shops, shows, flea markets, and online. Online covers store websites, online auctions, and marketplaces (Beckett, Sports Lots, SportsBuy, etc.). Just about any card you want, you can go out and find it. With online options growing so quickly, you might even find several copies. The prices might not be to your liking, but modern material is out there and available.
Vintage material cannot be reliably found at most local card shops. Online marketplaces are also limited on vintage cards. eBay, the monster that it is, is a major (the major?) mover of vintage cards. Most cards on eBay are more common, but rarities do make it into the mix. Collector-to-collector sales and trading does happen. The net54baseball.com forum is the site for many of these transactions. Items of even modest scarcity often change hands through auction houses. Some auctioneers are small (Brockelman & Luckey and Clean Sweep), and others are large (REA, Hunt, Lelands). The general perception is that an auction house gets a better return for a seller than eBay. Therefore, sellers tend to consign their best material to auction houses.
Auction houses had better perform well. Buying and selling through an auction house is pricey. In a quick look through sites of auctioneers, I saw buyer’s premium (aka BP or “the juice”) rates from 12.5 to 19.5%. You won a $200 lot. Congratulations, please pay $200 + the BP (and don’t forget shipping and insurance). Sellers also pay a consignment premium to list their material. Consignment fees can be as high as 15% of the closing price, but 5% or so is more usual. Many auction houses negotiate the listing fees. A sellers with top shelf material will pay a lower percentage. Another hassle of auction houses is the long gap between consigning an item and getting paid as a seller. The seller doesn’t get paid until the auction house gets paid.
Modern cards rarely make it to an auction house. A very recent exception is the 2010 Bowman Strasburg Superfractor, which was sold through Huggins and Scott. The card sold for $19,975. Whoops. That’s $19,975 plus 17.5% BP for a total of $23,471. Unless a modern card is a real standout card, eBay seems to be the auction venue of choice.
So, is there a difference between the buying/selling of vintage and modern cards? Not really. If you are the run-of-the-mill collector, eBay is likely to be your #1 place to pick up cards. If you have a taste for very rare cards (more likely for a vintage collector), then eBay might not cut it. For most people though, it doesn’t matter.