Boosted by the igrowing popularity of professional sports, the sports card industry has recently become a booming business. Sports cards collecting is currently one of the most popular hobbies in America, enjoyed by children and adults alike. Since the mid-1970s, hobby shops have been sprouting up all over the United States, seeking to capitalize on the card craze. Many collectors have treasured baseball cards since their inception 30 years ago, but there now is an increasing market for football, basketball, and hockey cards. Originally only Topps produced baseball cards, but now over ten different companies issue card sets annually. Despite some shortcomings in the hobby, sports card collecting has emerged as more than a passing fad, unlike Star Wars, Superman, or Garbage Pail card collecting, which died out after a short time.
Economists have marveled at the sudden boom in sports memorabilia; some consider the hobby a fad of the 1980s. Thousands of hobby stores and the popularity of several sports memorabilia periodicals, however, seem to attest to hobbyists' claims that it will continue to thrive at least in the near future. Originally popular for sentimental reasons, sports cards are now treasured by fans for their monetary value as well. Many collectors enjoy the investment side of card collecting, believing that the cards they purchase will rise in value as the players succeed in their careers. A case in point is Nolan Ryan's first printed baseball card, produced in 1967 , originally valued at less than ten cents, ten years later it could be bought for ten dollars, and now a customer coveting that card must spend between $1,000 to $2,000.
As the popularity of baseball cards grew to unprecedented heights in the early 1980s, sports card fans started to look for new avenues of profit and fun, and found a dearth of cards picturing stars of other professional sports. This resulted in Topps marketing football cards, hockey and basketball cards. As the 1990s arrived, so did a plethora of new types of sports cards, including sets portraying college and amateur baseball players, professional wrestlers, bowlers, golfers, jockeys, and soccer players. Although these sports cards are not as popular as baseball cards, they have introduced many new collectors to a hobby which otherwise appealed exclusively to baseball fans.
On the downside, several problems plague card collecting, some relating to abuse of trust between collectors, others to overemphasis on cards' monetary value. A number of "bootleg" card sets have hit the hobby, as well as counterfeit cards and falsely autographed cards. More unfortunate, however, is the increasing trend toward dissociation of the cards and the people they represent. In the past, collectors chose cards of players they enjoyed watching and reading about, in order to have a physical representation of that person. Now young collectors often know the exact monetary value of a card they own, but have never seen the player in action, read or even heard of him. Another difficulty, the lack of standardized system for pricing cards, enables many dishonest card dealers to swindle unsuspecting collectors. Lastly, Topps and several other card companies now produce millions of cards each year, as opposed to just thousands in past decades. The scarcity of certain popular sports cards has thus dropped considerably, because cards are often so common that every collector could have a card of any given player and there would still be other cards floating around the market. This overabundance of cards eliminates the occurrence of rare and unusual cards.
Despite some imperfections, sports card collecting has become a popular hobby and venue for investment. Young people and adults alike enjoy sports card collecting for its sentimental gratification, as well as for its investment capabilities. Despite the hobby's origin as a haven for baseball fans alone, the field has now expanded to include various other sports as well. Often described as a passing fad, sports card collecting has attracted many hobbyists with its wide range of benefits and appeal. n
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.