Lessons I Learned in 2020: Unsolicited Advice From a Young Collector

Putnam Cards
Dec 28, 2020 · 5 min read
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Unlike many other facets of life, 2020 was an incredible year for sports cards. While I’ve been collecting since 2008, this past year I put a significant amount of time, money, and energy into the hobby. Through my experiences as an active participant in the market and from religiously tuning in to valuable content creators, I’ve learned a lot about what it takes to be somewhat successful in this hobby. Here are six lessons, all of which I learned the hard way, that you can apply to enrich your experience in the hobby.

  1. Set goals. Have a strategy. Be disciplined.

This is perhaps the most important lesson I learned this past year. Operating with purpose in the hobby is extremely important. Having clearly defined goals helps facilitate every buying and selling decision you make. Whether that goal is collector or financial-based, it is helpful to have a north star which allows you to be deliberate and stay focused. Collecting and investing in a way that aligns with your goals can prevent you from getting distracted by the newest shiny object that pops up on eBay. Have a plan, operate with purpose, and always have your goals in mind.

2. Relationships are the gateway to acquiring grails. Not money.

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Money never made a man happy yet, nor will it. There is nothing in its nature to produce happiness.” This statement certainly applies to the hobby. Over this past year, I reached out to many collectors who own cards that I consider to be my personal grails. After doing extensive research, I would send an offer usually way above ‘market value’ and much greater than the previous high offer. Almost every single time, I got a response similar to this: Money is replaceable, this card is not. So lesson learned: money can’t always buy grails. However, forming relationships with those individuals who have the cards you desire most is the first step to potentially having a chance at acquiring them. If a collector does decide to part with a card, they usually will go directly towards those who they are most familiar with and who have demonstrated interest over time.

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3. When a card you’re searching for is listed at a fair price, take the deal!

One of the worst feelings I’ve experienced this past year is missing out on a rare card that I really wanted because I tried to get it for 5–10% less than the price it was being offered at. One notable example is when I offered $19,000 for a 2018–19 Revolution Luka Doncic Galactic PSA 10 (pop 5) that was listed at $21,000; I thought the seller would maybe let it go for a little less. Of course, someone swooped in and claimed it for the full asking price. I had instant regret. When a card that you really want pops up for a reasonable price, just take the deal. Don’t think twice. You will have so much more regret about missing out on the card than you will for paying a little more than you wanted for it.

4. Buy the dip.

Some of the best buying and flipping opportunities present themselves when notable, recognizable cards of established superstar players (e.g. LeBron, Durant, Mahomes) dip in value either in-season or during the offseason. Under current market conditions this is such an easy, tried and true way to build up a bankroll. For example, when the 2017 Prizm Patrick Mahomes Rookie PSA 10 dipped from $8,500 (7/26) over the summer to $5,000 (11/7) during the middle of the season where he is the MVP and Super Bowl favorite…it might be a good time to buy a few copies of the card (it has bounced back and is now selling for around $8,200). While you may not see a 3x, 4x, 5x return, these safe gains will build up over time and in quantity. With grading becoming such a lengthy process, this type of flipping can provide a source of steady cashflow — enabling you to afford the cards you want to buy for your collection.

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5. Take the profit. Don’t try to time the peak.

Simply put, don’t be greedy. If a non-PC (personal collection) card significantly increases in value over a short time span, just unload it and take your winnings. Don’t try to time the peak with any specific card because eventually, after quick spike in value, sellers will start undercutting one another and a new floor will be set. An alternative scenario is where expectations lead to rapid growth and then a player fails to deliver. This can lead to a steep increase and subsequent decline in price.

Unfortunately, this is perhaps the most painful lesson I learned this year. I bought ten 2012 Prizm Kawhi Leonard PSA 10 rookies for $800-$1,500 during the months leading up to the NBA Bubble Playoffs. Really thought the Clippers had a solid shot of at least advancing to the Western Conference Finals. The card initially peaked at $6,100 in late August and then settled around $3,900 during the Clippers/Nuggets series. The Clippers then proceeded to blow a 3–1 lead, and the card halved in value. I quickly sold my entire Kawhi Prizm stash at the new floor price, mainly because I couldn’t stand to look at the card anymore. If I had sold even a few weeks earlier for below market price, I’d have $15,000+ more in my bank account today. The moral of this story is that nothing in sports is guaranteed, and therefore it’s always a wise move to take profits when you can and move on to the next thing.

6. Trust your gut. Don’t be a sheep.

Do not blindly take advice in this hobby. No matter how experienced, trusted, and respected somebody is, its essential that you do your own research and think for yourself. Nobody is right 100% of the time. Hearing out the opinions of accomplished collectors is an essential and important step, but never abandon your own hypothesis without good reason. Trust your line of thinking and rely on your observations. I cannot stress this enough. Don’t allow others to think for you. Don’t outsource the work.

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I hope you’re able to take something away from my mistakes and successes over the past 365 days. While 2020 was a rollercoaster of a year, sports cards provided somewhat of a safe haven, and an escape from reality for many of us in the community. Let’s hope that 2021 is bit more kind to the world, and that the hobby continues to boom. I love sports cards.

Card Ladder

Card Ladder official blog discussing all things cards

Putnam Cards

Written by

Basketball card enthusiast. Kobe Bryant collector. Future owner of the Detroit Pistons.

Card Ladder

Stay up to date with all things cards through the official Card Ladder blog. Learn about trends in the hobby, market fluctuations, how to build your own collection and so much more.

Putnam Cards

Written by

Basketball card enthusiast. Kobe Bryant collector. Future owner of the Detroit Pistons.

Card Ladder

Stay up to date with all things cards through the official Card Ladder blog. Learn about trends in the hobby, market fluctuations, how to build your own collection and so much more.

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