The Great Baseball Card Bubble

Dave Jamieson‘s new book (excerpted at Slate) covers the history of the baseball card, including the baseball card bubble of the 1980s and early 1990s. In the 1980s, “As prices continued to climb, baseball cards were touted as a legitimate investment alternative to stocks, with the?Wall Street Journal referring to them as sound ‘inflation hedges’ and ‘nostalgia futures.'” The baseball strike of 1994, and declining interest on the part of children, marked the end of the bubble, and no doubt dashed the secret hopes of many an amateur collector.[%comments]

Steve Neubauer

As a kid In 1992, I received a pack of Topps baseball cards in my stocking. I had heard of collections going for fortunes, so I decided to leave this particular pack unopened in hopes of cashing in big sometime in the future. I still haven't opened the pack, but it looks like I will have to wait much, much longer for it to be worth anything appreciable.


This is why I've never faulted people for not buying gold in the 80's and 90's. I can't understand why it is a good idea to invest in something with absolutely no instrinsic value beyond being shiny and yellow. That people would choose to invest in something whose primary market relied on the discretionary income of individuals not even old enough to drive just seems worse than even the most irresponsible forms of speculation.

Dean Champion

Once again, we see that true collectibles of value are those things that originally were thought to have little, if any long-term value. And once deemed valuable, the producers scam the gullible by mass producing crap that is tagged as "collectible."

From Baseball cards and comic books to Cabbage Patch dolls and Beanie Babies, to the anything produced by either the Franklin Mint or similar "coins/plates/medallions" manufacturers -- they're just scamming the gullible public.

When will the public wake up? When will they quit trying to get something for nothing? If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is -- DUH!!!


I am sure it is a great book, but I know the bubble. My brother and I collected baseball cards in the late 70s. My parents got smart in 1980 and started buying us full boxed sets of Topps baseball cards for x-mas. So we have one set from 80-90. We did get some cards from a family member of ones from the late 60s and 70s. I have seen the price go up and down over the years.

Really baseball cards might have been one of my first lessons in economics. See I learned quickly that the cards are only worth something if someone will buy them. Also the stores would only buy the cards at a severe discount.

So they sit in a box in the basement and probably will for a long long time to come. Maybe in 30 years the cards from the 80s will be worth something.


Unfortunately you're pretty much correct - that pack of cards, unopened, is probably worth $2 to $4 today. If they cost $1 back then, that's about a 5% return on value - not great, but not horrible.

Currently card prices are a bit lower than they were just 3 or 4 years ago because of the recession. If you want to hold onto them for another couple years they should appreciate to a bit better price (assuming there is a good economic recovery).

If I recall correctly, back in 2005, packs like yours were selling for somewhere around $4 to $6.

A Reader

Today you can buy unopened packs of Topps from the 80s for less than they cost back in the day.

The mass delusion we kid collectors of the 80s and 90s suffered is both hilarious and frightening. Tulipomania meet Sandbergomania.


The froth of the baseball card market was captured by the collectible card game industry in 1993-1994, via, at first, Magic: The Gathering, then Pokemon.


Eventually you realize that baseball cards are just pictures of men...

Eric M. Jones

In 1993 I was offered a pickup-truck load of baseball cards for $1000. I still wonder if it was a good deal.

A Reader

Sounds like it would have been a terrible deal.

Jordi Scrubbings

This is news to me. I thought everyone was able to pay for their college education with a pile of Piazza rookie cards.


I actually looked up the value of some of my "high priced" cards that I received as gifts in about 1990. They were each around $5-$20 at the time. Today, many of the do not appear in the books or, if they do, have little if any value.

My plan is to - much like this market - just ride out the slump. I'm thinking that in about another 50 years or so, I might get my original $5-$20 back.


Collect what you like and don't look at it as a financial investment. As far as the Franklin Mint goes, they have never scammed anyone. They developed a fine product, the quality of their coins and medals was superior to government mints. Some of their products have increased drastically such as the model cars. But those products are to be bought becuase they are neat and fun...and for no other reason.


And to add to the last comment. The Franklin Mint products that are highly desired are like that because there was a huge following for items like cars and Star Trek licensed product...not because it was called a collectible. The value should have nothing to do with the fun of collecting.


You guys forget to adjust the moneys worth. Todays dollar worth less then a dollar in the 70's.
So 5% annualy is probably a loss of value. eapecially compared to the alternative investment in the bank.

Adrian P

keith: Not true on the front of M:tG, as the product is actually desired by the public and plays a role (entertainment)

One of the reasons M:tG is still the highest selling CCG in history is because the game is actually good, and fun. It wasn't designed to be a game of limited cards, originally the concept was that a player would purchase all the cars in one big pack. Then, fuelled by the randomness of baseball card packs, Wizards of the coast decided to make some cards incredibly hard to find, and limit the print runs (with clear, identifying differences between print runs) they created this massive secondary market, the release was timed perfectly with a spike in popularity of Dungeons and Dragons to get initial interest up. To this day cards from the second set printed (in 1994) fetch hundreds on the collectors market. This is because these are the best cards for the game, and in order to play competitive events at some levels, you must have the best cards to win.
All around M:tG is just an amazing combination of marketing and money making. Every move they make is perfectly planned to sell more bits of cardboard, but fundamentally they have actually produced a game that endures and will continue to be fun to play.

Sorry about errors, had to type this in a rush


Tom G

The initial surge of seeing baseball cards as worth money was mostly around the late 70s with men who were trying to recapture their youth, by spending money on toys they once loved, but were thrown away. From there, supply, demand and speculation took over. The early video games are now seeing a similar market


The people who made out on the bubble were the people who wrote pricing guides and collectible guides. Witness the same and original idea with children's lunch boxes- one guy created the collectible market in them.

And the bubble also burst with the advent of email and online trading (ebay etc) so you were not limited to one store's stock or a mailed collectors list. This killed several different collectibles values also.

kristine Anderson

One of the reasons my husband pursued me beyond the first date: I showed him my baseball card collection. So the value to me? Priceless.

I view my collection with more sentimentality - having rookie cards in mint condition of my favorite players (Reggie Miller, Barry Sanders, and -ahem- Kirby Puckett) tugs at the heartstrings a bit, actually. Those were the good ole days . . .

Panem et Circanses

Please, all, don't confuse catalog price with true cash value! For most cards after 1975 or so, you could empty your checking accounts easily buying them for 1/10 of catalog. Wholesale, of course, is much less even than that...