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So you want to start collecting? My beginner’s guide to the hobby

Where to start...

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Atlanta Braves Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Very rarely do I offer up information in my everyday life about my baseball collecting hobby, but when I do there are two things I frequently hear, “I have some old cards packed away somewhere, I wonder what they are worth” and “I would like to get into that, but I don’t know where to start”.

The hobby is full of all different types of collectors from those who PC (personally collect) vintage cards, those who like to collect their favorite prospects, some who prefer to chase IP autographs (in-person), or the increasingly popular flipper who is trying to make a few bucks. Regardless of your motivation, there is likely something for everyone. Below I will share some information along with tips and tricks to help guide you through the hobby.

Where should I start?

I always ask people to consider a couple things when starting out. Do you have a favorite player you want to collect? If you have a favorite team and prefer a variety, what level do you want to collect (prospects, rookies, veterans, hall of famers). Do you want to collect modern day cards, vintage cards, or memorabilia? Collecting is all about preference and what you like, so there is no right or wrong way to do it.


There are two main card companies, Topps and Panini. Topps is the only company who holds a baseball license (which was just recently renewed). For this reason, Topps is the only company who is allowed to use team names and logos on their cards. Bowman is a branch of the Topps company that focuses on prospects and rookies. Panini holds the exclusive licenses for NFL and NBA, so likewise Topps can not use names or logos for those two sports. Leaf is another company, although also unlicensed in all sports, does put out some nice cards.

Types of Card Boxes

Retail- Only select baseball card products, such as Topps Series 1, are available in retail stores like Target and Walmart. They offer smaller less expensive boxes (blasters) that do not guarantee an auto or relic. They will however insert retail-only exclusives as an incentive to buy, along with the added value of convenience. Retail boxes are a good option for kids and set builders in my opinion.

Hobby- A shop that sells baseball cards, or a local card shop (LCS), sells the more expensive boxes called hobby boxes that contain guaranteed hits. A typical hobby box promises 1-2 autos per box, but some may vary.

Jumbo/Super Jumbo- These boxes are similar to hobby boxes, but are more expensive and contain more hits. These vary significantly from product to product and can offer Jumbo-only variations to entice customers.

It is worth noting that hobby and jumbo boxes are also sold online from dealers such as just be careful when purchasing (make sure the plastic wrap has the company logo on it and has not been tampered with).


Cards can be sent to one of two grading companies (Beckett or PSA) and submitted for a number grade from 1-10 to determine it’s condition. Beckett also grades the strength of an autograph if requested on the same 1-10 scale based on it’s completion and boldness. PSA now also offers autograph grading as of recently. Both companies will also authenticate items that have been signed in person, although this is a fairly new service with Beckett. Although cards can be submitted to either company, Beckett is typically for modern cards while PSA specializes more in vintage cards. Obviously the higher the grade, the more valuable the card. Not only can this increase the value of the card, but it can offer protection once in the plastic slab.

Places to Purchase Singles

For those of you who want to purchase single cards of your favorite team or player rather than boxes, there are many places to buy. Ebay is the obvious first choice. The huge inventory and buyer protection when paying with Paypal offer collectors a great place to purchase cards. (Check Out My Cards) is another good option if you are looking for cheaper cards without the reoccurring shipping cost. The option to make an offer rather than paying full asking price can result in some pretty good deals. When you are ready for a shipment of everything you have bought, the cost is as low as $3.99!

If you are in the Atlanta area, there is a Collectibles show every other Sunday called the East Cobb Sports Collectibles Show from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. You can check their schedule below.

What is my item worth?

The go to site for the most up-to-date sales data is Ebay. Although there are Beckett almanacs and other printed data, these do not take into consideration factors such as current player stats or graded cards and should only be used as a guide. Ebay comps are considered the best option for valuing a card based on recent sales. Search for the item you are looking for in the search bar, scroll down until you see a box under “Show Only” that says sold items. Check that box and you will see recently sold items matching your search. is another option to see ebay sales data dating back 6 months.

Collection Ideas:

Prospect autographs of your favorite team- these are often inexpensive and a good way to learn about your organization

Hall of Famer cards- not as cheap, but another fun way to learn some baseball history


Autograph baseballs or other memorabilia

Full sets of a rookie product (Bowman for example)

Autographs of a Championship team (such as the 1995 Atlanta Braves)

Gamedays- these are given out at Suntrust Park each home stand and can be a fun collecting idea for kids

Ticket stubs of significant games- these are also great to have signed by players

Photos with your favorite players

Tweet me any questions or photos of your favorite item @slmsolo

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