How baseball card collectors can profit from mistakes used by ‘error cards’

6 Aug

There was a time when collecting baseball cards was pretty much cut and dry. Each year 660 cards were put out by Topps, perhaps a traded edition, and that was it. If mistakes were made that is where they were corrected. In 1981 however with the re-entrance of Fleer and the addition of Donruss “error” cards as they are called became prolific. So you may ask why this is important? It is important because those companies tried to fix the errors rather than leaving them put there for the public to be stuck with for an eternity. By doing this the error card became a holy grail of sorts in some cases.

When errors were caught the replacement went to press immediately. Sometimes the error took a month or more to catch, sometimes only a day or so and that is where the value is mostly determined. The fewer error cards that made it to the public the higher the value. For a period of time speculators bought this in a manner which was similar to the craze around rookie cards. The fad ended and people forget about the error cards for the most part.

Now 25 years after the craze ended, it is slowly making a return fueled by dealers insisting the complete set isn’t really complete unless each variation is included. The four most famous are: the 1982 Donruss Juan Eichelberger in which Dave littlefield is pictured, the 1983 Bill Ripken with a profanity on his bat which is readable, the 1981 fleer (c)Graig Nettles, misspelling, and of course the grandaddy of them all 1982 fleer Dave Littlefield (again) reversed negative card. This particular card has hovered around $150.00 for nearly a quarter century in the pricing guides. I have been fortunate to obtain two in my lifetime. One came by luck as a child and the other again by luck nearly a year ago after buying a bulk collection of “commons” purchased by the pound. The card was in there because many people aren’t aware of it and because the difference is very subtle. It is so subtle in fact even trained eyes often miss it unless they are being particularly vigilant to look for it.

While the published value of this card is only $150.00 I was able to command $400.00 from a private collector because he never ever saw one personally in his life and had actively sought one out better than 15 years. To him it was a bargain. To me it was a good day as it stood me about 3/4 cent. You won’t always be so fortunate as to find it for that price, but more often than not if you do acquire one it will be on exact opposite ends of the spectrum, simple pocket change or an astronomical fee. This is one card the price guide meant nothing in regards to valuing.

Not everyone will get that lucky but by brushing up on the errors out there and spending a little time putting together what I refer to as “error sets” to supplement complete sets I’ve filled a niche and made tidy little profits on a very regular basis. With time and some leg work it’s a way to still make money in the industry without spending much. This is a tried and true formula.

You will regularly find people that for any variety of reasons are looking to dump bulk lots of cards. When people do this the price range is beyond reasonable, especially in tough economic times. The system I devised is to actually take the time to sort through all the cards I buy. usually you won’t strike gold looking for errors, but as a byproduct of searching for them it isn’t unusual to find plenty of star and semi-star cards which were missed you can make a your money back on. Getting back on topic, what i do is make myself intimately aware of each error, company, year, team, player. When I sort I separate every card from the particular subsets which contained an error. In the case of Littlefield I set aside every 1982 Fleer and Donruss padre’s card. Usually I will grab 4 or 5 error cards per 500 I sort from those years.

I initially offer them as singles, however once I get on manufacturers full set of errors for any given year I package them and place a premium price on the lot as a set. If things work out where I have one of each error from a given year I package it as a “1982 error set” for example and jack the price up even more. The truth is these cards generally cost me little more than two dollars as a set, that is excluding instances of the ’82 Fleer Littlefield. The beauty is a single manufacturer subset of errors costing maybe a dollar to compile can sell for upwards of fifteen dollar. A full year set of error cards can run upwards of fifty. The more comprehensive your offering the more you can charge.

As very few people cater to this niche competition is virtually nil. You alone make the price. There are very few baseball cards or sets this can be done with. Granted the price scale is much lower but profits are there for the taking, the supply is abundant and the competition is virtually non-existent. If you really want to make quick consistent earnings in the hobby this is a great way to go. Collecting error cards for resale costs next to nothing and it gives back in great abundance.


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