Vintage Football Card Values
The Vintage Football Card Gallery includes approximate retail values for many of the cards pictured. These are my estimates of the cards' values in near mint (NM) condition, based on the demand for the cards and their availability. Some of the values differ greatly from the prices shown in the popular price guides. The sections below explain why.
Each card page in the Gallery also contains a link that you can click to find recent eBay sales of that card. For most cards there will be recent sales, and if you peruse the sales for cards in the same condition as yours, you can estimate what someone would pay for your cards. Use the controls in the lefthand column of each page to search for the cards you are interested in.
Problems with the Price Guides
The traditional price guides make some assertions that I have found to be invalid, or at least way overstated. The price guides consider unmarked checklists scarce, for instance--as if kids years ago marked nearly every checklist they got--but I have not found unmarked checklists to be particularly scarce. (For a discussion about this, see the last paragraphs of my blog article C is for Checklists.) The price guides also presume that kids beat up the first and last cards in a set, thereby making them scarce in high grades. I have not found that to be true, either.
At the same time, the price guides ignore factors that can greatly affect a card's scarcity, such as where it appeared on the full printed sheet. (See U is for Uncut Sheets.) As a result, the guides artificially inflate the prices of some cards, and they fail to reflect that some cards are far scarcer--and thus command higher prices--than others.
Besides the price guides, there are services that track actual sales prices, typically for graded cards. While actual sales prices are usually better indicators of market value than the prices in a price guide, the services often have limited sample data. If a card has sold in a certain grade just two or three times in a year, I don't give those sales prices much weight when making a buying decision.
How I Estimate Card Values
To get the prices in the Gallery, I crossed the methods used by the traditional price guides and the sales-tracking services. This hybrid method is the way I value cards when making my own purchases. It groups cards of similar desirability and scarcity together, considers recent sales prices for all of the cards in each group, and uses averaging within each group to get approximate values for individual cards. Like the traditional price guides, it uses generalizations, but those generalizations are based on real population data. Like the sales-tracking services, it uses real sale prices, but by grouping similar cards together, it gets larger sample sizes, and those larger sample sizes increase my confidence in the results.
Estimates are estimates, of course, and no guide is going to be perfect. One problem is that it is impossible to predict what a rare card will sell for at auction. If two collectors with deep pockets both want a card badly, the sky is the limit. If only one of them sees the auction, the card could go for a bargain price. For rare cards for which I had limited data, I just took stabs at the values. If you see a price with a few zeroes on the end, it's probably one of these stabs.
In short, here are the steps I used to estimate card values.
- Group the cards in a set by the players' stature: commons, minor stars, stars, etc. This is subjective, and it is similar to what the other price guides do. (One difference is that I treat all Cowboys, Packers, and Raiders as at least minor stars, because cards from those teams, in my experience, consistently command higher prices.)
- Rate the scarcity of each card by looking at the PSA and SGC population reports.
- Search eBay for recent auction prices for each card.
- Plot each card's auction prices vs. its scarcity on a graph.
- Do curve-fitting on the graph to get average card values based on scarcity.
- Assign a value to each card, based on its scarcity.
Here is an example of one of my graphs. The points represent actual sales prices for individual cards; the lines represent averages for the group based on scarcity. The values in the Gallery fall on these lines.
For the time being, I am providing only values for NM (near mint) cards. The price guides typically use NM as their high end grade, and recent prices for NM cards are usually available. When I finish with the NM prices, perhaps I will provide prices for other grades, as well. Let me know if this is something you would like to see.
How to Interpret the Prices
- The prices in the Gallery are approximate retail values for ungraded (or "raw") NM cards. For cards graded by reputable grading companies such as SGC, PSA, and BVG, retail prices will typically be a little higher.
- Each price you see in the Gallery approximates a card's value based on recent eBay sales for that card and others like it. For example, to help determine the value of Buck Buchanan cards, I also look at recent prices for Bobby Bell cards, since the two players are of similar stature. This way, if only a couple of Buchanan cards have sold recently, I can still get more data points.
- In estimating card values, I disregarded the premiums that the price guides assign to first cards, last cards, checklists, short prints, and cards in different series. In my experience, none of these things are reliable indicators of a card's scarcity. Instead, I look at PSA's and SGC's population reports to estimate a card's scarcity. The population reports are not perfect, either--sometimes people crack cards out of holders and resubmit them, throwing off the reports--but the reports at least provide empirical data, rather than guesses. Because I ignore the usual premiums, some of the values in this Gallery are much lower than they are in the price guides. In those cases, I would say that the guides are artificially inflating the values of the cards. Because a lot of people follow the price guides, you might never see the cards fall to the values I have given them, but I would expect you to be able to get prices lower than the guides say.
- To increase my sample sizes, I try to group players of similar stature. This is subjective, and my assessment might be different from yours. For example, I rate John Unitas and Bart Starr about the same for pricing purposes, but perhaps you wouldn't. At some point I think I will make this transparent, so you can make different assessments if you'd like.
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