Are Hockey Cards an Investment or a Hobby?
A recent conversation in a twitter hockey group I run gave me the idea for this article. If you would like to join my twitter group where we have interesting conversations as well as buy, sell and trade hockey cards with each other, shoot me a DM, my handle is @HarrisonNHL. In this article I will discuss what collecting hockey cards and other sports cards has been all about for myself and the experiences I have had in the last 40 years plus in the hobby.
In the late eighties I moved from Alberta to Arizona as I relocated for work reasons. After a few months I invested my money in a English Fish & Chips restaurant in Lake Havasu City, Arizona. Beautiful little restaurant down in the English Village on the Colorado river. Very busy spot especially on long weekends like Memorial Weekend. All the tourists from SOCAL and Phoenix come into town and take it over for the weekend.
I purchased another store as an investment in the summer of 89. That store was a sports card store. I was a frequent buyer of hockey cards and baseball cards at the LCS and had many talks with the owner at that time. After many talks I purchased the store with little to no inventory because I had my own, and that kept the cost of purchase minimal.
I hired a manager to manage the sports card store while I was on my scouting trips, same goes for the restaurant. The year was now 1989 and the hot cards to buy from what I can remember were the Barry Sanders 1989 Score Football RC and the 1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr. I also remember Canseco being a hot commodity and players like Cal Ripken Jr and Nolan Ryan.
The following winter UD released an all new product for hockey that was much different than the OPC and Topps hockey cards of the past. The glossy design was all the rage for hockey collectors much the same as Baseball was for Baseball collectors.
On my scouting trips I would go into local sports cards stores and purchase hockey cards of rival players. For example anytime I would roll into Denver I would purchase a Joe Montana rookie card or a Dan Marino or whoever was on my agenda at the time. Always found by doing that I got some great deals.
I mean you wouldn’t want to go into a Philadelphia LCS and purchase a Reggie White or Randall Cunningham card, instead you would purchase those out West where no one wanted them and get great deals. You couldn’t find Kirk Gibson cards in Los Angeles but they were available in San Diego because Tony Gwynn was the hot guy there.
Those days the only way to collect hockey cards of your favorite players was to buy packs, boxes and cases. Card shows became popular and there was always an athlete there to sign autographs. There wasn’t anyway to make trades with people. Larger cities had groups of hockey card collectors but if you traveled a lot you were shit out of luck.
I would load up some traders for my road trips and hit stores along the way to see what I could deal for. Sometimes you had luck and most of the time you didn’t. I remember one store in particular because I was in Vegas a lot for my job before moving there a few years later. Store was called Smokys.
I remember selling Bure and Jagr 1990 UD rookie hockey cards to them. Picked up a Messier rookie for 25 Jagr rookies. To this day one of my better trades. That was the only way to obtain cards back in that era.
I had my store for about three years before selling it. I did OK with it and found it exciting but I didn’t have the time required for it. It is a very time consuming business and if you want to do well you have to be on top of the market. It is a lot easier today to be on top of things today. Time has changed so much but yet some things remain the same and that brings me to the following.
Is this hobby turning into an investor business? I remember back when I had the store, hockey cards were being mass produced and everyone was buying sealed cases and stuffing them away for a rainy day. People were buying everything in site.
I don’t like to shit on card companies because without them I wouldn’t have a hobby. They do have to take the blame for the mass production though. They killed the hobby for a few years back then. I know I never purchased anything from 1994 to 2007. I was gone, had seen enough. Hockey cards were pretty much worthless. Vintage cards were the way to collect.
Today, we have many more ways to collect cards. Cards such as hockey cards are so much nicer in design. You can collect autographs, jersey cards, stick cards, puck cards, patches, patches with autos. Much much much better design. How do we collect today? We buy packs, boxes and cases. We join breaks and razzes.
We trade on twitter, Facebook and some people on Instagram. There are a host of online places to buy single cards from. It is mind boggling the number of ways you can obtain cards today compared to 30 years ago. There is no reason for you not to have that card you always wanted with the plethora of outlets to obtain them.
The only issue I have these days is the number of releases from Upper Deck and the timing of them. I know it is a business for them and I understand that part of it. Every two weeks approximately you will see a new release. There were 28 releases scheduled for the 2019-20 season. 28 releases.
Do we really need 28 different hockey sets? I don’t want to see this hobby have a repeat of the nineties. At least 20 of those sets have the same players. If you collect a certain player like I do, that means you have at least 20 new cards you have to chase. Not only that, how many parallels are there of that player? Now you need at least 100 cards of that player every year. Can get costly in a hurry.
You tell me, is collecting hockey cards or sports cards in general an investment or a hobby? If cards are being over produced again like the nineties, I don’t see how it could be an investment. Is it still a hobby? Sure, why not. Just set out a monthly budget and stick to it.
Personally I only get cards of my favorite player and a few other guys. Purchase wisely and be patient. I am always on the lookout for good vintage cards. I think if you are smart about it you can still have a tonne of fun collecting. If you want to invest make sure you are investing in low numbered cards. Anything under /100 would be the way to go. /25 or less would be even better.
There you go, that will conclude this story. Remember stay within your limits and this hockey card collecting hobby will continue to be a blast for you.
By the way that store in Vegas I was telling you about, Smokys. They were busted for shenanigans. You think pack searching didn’t exist back then? think again. There was all kinds of scummy things going on in the industry. Its no different today, you have to find a reputable dealer and stick with him. Build yourself a good list of people who are honest to deal with and you should be fine. Until next time, keep those elbows high and those mitts ready to throw off.