Beginners Guide to Baseball Card Collecting Part 1

Baseball Card Collecting

Baseball Card collecting can be fun and rewarding. It can also be frustrating and expensive, especially if you are new to the hobby. Baseball cards have been around since 1868, a sports store used them as an advertising tool. The collecting hobby has been around for 150 years and they have issued hundreds of millions of cards in that time. A new collector has a lot of scope when deciding what to collect.

  • How does a new collector start?
  • what can they collect?
  • What sort of collection do they want?
  • Do they stick with one manufacturer?

Hopefully, this series of articles will help answer these questions and more.

1915 Crackerjack Cards

Cracker Jack card produced circa. 1915.

Where to start?

The first question you need to ask is, how and where do I start? If you are a baseball fan this question is probably easy to answer. You may already be a fan of a team and a player, but this doesn’t apply to all collectors.

As a newcomer to the baseball card collecting hobby, don’t buy everything available, you couldn’t afford it. The first thing is to set yourself a budget and stick to it, whether it’s per week or month, don’t deviate or your spending will get out of control.

Here are a few examples of the costs of buying new cards, using the latest Topps product (2021):

  • Hobby Pack                        14 Cards        £6.00
  • Jumbo Hobby Pack        46 Cards        £21.00
  • Blaster Box                         98 Cards        £25.00
  • Hobby Box                       336 Cards        £108.00
  • Jumbo Hobby Box       460 Cards        £187.00

(These prices are not consistent and may vary depending on the seller)

As you can see the cost of buying new cards can be expensive, so sticking to a budget will keep it affordable. So are you going to collect a player, a team, a year or a manufacturer?

Topps 2021 Products

Topps 2021 Baseball Card packs

A Player Collection

If you decide to start collecting an individual player then you are starting on a long, but rewarding road. A star player will have thousands of cards to collect, you can literally see how this player grows over the length of his career.

You can just collect the cards for this player as they appear, randomly, or you could set goals. A good example for instance is collecting all the cards from his rookie year first, then his second year etc. There are other goals you could set to collecting this player (check out Jon Matthias’ site about Tony Gwynn cards and his post here). 

A Players Collection

A Team Collection

Collecting the cards for a specific team can also be a long road, but with all roads, they do come to an end. Some teams have a long history, Chicago Cubs, New Yankees and the Boston Red Sox to name a few, some teams have moved in their histories, such as the San Francisco Giants (New York Giants) or the  Los Angeles Dodgers (Brooklyn Dodgers).

A team collection could be collecting one card for each player in the franchise’s history, perhaps a player from every World Series team, maybe the team set from each Topps base set or even collecting the Hall of Fame inductees for your team. These are just a few of the variations available to you.

A Team Collection

A Set Builder (Manufacturer)?

Many collectors concentrate on building a particular set, for a single year and by a single manufacturer. There are only a handful of manufacturers today, much less than 10 or even 20 years ago.

The first thing to know about set building is the terminology:

  • Base Set – these are the most common cards. In 2020 Topps issued a base set that was split into three series (called Series 1, Series 2 and Update) and issued at various times throughout the year, the full set totalled 700 cards.
  • Master Set – along the way, Topps also introduced alternate versions of some cards, which has a limited print run. These are Short Prints (SP) and Super Short Prints (SSP). There were 208 SPs and SSPs in 2020, so the ‘Master Set’ would be the 700 base cards plus the 208 alternates totalling 908 cards.
  • Parallel Set – Topps and Panini both print parallel versions of their cards, usually in different colours or with a foil sheen. Most of the time the entire base set will have parallels. Some collectors try to “collect the rainbow”  – 1 of each parallel of a certain player.

In 2020 there were 26 parallel sets released by Topps – a total of 16,650 cards.

  • Insert cards – these are different little sets included in packs. In 2020, Topps had 256 different types of insert cards included in their packs. Some of these insert sets are quite large.

Collecting the “entire set” of Topps 2020 release would mean owning thousands of cards. And that’s before we get to the other sets that Topps released in 2020.

Card Set

Topps 1987 Baseball Card set.

Collecting the Rookies

Finally, there is the “Rookie Collection”. Some collectors only collect rookie cards, which is the first card released for players. There is some debate whether this includes players before they sign for a major league team.

You could decide to collect rookie cards of a single player, the rookies for a team (for a season or franchise history), all the rookie cards issued for every team for a season or all rookie cards ever printed.  

All these things should be kept in mind when you first start out collecting baseball cards, to be honest, you should keep this in mind when collecting any sports cards. 

Baseball Card Collecting Fundamentals

So to end this, the first, article about starting in the baseball cards collecting hobby. You need to answer some initial questions for your collection:

What is my collecting budget?

Stick to this limit! it is very easy to see your spending spiral out of control. The costs of some cards can be significant and can break the bank, keeping to your budgetary limits will allow you to buy more cards or to use an American phrase “more bang for your bucks”.

What do I want to collect, a player, a team, a set?

Getting sidetracked by what other collectors are doing can detract you from your collecting goal, keep collecting for your collection and should you ever complete that collection, you can always try something new. It is important to remember the aim of your collection, it might be worth having a note-book with a list of your wants, this is a good way to focus your attention on what you need.

Remember, baseball card collecting should be fun. Good luck.

In the next article, we will be discussing were to buy cards and how to store and look after your cards.

Also – if you subscribe to this blog (see subscribe section at the top right of this blog), then a notification will be sent to you when a new article has been posted. That’s a great way to learn more about the hobby.


Dave Maggs & Jon Matthias

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