Collins Janus

(Rock Hill, S.C.) — As the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many Americans to stay inside and stay close to home for several months, many people have had time to pick up new hobbies or return to old ones to entertain themselves.

For sports fans, many have turned (or returned) to collecting sports cards — including baseball, football, basketball and other sports — for entertainment.

“When COVID hit, it really shined a spotlight on the industry, because people had time at their house. They were going through their old collections, kind of getting that buzz back and then discovering that the card industry is alive and well and has been,” said Josh DeStefano, the owner of Grand Slam Cards in Rock Hill.

Historically, collectors have been drawn to rare cards, some of which have made headlines for selling for millions of dollars, including the iconic 1909-11 Honus Wagner that was produced by the American Tobacco Company or the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle.

Beginning in the 1980s, some collectors may have started to lose interest in sports cards, as trading card companies flooded the market with over-printed cards. This created the so-called “junk wax” era of collecting that produced few cards of high value that collectors often seek.

However, in recent years, card manufacturers have emphasized rarity, including exclusive variations, in order to regain the interest of sports fans. For example, Bowman — owned by the Topps Company — produced a single autographed Mike Trout rookie card in 2009, which has since sold for nearly $4 million.

As a result, collectors like Brandon McKee said the modern card industry has made collecting special again on multiple levels, including collecting rookie cards of young and upcoming players.

Honus Wagner
The 1909-11 T206 Honus Wagner, perhaps the most famous baseball card in the world, most recently sold in October 2020 for $3.25 million, making it one of the most valuable sports cards in history (photo: Wikipedia).

“There were a couple of guys that I just enjoyed watching playing, so I went out there looking for the rookie cards and bought boxes and boxes looking for that stuff,” said McKee.

He said he’s been interested in collecting the cards of second generation players like Bo Bichete, who is the the son of former Colorado Rockies’ all-star Dante Bitchete.

McKee said there is now a monetary incentive for collecting in the modern sports card market.

“I sold a (Baltimore Orioles) Ryan Mountcastle (rookie) card on the day of release for retail from Topps Series 1 and I sold it for $200 dollars and that same card right now is selling for about $60. So there’s a lot of hype when a new product comes out,” he said.

McKee said his renewed interest in collecting also inspired his roommate, Brett Blackwood, to take up the hobby.

Blackwood, a lifelong sports fan who started collecting about six months ago, said the process of searching for rare cards is a lot of fun.

“Sometimes I just like getting (packs) to open them,” said Blackwood. “For instance, the Topps Holiday (collection); they have that holiday set that comes out every year with cool little variations. You know, you might get one with a little Santa hat on or a little candy cane sleeve on. Just fun variations that you have to keep an eye out for.”

Those variations and their scarcity can create value for collectors, but Blackwood said he also just enjoys searching for cards of his favorite players inside each pack.

Thus, the modern sports collecting world holds a little something for everybody, as sports cards continue to find their way into households around the world.