COLLECTIBLES Card industry's lack of focus becomes more troublesome



Companies need to reduce the torrent of new cards.
SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
The country's sports-card industry has come up with a promotion it has designated as National Trading Card Day, to be held April 3.
There's nothing wrong with that concept, in which a one-of-a-kind, multisport card set produced through a cooperative effort by each of the leading cardmakers and licensing bodies -- "50 cards of some of the hottest names in the hobby," the promotional material says -- will be available free to consumers who visit participating card stores around the U.S.
Anything that spurs interest in card collecting and sales for the nation's rapidly dwindling number of card shops should be welcome.
Advice
A better idea for the companies involved -- Donruss/Playoff, Fleer, Topps and Upper Deck -- might be to stage a Let's Stop Making So Many Darned Card Sets and Selling Them at Such Exorbitant Prices Day.
And then, following up on that by really doing something about reducing the torrent of new cards, not just giving it lip service.
The current glut is strangling both the retailers that sell the cards and the decreasing number of collectors (particularly kids) who buy them.
The penny and nickel packs of the 1950s now go for $5 to $100, thanks primarily to fat licensing fees for the pro leagues and players and the profit margins of manufacturers.
And yet the flood of cards just keeps coming, defying anyone to keep track or keep up on adding them to collections.
The situation is in stark contrast to the vintage-card and collectibles market, which seems to have survived a lame economy and is booming.
The most compelling evidence of that is in the country's major sports memorabilia auctions.
The numbers have been astounding this fall.
Top sellers
Leland's of New York took in $5.1 million, with centerpiece items such as the silver bat Willie Mays was awarded for winning the 1954 NL batting title ($120,000); a Babe Ruth signed bat ($69,000); an autographed photo of Ruth and Ty Cobb ($62,300) and a Wilt Chamberlain jersey (nearly $52,000), as well as wide variety of vintage cards.
Gray Flannel Auctions tallied $2 million with consignments such as a Pete Maravich Louisiana State basketball jersey ($94,300) and a 1953 Ted Williams game-worn cap (almost $74,000).
SportsCards Plus brought in $1.4 million, the bulk of it ($455,000) on memorabilia from the personal collection of Basketball Hall of Famer Bob Cousy, now 75, who said he sold the mementos to help ensure the future of his two daughters and two grandchildren.
Cousy marveled, "If someone had said 40 years ago, 'Save that stuff because someday you'll get half a million dollars for it,' I would have said, 'Take this guy away; he's loony tunes.' "
Lew Lipset, a Phoenix area auctioneer who specializes in baseball cards and memorabilia from the late 1800s and early 1900s, realized $775,000 for 400-plus lots in a November sale, including $22,500 for a Four Base Hits cards of 19th century Hall of Famer Mickey Welch.
Obviously, it's not youngsters buying material like this, and that's a large and continuing problem for the hobby.
Scattered
Even, if, 30, 40 or 50 years down the road, the young people of today feel nostalgic about the sports heroes of their time and want to collect their cardboard images, what, exactly, will be the focus?
The Mickey Welches of 2040 or 2050 won't have just one or two cards for collectors to pursue, they'll have 500, or 5,000 -- way too many for anyone to find and buy.
The card industry just doesn't seem to get that.
So, though a National Trading Card Day might be a swell idea, it's doesn't come close to addressing what's really ailing the new card market.