The 80’s is often regarded as a shameful decade of greed, a modern-day “age of excess”. Millionaires, even Billionaires were forged and brought down with regularity, as the secrets of success became widely available and past barriers to self-improvement were opened to all.

Many excited and newly “educated” investors headed to the stock market, others built personal business empires, while yet others chose the “safer” path to bricks and mortar.

It was during this period that the fledgling collectables industry spread it’s wings, and sports enthusiasts flocked. The flurry of activity over the following 20 years was reminiscent of the school yard days – baby boomers fussing through their attics, hoping to find that old shoe-box full of baseball cards & pennants, devouring price guides like they might inspect The Wall St Journal, and arriving, cashed up, on the doorsteps of an ever-growing number of trade card dealerships across America.

The market that subsequently developed was controlled by an elite few – dealers, retail chains and industry heavies. The masses responded to advertising, catalogues that could shame a phone-book and word-of-mouth, thus assisting the ever-tightening of their grip over the market. With so few controlling the flow of product, demand was high and was the primary cause of the hyper-inflated prices that peaked in the early nineties. New buzz words like “rookie”, “mint” and “factory set” were strategically introduced to help fuel the euphoria, and make those caught up in it feel like experts – “players” in a high stakes card game.

Thinly veiled as a hobby, the industry went from strength to strength, and when a slight wane in the returns of forgotten 80’s “rookie” cards caused a ripple, many traders and hobbyists just kept wading out into the troubled waters.

And just like the stock-market a few short years earlier, the Trade Card industry went into free-fall. Over-printing, over-supply and a more focused and educated market reduced the foundations to rubble in a few short years, and ultimately rendered much of the investments about as valuable as the paper they were printed on.

Then came ebay

At a time when the industry was already suffering and card “values” were plummeting, ebay provided a wholesale forum for millions of users to become card dealers in their own right, and the common law of economics prevailed – supply was up, demand plateaued, and buyers benefited from a level playing field.

Suddenly, with increased availability, we saw many sad cases of 80’s rookie cards that had been priced between $10-50 only a few years earlier, being sold for .99 cents. Imagine the pain and shame of the “investor” who purchased 100 mint copies of identical cards valued at $20 each, only to find they couldn’t sell them when it came time to exercise their flakey exit strategy – even at 50 cents a card!

The Lucky Country

Here in Australia we have been fortunate enough to experience the opposite effect – an almost non-existent trade environment was given a push and created greater awareness and availability for what had always been a limited product in a minute market place. Several “holy grail” sets suddenly rocketed beyond the common man’s fiscal reach (e.g. 1963 Scanlens cards) and the pre-80’s market boomed.

A limited production run and availability of these early cards coupled with the spread of the hobby’s popularity, leaves us with the belief that pre-80’s collectables will continue to increase in value, and the newer material, though vastly superior in quality since 1991, will lose it’s lustre with each modern day player’s retirement. Just try getting more than $10 for a mid-90’s set of Select Footballers in Mint condition and you will understand.

An Industry Re-invention

From the wreckage of the US Sports market a reactive side-industry was spawned – the “Grading” service – which would ensure retailers could survive the deluge of on-line sellers and retain their authoritative grip on the hobby. Simple as it sounds, many retailers began promoting themselves as grading experts, applying incredibly in-depth criteria in a myriad of ways to any card or item you cared to put in front of them. Sealed, dated & authenticated, your item was suddenly desirable again, more valuable, and more importantly, provided dealers and retailers with a new cash cow. Quite often the service of grading a card was of greater value than the card itself.

For card grading information in simplified, Australian terms, refer to Australia’s first Online Grading Guide, right here at The Card Trader.

Card grading services have since thrived and coupled with the card manufacturer’s deliberate strategy of over supplying “common” cards and placing valuable inserts and signature cards in packs & boxes, we have seen a new batch of “valuable” modern day cards achieve some high returns.

But will anyone really want Matthew Pavilich’s signature card in 20 years?

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