The Baseball Card Bubble — Swallower Of Childhood Dreams

Slate excerpts the Dave Jamieson book Mint Condition, which details the rise and fall of the baseball card futures market of the 1980s and 1990s.

What began as a nostaglia-fueled craze elevated into a cutthroat industry, then fell apart when overproduction reared its ugly head and demand dropped. As a result, many a collector hoarded sports cards thinking their investments would pay off nicely one day, only to find their collections are now just about worthless.

From the excerpt:

By the ’80s, baseball card values were rising beyond the average hobbyist’s means. As prices continued to climb, baseball cards were touted as a legitimate investment alternative to stocks, with the Wall Street Journal referring to them as sound “inflation hedges” and “nostalgia futures.” Newspapers started running feature stories with headlines such as “Turning Cardboard Into Cash” (the Washington Post), “A Grand Slam Profit May Be in the Cards” (the New York Times), and “Cards Put Gold, Stocks to Shame as Investment” (the Orange County Register). A hobby bulletin called the Ball Street Journal, claiming entrée to a network of scouts and coaches, promised collectors “insider scouting information” that would help them invest in the cards of rising big-league prospects. Collectors bought bundles of rookie cards as a way to gamble legally on a player’s future.

Unfortunately for investors, each one of those cards was being printed in astronomical numbers. The card companies were shrewd enough never to disclose how many cards they were actually producing, but even conservative estimates put the number well into the billions. One trade magazine estimated the tally at 81 billion trading cards per year in the late ’80s and early ’90s, or more than 300 cards for every American annually.

Did you get swept up in this nonsense of yesteryear? And what will you give me for the set of 1990 Donruss that’s taking up space in my closet?

The Great Baseball Card Bubble [Slate]