Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Evolution of Sports Card Collecting from the early 1970s to the present

Well, this post is really my history of card collecting from the early 1970s to today the present. While, I am probably not the typical collector, I think this will give readers a good overview how collectors obtained cards through the years.

The Early 1970s

I bought my first wax pack of cards in the spring of 1972 at a local drugstore. The cards were 1972 Topps baseball. The drug store is still in business but I doubt they have sold cards for more than 30 years. Also, my uncle owned a little grocery store around this time and he began carrying cards. I bought my first pack of hockey cards from him (1972-73 Topps). For the next few years I bought all my cards (for all 4 sports) at his store. I would usually have money to buy a few packs and he would then give me few extra packs free.

In the mid-1970s my uncle and my aunt had marital problems and there went my access to free cards. The first rack pack of cards that I ever remember buying was 1977 Topps football. I remember looking at all the packs hanging on the rack, trying to find the cards of players that I did not have. What a great idea, see through rack packs, I would only buy the ones that I was assured of getting cards that I did not have. One thing I did notice was the price, while you got more cards, the packs cost more, so you had to buy less packs.

The late 1970s

Because I did not have great access to retail Basketball cards in my city, the 1976-77 Topps Basketball set was the first set I bought through the mail. I don’t recall who I bought them from but I pretty sure I saw the ad in the Sporting News. I don’t recall many stores ever carrying much basketball cards in the late 1970s where I lived. I continued to buy all my basketball sets through the mail from then on for about 10 years. I bought my first Hockey set through the mail in 1979 (1979-80 Topps set) and my first football set through the mail was 1980 Topps. I bought most of my sets from Renata Galasso in New York.


Topps had competition in 1981. I originally had planned to collect only Topps but I ended up buying Donruss and Fleer sets. I bought all three sets through the mail. By 1981, I was buying all my cards through the mail except for Topps football. 1981 was also the first time I recalled buying cards at Flea Markets. I remember buying a lot of 1971 Topps Baseball at a flea market for something like 100 cards for $5.00 around this time. I recall going to flea markets from 1981 to about 1985 and picking up older Topps cards. I rarely picked up cards from flea markets after 1985.  

Early 1980s

Beginning in 1982, I began buying wax boxes to put together my Topps football sets(I did this throughout the 1980s). I bought the cards at a wholesale district near the center city.  I continued to buy my Topps Baseball, Donruss Baseball, Fleer Baseball, Topps Hockey (O-Pee-Chee the 2 years Topps did not make cards) and Topps Basketball (later Star Company Basketball) sets through the mail. 

Mid 1980s

I bought my first set of cards at card shop around 1985 or 1986. I remember paying $125 for a complete mint 1973 Topps baseball set. The second set I ever bought at a card shop was a 1986-87 Fleer basketball set for $10 (I wish I bought more). By 1987, I was buying wax boxes of Fleer Basketball, Topps Hockey and Topps Football  at wholesale shops and put together my complete sets. I remember for about a couple of years the price of the wax boxes were $10.60. (I won’t ever forget that number).  I bought my Baseball sets through the mail, except for 1987 Topps, which I  bought a ton of  wax boxes.

1989 the beginning of the end

1989 Upper Deck Baseball was the first major set I did not collect. From 1971-1988, I had owned every major Baseball Football Basketball and Hockey set. I did not collect Upper Deck because I thought they were too expensive.

1990s and into the 2000s

In 1990, I went to my first card show and I attended on average about 5 card shows a year through 2007. I went wild (like everyone else) buying cards between 1990 and 1991. I would buy (or put together) 3-4 Baseball, Football, Basketball, Hockey sets during those years. This was probably the most diverse time collecting. I pretty much stopped buying wholesale wax boxes after 1991 and I scaled back my card shop buying, I began to get most of my cards from the card shows. From 1992 to 2006, I probably got 95 percent of my cards from card shows. Beginning in 1994, I scaled back my card collecting to getting one complete set for Hockey, Basketball, Baseball and Football for that year. Affordability was the key and I would still pick up a few single cards. This was pretty much the way I collected until 2001. Since then I have been basically collecting completes sets every other year or so (for example, the last 4 football sets I bought -2001 Topps, 2005 Topps, 2008 Score, 2010 Score) for each sport. I hardly bought any retail packs of cards during this period.


In 2005, a friend at work told me about Ebay, I joined in late 2005 and since 2006, every single card (or set) I buy comes from Ebay now. I still pick up wax packs occasionally at stores (I have never bought a wax pack or box of cards on ebay).

My evolution of collecting - where I got (most of) my cards from:

1972-1980 – Retail
1980-1986- Mail Order
1987-1991 – Wholesale
1992-2005 – Card Shows
2006-2011- Ebay

There also has been a lot of lasts in my card collecting career:

2007 Last time I went to a card show.   
2004 Last time bought a complete card set from a mail order dealer.
2003 Last time bought a complete card set from a card shop
2001 Last time bought a complete card set from a flea market
2001 Last time put together a complete card set from wax boxes (bought from card show)
1991 Last time put together a complete card set from wax boxes (bought wholesale)
1990 Last time put together a complete card set from retail packs (though I stopped getting most of my cards from retail around 1980.)

I still collect, since 2009, I have bought 87 autograph cards on ebay (about half for 99 cents shipped). The most I paid for an autograph card shipped was $9.86 for a 2007 Topps Prince Fielder. I bid low and if I win I feel like a got a good deal and that makes me a happy collector.


  1. Good post. I'm impressed you've been at it so long and remember it so well.

  2. Great post John... it sums up what my blog is about: telling the story of my card collecting experience.

    You sure picked up some amazing deals over the years... a Jordan rookie & the rest of the 86-87 Fleer set for $10? That's insane!