Five Reasons Pre-War Cards Belong in Your Collection
Most baseball card collectors break into the hobby by collecting issues of current players and teams. That’s only natural. I started collecting cards back in 1986 and my focus quickly shifted to cards of New York Mets players as that was my favorite childhood team. My path to pre-war cards, if you’re interested, has been documented here.
But as many collectors get older, they often start collecting vintage issues. Some even go way back to the pre-war days collecting cards of players they had only heard about. While that might seem like an odd thing to collectors of Mike Trout and Aaron Judge cards, the fact is that adding some pre-war cards to your collection is generally a great idea.
Collecting these cards can be intimidating if you don’t know where to start (one place is here, if you’re curious). But here are some great reasons to give pre-war cards a try.
1. Cheaper than you think
I’m not going to lie here – many pre-war cards can get expensive — particularly for stuff in nice condition. But what a lot of collectors don’t know is that you can get many cards for $5-10 or even less. Lots of cheaper cards exist and are available at low prices – particularly if you’re willing to buy low grade, which is generally the best way to maximize a pre-war collection.
Tobacco cards and caramel cards will generally be a little more expensive, but there are all kinds of cheaper cards out there. Things like strip cards are very popular and inexpensive and generic issues (cards that feature baseball players but not specific ones) are even cheaper. Postcards are another affordable option.
If you want something more popular/mainstream, low-grade 1933 Goudey gum cards are easy to find starting at around $10. You can even build a 1936 Goudey set for a few hundred dollars.
There’s a lot to find at under $10, including many less popular trade cards from the 19th century and international tobacco cards from the 1930s, which are often very affordable. Those are good places to start if you’re not necessarily looking for baseball cards.
2. Pieces of History
I suppose that any card is a piece of history, so to speak. But cards from more than 75-100 years ago are just incredibly cool. It’s hard to explain until you actually have a few in your hands. Just knowing that a little piece of cardboard has survived all sorts of things over the years is kind of a unique feeling.
As I recently wrote, the survival rate on most of these cards is extremely low, and even the more common issues that we see today are pretty rare by comparison of how many were created.
As stated, it’s difficult to explain. The look and the feel of cards, combined with the printing processes used to create them is just dramatically different from modern cards. And while many print flaws exist in them, that adds to the look rather than detracts from it.
3. Stable Investment
Obviously, trying to determine which cards will go up or down over time isn’t really possible. But what we do know is that, over time, pre-war cards have fared quite well in terms of investments.
You don’t often see pre-war cards take the large types of hits modern cards have taken and while it might not be as rewarding as the stock market or other investments, the cards are generally very stable and the market for them is relatively strong these days.
A recent Forbes article was published that compared some of the most popular cards in the hobby to the stock market and cards fared favorably. The idea of cards being investments isn’t as far-fetched as it seems and pre-war cards in particular have done very well over the past 20 years.
Modern cards, of course, have fared quite well in recent years with graded cards taking off. But pre-war cards have seen a more steady rise, rarely losing value. Some, too, have experienced the same types of meteoric rises that modern cards have, too.
4. Adds Variety
Even if you don’t go bonkers with pre-war cards, having a little diversity in your collection isn’t a bad thing. The cards are great conversation starters and offer a refreshing change from newer sets or even post-war vintage.
Adding even a few cards will make your collection look much different and you might even find yourself enjoying the cards more than you thought.
Another great thing is that pre-war cards aren’t only limited to baseball. While basketball examples aren’t nearly as common, there is a good amount of football and hockey issues. Other sports, such as boxing, which was once much more popular, are also relatively common and easy to find.
5. Easy to Find
Pre-war cards are not all easy scores, of course. But if you’re looking for any pre-war card, they aren’t hard to find. This, I think, is what surprises people that don’t collect them.
eBay has a large selection and some dealers will usually have some at the bigger shows. In addition, they can also be found on sites, such as COMC. T206 cards and 1930s Goudey cards are among the most populous pre-war issues and they aren’t difficult to find. Trade cards, in particular, are abundantly easy to locate. Even though most of these cards were printed in the 19th century and are well over 100 years old, due to the sheer volume printed, many have survived.
While the survival rate on pre-war cards is low compared to how many were printed, there are a lot of issues out there that are readily available. PSA has graded more than 200,000 T206 cards alone and in his book on the set, author Scot Reader estimates that around 1.6 million are still in existence today. That’s much fewer than 1% of the total number printed but, well, still a ton of cards.