The ‘Restoration’ Conversation in the Sports Card Market has Conflicting Views

While restored cards are widely being frowned upon, there’s no true consensus

An interesting post on the Blowout forum was shared a few days ago. I wanted to get to this earlier but have been a bit tied up.

A link had been shared to a Facebook post of a person that appears to do restoration work. The post in question showed a badly creased Lou Gehrig 1933 Goudey card that was subsequently ‘pressed’ to remove major traces of the crease. The creasing was not entirely gone but it was removed to a degree to show only very minor wrinkling. And the result, shown here, indicates the card was then sold for nearly double its original amount.

Interestingly enough, while most of these restorations have been hidden from the public, this conservationist (is that what we’re calling them?) posted her restoration work out in the public on her Facebook page. The post has since been removed, with my guess being due to the backlash it received on the Blowout forum.

Gehrig 1933 Goudey

But why would someone go out of their way to promote this type of restoration work on cards? Mostly because it’s been accepted in other types of collectibles, like comics, and those outside of the hobby probably don’t understand the outrage against it in this one. The same thing goes with other hobbies such art collecting or car collecting. The thought there is, as long as any restoration is disclosed, it is fair game. That adage does not hold true with sports cards.

The card collecting industry is one that has not yet accepted altered or restored cards. But could that change in the future?

This isn’t an endorsement for restoration on my end, mind you. As I’ve stated before, while I’ve got nothing against a collector that wants to collect altered or restored card, my concern is what happens to those cards later if restorations are not accounted for.

With that in mind, we’re still seeing restorations creeping into the hobby. In fact, the biggest one hit before the Blowout scandal really even gained traction.

Back in December of last year, a Honus Wagner T206 card was auctioned off. The card sold for $420,000 and the notable thing about it was that the card had been significantly restored. The previous card was trimmed all the way around with major back issues. The new and ‘improved’ version added borders to the card as well as a full Sweet Caporal back.

Others in the industry, like Brent Huigens of PWCC, have also noticeably pushed the idea of conservation/restoration, hoping to make collectors distinguish between what he calls those types of cards vs. altered cards. As Huigens has stated, he believes there’s a real difference in restoration vs. alterations. That may technically be true but others have been slower to accept any kind of real distinction, simply classifying any card that has had any ‘work’ to it as an alteration.

But taking Huigens’ point of view here, how should restoration work be treated in the card industry?

I had no real problem with the Wagner card being restored for reasons that I stated then. First, the card did not really experience much of a bump in value. And second, while other restorations could get lost to potential buyers, Wagner T206 cards are so rare and so well known that almost anyone doing the slightest bit of research would know the card was restored.

But the issue is that serious problems would almost certainly occur with other less notable cards. Even popular cards like, say, a Ruth 1933 Goudey aren’t tracked with nearly the same fervor as a Wagner T206. That can be said of rarer issues, too, like the Honus Wagner bread card that was declared to be altered by the Blowout crowd. Many collectors wouldn’t even be able to tell you what that card is, let alone have an idea of a background of the ones that have been sold.

It’s those cards that I’m concerned about. Even if restorations were accepted by collectors, the issue of ensuring they are disclosed would remain. A good seller would make sure they were but a less scrupulous one might not.

What becomes of this is anybody’s guess. Right now, one thing is clear — buyers are not scared off. As I recently wrote on Twitter, buying remains high for two specific reasons in my book. First, many collectors aren’t even aware of the altered cards scandal. Second, even ones that are do not seem to be buying with much degree of caution or concern. At least not yet. High-dollar, high-grade cards are still being routinely bought and sold and it appears to be business as usual right now. Perhaps it’s too early to tell but I’m not exactly convinced that even with a year’s worth of additional alterations surfacing that it would change many minds. Buyers, I suspect, would still find a way to justify buying.

Some in the hobby are ready to accept restored cards. However, right now, collectors in the card industry is mostly still a holdout on that front with it drawing a proper amount of outrage. And to me, that’s probably a good thing. A select amount of high-profile cards like Wagner T206s and whatnot being restored causes less of a problem just because they are tracked so closely. But expanding restoration work to other more common or less tracked issues seems like a bad idea.

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