Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Beware: The "Book Value" Trader

Book Value. We all know what it means. Or at least what it is supposed to mean in theory. However, with the explosive popularity of eBay, Naxcom and other auction sites in the last 10 years, Book Value is a term that needs to be banished forever from collectors’ vernacular once and for all. I can hear it now, “But wait, that would mean the potential demise of Beckett.” Fear not readers, Beckett has come up with yet another way to sucker you out of your hobby dollars; they now grade “thick insert cards”. But I digress.

Last weekend I took advantage of being a temporary bachelor (my wife and daughters were out of town) to visit one of my local hobby shops. Every Saturday a dozen hardcore collectors gather to show off their recent pulls, purchase new product and trade. Ah, the trading of trading cards. What a nostalgic concept. What prompted my ire for the topic of this article started here at my hobby shop’s weekly Trade Day. The process is supposed to be very simple. Collectors bring cards they are willing to trade and then you simply ask if you can see them. If something captures your eye you ask the collector to look at what you’ve brought. And here is where the problem started. One person I spoke with after selecting a couple of his cards proceeded to tell me what the Book Value (further referred to in this article simply as BV) was of each card I selected.

The subsequent conversation went something like this:

I looked at him and responded, “So…what does that mean.”

He looked at me like I had just attempted to proposition his mother. With a tone of utter arrogance he replied, “ Uh…it means they are each worth $50.”

I calmly corrected him. “No, that is what a sampling of store owners have received for that card as reported by Beckett. Book Value really only applies to what a person selling this exact card at retail might get for it.”

“Yeah… well.. if your interested in either card it “books” for $50. (Meaning that in order to affect a trade I would need to have something he wanted that also “books” for $50.)

Excuse me, am I missing something here. I thought the point of trading was to get rid of what you didn’t want for something of equal or comparable value IN THE EYES OF THE COLLECTORS INVOLVED IN THE TRADE!!

As with beauty, value is in the eyes of the beholder. It was obvious I was dealing with someone who once upon a time traded his Ryan Sandberg RC for a Howard Johnson RC and still hasn’t gotten over the fact of that erroneous decision 25 years later.

Let’s review. A Collectibles 101 if you will.

1. Something is only worth what somebody is willing to pay for it.

2. People who use the term BV should be limited to retailers, dealers and wholesalers.

3. The most accurate reflection of what a card is worth, collector-to-collector is recently closed auctions of the same or similar item on eBay.

OK. So that was trade attempt #1, now for #2.

In the course of busting packs of Topps Chrome Baseball in a friendly Pack Wars competition, I pull a Hanley Ramirez RC Auto. Pretty cool he is having a good year, I thought to myself. Shortly after my Pack War victory, someone approached me about possibly trading for the Hanley RC Auto. Honestly, I could care less about this card but the guy seemed like he really wanted it. I looked at what he had and having learned “my lesson” from the first trade attempt, I selected 1 star regular card, 1 parallel cards, 1 un-numbered insert and 1 Josh Beckett GU jersey from him Florida days.

Pushing it just a little bit, I know, but I figured I’d see how much he really wanted it (my card). He then proceeded to tell me, “Those cards “book” for like $60 and I can get a Hanley Ramirez for like $5.00."

I thought, wait a minute your valuing your stuff based on book but my stuff based on what you can “get it for”. There’s a flaw to your thinking my Beckett brainwashed collecting brethren.

“Where can you get it for $5.00?”


“Well I know I can get each of those inserts for a buck on eBay and that jersey card for $3.00-$5.00. The cards I picked aren’t going up in value, where the RC Auto only time will tell.”

“Yeah but the difference in BV isn’t close.”

“Dude, I thought we already established what the cards are really worth. You know forget it.”

Unbelievable was my only thought as I was walking to my car, that and what a couple of idiots. That’s when it hit me. They weren’t idiots or brainwashed, they were Beckett Book Value Geeks. I hope this term quickly enters our hobby’s vocabulary, as you will want to learn how to identify them quickly and stay far, far away.


Anonymous said...

Great story. I'm also going to a "Trading Day" at a local hobby shop soon. I'll probably encounter similar people. They truly deserve our laughter and mockery.

Rob- AKA "VOTC" said...

Yeah definetly let us know if something similar happens to you.

Anonymous said...

Yeah my favorite are the guys who value their cards at Beckett value and your cards at the "sell value" on eBay. Ridiculous.

Motherscratcher said...

What would you recommend for a collector like myself who really doesn't know the value of particular cards off the top of my head. If I want to trade I don't want to look like an idiot by offering something ridiculous. On the other hand I don't want to get screwed either. It seemed to me that by using BV, maybe the relative values would be comparable, even though I have zero faith in the accuracy of those values. I don't know a better way to approach it.

Well, I guess I could actually try to educate myself on these things, but who the hell wants to do that?

Rob- AKA "VOTC" said...


My personal nelief is that as a safe rule of thumb in a trade day pinch take 50% off the BV and that is probably what you can find it for online.

PhaLe28 said...

wow...great stuff man! I had a similar experience; some dude wanted a card I had and when I picked out a card I liked-he said "BV is like 30 bucks"...the trade did not get done, i just walked away and that was that.

Pablo said...

With this economy, all dealers should discount all their cards by 50% of book value so they can move their large inventory of old cards and make room for the current cards. Most dealers, however, won't do this especially if it could keep them in business for years to come.

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