The 1990s was a time of major boom and bust in one of my other, lesser-known interests: baseball card collecting. While my cards are now relegated to the far recesses of my attic, there was a time when they were far more important to me than video games, Fruit Roll-Ups, and Surge. My cousin and I spent hours pouring through stacks of near-mint card stock and chewing up crumbly, waxy bubble gum that would turn most stomachs… in search of that one big find.
There was a corner store in Broken Arrow, OK near where we would get haircuts that sold older packs of cards. Topps, Bowman, Upper Deck – the brands that used to be just as much about art and style than stats and trivia. I’d usually grab a few packs of from the current year, but I always snagged at least one set of 1990 Topps.
See, in the early-90s, it became apparent in collecting circles that there was a significant misprint on the rookie card of a budding all-star. Had this occurred with most other player it might have not been a huge deal, but when the Big Hurt was involved, things got a bit more interesting.
This is card #414A from the 1990 Topps set, featuring a misprint that left Thomas’s name off the front of his debut card. Years later, card enthusiasts would piece together that a dry spot had affected the prints of several cards on the sheet Thomas’s card was printed on. However, Thomas was the only one whose card was impacted so dramatically and in such a desirable manner (for collectors).
This card, in the mid-to-late 90s, sold for five-digit sums. Some price guides had a mint, graded value set at $25,000 (though it sold more realistically for $9,000). This was the card everyone wanted – my cousin and I included.
What does this have to do with video games?
Well, in 1995 ebay came on the scene, and by 1999 the sports card market had begun to experience rapid decline. One of my favorite cards to hunt for – Bill Ripken’s 1989 Fleer “F**k Face” card had gone from a hot collector’s item to something I bought for just $7. After an amazing 90s run, baseball cards had peaked, declined, and plateaued.
The future looks the same for our video game collecting hobby. While it may not “crash” as I have speculated for years, the fall and plateau is on the horizon. That $9,000 Frank Thomas misprint – it is now celebrated when it cracks $2,500 at auction. That’s still a vast sum of money for a piece of card-stock. But say you purchased it for $5,000 in 1995 as a speculative investment… You’ve lost half your money while inflation has continued to rise.
Video games might be a safer bet, for sure. Lately, though, I have run into far too many collectors who feel that “if the wheels come off” they will be able to safely unload their rares and CIBs to pay the bills. The problem is that many of these folks are buying those games at fair market value with an expectation that value is only going up. In a market where price is heavily dictated by demand – what happens when demand drops or supply is over-saturated?
Video game collecting is a hobby because video game playing is a hobby. Let us not forget that these games will not be our retirement plans or pay for our kids’ college. These games will not pay for emergency medical bills. These games are not secured investments.
If we lose sight of why we own these things in the first place, what then is the point of owning them at all? ♦
Brandon Cole Phillips