Monday, August 18, 2008

The Best Of Both Worlds

Today, it seems like there are two worlds in the collecting hobby. The first world is people who are trying to reclaim the days they spent collecting base sets of the four products that were released every year. They buy retail, they buy the base cards themselves, they do base card trades, and they are the ones that voted the first option on the poll I am running right now. I have no problem at all with these people, I just have a hard time understanding them. The second world are the people like me that practically throw away every base card we pull. We want more tinned products that don’t have 24 packs per box, and contain more hits. We also only buy cards that are special (auto, jersey, low numbered), and we usually focus on a team or a player. If we collect a set, it is an auto set or a jersey set.

Speaking from my end, I don’t really understand why the other world still functions with as many people as it does. In fact, it seems like a lot of the online bloggers identify with that part of the hobby, living through sets like A&G and other retro themed sets like Heritage and Goudey rather than buying perennial favorites of my world like SP authentic, Sweet Spot, Leaf Limited and other higher end sets. Funny enough, I have even seen some people post breaks of retail blasters of this stuff, and that I cant understand one bit. I wouldn’t touch a retail anything with someone else's ten foot pole, mainly because if I am going to spend 20 bucks on some packs, I want a good chance at something nice. That is pretty much impossible with retail, unless you enjoy the 2 dollar jersey cards.

Personally, I would say that money has something to do with what world you belong to, but I have to say that is almost never the case. I spend VERY little money on cards relative to my income, but I have amassed a pretty good collection of VERY high end cards. I also know that a lot of the collectors I know who belong to the first world spend almost as much on their favorite products as I do on mine, but they come out with base sets, where I come out with autographs and jersey cards. Now, 10-15 years ago, my world was miniscule, because there was only 4-6 products per year, thus making base sets more desirable. Now, with 50-100 products per year, base sets arent worth squat unless they contain some super SP'ed cards, and that is pretty understandable. Yet, this doesn’t stop first world collectors from spending money on building a set worth half of what they paid. Its almost a quality versus quantity debate. To me, it comes down to spending $100 dollars on a 300-600 card set that will sit in a box in my closet, versus spending $100 on one single auto card that I can display on my shelf. I would take number two any day. I would even take spending $100 on a card versus spending $20 on a complete base set. Its all about quality for me, and in my opinion, there is no quality in a base set focused product.

My second world identification also prevents the tag of "person with 100,000 cards" from being applied to me. That’s okay, I don’t need to brag about my numbers in quantity. I am more than satisfied in bragging about my 100+ card collection that is on display at my apartment in my mother's basement. I think a lot of the people who are similar to me are okay with this lack of breadth in their PC boxes. As expected, when I buy wax, I will only buy products that can produce a card like the ones I have on display at a high clip. Usually I have to spend 80-120 dollars on a box, rather than 50-60, and I am perfectly fine with this. However, the people from the first world are not like me. They buy retail, as said before, where the odds of pulling something good are lottery sized. Why they don’t buy the hobby version at the same price is beyond me. That way you still get the base cards, but you don’t have to be 1 in 100,000 to pull an auto. It can still be worth while that way.

With that, I guess you could count this blog as one of the few second world blogs out there. Like I said, there is nothing wrong with the first world, its just tough for me to understand the other side (im positive the feeling is mutual). Im pretty sure that I am generalizing way too much, but I am confident the readers out there can easily understand the two types of collectors I am documenting.

NOTE: Its interesting that both worlds are seemingly progressing at a very large rate. MLB Documentary is obviously a first world set, while Ballpark Collection is definitely second. Topps and DLP all have similar dichotomies in their upcoming product releases, so it looks as though all things are going to be fine for both types of collectors.


  1. This is a great post, Gellman. I have dabbled in both the first and second worlds since I got back into collecting. I've decided that I prefer the first world. Here's why.

    I like building sets. It brings me back to the collecting days of my youth when I'd spend all summer trying to collect all 792 Topps cards. I like making trades to be able to fill in those empty spaces in my binder.

    Also, the first world sets are cheaper. Let's see, I could spend $50 on a box of Topps Chrome, or $150 on Triple Threads. Plus, you get more cards with the first world sets. It's just tough for me to justify spending more than $100 and getting a few cards.

    But my biggest reason for not collecting the second world sets is that it's like playing the lottery. Sure, I might get lucky and get a card that's actually worth $100 from a $200 box of cards, but more likely, I'll get a $20 card. If what I get is worth a small fraction of what I paid for the box, I'm not going to be happy. If that happens with a lower end set, then at least I have a bunch of base cards to enjoy.

    So I pick some first world sets with nice base cards and I collect those. I still buy second world cards, but I just buy the ones on eBay of players that I actually like, and I spend a lot less money than I would have if I bought a whole box. I'm happy that way.

  2. Wow, I didnt think anyone else noticed this split. I read a lot of the card blogs out there and I cant stand some of them because they are "first world" collectors as you say. I could care fucking less about stupid cards of the day or posts about set building or base cards. I dont care about sets from the eighties or nineties, and I definitely dont collect vintage. Thank you for creating a blog that actually speaks to the "second world" of collectors. Besides, its much more interesting over on this side.

  3. I'm an old school set builder, but not exclusively. I also like to collect special cards (autos,gu, etc)of my favorite players and teams. I enjoy the feeling of completing a set I have been working on. I also like buyimng boxes and having the extras to help others build their sets and having extra rookies, etc. When some of those guys pan out in a few years, it's good to go back and find them.

  4. Dave, you are right, its much easier to buy a 50 dollar box and be ripped off with what you pull than buying a 150 dollar box. Here is the thing: I dont buy wax that much anymore for this reason. I buy singles and call it a day. that way if I spend 150, I get exactly what I want.

    Brad, I dont disagree with your post, but I dont find anything wrong with first world blogs. They have their place just like mine.

  5. See Dave, you dont really make any distinctions here about the change in cost. If you spend 50 dollars and get 5 dollars worth of base cards you are getting around the same as if you buy a 100 dollar box and get 20 dollars worth of hits. proportionally, its the same, just on a bigger scale - which is why Gellman says that he doesnt buy wax.

  6. Jeff, the other distinction is that I would much rather have 20 dollars worth of hits rather than 5 dollars worth of base any day of the week. Base cards dont do it for me, I just dont appreciate them as much as an auto or jersey card (even though the jersey card may not be real).

  7. I hadn't noticed it before but you're absolutely right. And, most blogs are devoted to "first world" collectors.

    I guess I'm first world because right now I'm going for volume and trying to collect sets. Mostly because I've never put together a set in my life. I think that's something every collector should do at least once. So, I do buy hobby boxes and occasionally retail.

    The way I see it, it doesn't matter what wax you are buying, you have to get extremely lucky to get out of a box what you paid for it, whether it's high or low end. While right now I'm about as far opposite from Gellman as you can get, I think I'll eventually start to migrate more towards "second world" collecting for the reasons that he states. Gellman KNOWS he isn't getting screwed and is getting a good return on investment.

    But right now, I don't know what I like enough to narrow it down the way Gellman has.

  8. What did you collect pre-1996 Gellman?

    Also, the reasons so many people are building base sets is because they can't afford higher end products. That's why I do it. That and, you know, that's what this whole hobby was built on.

  9. Pre-Auto and Jersey, I collected the high odd inserts and stuff. Fleer Ultra was a favorite set of mine, so was SP because the inserts were the coolest. I also had a choice of fewer products, so it was much different. Now things have changed, yet people still identify themselves with the first world. In fact I think there are a lot of first world priced products that double as second world hit producers. UD Artifacts at 60 per box and Bowman Chrome are very nice.

    As for money, I spend VERY little. Then again, I dont buy wax, and I have saved my money. Lets face it, bills are very expensive, and so is gas, but I can easily save 100 dollars over a few months with the right spending habits - and I live in one of the most expensive cities in the world.

    So, I dont think money is that big of an issue. If it was, I think you would spend it on better things than cards.

  10. Oh and this hobby was not built on base cards, it was built on the popularity of the respective sports.

  11. What's wrong with liking base cards, buying retail or trying to complete a set? This post completely smacks of elitism.

  12. Elitism? I think I said I have nothing against these collectors, I just dont understand them.

    As for retail, its fine if you like astronomical odds and searched packs. With hobby packs costing around the same amount, there is no reason not to buy them. I have posted numerous times on it, so go search-wild and find out.

    Plus, if you want to comment annonymously, at least assign yourself a fake name so we know who to address. I have no problem with dissention, its just tough to figure out if this is one person or many. I hate to damn the masses for the crappiness of one person.

  13. I'd like to weigh in here:

    Sometimes we just can't afford to live in the second world, so we make do with what we can from the first.

    I think it may also have to do with when you came into the hobby. Those who came into the hobby pre-1988 may be more inclined to put together base-sets of lower end product because to them, that's what card collecting means, because back in the day, that's all you could really do. Oh sure, you could collect stars or teams, but there were no real inserts or golden tickets to speak of. At most you could hope to pull the best RC out of a wax pack.

    With the hobby in the shape that it's in today, it's no wonder that High End product dominates the headlines, but I wonder how many people are actually buying that product. It's a well known maxim that the top 10% of any hobby pays for 90% of the product produced, and as long as there are collectors with deep pockets, that will remain the same. However, the masses of the collecting world have so many choices today and so little disposable income that the gamble on high end product just doesn't seem worth it sometimes.

    ESPECIALLY with alternate means to collect the cards that you want without the risk of getting stuff you don't want.

    Until the economy picks up and more people have more disposable income, this won't change much. The card companies will continue to try to meet the needs of EVERY collector out there by offering as many products as they can to satisfy every niche collector.

    Think about it this way:

    Those who like sets can either buy complete sets or make them with a reasonable amount of effort (trading has NEVER been easier, and bulk purchases can fill in a set very quickly).

    Those who collect teams or players have a method to purchase only those items.

    Those who enjoy the thrill of the hunt have an awful lot of options.

    So really, at the moment, there's something for everyone in the hobby, and we should be grateful. I can recall a time where there were only three sets of Baseball cards each season, Topps, Fleer and Donruss, and beyond that, there wasn't a whole lot else.