Thursday, March 11, 2004
There’s money in the cards
By MARY L. SCHROPP
NEW SMYRNA BEACH — Kevin Leniart ties his annual trip to New Smyrna Beach from Windsor Locks, Conn., to baseball’s spring training season.
James Brown helps 11-year-old Evan select a football trading card at Brown's. (Photo: News-Journal/Mary L. Schropp)
This weekend, he plans to drive to Vero Beach to see the Tigers and the Dodgers play. With any luck, he’ll have a couple of trading cards featuring 2004’s most promising players tucked in his pocket.
“I’m not looking for anyone in particular. I’m just hoping to get some autographs,” he said as he searched through the stacks of cards at Brown’s Bookstore in Edgewater.
Leniart has been collecting baseball trading cards since 1970 when he received some packs as gifts tucked into an Easter basket. Although he now has “tens of thousands,” he said he has no idea what they might be worth on the open market. His most expensive card is a Ty Cobb, which cost him several hundred dollars.
Like baseball, the trading card business has been in a slump.
“It was killed with the 1994 baseball strike,” said Chris Tyler, owner of Vern’s Sports and Collectibles in New Smyrna Beach.
Tyler noted there used to be 12 stores in the Daytona Beach area that primarily sold trading cards. Now, however, his nearest competitor is in Ormond Beach. The baseball trading card industry started to revive with the 1998 homerun chase between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.
Then, according to James Brown, owner of Brown’s Bookstore, the sluggish economy brought sales back down.
“People just haven’t had the money for things like trading cards and 9/11 did a lot of damage to the collecting industry,” he said. “I’m just now starting to see a renewed interest in collecting.”
Brown said his trading card business has increased about 40 percent over the past year, and he expects to see even more improvement if the economy stays strong.
“A card that you buy today for $10 should be worth $100 in five years,” he said.
Eleven-year-old Evan Schraeder never noticed any slump, however. He’s been collecting cards for half his life, ever since he started playing Little League baseball. His collection of 300 baseball cards includes a Hank Aaron, senior and junior Cal Ripkins and Alex Rodriguez. But he spent the most on a football card.
“I once paid $20 for an Aaron Brooks,” he said.
Today, Brown said, companies keep interest alive by marketing series cards, which require nine cards to complete a picture, as well as hard-to-get chaser cards that often include holograms or 3-D graphics.
“Out of a box of 24 packs, you’d be lucky to find two packs that have chaser cards,” he said.
Collectors won’t find a bubble gum pack with their cards, however. Topps stopped including it when collectors complained that it left a residue on the cards and reduced their value.
For Brown, however, the main value in collecting cards is providing youngsters with a hobby that can last a lifetime.
“I was fortunate in that, when I was growing up in the 1950s, my dad explained that, if I saved and put away and took care of the baseball cards I was collecting, I could sell them when I was in my 50s,” he said. “Now, I can introduce kids to the idea that they can collect something that will appreciate in value.”
Did You Know?
Collecting baseball cards is a tradition that goes back more than a century.
The first cards were produced in 1887 and given away with cigarettes and other tobacco products. Cards that feature stars from the “tobacco era” can bring in thousands of dollars.
A 1909 tobacco card auctioned for $1.26 million, according to Chris Tyler, owner of Vern’s Sports and Collectibles.
Bubble gum cards were introduced in 1933, but production was sporadic during the Depression and World War II.