Friday, December 18, 2009

Pre-Holiday Update - A Hodgepodge of Observations and Notes

Wow, been a while since my last update here, but that's not due to a lack of hobby activity.

Since the Nov. 5th update, the Toronto Fall Expo has come and gone (what a whirlwind that was! I think a 3 day recap of that experience would merit its own entry), UD Series 1 has made its mark and some new slabs from ITG's latest Ultimate Collection are weighing down mail trucks worldwide. I have also done some wheeling and dealing and purchased another large lot of inventory ahead of this Sunday's Toronto Monthly Show.

Where to begin?

How about a little bit on the Expo to get us started... in a word, the Expo this November was inasane. I was lucky enough to have a box full of high-enders to trade around for some fresh items, and completed three or four blockbuster deals - here is a bit about a couple of them:

The biggest deal saw a Crosby Rookie Review Auto/Patch /100, Gretzky Signature Patch SP /25, Canucks Triple Patch /10 and Smyth Cup Foundations Quad Patch /10 leave my hands in favor of a 05/6 Sidney Crosby Marks of Distinction Autograph /25. I realize that this may not have been the best deal for me in terms of inventory control, but based on research around the show and afterward, I have found that the Crosby MOD's have sold for close to or above book value, while everything I parted with would fetch significantly less. This was proven last week when the exact Gretzky card I traded away closed at $280 online.

At the time of the Expo, Steve Stamkos was tearing up the NHL, so I made a move and acquired a 08/9 The Cup Gold RC /91 with an average patch swatch. Based on market demand at the time and the card's inflated book value, I was able to trade it even up for a 06/7 Wayne Gretzky Limited Logos single. There aren't enough good things to say about that trade, as not only did I score a Gretzky Auto/Patch for a Stamkos parallel RC, but my dad and I had been on the lookout for a copy of the Gretzky LL since the release of that product. I know that the dealer I traded the Stamkos to was able to sell it at the Expo, so it would have to be considered a win/win!

I was chatting with a dealer and found that he was a huge Carey Price fan - I had been holding onto a Price SPX Patch/Au RC /25 for about six months, and he happily flipped me a Sidney Crosby Programme of Excellence Auto /10 for it. Another case of both traders walking away very happy.

My favourite trades occurred when I ran into a couple of Hobby Insider members (Phil & Justin) from the NY area. Justin and I had been chatting about making a trade for a couple of weeks, and I came away from the table with a 07/8 UD Premier Quad Remnants Auto/Jersey /10 commemorating Marty's 500th win. Justin received two beautiful pieces for his collection, and I scored one that ranks in my top-10. It was also a blast to talk hockey with someone from outo of the area who could give me a different perspective on the NHL and the hobby in general. On Sunday morning I ran into Justin again and he suggested I chat with his buddy Phil - I did, and we consommated a deal that saw a Wayne Gretzky Signature Sticks /15 come my way. A stunning card which shows the Great One in an Oilers uniform.

Just a taste of the kind of deals that can go down at the Expo if you are patient and open to shuffling the deck.

Upper Deck Series 1 was released and widely broken at the Expo and elsewhere and one problem was prevalent in almost all cases: the ever-popular Young Guns singles were affected by "roller marks", leaving many cards damaged and undesirable. Upper Deck responded to the problem with lightning speed and spent most of the Expo distributing mint copies in exchange for the damaged cards. Kudos are in order, so here they are!

ITG Ultimate also hit the market, and dazzled collectors at every turn. The "1/1" cards featuring jumbo pieces of memorabilia are spectacular, and I believe that the "Ultimate Stick Racks" subset is among the best ever conceived. This year's base cards featured sparkling pieces of manufactured patches, leaving them exponentially more appealing than previous issues. I found that several dealers were overcharging for these at the Expo, seeming under the impression that game-used memorabilia swatches were used, even though the backs of these cards clearly state that that is not the case. ITG Ultimate remains plagued by two issues, in my opinion: 1) the plastic "slabs" have got to go. Not only are the slabs bulky and near impossible to ship (last week I was forced to either pay $13 to ship a pair of these as a small package or to prepare two separate envelopes and ship them separately for $4 each), the labels are often cluttered by text, which I believe takes away from the card itself... Consider this little doozie - all of this text on one line:

John Tavares/Alexander Ovechkin07/19

May not look like a lot here, but on a label that's only a few inches long, its hard to handle - and of course there isn't enough room to leave a space between the player names and the serial number.

Problem #2 has been an issue as long as ITG Ultimate has used sticker autographs - there are hundreds of brutally cut-off signatures that get packed out. As an avid collector, I am familiar with the sigs of most players, so what a dealbreaker it is to see a Brodeur autograph with half of the "30" cut off, or a John Tavares sig that seems to start halfway through the "J", I know Scott Glennie isn't a huge name, but I haven't come accross a card that features his full signature on a sticker.

For a company that prides itself on quality control and attention to detail, I find it absolutely embarassing that ITG would charge the prices they do by the pack for this product considering this issue. If stickers must be used, I suggest establishing some kind of standard for quality and communicate this to the athletes, increase the size of the stickers, or better yet, drop autographs altogether if they can't be executed to an appropriate level for inclusion in a premium product.

The days of charging hardworking people hundreds of dollars for packs of cards promising them autographs that aren't all there have got to stop. I am aware that ITG does not have an NHLPA license is doing a great job with what is available/possible, but I feel as if many collectors are doing favors by buying and backing these cards, which haven't changed much in years due to the aforementioned limitations. Upper Deck uses their share of stickers as well, and these are also often cut off and even put on backwards at times... to their credit, however, I have not seen them employ this method in a premium product.


Happy holidays to all!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

09/10 UD Black... More Like UD Blah...

When the innaugural edition of UD Black was released, I was stunned, as were many collectors of high-end autographed singles.

I walked the aisles of the Fall Expo in Toronto gobbling up cards from the set that featured my main collecting focus, Marty Brodeur, leaving the frenzy with five beautiful hard-signed cards - one of which (Lustrous Materials) would rank near the top of my "favourites" list. I love everything about the card - from the sleek finish, crisp autograph in silver sharpie and most of all, the acetate photo.

08/9 UD Black also introduced some other unique concepts like the "Marks of Obsidian" and "Pride of a Nation" cards, which were very popular, and featured unique parallel versions boasting new colours of foil and ink at every turn.

Pride of a Nation is back this year with a very similar design - yet again Upper Deck fails to picture players in National Team uniforms, even though the subset commemorates nationality and international play. This year, they've got "Dual Pride of a Nation" cards... essentially the same idea, except two players pictured in NHL uniforms sign around the flag of their country. Neat, but in no way original.

Lustrous Materials are back, too - but instead of making use of the acetate to show a cool etched in photo this time around, players have signed overtop of clear plastic in black ink, resulting in very small and plain signatures. In sum, a fantastic design has gone to waste.

Black Hockey has brought the "fold-out" concept (prevalent in other sports) into the hockey set this year, and I am personally not sold on these things. How do you store a fold-out? How many times would you look at one? These cards appear to take the eight-way two sided jersey cards seen last year to a sickening extreme. Most importantly to the player collector like myself, the lineups seen on the foldout cards are guaranteed to feature lesser-known and uninteresting combinations of players.

One of the 12-ways commemorates the New Jersey Devils "rivalry" with the Carolina Hurricanes. It has all kinds of players on it fromt he 2008/09 ECF series between the two teams. I would like to take a couple of lines to thank Upper Deck for making a card about the biggest failure in the history of the New Jersey Devils organization. I am tempted to buy all 25 copies and destroy them.

Sticking with the player collector theme - Martin Brodeur notched his 565th win last night, and yet he is almost nowhere to be found on the checklist for the year's first premium product. Brodeur has a Pride of a Nation card, a Dual Pride of a Nation card (w/Roy) and a Dual Game Night Ticket (w/Roy). By my count, those are the only autographed cards he has in the set. Could it be that Brodeur, one of the most popular and reliable signers in the hobby over the years, signed only 100 or so cards for this product? Even worse is the fact that only 37 would be "solo", the rest tarnished by the appearance of Roy.

Upper Deck has changed up the checklist this time around, but I don't think removing star power from the mix is the right way to go. Patrik Elias is on the Lustrous Materials Checklist, and Martin Brodeur is not. Someone explain that one to me.

With another Black release comes another onslaught of "Rookie Lettermen". Hundreds of fake letters spelling the names of players that, for the most part, I've never heard of. Really? Sounds like a great idea! These things will be in five dollar bins within two weeks of product release... AGAIN!

From what I've seen so far, I give this year's UD Black a rousing two stars out of a possible five. Quite the disappointment after last year's edition, which broke the mould as far as high-end sets go.

The door is wide open for ITG's UM 9 to destroy this flub of a product at the Fall Expo next week (!!!), and even though the cards are still entombed within inches of plastic, don't picture players in NHL uniforms and aren't hard signed, this round in the UD/ITG war will be unanimously won by the "People's Choice" manufacturer. Even with their limitations, the folks at ITG always put a lot of thought and emotion into their designs, which is not something that the crew of four year olds with crayons hired by Upper Deck to design Black can say.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Buying to Sell - A Foray Into the Business Side of the Hobby

Once in awhile, opportunity knocks - when it does, hopefully you're there to answer the door.

Last week I was given the opportunity to purchase a large lot of high-end singles for a fraction of their book value. Before jumping into any kind of analysis of current buy/sell trends, a concrete definition of "high-end" has got to be established.

I've always considered high-end to be a blanket term covering the "best of the best" - the best cards of the best players. If Crosby signed it, it's high-end. If Orr wore it, its high-end. If a card pictures Jussi Jokinen and is stamped with some silver foil indicating that it is /10, it is immediately classified as an immoveable object... sometimes. More on this later.

So I threw some money in the mail (its only paper, right?) and the next day a shoebox arrived on my desk. The box was jam packed with beautiful cards, and included a vast inventory of singles with patches and autographs including most of the game's big names, past and present.

As could be expected, I tucked away a handful of prized items including several additions to my Martin Brodeur autograph collection and one piece I have always hoped to add: a Mario Lemieux Patch/Auto from my favourite set of all-time (06/7 The Cup Limited Logos). I then went about scanning and cataloguing every item included, even the ones I had pulled aside.

Once scanned, the cards were posted on Hobby Insider and made available for sale. Below are some observations and comments from my first week "on the job":

* Don't knock it until you've tried to sell it * - I have constantly mocked and ridiculed card manufacturers over the past several years for their constant inclusion of Lanny Macdonald in their sets. As responses to my sale thread began to filter in, I quickly ate my words. My first sale was not of a Sidney Crosby rookie year autograph, nor of a Mario Lemieux 1/1 Artifacts Patch card... but of a Lanny Macdonald Superlative Jersey card. The item brought back $12 of my investment, and taught me an important lesson -- just because I personally am not a fan of a certain player does not mean that he won't sell!

* Make a Deal * - If I hold onto this item for six months, will I get $5 more for it? A question that has plagued sellers of all non-perishable products for generations, and one that I was faced with immediately. While it is possible that someone out there might pay me $17 for an item, I am happy to sell it to you for $15 to keep the cards moving, regain a small portion of what I have invested in the lot and most importantly...

* Make Connections * - so that you will tell all of your friends in the hobby that I gave you a fair deal on your new high-end addition. Being fair makes for a positive experience for both buyer and seller, and can generate buzz and lead to future transactions and opportunities for each party. What's that old saying - where there's smoke there's fire? Well... where there's one collector of a given player with a decent monthly card budget, there are often several others, who are often in contact with one another. Moving that ITG Ultimate jersey card for $12 to one of them may lead to moving that Cup Scripted Swatches card for $120.

* Beware of Time Zones! * - If you're listing on EBay or simply creating a thread in the buy/sell section of your favourite online forum, remember that the world doesn't revolve around the city you live in. Make sure your thread remains visible to those out West, who are often just settling in for their evening when those around here call it a night. Including collectors from out of town or out of country leads to more exposure for your items and the excitement of waking up to a mailbox full of emails regarding potential deals.

* Stick to Your Guns * - Remember how much you have invested in a certain piece or lot, and don't be bullied into lowering your prices by those who may have more pull in the hobby, or more funds. Getting your price for a card is essential to recovering your investment, and more importantly, making a decent profit through the adventure. A little bit of market research and intuition should be enough to help you decide if a buyer is trying to make a deal, or take advantage of you only to turn around and sell your item for more than you were bold enough to charge.

* Appreciate the Surprises * - You may come into posession of an item that doesn't impress you a whole lot, but another collector may value more than anything in the world. It goes without saying that a buyer who has been searching the globe for a certain card will pay you more for it than someone else, and in some cases, more than the card is worth, just to lock it up.

* Be Patient * - Very few sellers will make 150 sales in a day, especially if their consumer base is limited to those who frequent an online community. It may take several weeks or months to fully capitalize on a bulk investment. Be willing to wait, keep an eye on market trends, and have fun!

Stay tuned for a post next week as I detail my first ever experience running a table at a card show!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Almost Had a PACKcident!

Well, that was a close call.

Very close.

I haven't opened a pack of cards in about a year - but for some reason I was VERY tempted to pick up a bunch of packs this afternoon at the convenience store... nothing wrong with that, I suppose.

... but I was not being tempted by packs of SP Authentic or tins of The Cup... we're talking $2 packs of 07/8 O-Pee-Chee.

Thankfully, common sense kicked in before it was too late... I had 8 packs picked out... then realized I could buy almost any card I could hope to pull for much less. I then made the realization that I have completely lost my sense of adventure as far as the hobby is concerned. I don't open packs, I don't even splurge on a sealed case of an older product, assuring me several quality hits... I don't even wait for EBay auctions to end anymore before sending my best offer to a seller!

Not much hobby insight there, just an occurrence that shows how times have changed... years ago I would have opted to open a handful of packs instead of buying a high-end single!

What is all the fuss about ITG 1972? I understand, the set allows a certain pocket of collectors to revisit their roots and relive memories of the Summit Series (which countless documentaries, news reports, articles, countdowns and even other card sets have already done), but there is very little originality involved. The design for the main set is great... at least it WAS great when it was originally concieved 37 years ago.

The design of the autograph and game-used cards, once again, look like any other ITG issue made in the past several years - old pictures and little tiny pieces of memorabilia (granted some of that memorabilia is of very cool vintage origin). From what I have seen, the checklist is obscure and many players are making their first appearance on a card since their playing days. I understand how that may resonate well with a select few, but it alienates the vast majority of collectors. I see no reason for anyone born after 1980 to touch a pack of ITG 1972, and that's a stretch, because how many 20 year old collectors would take a concious interest in players who starred a decade before they were born?

I don't understand the appeal... are the good folks at ITG finally running out of ideas? I guess there are only so many ways to make use of the same mugshots that have been in print for years. It is the lack of new, novel ideas that has driven me away from ITG, not their lack of a licensing agreement with the NHL.

Two positives about the product that cannot be ignored: Hard signed autographs and NO SLABS!!!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Hobby Shops - Show & Tell or Buy & Sell?

Summer is winding down, so like many collectors out there, I have had the luxury of a few days and afternoons off over the past couple of weeks - it hit me that taking some time now is preferable to having two weeks off in November, when I'll have daily piles of snow to look forward to.

Being a cardboard addict, I decided to go on a quest to find a great hobby shop to frequent. Being mostly a player and team collector of high-end singles, it is great when people in the know are aware of which cards you're looking for, so networking and making connections is vitally important.

I set out to visit several shops to the north of the GTA, and discovered a very disturbing and dissatisfying trend: those with the authority to make trades and negotiate on prices were not at their shops. Of course there were employees present in their place, but they had little knowledge of what was in the display cases and their prices, being forced to call their employers to find out.

I was shocked when at all three establishments, I was told that I "should have called before coming in". Excuse me? "If you would like to come into our shop to do real business (bargaining, package deals and trades), please call us to make sure that is a possibility." Sounds like a great way to connect with potential new customers.

I am now asking myself why any of the shops that I visited were open at all if their proprietors were not available - while it was nice to walk in to a shop and look at some nice cards, it was disheartening to hear that if I wanted to acquire one of them, I would have to pay an inflated sticker price, no questions asked. To make matters worse, I discovered that in one shop, Beckett pricing was gospel.

Most frustrating of all was the fact that one shop in particular claimed to be in possession of a card I was very interested in, as it was pictured on their homepage. I walked in and asked the clerk where it was, going as far as telling him that I did not want to leave empty handed. A good businessman would have sensed an easy sale, but this one did not have any idea which card I was referring to. When a first-time visitor to a card shop has a better grasp of your inventory than the staff, something isn't right... so again, I was told that the item must not be in the shop, or that it may have been moved. I received no response when I asked why a card no longer in the shop's possession would be in a feature display on their homepage.

I'm sure that some hobby shops are great places for collectors of all ages to go and talk hobby and just hang out... but you'd better call first! I'll stick to EBay.

Friday, August 14, 2009

All That Glitters is SOLD! - 08/9 UD The Cup Auctions Heating Up!

By now, it is an annual tradition for many collectors.

We monitor EBay like hawks on mice, gawking not only at the quality of the singles, but at the prices being paid for them. If we're among the lucky few to be breaking tins (no matter how many, or how few)... we pray.

Yes, folks... Upper Deck the Cup has arrived.

This time around, Upper Deck has pulled out all the stops to make their annual super-product truly memorable. The inclusion of Rookie Draft Boards (limited to 25) and fresh new takes on old favourites (Limited Logos, Signature Patches... and how can we forget the prized Property Of... singles?) ensure that 2008/2009 The Cup will be a blast to collect, and very easy on the eyes.

After a week or so spent meticulously monitoring EBay activity and following breaks on (the best online forum for collectors on the Web), here is my first impression of this product, in a simple Pros Vs. Cons format:

Pro: Less Redemptions. Upper Deck has become notorious with lengthy waits for the fulfilment of redemption cards, but have done their very best to eliminate them this time around. The release of the product was pushed back by several weeks while more signed cards came in, and although the wait for the product's release was frustrating, the result has been tremendous.

It appears as if some of the product's highlights (Dual Shields, Dual Scripted Swatches, Cup Enshrinements Autographed cards featuring multiple players) remain redemptions this year, but concensus around hobby circles is that many of these cards are waiting in the warehouse to be shipped out. I wouldn't want to put a Dual Autographed Shields card in a tin, either.

Con: Too much... wait. WAY too much emphasis on Rookies.

When is it going to stop, people? Really.

This year's Cup checklist has me confused... which Cup is Upper Deck referring to... the Stanley Cup? Many subsets should have been saved for a "Memorial Cup" set.

Each tin guarantees an Autographed Patch Rookie Card, but the set's checklist is also littered (and yes, that is an appropriate term, in most cases) with basic autographed Rookie Cards of third-tier rookies and an INNUMERABLE quantity of Rookie Press Plates. Combine those with the "Gold Parallel" (25 of each rookie) and the Gold version of the Autographed Patch RC's (numbered to the player's jersey number), and this product is crammed to the gills with rookie content. Oh yeah. They've got the very fetching "Rookie Draft Boards" set, too.

But it doesn't stop there. Every major subset is jam-packed with rookies as well. What has Kyle Turris done to merit a "Limited Logos" card? Who IS Colton Gillies, and why does he have more cards in this set than Martin Brodeur?

Many have stated that it is inexpensive for Upper Deck to obtain signatures from younger players. Their game-used (or photoshoot-worn) memorabilia is also inexpensive. So what? The price per-tin has gone up from last year, so why has the overall quality of the checklists taken an absolute nose-dive?

Last season, the top ten or so Rookies were included in some subsets. We're talking Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane (twenty cent, holla!), Carey Price, Nicklas Backstrom and the like. This year, Petr Vrana (16 NHL games, one point) has a Limited Logos card, but Patrik Elias, the Devils all-time leading goal scorer has been left off the checklist completely. And again, who IS Colton Gillies, and why haven't I heard of him until now?

Let's cool it with the Rookies, ok? When Micheal Boedker and Cory Schneider become household names in the NHL, and have their names engraved on the Stanley Cup, their inclusion in some of these sets will be justified. Until then, people'd better be pretty peeved to pull their singles from a tin of 6 cards that costs upwards of $400.

Pro: Grammatical revision - for several years, anyone with an interest in the preservation of the english language complained ad nauseum about the name of one high-end subset... "Emblems of Endorsements" (two pieces of game-used Emblem and a signature). Cards were signed once, by one player, so why was "Endorsements" pluralized. Thankfully, the error has been corrected! Kudos to Upper Deck!

Con: Sellers.

A generalization, I know. Many who took the plunge and opened cases of this product are upstanding individuals who are fair and demonstrate compassion and good business sense. Others, however, are clueless.

The fact that you bought a case of the Cup for $3,000.00 does not mean that your common Rookie Patch/Auto (normally $20) will sell in the triple digits.

Recently, one EBay seller in particular turned heads when he listed several cases of Cup singles on EBay and flat out refused to deal with customers outside of the United States. Sure, there is the potential for mix-up in the mail when shipping accross boarders, and our currencies are different (but easily converted!), but why would anyone in his right mind refuse to open Cup auctions up to bidders around the globe?!

It is common knowledge that the average US citizen does not have hockey on the brain, and here's the proof:

Patrick Roy Cup Foundations Quad Jersey /25 (8 Breaks) - $10.

Same Card, all white swatches... ships to Canada - $31.

Congrats, seller A. Good luck breaking even on your break!

Pro: 552 reasons to smile.

Most who read this blog in its early days will already know that I am a huge fan of the New Jersey Devils and Martin Brodeur. Those who don't will learn that very quickly.

This year's Cup product is again loaded with Brodeur autographs, but there is something very special about 65 of them. Marty has inscribed his "Emblems of Endorsement" and "Cup Chirography" cards with a "552 Wins" inscription!

I am unsure why this inscription was only included on copies of two particular cards, but buyers of Brodeur singles have taken notice, as evidenced by these early auctions:

Emblems of Endorsement /15 - $200+.

Chirography - the first to hit EBay sold for a staggering $153!

Pro: Quality Assurance.

I had the displeasure of picking up a doctored patch card at a show in Toronto in the spring (thankfully the dealer I bought it from was an upstanding individual, and I was refunded).

Upper Deck has teamed up with a very determined Jeremy Lee, who photographed every single card packed into tins of this year's product to send a strong message to the criminals who alter patch cards to make a buck. For more information on the discovery and exposure of a patch forger, please pick up the August issue of Insider's Edge.

Check out some of these auction prices, and take a look at some of the beautiful patches below, and it is clear that collectors are certainly reaching into their wallets this year, picking up cards they KNOW have not been tampered with.

Crosby/Malkin/Fleury Triple Patch /10

Ty Wishart RC Patch/Auto $275

Joe Thornton Limited Logos $227

Mike Modano Limited Logos $184

That's all for now, happy collecting!

Introductory Note

Hello, and welcome!

This blog is meant to be a resource for passionate sports card & memorabilia collectors.

Posts will include commentary on sales, new & upcoming releases and other goings-on in the hobby world.

As the NHL season nears, a special Fantasy Hockey column will be introduced.

I hope that this blog will become a useful tool and an enjoyable read for collectors and fans alike.

Cheers, and happy collecting!