August 22, 2008

What? My Doug Flutie Rookie Card Won't Let Me Retire?

I bought Polaroid at seven! It's probably up millions by now!

-- Miles Monroe, in "Sleeper"

IN 1987, YOUR CORRESPONDENT -- who was living in Kalamazoo, Mich., at the time -- would routinely trudge one and a half miles up to the retail complex nearest to home, and spend his pocket money at the plaza's five-and-dime store. Sadly, the store in question was consigned to the business cycle's dustbin long ago, but I can assure you the many football cards I bought from it are safely stored at home. Somewhere. I think.

Much to my chagrin, however, I have learned my complete 1987 Topps football card set -- which I spent hours upon hours collecting, storing, putting in sleeves and obsessing over -- also fell victim to the business cycle at some point in time. Apparently there was a bubble in sports cards, and it burst. Thus, I may have actually lost money on the deal when all is said and done.

This is particularly annoying because just a few years ago -- or was it longer? -- some of the cards had actually appreciated to the point where they could have paid for a decent steak. Now, they'll pay for hamburger -- and if I'm lucky, a package of rolls to go along with it.

I think 1987 -- when I was 11 -- was the first year I really got interested in football, although it wasn't for a few more years that I began to develop the hard-core loyalties that I now carry today. (When I was a very young boy, as my father loves to relate, I would root for the winning team in a football game. That's right, the winning team. If, say, Chicago was beating Detroit, I would root for Chicago unless somehow Detroit took the lead, and then I'd root for the Hawaiian blue.)

In any event, it was in this year that I really started collecting football cards, growing up as I did in a house where football was the only sport that mattered. It is amazing to think just how much time I spent on the bloody things, and I grew out of the hobby after a couple of years. After ten years or so, the cards I had collected actually had some value to them -- with a few worth over $20 each.

Unfortunately, these rarefied valuations went the way of tulip mania, the South Sea Bubble, the railroad bubble, the Florida swampland bubble, the dot-com bubble and -- well, you get the point. Consider my chagrin upon idly finding the values of the cards this very evening.

For one thing, there's the fact the Doug Flutie rookie card -- yes, that Doug Flutie -- is one of the most, if not the most, valuable cards in the 1987 Topps set. It is worth $8. Of course, that's the "book value" of the card, which means that is what you could buy it for if you went to your local hobby shop. In terms of actually selling it, it is worth somewhere between $2 and $4 -- and according to, as little as $1.25.

1987 Topps #45 - Doug Flutie RC (Rookie Card) - Courtesy of

The 1987 Doug Flutie rookie card, which is theoretically worth $8 in American dollars, but upon sale would probably not pay for passage over the Ambassador Bridge.

The Jim Kelly card is worth $10, and the Randall Cunningham rookie card is worth $6, both values that seem fair. The Dan Marino and Joe Montana cards are also allegedly worth $6. But the value of other cards have dropped precipitously. Jim Everett's rookie card from that year -- and if I recall right, the Los Angeles Rams were pretty good -- is worth just $1.25. On the lower end of the scale, Cris Collinsworth's card is worth just 25 cents -- although given his broadcasting, that might be generous.

1987 Topps #188 - Cris Collinsworth - Courtesy of

Cris Collinsworth: Lame then, lame now.

Given these values, I think we can peg the "common card" values at, oh, $0.02 each. Indeed, I daresay the whole set would probably go for about $50 on the open market, if that. Add in the extras I gathered in the pursuit, and it might go for $60 or $70.

All that for $70? Sure, I should probably be happy it might fetch $70, but ... ugh. How many hours did I spend on those walks? How many hours did I spend walking in the winter for those football cards? Why didn't I spend my youth doing something useful, like clipping bond coupons? Plus, at 45 cents per pack, which worked out to three cents per card, I probably lost one cent each on most of the cards I purchased. One 1987 U.S. cent, which is worth two cents today.

But this has taught me a valuable lesson. First off, there's a lot to be said for buy and hold -- but when things are really going well, selling might be a good idea. Second, it's important to pay attention to even the most minor assets one might have, in the event good deals are to be had for those assets. Third -- and keep this in mind, kids -- only buy collectibles if you really like them. If they happen to be a great "investment," that's all well and good, but only collect if you value the good -- like, say, football cards -- more than the cardboard they're printed on.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at August 22, 2008 08:00 PM | TrackBack
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