For the love of God, I hope they’re not eating the gum.

§ March 19th, 2018 § Filed under retailing, trading cards § 6 Comments

So I haven’t done a whole lot with trading cards at my store since opening up a tad over three years ago. I think I maybe a box of some Marvel set in 2015 that slowly, eventually sold out. It was a trend I noticed at the previous place of employment, too…the nonsport cards just weren’t doing all that great for us. I mean, sure, the game cards did fine, your Magic and your Pokemon and your Spellfire and your Galactic Empires, that’s a different story. But your “110 More Tiny Pictures of Wolverine” card sets, those just seem…passé of late.

I mean, nothing against them. I’d like them to sell, and new sets still come out once in a while, so they’re selling somewhere, but it’s not like how it was in ye olden dayes. (Okay, yeah, I know, comics themselves don’t sell like they used to, either.) But we’re a long way from when we’d get in multiple cases of whatever the newest Marvel Universe set was, and we’d just put a stack of full boxes of packs up by the register and watch the impulse buys happen and that stack disappear. In the ’80s and ’90s, it seemed like everybody bought cards. I even still have a few binders of sets I put together back then…the all-chromium set of Golden Age comic book covers is still a weird favorite of mine.

For the longest time, the nonsport cards…well, okay, let me stop being coy, specifically the Marvel cards…were like sports cards. Lots of people coming in and asking about them, but never because they wanted to buy any. It was almost exclusively “what are mine worth?” and “will you buy them?” Rarely did the words “Boy, I would sure like to purchase any available sets of Marvel Universe Series IV you may have!” echo throughout our showroom, which didn’t exactly encourage us to stock card sets in any kind of depth. And we did have card sets (again, still talking about the previous place of employment)…had a small glass case with a number of sets and chase cards prices out and displayed, but only rarely did they move.

Shortly after I opened my new shop, I had someone bring in a collection of still-sealed boxes of nonsport cards (Marvel and otherwise) that I did okay with selling online. Usually not for a lot of money, but they sold, so the demand was there…the boxes just had to be cheap. And recently, an old friend of mine began to liquidate some of his collection, and asked me to sell his card product: full boxes, autographed cards, and even some of those slabbed, graded single cards. It was from his collection that I obtained this box of Dune cards you may have seen me post about on the Twitters:

…which ended up selling for about $40, which…well, that ain’t nuthin’, but when first I saw that I figured “ah geez, a hundred bucks easy!” until I looked at the eBay card market and eh, that wasn’t going to happen. But still, that’s $40 we didn’t have before, and for a full box of relatively recent trading cards, that ain’t too bad, I guess. I sold a bunch of boxes of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? cards for about $15 each, which doesn’t seem like much, but eventually you’d just rather have the $15 a pop than multiple boxes sitting in a storage room somewhere.

Just the other day, my friend brought me another box of unopened card boxes, including this set which I don’t even remember:

I mean, I imagine I would have remembered at least the typo on the lid (“FANS-tastic,” indeed) but it’s possible that 1) it was a while ago, and there’s probably plenty of card product I just don’t remember, or 2) there was so much card product that we couldn’t order everything, so we passed on this one. As far as I can tell, there weren’t even fancy chase cards randomly packed in this series, which would have been especially odd in 1991, I think. Anyway, like most sets from the manufacturer Comic Images, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of “collectors’ market” online demand for sealed boxes.

However, the new few sets seem to do have demand, selling for…well, not quite original retail, or maybe thereabouts, but certainly not the $1.29 I’ve seen some other card boxes sell for (Desert Storm cards, anybody?).

I remember the Marvel Masterpieces cards being quite the hot ticket back in the day:

…as people were really taken with the look of these cards, and, as I recall, they were quite nice. Seeing the full, sealed box like this does twinge the ol’ nostalgia nerves, I have to admit.

The thing about the next two sets:

…is not just that the design and color of the boxes attracted attention, but the size. This goes for that Masterpieces box, too…these were wee little tiny boxes, palm-sized and basically just shouted to customers “Look how small and cute we are! C’mon, don’t mess with packs, just buy us by the full box!” I can’t help but think this really encouraged the impulse buys at the time…just made them psychologically easier and more appealing to justify purchasing, over the big ol’ unwieldy Comic Images boxes with the 48 fat packs and a not-zero amount of air.

And as it turns out, there’s still a pretty good aftermarket for these as well. Not that I’ve sold mine yet, but sales histories for the sets seem to show that there have been multiple sales at significantly better than close-out prices, so with any luck it’s just a matter of time.

None of this means, of course, that there’s any sort of potential improvement in the marketplace for new trading card sets that’ll sell to store walk-in traffic. Those are different circumstances, but still, maybe I’ll try out a new card set or two just to see how they do. The 1990s market is never coming back, but it shouldn’t hurt too much to poke at the edges of the 2018 market. so long as one pokes wisely.

6 Responses to “For the love of God, I hope they’re not eating the gum.”

  • Turan, Emissary of the Fly World says:

    This post, more than the previous one, is proof that you are getting on in years…

    …I mean, when you refer to 1984 as “relatively recent”…

  • philfromgermany says:

    Can’t believe you were moving Spellfire and Galactic Empire CCGs! :D Now there’s a name I never thought I’d hear mentioned by a retailer again…
    Remember FPGs fantastic GUARDIANS collectible card game with art by Ploog, Brom, Warhola and Parkinson?

    Even though I bought a few card packs here and there I could not tell you why. Yes, they were cheap in comparison to most comics, but not that cheap. Being relatively new to the hobby, I think the compact information, like the Power Grids, on the cards as well as the special subseries like First appearances, Hero Legacies or Legendary Battles had a little to do with it. But with some series I just bought a pack here and there for the art.

    Cards did have a real hot period around 94 or so. I remember visiting the Ramstein air base Card & Comic Show, so many booths with collectible cards, sports, non-sports and ccgs. There was even one guy there who sold you your own trading card, which would have your picture on the front and your stats and special skills on the back. I still have the freebie he passed out in a binder somewhere.

  • philip says:

    I had Desert Storm cards AND Sears Tool cards. Not because I liked the subjects, necessarily, but because I couldn’t believe there were trading cards of such. The Sears cards were of vintage tools, shot in a glowy amber light. Like old Playboy photos but with electric drills.

    The only sets I hung onto from my non-sports card craze are my nigh-complete Simpsons set and the old black/white/red Tick set. I never did get a set of Love & Rockets cards and I still don’t know why not.

  • philip says:

    Oh, sorry, they were Craftsman trading cards specifically. Y’know, if you decide to go get some for yourself.

  • Bully says:

    I loved those Jim Lee X-Men cards. I just rescued boxes of old cards from Mama Bull’s home, and altho’ a lot of them are goin’ in recycling, if I still have the Lee ones, totally saving those!

  • Pedro de Pacas says:

    Hard to believe Excalbur’s Widget was considered the hot character find of 1991 to warrant his inclusion on that ‘Fantastic Covers’ box set!

    A personal non-sports card fave from this era was the Yo! MTV Raps series, and my near-complete collection of ’94 Fleer Ultra X-Men.