When it comes to sports cards of any type, the questions most people want to know are how much are they worth, and where does one go to find sports card values? Even collectors who aren’t in the hobby with a thought toward making a future profit find it helpful to know the book values of their important cards and sets.
The good news is that there are price guides out there that list the book values of pretty much every card ever printed. The only issue is that not all price guides are created equal, and pricing cards is kind of like doing carpentry work - you want to make sure you're using the right tool for the job.
Experienced card collectors know exactly where to look to find the card values they need, but it can be confusing for newcomers or people who don't normally have anything to do with sports cards (say, a non-collector who was given some cards by a relative) to sort everything out. If you feel like someone who falls into the latter category, this article should help point you in the right direction.
Online Price Guides
The quickest way to find book values for sports cards of all kinds is by using the online price guides provided by Beckett and Tuff Stuff - the same names behind the leading price guide magazines. Both companies offer pricing for tons of sports cards on their sites, but they don't work in exactly the same way.
Beckett's sports collecting magazines are the most well known sources for card values in the industry, so it should come as no surprise that more collectors turn to their Pricing Subscriptions (formerly known as Online Price Guides) than anywhere else on the web. Beckett.com offers prices for baseball, football, basketball, hockey, racing and golf cards.
All of the cards listed in Beckett's magazines can also be found online, and the prices are updated frequently. Where the Pricing Subscriptions really shine is through their search feature, which makes looking up cards for a certain player, set or year much easier than paging through a magazine or book.
If this sounds too good to be free, you're right, as Beckett charges fees for the Pricing Subscriptions. The nice part is that the price guide info can be tailored to suit your needs. If all you're looking for is prices for one or two cards, you can look them up for less than a dollar apiece. Pricing for individual sports can be purchased for as little as $4.50 a month, and collectors who use the service constantly can purchase "Total Access" to all of the company's price guides starting at $18 a month.
In contrast to Beckett, Tuff Stuff uses its online pricing section as a supplement to its magazine, Sports Collectors Monthly. The best part of Tuff Stuff's service is that it's free. Simply head over to TuffStuff.com and you'll find pricing for baseball, football, basketball and racing cards, plus sports autographs and sports figures.
One big negative is that only cards not listed in the magazine are priced online. Since the latest products for every sport are included in the magazine each month, that means the cards in the online archives are mainly from older sets. That doesn't mean it's not worth taking a look, just remember that you won't find every card Tuff Stuff prices on the site.
Two other things to consider are that the Tuff Stuff online guides are in PDF format, so your computer will need Adobe Reader (a free download) to read them, and that they have no search feature. Also, even though Tuff Stuff's prices are usually pretty close to Beckett's, many collectors don't consider any values but Beckett's to be canon, so you may run into that mindset when quoting prices from any other source.
With so many sports cards changing hands over the internet, a growing number of sites are attempting to capture pricing information in real time. SportsLizard does exactly that by using its own formula to pull information on auction and fixed price transactions from leading hobby sites in an attempt to being users the most current prices around.
Single cards, boxes and sets can all be priced on SportsLizard using a text box not unlike that on Google or other popular search engines. The results from the price guide can be tailored by including or excluding certain terms, and every result comes with a confidence score attached - the higher the score, the more certain you can feel about the price.
It's a system that can take a little getting used to, but it's a powerful pricing tool. It's free to sign up to use SportsLizard for up to three searches per day, and unlimited searches can be purchased for $4.99 a month.
Monthly Price Guide Magazines
A staple of the sports card hobby for years, monthly price guide magazines are still the preferred sports card pricing method for many collectors. Beckett Sports Card Monthly and Tuff Stuff's Sports Collectors Monthly are relatively inexpensive, price all the latest new releases and key cards from many past sets. They also can be taken places where you don't have internet access - and yes, there are still places like that out there. As an added benefit, the articles and columns in the magazines get into more detail on why some cards are changing in value, plus a ton of other subjects related to the hobby.
While the monthly magazines are great resources for pricing the most heavily traded cards, they do have their limitations. The annual volume of new releases for all sports has forced the publishers to make some compromises for the sake of price and length. Many sets listed in the monthlies now have prices for only a few key rookies and insert cards. If the cards you're looking for can't be found in a monthly magazine, you may need to invest in something a little more comprehensive.