Collectors have to be careful when buying vintage

1939 Play Ball Ted Williams rookie -- 100% authentic. The "signature" ... not so much.

I’m not going to sit here and proclaim to be an expert on vintage cards, but I buy a fair amount old, smelly cardboard to know a fake or reprint when I see one. Have a look at this auction that ended earlier today.

I am in the market for a 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth rookie card. And while searching for said card, this auction popped up. The seller is not offering this lot with over-the-top salesmanship. He has not advertised this as a Babe Ruth rookie with three other cards. Moreso as three other Goudey cards with a Babe Ruth.

But here’s what really pisses me off: The Ruth is a fake, a reprint — not authentic. Whether the seller knows it or not, what he is passive-aggressively selling is a lot of cards highlighted by a highly sought after, but very questionable Ruth rookie. And sadly, someone is going to get burned in a bad way.

Sure, at first glance the card looks authentic. It looks like a bar of soap with rounded corners and a brutal surface. But I would be willing to bet that the card is not authentic.

How can I tell? Well, for starters, look at the group of cards it is with. The Ruth is lumped in with three other 1933 Goudey cards to add an aura of authenticity. As a buyer, we’re supposed to feel as if the seller has found the Ruth along with these other three Goudey cards in some attic, his grandfather’s collection, an estate sale or whatever. But look at the Ruth. It looks NOTHING like the other three. Assuming the other three Goudey cards are real, the Ruth should share some characteristics, i.e. similar wear patterns along the edges. Instead what we have is a Ruth card with fabricated worn corners and surface scratches. Secondly, look at the image of the card backs. The Ruth is many shades darker that the counter parts.

The problem with reprints and fakes in vintage segment of the hobby extends much further than the Ruth card shown here.

Over the weekend I did a lot of eBay searching for old rookie cards for my collection and it became increasingly apparent that there are a growing number of fake vintage and “old-looking reprints” on the market.

Some sellers are selling the cards as reprints, which is a legitimate way to sell them, I suppose. But I really look down upon those who go out of their way to note that the ‘”card does not say reprint anywhere!!!”

The only reason a seller would say something like that — especially when they ad 5,000 exclamation points — is to show you, the buyer, that you can buy this card and possibly sell it to someone else as being authentic and make a huge profit.

So it has been asked me how can I be so sure that what I am buying is authentic. Here are a few tips.

*Know what card you are looking for, and know the history of the card — If you’re looking for a 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth, you should be familiar with what the real deal looks like. All you’ve got to do is spend a few minutes looking at authenticated ones in eBay’s “completed auction” section. Know what real ones look like and know what they usually sell for. If a card like this routinely sells for several hundred dollars but you got yours for much less, then you know something is wrong. Also, is the card you are looking at one that has been prone to being reprinted? In the case of the Ruth, the answer is yes. There have been many versions of reprints.

*Take a look at the seller’s other items — Is the seller offering other old cards? Does he deal in only new cards, but seemingly has this awesome vintage card available? Does he have multiples of this old, rare card? If the seller has other old cards, what are their condition? Do they share similar characteristics? Sometimes this can be a way to spot a fake right away.

*What kind of feedback does the seller have? — pretty self explanatory.

*Does the seller offer returns or refunds? — Not always a dead giveaway, but a seller who is willing to offer a refund at least allows you the chance to hold the card before the transaction is completed.

*How many people have viewed the auction versus how many have placed bids? — There are tons of guys on eBay 24/7 looking at vintage card auctions looking to grab true attic finds. If an auction has been viewed 564 times but has two bids with a day left, odds are the card isn’t real. Even in a day and age of  sniper bidding, people will throw an early bid on a card just for kicks.

*If the card is in great shape, why is it not slabbed? — True, not everyone believes in grading or has access to said services. But you and I both know that if a vintage card is in great shape it will command a huge premium on the secondary market. While some great deals do exist, I cannot stress how important it is to find out what the return policy is when dealing in this market. Your heart will sink if your package arrives and it’s clear to you once the card is in hand that it is not authentic.

*Know that some people are jackasses — There are a lot of ways someone can make a card look old. They can crumple a card, write on it, stick it in mud, let tea bags rest on the surface, burn it, etc. Know this before you buy anything.

*If the deal is too good to be true, then you know damn well then it probably is — Know this: You will not find an authentic 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle card for just a few hundred dollars. Even if the card survived a fire — which some fakes have purposely been made to look like — a real one will fetch a good chunk of money.

*Buy low-grade authenticated/slabbed vintage cards — Even if you dislike the thought of a third-party grading system, they can be invaluable when it comes to dealing with vintage. Just make sure the grading company is reputable. PSA, SGC and Beckett Grading are the best — 99 percent of the others are bogus. If you don’t care for the plastic holder, just break it open and remove the card. Just be careful.

*Writing on a card doesn’t make it worthless — Lastly, have a look at the Ted Williams rookie shown above. Soneone has written his name in cursive along the bottom. I don’t think someone was trying to forge his signature. What I think the previous owner was doing was adding a key element that was missing several decades ago — the player’s name on the front. Ink on a card doesn’t make it worthless. Does it make it worth less? Yes. But far from completely worthless. Know this. Embrace it. If an authentic vintage card is what you desire, don’t be automatically turned off by a little ink.

2 Responses to “Collectors have to be careful when buying vintage”

  1. […] Cardboard Icons warned us of the hazards of buying vintage. […]

  2. […] For a while I forgot about the Berra and moved on.  That is until I was confronted against earlier this year when I acquired this Bob Feller Rookie and then this Ted Williams Rookie. […]

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