One of the things that was a staple of collecting sports cards as a kid was trading. I would have an album of cards that came with me to school, summer camp, when I went to hang out with friends, whenever -- and I was always ready to trade dupes for cards I needed.
When collecting hit the internet age, trading came with it -- but there were always bumps in the road. How trustworthy was this stranger? What if the item wasn't as nice as they said it was? It took way more research than just trading a Mattingly for a Hernandez with the kid who hated the Mets and lived around the corner.
As I re-entered the autograph realm, I've been posting my successes and scans over at StarTiger (the best subscription site I've seen for this hobby); and out of the blue had a trade offer in my inbox this week. I arrived home from work tonight to find a couple of autographs in my mailbox. One of them was this nearly 40-year-old issue of Hockey Illustrated signed by Guy LaFleur, and it may be one of the coolest ever additions to my collection. Not only does it have a clear, crisp signature on the front; it's chock full of stories and ads that are just fun to read in hindsight.
So, no, trading isn't dead -- it just takes a little more legwork than it used to; unless you have a Met-hating neighbor around the corner who happens to collect autographs.
If there's one word that can sum up card collecting these days, to me that word would be "expensive". With the emphasis on high-end, you can see "boxes" of 1 card in the $300 range (hello, Topps Dynasty).
So in the age of expensive collectibles, can autographs be a bargain? I think so.
It goes without saying that in-person autographs require nothing but preparedness, time, patience and a little bit of luck; while through-the-mail autographs ("TTM's") require planning, a few stamps and a lot of patience.
But what about purchasing a legitimate autograph from a reputable source? Let me present this comparison.
Who's the hottest rookie autograph in football right now? In my eyes, it's Odell Beckham Jr. But take a look at what his autographed cards are commanding...
$100+ for an autographed card. That's not really that bad, right? That's pretty much what a mid-range box of cards would cost. But yesterday, NFL.com had 11x14's of "The Catch" with a Mounted Memories COA for just $99 (they've since sold out). They also have 8x10's for $89 and mini-helmets for $149. Steiner Sports has a 16x20 of "The Catch" for $159.
Now I know that this memorabilia isn't as small or easy to store as a card; but it's something that I prefer because it can be displayed more prominently. There's also less of a "chase" -- there won't be a better or more limited version made by another manufacturer this year. There's another plus in my book. For most people I want an autograph of, it's one and done. Get it and cross it off the list.
Again, it's not for everybody; but I do like this approach right now for my own collection.