The Set Collectors’ Dilemma

Have you ever gotten an awesome stack of cards from a set you’re miles from completing and rejoiced in the deletion of more than half your wantlist for said set? Of course you have. You’re a collector. So have I. And the feeling never gets old.

Blue tape! These were sent by a pro!

Just the other day I got a package full of 1984 Fleer from Dodgers supercollector Garvey Cey Russell Lopez. I didn’t ask for them (at least not directly). See, there was a great post by Night Owl wherein he opened a cello pack of 1984 Fleer. I got super excited because 1984 Fleer is one of the 5 Fleer sets I’m very slowly trying to build. I figured good ole’ NO might have some doubles to send my way so I posted a comment stating so on that very post. I didn’t get a response from Night Owl (he’s very busy, you know) but I did get a random email from GCRL that said he might be able to help out on that 1984 Fleer situation.

Now, I should probably first explain why I’m collecting 1984 Fleer. It all began a year or two ago when eBay superseller Kruk Cards posted a 5000 count monster box of 1981-1985 Fleer cards. I won it for less than half a cent per card. I figured I’d be well on my way to sets of each of them. What I found was that the lot contained up to 30 of the same card in some cases. It was mostly 1981, with very few 1985 cards at all. I was bummed. Caveat emptor of course- no reason to blame Kruk Cards. So I did what any reasonable person would do: I bought another of the exact same lot. I figured it was impossible that the collation was as terrible between the two boxes. Luckily, I was correct. I got a ton of new cards out of the second lot and I was close enough on all 5 sets to post want lists of each.

One of the worst Molitor cards ever printed, a underrated slugger and... an unrelated slugger.

Now, here’s where things get sticky. Obviously these lots were mostly commons and semistars. I got a couple good ones in there- Tom Seavers, about a dozen 1982 Dale Murphys. But the big guys were nowhere to be found. Molitor, Ryan, Rickey… I’d need to find these stars elsewhere. GCRL knocked a couple of those bigger names off the list in his stack which is awesome, but it brought up an issue in cheapo set collecting that I just assumed there was a way around: the cost of shipping makes collecting these sets piecemeal almost impossible.

Royals! Methuselah! Autographs!

A 1984 Fleer set sells for about $25 shipped, complete with Mattingly RC. Which, of course, I need because I only ever cared about Topps as a kid (though, for some reason, I have an OPC Mattingly RC). Now 99.9% of the cards in this set are worth less than a nickel. And by “worth” I don’t mean “book at,” I mean “all I would pay is a nickel.” Even the Molitor up there is a dime or quarter card in a bin at a show (not that I’ve been to a show anytime recently). The Ryan from this set? Maybe $.50. Maybe a buck if I was feeling generous.

But you can’t ship a card for a quarter. If I bought the Nolan Ryan on eBay for $.50, I’d end up paying $3 at least for the card. That’s silly when I can get him in a set for much less than that. So we cheap set collectors are faced with a dilemma: how do we complete our sets without spending more on shipping that the entire set would cost?

I don’t really have an answer, but let’s look at the options:

Trading is great, but in return for these cards I shipped GCRL a stack of 1979 Topps. The value of the cards isn’t an issue- I’d have sent him the cards even if he didn’t have some Fleer to send me. But the shipping I paid on that stack of ’79s is basically my “cost” of acquiring these Fleer cards. All told, it was pretty reasonable- maybe $.03/card which I’m totally willing to pay (660 X $.03 = $20) so it’s not a bad deal at all if I assume that the cards I sent were worth nothing to me (which is a fair assumption). Of course, no one really wants to go through their old Fleer junk for me and I have very limited trading resources, so I guess I’m screwed.

Lots on eBay are hard (singles on eBay are right out)- I’d have to buy a lot of random lots to get the Rose, Ryan and Bretts and dozens of commons I need to complete these sets.

SportsLots is out even before shipping due to their $.18 minimum on each card but double out when you look and see that people are asking $2 for the Ryan because SL has the worst fee structure on the planet. I’ll throw COMC under that bus as well.

Wax? There’s an interesting idea… but expensive. ’84 Fleer wax boxes go for over $50. I guess I have a chance at pulling some of those big guys I might not be able to find for a reasonable price elsewhere but I’ve had poor luck when opening old wax. A long time ago I opened 5 or 6 1979 Topps packs at around $13 a pop and ended up only with an extra Robin Yount and a Molitor with printing registration issues. But it’s still fun. And who wouldn’t love to pull a Mattingly or Puckett RC from a pack? The downsides are obvious: terrible collation, possibility of searched packs and a chance that the good cards will be miscut, wax damaged or misprinted. Vending boxes are out because Fleer packed those set-wise in the early ’80s, so you know what you’re getting (thanks to BBCExchange for cluing me in to this).

So, fellow set collectors, how do you collect your cheap sets affordably? Or do you throw thrift to the wind and just say, “It costs what it costs! It’s a hobby! Lighten up!” the way I feel like I should? Well, at least in this case I know I can just say thanks to GCRL for sending over a sweet stack of cards to help me on my journey. An added benefit of the trading method is that you get to be part of a community and get to help other people out with their sets. So maybe it’s the intangibles that really count here.

2 comments to The Set Collectors’ Dilemma

  • Dan

    I collect a lot of sets, Sportslots works for more modern sets, but the thing that has worked the best for me over the years is the “U Pick” lots on ebay. Type in 1984 Fleer Pick for the search and there may be some sellers that have 1984 Fleer, you can do this for almost any set.
    Some only offer commons, but there are others that just offer cards all cards from the set.
    It may or may not work for a set from the ’80s, but it’s worth a shot.

  • justcommons.com is an awesome site! The cards are super cheap (5-8 cents a card is not uncommon) and the shipping is is great! I use them to finish off team sets all the time!

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