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On Your Side: What's It Really Worth?

A dealer is sought out by collector to buy items all of the time. However, few collectors accurately know what similar items are selling for. A little education and research go a long way.

By T.J. Schwartz

Every day in my store, I am faced with buying decisions, as are all my fellow dealers. I’ll get a call that is something like this:

“I have a (insert name) autographed ball I’d like to sell.” OK, what are you looking for? “I’d like a zillion dollars!” Where did that number come from? “I saw them selling on eBay for that amount.” Selling or asking? “Huh? I checked, and that’s what they were going for.” Did you check completed auctions? “Yes, I checked all the Buy it Nows.” How about completed or sold? “Huh?”

That happens every day. Unfortunately, eBay is the price guide now and anyone trying to sell to dealers better start using it. I’m quite sure many of you pull out your various mobile devices when in a store to check prices and values. We dealers know that and price accordingly. We also buy accordingly. Here are a few examples.

A guy comes in with two Lakers team-signed balls that were purchased directly at the Staples Center in an auction. These team-endorsed auctions at games have become quite popular. Buyers bid with the ultimate confidence, knowing that a team letter and hologram will accompany any signed item.

I look at the first item, a championship team-signed ball. The first thing I immediately notice is that it is an indoor/outdoor ball and not an official NBA leather ball. Are you kidding? The second thing I look for are Kobe’s and Shaq’s autographs. I can’t find them, and they are easy to find. The third thing is the Laker COA. On it, it says someone paid $3,500!

Are you kidding me? This guy got smoked like a piece of Canadian bacon! I tell him what they are really worth and he can’t believe it. One trip through eBay completed auctions changes his mind. He tells me that his rich uncle bought them.

That’s the problem with these auctions. Wealthy folks bid willy nilly because they don’t care about the money. The uncle gave them to him, he saw the amounts and wanted to cash out because the money means a lot to him.

The second ball was another championship ball that had Kobe and Shaq, but it, too, was on a cheap I/O ball and was “only” $2,000. I told him that I would not insult him with an offer, but to have these balls sold at the Lakers venue, backed by the Lakers hologram and letter and not at least be on an official NBA ball is a joke.

As to the price, the Lakers certainly did nothing wrong. The bidders bid and won it, period. He also said he had some Kobe photos, too, and I just told him to look at my wall where I had two Upper Deck Authenticated framed Kobes for $395 each. He was sick. His uncle probably paid $1,000.

The problem is that these bidders are morons! Anyone who buys anything at these kinds of auctions or at a free-standing store at a game venue simply has too much money. If you go to a game, watch and enjoy the game. If you want autographed memorabilia at the correct price, then go to your local specialty memorabilia store or go online.

A nice woman calls me and says she has a Mantle, Joe D. and Maris balls that were just left to her. She wants $10,000-$15,000. I almost drop the phone, but I ask her to bring them in. Hey, a perfect Maris single-signed, sweet spot ball is worth a ton.

She shows up with the balls and I ask her how she got the value. She says the Mantle and DiMaggio balls are $3,000. Huh? She says that’s the price on eBay. I politely tell her that they are more like $400-$500 on eBay. So I again go on eBay and show her completed Mantle auctions. I scroll down until they start going for the $400-$500 I said and now she believes. Same for Joe D. The Maris was another story. I knew it was bad, but I took a photo with the iPad and e-mailed it to a major authenticator.

Here is where it turns. I tell her that her Mantle and Joe D. are real in my opinion, but that I have about six of each and can’t use them. “But you said you’d pay $500 on the phone.” No, I said they were worth that on the phone. “So you don’t want them?” No, but if the Maris is good, I’d make a strong offer.

Now she’s getting huffy. “Then I don’t want to sell them. They were a group.” I say that if the Maris is good, I’ll buy them all to make her happy, so I check my e-mail. I get a one word response – “FAKE.” I show her the e-mail, and she storms out as if I shot her dog. I know she is going down the road to two other stores and one might buy them because they’re not a diligent as I am. I’ll bet she doesn’t mention the “fake” e-mail.

I want to buy everything that walks in that’s vintage and at a price I can earn on. I pay fair and like to think I’m the biggest buyer in SoCal amongst all card stores. Just do some homework and we’ll all be better for it. I’m happy to show you what things are selling for on eBay, and I do, but everything I’m showing them is available to you as well. If you do your homework before approaching a dealer, all will be better for both sides.

Have a problem and want T.J.’s help? Call (818) 884-2273, e-mail or visit

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