What is this guide about?
eBay has opened up a new world for collectors of all things. Unlike many other collectables, trading cards are easy to mail and are not fragile (if packed properly). This makes them particularly suitable for buying and selling internationally. This guide is to help you avoid some of the pitfalls that can occur. While it is oriented to nonsport trading cards, the same principles apply to sports cards (eg football) and collectable card games (eg Magic).
What sort of cards are available?
Most recent card sets are based on popular television shows and movies, like Star Trek, Buffy or CSI. However, there are also card sets covering many other interests, such as cars or history.
Within a card set, there are many different card types. Unfortunately, there is inconsistent terminology and many specialist terms. Here are some common terms that may be used.
Common / base cards: In the card packets, these are the majority of the cards. There are usually about 100 base cards to a set and are often sold as sets.
Chase / insert cards: These cards are rarer, up to one per pack but usually fewer.
Memorabilia cards: These rare cards have a piece of costume or prop attached to the card. Different companies use different terms, but some of the more common ones are costume, pieceworks, prop and relic.
Autograph cards: These rare cards have been individually signed by the relevant actor. This is different from obtaining a signature on some other card (such as a base card).
Sketch cards: These rare cards are individual sketches commissioned by the manufacturer of the card set. Note that aftermarket cards are also available, where the card was coloured or otherwise changed by the artist later.
How do I find out what cards I want?
Card manufacturers often put checklists on their websites and there are many online communities where general information is available. As a starting point, however, pick a topic that you are interested in and search eBay (eg Stargate). Remember to search worldwide and look at the trading cards section for the most relevant results.
How do I find the particular card I want?
When looking for a particular card, remember that different sellers will describe the card in different ways. Use complex searches that have wildcards and logical operators. For example, searching for (LOTR, rings) sketch* will capture Lord of the Rings sketch cards, even if the seller uses the term sketchafex. Most cards are numbered (eg PW3, A42) and using that number can focus on your card, but some sellers may not have the number in the item title or even in the description.
Use eBay tools:
- If there is a specific rare card you want, remember to store the search in My Favourite Searches and have emails sent when a card is listed.
- Make sure you check completed sales to work out what price you can expect to pay.
- Look also at shops (or stores). Sort by price to find the cheapest and then look to see if the shop has other cards you want. Many shops are run by collectors trying to sell off spare cards to raise cash for new cards, so prices can be cheaper than auctions.
You can sometimes pick up a card more cheaply if it is listed in the wrong category, has spelling mistakes or uses different terminology (eg using the term Pieceworks for a memorabilia card from a company that does not use this term). Make sure you know what you are buying, however, as the seller is unlikely to be a card specialist.
What should I look for in a seller?
As for any other eBay purchase, check feedback. With cards it is particularly important that the card is properly packaged.
When you start out, it is a good idea to buy from sellers who specialise in cards. They are much more likely to correctly describe the card and send it to you in a way it won't get bent.
Remember that an old card is not automatically valuable. There are often auctions where a person is trying to sell a few common cards at a high price when the whole set is available for $5, because the seller thinks the cards are rare. Run some searches before believing any claim along the lines of only one on eBay in the last two years!
Card collecting is a great hobby. You can keep it fairly cheap by trying to collect lots of different types of common cards, or you can try and obtain rare cards because you just have to complete the set. Either way, Welcome!