Monday, September 9, 2013

1991: The Year That Brought The House of Trading Cards Down

We all know about the crash of trading cards of the mid 90's, but I have some thoughts about how it all actually came about.  It is true that many factors contributed to the down fall and we blame the card manufactures for over production, but that is just a small part of what happened.

First, a single card may be the first link in a chain of events that culminated in the broken dream of card collecting.  Upper Deck Card #1, Ken Griffey, Jr. was a singularly industry changing card.  This card promised that a card of significance could be pulled from an ordinary pack rip.  This card increased in value at an astounding pace and collectors flocked to own this piece of cardboard gold that could be pulled from an almost current offering of cards.  Then prospectors flocked to card collecting to own a portion of the riches that would come from owning a card that would be worth a fortune in the future.  There was proof of this fact, and it was the 1952 Topps #311 Mickey Mantle.  Then in 1990 it seemed to be happening again with the Leaf #300 Frank Thomas, so come one, come all and get rich.  Sadly, reality would tell the real tale very soon.

Over production that had started in the mid 80's continue and increased as a huge influx of collectors pushed cards sales to new highs that had never been seen before(and will never be seen again), and the card companies were not inclined to withhold cards that would mean ever larger revenue numbers.  To satiate this hunger for cardboard riches, card companies came up with a plan.

Marketing comes to the card collecting world.  The card companies found themselves in a place that they had never know before, and I believe that they turned their collective backs on collectors.  New retailers that had never sold trading cards before were giving cards prime shelf space and production was kept high to satisfy this demand.  This demand was coming form a new source of buyers, trading card collecting was now in the hands of commodity traders.

The card companies, probably, had no idea of what the consequences of catering to these commodity traders would have on the industry.  The card companies only saw the need/opportunity to give these new buyers what they wanted.  So 1991 saw the card companies embracing their new reality of sales, sales and more sales.  Upper Deck had proven that quality would sale, so new product lines, new gimmicks could only mean more new sales.

In 1991 the card companies unveiled the future path of card collecting:
  • New product Topps Archives Baseball
  • New product Stadium Club Baseball
  • New product Ultra Baseball
  • New product Studio Baseball
  • Baseball had over 13000 cards in main and popular oddball sets
  • Baseball had over 70 sets of main, inserts and parallels
The other sports saw equal increases in sets and offerings.  Most collectors were overwhelmed and could not keep up, so were forced to choose what items to collect as they could not collect it all.  But the trend was set and would eventually result in card companies offering so many products that no one understands or tries to collect it all.

1991, new products, glossy, special, parallel, and the first impulse of chase cards and the card companies thought they were covering any buyers wants.  But the commodity traders have a different view to that of collectors, they want items for investment, not to build collections.  So when a card did not show potential, it was dumped and a new item to replace it sought, so all of these hoarded cards began to come back into the market as they did not seem to meet the expectations of traders.  By the mid 90's, all of this over production was out there and the core of true collectors could no absorb it all and reality crashed as there was far more product than buyer.

I do not think that the card companies deliberately set about to hurt nor abandon collectors for the connection was far to deep and traditional.  The loss of card shops and retail locations that stocked cards was a fact of the crash not the wishes to the card companies.  When collectors that were not strong enough to seek other avenues(myself included) of obtaining cards stopped collecting also and their collections were also added to the over abundant supply, the crash was complete.

I see 1991 as the year that the card companies initiated their marketing plans that eventually led to their part in the bringing down of The House of Trading Cards.  The collectors and traders part in the crash would come later, but the path was chosen and there is no turning back.

So now I am again collecting, but this time I am in no hurry and it is the joy of collecting that now compels me to collect.

Some Links That Could Be Useful

Trading Card Database  Very Nice site for creating online collection as well as resources for researching your collection and images for over half million cards so far
SportLots  Sports Card Auction Site

The Card Collector High end Software for cataloging cards

Sports Card Collector Software better for budget with fewer features

Update Stats:
9720 cards cataloged.
638 sets represented.

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