How to Survive Your First Live Auction and Not Waste Money
Actually they didn't even use a gavel. One of the Midwest's largest auction companies, Kiko Auctions runs several live estate auctions every month. I recently attended one at the Champion Event Center in North Canton, Ohio that featured an assortment of trading cards, including several vintage lots. Being my first time as a participant, complete with assigned paddle number, I really wasn't sure what to expect.
I did have the foresight to do my homework in advance, however. This started with carefully examining scanned pictures of the cards on the auction company's website and then assigning them a condition grade using the PSA scale. I then looked on eBay for completed auctions of cards in similar condition, looking for both the low and high values. I also looked at corresponding graded card sales so that I could decide if acquiring a card at "x" price was worth grading to return a higher profit margin. After this process was complete I put all the data into a spreadsheet and emailed it to myself for easy access on my phone.
The first thing I noticed upon looking at the card images and description on the website was that the auctioneer, or consigner, assigned conditions that were greatly inflated. We all know that scans aren't as good as seeing a card in person so, before the auction started, I compared my condition assessment with the actual cards. As I suspected, cards that were described as Near Mint were in fact closer to Excellent. As any vintage collector knows, this drastically affects the price of a card.
With my wife's blessing and cash in hand, I had to admit I was a little gun-shy. I knew there would be a learning curve and mistakes were bound to happen, but I still didn't want to waste any money.
The first card up for auction was a 1948-49 Leaf #4 Stan Musial. The card was describes as Near Mint and not trimmed, an interesting way to describe it. The card wasn't anywhere close to Near Mint. It was missing the top border. Maybe that's why they mentioned that it wasn't trimmed. Finding recent historical data on this card was difficult because no listings had actually sold on eBay due to Buy It Now offers not being accepted at the prices listed. The Musial card at auction went for $150, which was probably a fair value, maybe slightly high given its condition. I didn't buy it because there was simply not enough information available for me to make an educated purchase.
Much of the remaining cards in the auction followed similar suit, selling for more than I was comfortable paying. In the end, I definitely feel as if I learned some things about condition, value, impulse buys and staying informed. I also learned that you can't always rely on a quality cell signal. So it's a good idea to find out in advance if Wifi is available and if it's an open network, what the password is. I was not able to recheck eBay during the auction and had to rely simply on the research I had done several weeks before the event. I know I missed good opportunities on a couple of cards but next time I'll be even more prepared and more confident.
Here is a list of some of the more notable cards and the prices realized. Most of them were described as Near Mint but were actually closer to EX, with the majority of them most likely grading a PSA 4 or 5.
- 1949 Bowman #36 Pee Wee Reese PSA 8-OC $100
- 1949 Bowman #24 Stan Musial $70 (this is one I should have pulled the trigger on)
- 1952 Topps #37 Duke Snider $60
- 1952 Topps #11 Phil Rizzuto $45
- 1953 Bowman #46 Roy Campanella $40
- 1953 Bowman #153 Whitey Ford PSA 6 $100 (a PSA 4 recently sold for $80)
- 1953 Bowman #117 Duke Snider $70
- 1953 Bowman #93 Billy Martin $45
- 1953 Topps #1 Ted Williams $160
- 1954 Topps #250 Ted Williams PSA 4 $120
- 1954 Bowman #89 Willie Mays $140 (I think this card might have graded a PSA 6 and, if so, would have been a good buy at this price but still a lot to gamble for my first time out.)
- 1954 Topps #239 Moose Skowron $35
- 1957 Topps #1 Ted Williams $75
- 1958 Topps #5 William Mays
- 1958 Topps #310 Ernie Banks $35
- 1959 Topps #163 Sandy Koufax $50
- 1959 Topps #202 Roger Maris $45
- 1961 Topps #300 Mickey Mantle $200
Related Topics: How To: Buying