Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A decent stab at a Short Reports database

For quite a while Beckett Hockey has produced a column of sorts called Short Reports. By the generally accepted definition, a Short Report-able card is one whose print run is less than 25, so a /24 or less card. In this column they list cards which fit this criteria, and also include a confirmed price.

Cards like this are not typically included in the "regular" pricing section by Beckett (nor in the OPG), and for good reason. I won't go into how their published book values are usually out of whack anyway, but a card with a print run of, for example, 10, is simply too "volatile" to be able to accurately price. I agree with that.

So Beckett's monthly column does list some of those cards. They have also, on occasion, published "bonus" reports online. With the Beckett Hockey now moving to a bi-monthly publication, the usefulness of the Short Reports column is becoming a little less useful. With more and more of these low print run cards coming out, they are becoming more available. Hence more people are buying more of them.

To briefly go off on a tangent, one of my Pet Peeves in the hobby occurs when someone says "What is this worth?" The smart-ass (and absolutely correct) answer is "Whatever someone will pay for it." Of course, this is no good to someone who has pulled it from a pack, won it on eBay due to a poorly-titled auction, or whatever. Some people generally are curious about "real world value" and rightfully so.

So when someone has a question about Short Reports-calibre cards, what can they do? Usually one suggestion is to check eBay's completed auctions. There are a couple of problems with this. eBay only makes this data available for 30-days, so that is the most obvious pitfall. Also, what if it is a 1/1 card? Unless the card has been flipped, you won't see that exact card on eBay.

Without any concrete record of what another copy of, say a /15 UD Patch card would sell for, the next most typical response is to check for similar releases from previous years, or for the going rate of a similarly collected player. Still better, but what if you can't find recent prices for /15 UD Patch cards, or know who a player in the same "selling bracket" as Corey Perry would be? What if Perry gets hot all of the sudden and his cards moved "brackets"?

So in an effort to tackle some of these questions, back in November of '07 I attempted to create my own publicly available Short Reports database. It was quite the lofty goal, and while I at least had a viable framework in place, it was wrought with problems from the start.

It started originally as a pet project of mine where I had planned on inputting all the Beckett Hockey SR columns into the database. Unfortunately Beckett does not include the specific serial number, complete player listings (if multiple players are on a card), or even the card number. These were all pieces of information that I wanted, because I wanted them to be searchable fields. This meant that I had to do a lot of homework, mostly spending time toiling over checklists from UD or ITG. For older sets from Topps or Pacific, I had to resort to Beckett's MyCollection portion.

My database was housed in MySQL and was nothing fancy, and was in no way normalized, to use proper database parlance. The structure and random examples was as followed:

id - an auto_increment field
setname - "2005-06 Upper Deck The Cup"
card - "Original Sticks Gold"
player - "Bill Guerin, Mike Modano"
numbering - "8/10" (if exact serial number was not known, it had x/10)
notes - "Magenta" (referring to press plate color)
source - "scrub" (more on this later)
amount - "$450.00"
date - "2007-10-29" (the date of the actual sale, or the date of the Beckett magazine release)

The structure was the easy part. Even all the PHP pages I created to interface with the data were a breeze. The most time-consuming part was gathering the data, standardizing it for consistency (calling it "Upper Deck" and not "UD" all the time), and having to look up a lot of the missing data I referred to above.

The sources were another interesting part. I checked for the following:
-Beckett (from the monthly column or the online bonus listings)
-self (these were cards I purchased myself, almost exclusively for my Jagr collection)
-contribution (these were private sells people told me about, usually members from Hobby Insider)

The "scrub" is where it gets interesting. We all shop on eBay. We all know some sellers who we see quite frequently. I tapped into that and starting checking feedback on sellers I knew of that dealt in high-end stuff. High-end oftentimes translated into a /24 or less card, and the mere presence of feedback would (in theory) mean the transaction was legitimate. Toward the end I had a list of approximately 60 eBay users, both buyers and sellers, whose feedback I checked.

I also had a number of saved searches that I ran, usually on a weekly basis. I created a new eBay account solely for tracking and would add these to my watchlist. Once done I would wait for feedback to be left then I would add the pertinent information to the database. Curious about some of the searches? Here you go. As you can probably guess, some were created when a product first hit:
  • SPx (1,5,10,15)
  • (BTP,"between the pipes") (emblem,number*)
  • (lumber*,cut,titlist*,shield*,logo) -donruss -die -laser -clear -diamond -mcdonald* -team -opc -50 -"blue shield" -"steve shields" -"crease cut" -sticker* -399 -699 -25 -100
  • cup (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24) -25 -199 -75 -249 -50
  • cut auto* -die
  • patch 15 -25 -50
  • rookie material* (15,patch)
  • significance -25 -50 -100
  • (international,intl*) ice (gold,10,20)
  • (spgu,sp) (1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,15,20) -authentic -25 -100 -50 -999 -499 -spx -letter -base
  • o canada (gold,emblem,number,patch)
  • ultimate achiev*
  • ult* (mto,made to order)
  • by letter

There were others, but you get the gist.

Lastly, I maintained a text file of auction numbers that I just came across in my random searching. The idea was to go back on those and see if feedback was left. That text file contained somewhere around 450 item IDs from eBay when I called it quits.

So where did all this get me? In the few short months I compiled data and actively maintained my Short Reports database, I accounted for 4305 total cards whose combined selling amount totaled a staggering $587,863.47.

Wanna see for yourself? Go check it out:
Short Reports Database

Note that it is no longer being updated. I spent between 5 and 10 hours a week on just the data portion. Ultimately it would be great if someone could take it over, but it was quite time consuming. Overall I am extremely proud how much I got done with just the framework itself.

Anyone with the time, willingness, and patience to take over the project, just let me know!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Notes from a retired hockey card collector

I spent the last decade collecting hockey cards--lots of sets and random cards I liked, but predominantly cards of my favorite hockey player, Jaromir Jagr.

Sometime back in March or so I decided I was done. I had been on the fence for a few months, and admittedly had thought about getting out sometime last summer. And the winter before that. And probably the summer prior to that, too.

Once I finally decided to cut the cord, I didn't make any big announcement or thread on a message board, as I felt that was quite presumptuous. Who cares if some guy from Durham, NC, is no longer buying up hockey cards? Probably no one but me.

However, as time went on, and people noticed, I did get a lot of questions asking why. It seems several others have considered stepping away from the hobby. I had the chance to carry on some conversations through email and PM (would that be PMversations?), and it seems that many others share the same feelings.

My advice? Think long and hard about it. Collecting becomes a matter of lists and gotta-haves. It's hard to break the habit of looking at checklists for new releases, checking on eBay for the best patch pieces, or watching the Box Breaks sections of your favorite message board. Collecting takes dedication. If you have ever collected anything (Pez dispensers, Depression glass, Tiffany lamps), you know just what that statement means.

I started out collecting every Jagr card possible. A few years later, when jersey cards were more popular and still "cool" I decided to just collect game-used and autos. After a while I got bored with the parallels, and a dreadful feeling of never getting anywhere close to 100%, and went with autos and just patch cards I liked. The "I liked" was an important piece that kept me hobbling along for a couple of extra years, if for no reason than that meant I did not have to maintain an accurate list of patch cards from release to release. If I liked a patch card enough I went for it. Plain and simple. I picked up press plates and other 1/1s when I could, but for the most part it was patches and autos.

So as you can see I've refocused my own Jagr collection a couple of times. I also added new player collections that were, in retrospect, merely a distraction (Gerry Cheevers, Bill Goldthorpe, Ondrej Fiala). At the end of the day, though, the fire just wasn't there. After spending untold thousands over the years on just Jagr, it got to be just a habit. Go check the mail, leave the eBay feedback, scan the card, and update my website. Mail, feedback, scan, update. Rinse and repeat.

It's sad to think of it this way, but I've seen jersey cards seeded at 1:2500 packs and actually worth something to 1:1 packs and worth less than a pack of Victory. Once you start looking at a hobby in terms of a dollar value, well, you may be in my shoes sooner rather than later.

Not once over the years did I worry about recouping my costs. If you collect things wondering what it will be worth (truly wondering, not just half-thinking about it), then you are probably not really collecting. You are investing. At least a little.

At this point, yes, I acknowledge I spent a veritable ton of money on just Jagr cards (we won't get into "other" cards, boxes, and the like). Unfortunately I'm mostly an all-or-none collector. Aside from the 1/1 cards, if I knew it existed and I liked it, I wanted it. So now that I'm done with collecting, I want to get rid of most everything I had. But my wife convinced me to keep my favorites, though it was hard to limit myself.

I am keeping about a dozen Jagr cards, a Vezina stick card from ITG Ultimate, and a '33 Ice Kings Charlie McVeigh. The rest are available, and eventually I may even sell the "keepers".

There was no one event, no straw that broke the camel's proverbial back, heck there was no camel at all. There was a whole Jason Pollock-like swirl of reasons, all of which just merged at the right time in my life. There is a list of reasons that all contribute to "the decision", but they are as individual and personal as any aspect of collecting hockey cards should be.

Like most of you, I get my eBay searches each day. However, now I look and delete them for the most part. A few I add to my watch list for curiosity purposes only, usually cards I have and am wanting to know the going rate. Mainly so my asking price will be more reasonable when I actually finish setting up my eBay store.

As for where my money goes now, I buy a lot of non-sport stuff. I'm also getting back into comic books a little, and I've always bought toys from when I was younger (I was born in 1976, so GI Joe, Transformers, Thundercats, things like that). So my hobbies have changed, that's all. Hockey was fun, and had a good run. I don't regret it at all. As I mentioned, I bought some Superlative cards, so I can't say I'll never buy another hockey card again, but I'm not a real collector anymore. There are still a couple cards that I would go for if they showed up.

In the "real world" my wife and I are also saving up some to buy some land, about 30-acres (that's roughly 12.14 hectares for the Metric folks). We're eventually gonna build a house that we are designing ourselves. With me selling off my Jagr collection, I suppose you could say that in a small way, we're building our dream house out of hockey cards.

So if you are one of the people on the fence about collecting, no matter what your decision, just make sure you'll be happy. Keep a few cards, sell them all, whatever you won't regret 6-months from now. And you know how they say to chew gum or eat carrots to stop smoking? Find your gum or carrot for hockey cards, because it really is like an addiction!

Monday, May 5, 2008

The best parts about ITG Superlative? Sometimes it's the little things...

In retrospect I was probably a little rough on Superlative, but c'mon, I was basing it solely on the marketing that had been done by ITG. So for that I stand by my opinions.

However, now that the product has been released, there are definitely some bright spots. I guess I can't be too critical since I haven't bought any packs/boxes/books, but the two things that has stood out the most were... well, let me give you some visual clues (all pics admittedly stolen from current eBay auctions):

And this one:

Then this one:

And we'll add this one:

And lastly:

Give up yet? So what's the significance? Well, it is two-fold:

1) They used different pics for each card--something somewhat different for ITG; and
2) They used pics of the player in the correct team jersey, in that it matches the patch or jersey piece

Very minor, but as a former player collector, something I picked up on right away.

I noticed that this also holds true for the most part with other multi-team players such as Brett Hull, Roy, and Thornton.

I did see a Quad Patch card with Forsberg, though. It has what appears to be an Avs patch piece, but he's shown in a Team Sweden jersey.

There are probably plenty of other exceptions like this, but sometimes people notice the little things about the players they collect. Or at least I did.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Pet Peeve #1 : "What should I buy?"

This is the first of many pet peeves because, well, I have a lot of 'em. Perhaps in externalizing my annoyances I can help others get through the hobby a little easier. OK, that's probably a long shot.

Anyway, my first Pet Peeve is something that happens with some frequency on the message boards. It's when people ask "What should I buy?" It could be in reference to a particular card, box, or even player (a close cousin to the "Who should I collect?" question that we'll tackle here as well).

Why is it a peeve? Because we're all a bunch of strangers to you (and you to us) and we could care less what you spend your money on. That would be like me asking you what my favorite brand of tomato sauce should be. Oh sure, you'll get the occasional "Whatever you do, don't collect Brooks Orpik because I don't need anymore competition!" but that's usually a self-righteous attempt by that particular poster to advertise their own collection, and really doesn't help out the person asking the question. I can easily name a hundred players someone shouldn't collect!

That brings me to a series of questions and scenarios that someone should look over before asking a bunch of people, the vast majority whom you will never meet, how you should spend your hard earned money.

Player collecting

1) Veteran or rookie? Is cost a factor? Some rookie cards are outrageously expensive, and some rookies fizzle out in a season never to be heard from again. Some veterans have a ton of cards but are cheap to pick up.

2) Do you want a bunch of cards to chase, or something more manageable? Some popular veterans have literally thousands of cards out there (especially if they appeared in Pacific sets from the mid-/late-90s to early 00's!). Are those going to be fun to chase or will you be ripping your hair out just trying to maintain a checklist?

3) Any players from your favorite or local teams that you follow? Chances are if you live in San Jose, you'll have at least some faint interest in the Sharks, for example. Or maybe you like alumni from the Univ of North Dakota because that's where you went.

4) Favorite position? Get your mind out of the gutter. Some people have a soft spot for defensemen, some people are goalie collectors. Don't believe me, check out this guy's very thorough site filled with nothing but goalie-oriented sets. Still others like the enforcers. And with a face like this, who wouldn't?

5) Favorite player. This is an easy one, and the reason I collected Jaromir Jagr for years. He was just my favorite player, plain and simple. As an extension to that, consider what you would do if your favorite player retired or, worse yet, got traded. Would you continue to collect that person if they went to your favorite team's rival?

What to collect

This one sort of follows the player collector mentality to an extent, though some of the questions are exclusive to non-player collectors.

1) Specific manufacturers? Some people hate UD, some don't like ITG's designs.

2) Vintage cards or newer stuff? Pretty self-explanatory.

3) Everything. When I started out collecting Jagr I collected any and everything I could find. Mini Foodland cards, UD Predictors, Swedish Semic Wien cards, even those terrible Starting Lineup figures that in no way resembled the player. Later on I decided to collect just...

4) Game-used cards. These would be the jersey cards or any number of patch cards (Numbers, Emblems, Nameplates, Logos, etc.). In addition to game-used cards, I also collected just...

5) Auto cards. This could be further divided into hard-signed cards only, since some people break out into hives over the thought of sticker autos.

These are just some examples.

Some other quick snapshots of peoples' collections:
-rookie cards
-complete sets (much more popular before the mid-90s)
-team sets with all cards from a particular team
-graded cards, especially BGS 9.5s
-ticket stubs
-pocket schedules (affectionately known as skeds)
-mini helmets
-TTM (through the mail) autos

The list goes on and on. The point is that you can collect anything you want. It's completely up to you. The more unique your collection the more enjoyment you will gain from it. And asking other people what you should spend your time on futile, because at the end of the day hobbies are a very individual thing.

If you're just not sure what it out there, both Beckett and Hobby Insider have forums for box breaks. In case you are not sure what those are, they is the ultimate in vicarious living. Someone buys a box (or pack, as some products are quite expensive) and they list some of the cards they pulled. If you're lucky, you'll also get scans. Browsing the appropriate forums is an easy way to see what sorts of cards people are pulling.

Who knows, it may also lead to you some great trades as well.

Also keep in mind that card prices stretch from nickels to thousands. Box and pack prices are almost as varied. You can easily find a box of cards on clearance at your local hobby shop for $10, or the hottest new products easily for $125. There are the "ultra high end" (because "high end" just wasn't good enough...) boxes that can cost $400-$500. Just because it's out there doesn't mean you have to have it.