Still have your hockey cards from when you were a kid?
Think grandpa’s coin collection might be worth a pretty penny?
Chances are slim those items might be hidden gems, but more and more people were finding out during their imposed additional spare time over the last two years.
Comics, coins, vinyl records and sports cards have always been with us. But maybe COVID has made them a little more special.
“There are a number of reasons floating around as to why (our) business exploded,” Wayne Frazer, of Doug Laurie Sports, tells BarrieToday from his Kozlov Mall shop, which sells sports cards and memorabilia.
“Some of them are tied to COVID and some are coincidental. People were just looking for something to do and stay in it (the sports scene),” Frazer says of passing time during the pandemic.
“When Kobe Bryant was killed, his cards exploded and when the Michael Jordan documentary aired, his cards went through the roof, too,” he exclaims. “When people saw that, they thought they’d better dig around their house. A card that was worth $500 three years ago is now worth $5,000. It turned out there were a lot of examples of that.”
Frazer says his industry has changed and continues to change.
“Thirty years ago, when you bought a box of cards you got 350 or 400 cards with pictures of guys and their stats on the back,” he says. “Now you get cards that are limited edition, you get holo-foil cards, you get autographed cards, you get cards with a piece of a game-used jersey or a piece of stick in it (relic cards).
“We’ve had cards with pieces of seats, pieces of turf, sand from sand traps at The Masters and dirt from a baseball mound: just about anything you can think of has been put into a card.
“There’s all that kind of stuff and the higher you go up the ladder, the more of that kind of stuff you get. People want something that goes a little bit beyond just watching a game on TV or maybe even going down to the game.”
But the times, they are a changin’. Some younger collectors don’t give a hoot about something they can hold.
“They’re just as interested in having a non-fungible token,” says Frazer.
A what? A non-fungible token is a non-interchangeable unit of data stored on a blockchain, a form of digital ledger, that can be sold and traded.
“It’s something digital they can claim as their own. It’s kind of the divide between older-generation collectors and newer-generation collectors,” he says. “Let’s say you have a $100,000 LeBron James rookie card. You can send that to a company and they will store it in a climate-controlled vault and they will issue you a NFT for that card.
“Then if you want to sell the card, you don’t actually physically possess it, you possess the token and that’s what changes hands digitally. As an old guy, I don’t get the draw of it.”
Comics have also had a spike in sales recently, Big B Comics owner Marc Sims tells BarrieToday.
“During the pandemic, we saw a huge increase in people looking for good stories to read for themselves or their children,” he says. “People were stuck at home with nothing to do and many rediscovered their love of reading. Sales of children's graphic novels like Dog Man and Baby Sitter's Club surged nationally.”
Almost anything that could be deemed as collectible saw an uptick in demand, says Sims.
“Comics, trading cards, sports memorabilia, original art, action figures: everything was hot. Things are only just now starting to cool down as people return to some semblance of normal life.”
That includes being able to trip down to the comic book store and chill.
“We offer our customers a sense of community and shared passion. They can come to escape into a fantastic world of stories and characters that are larger than life,” Sims says. “We want people to engage with the stories and characters and the huge interconnected worlds that have been built over 80-plus years of comics storytelling.
“We also deal extensively in back-issue comics from the 1940s to 1980s. These are collected more as investment pieces or purely out of nostalgia.
“Last year, we sold multiple copies of the first Spider-Man appearance in Amazing Fantasy No. 15 for between $30,000 and $50,000. These are blue-chip investment books that people store in safes rather than crack open and read.”
While you could lock away your favourite vinyl LP for safe keeping, how would you listen to it?
Brett Seymour, owner of The Record Market near Five Points in downtown Barrie, wouldn’t go for that.
“I’ve just always been into the music,” he tells BarrieToday, adding he can still remember the first record he bought: Sweet’s Desolation Boulevard. “The second was Led Zeppelin II and after that I don’t remember any.”
Seymour has been peddling vinyl for decades: working with John Ritson (Big John’s Records) in the early ‘90s at his first shop when he was by the Maverick's Music Hall and then in the basement at 15 Dunlop St. E., the current location of The Record Market, and then on to his own shop in Orillia for more than 17 years before returning to Barrie.
“There was that resurgence in collecting vinyl through of COVID,” Seymour says. “A lot of people were at home and were off. You couldn’t go out. A lot of people were working from home.
“Music can take some of that pressure off, so it’s a way of escapism I guess to break that monotony of being sort of isolated,” he says, adding collecting is a “very tactile” thing. “Because they’re so large, LPs are like pieces of art. That’s the appeal to a lot of people.”
But avid collectors do more than just listen to the music, he says.
“The people who have been into it a long time always need more. There’s always new stuff coming out,” says Seymour, adding exploring new titles and genres can be a real family/friends get together.
He refers to a tween-something gal and her dad drifting through albums across the room.
“She’s just starting to get into it and bought her first album not too long ago,” he says. “It’s a fun thing for them to do together and a bond as well.”
But you have to dig deep to buy new vinyl these days.
“There are all kinds of reasons,” Seymour says of the hefty cost. “There’s a nickel shortage and they need nickel to do the master plates. The compound of vinyl records is, of course, made with petroleum and we know what’s going on there. And you’ve got shipping issues.
“So all these factors are contributing to vinyl getting more and more expensive and I think it’s going to get to the point where it’s going to kill the industry again,” he says. “Forty dollars is nothing these days for a (new) record or more. You’re starting to see $50 and $60 now. It’s crazy.”
A lot of music buffs who can’t afford vinyl are going to CDs, Seymour adds.
“This is the first year since 1989 that there has been a major increase in CD sales instead of a decrease because you see vinyl prices getting ridiculously expensive,” he says. “I actually think that’s why there is such a resurgence in CDs. People ask themselves, ‘Am I going to buy one $30 LP or am I going to buy six $5 (used) CDs if I just want to listen to the music?
“But there is that fun element of collecting.”
So if fun is what you’re after, collect away.
But if collecting comes to investing, be wary. While folks can collect almost anything, what seems nifty to them might seem like nonsense to someone else.
“I don’t collect a lot of stuff myself,” says Frazer back at Doug Laurie Sports.
(Hmm: that seat from the golds in the old Maple Leaf Gardens looks pretty cool!)
“For a while, I was collecting baseballs signed by either a politician or a celebrity,” he says. “I had a baseball signed by Dee Snider, the lead singer of Twisted Sister, and I thought nobody else would want that.
“I posted online that I had it and 20 minutes later a guy from Texas messaged me and said he wanted it for his heavy metal baseball collection. He made me a really good offer and I sent it to him.”
When it comes to deciding whether something in your collection — whatever that is — might be valuable, Frazer suggests making sure you know what’s out there.
“If there’s no scarcity, there’s no value.”