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What Sports Cards Should You Collect?

What do you collect? Its a simple question really, but the answer is harder to define for many collectors than you might think. When faced with a seemingly infinite number of collecting avenues, its essential to start from within and ask yourself, why do I want to collect sports cards and what sports cards do I enjoy ?


A sports card collector contemplating which card to add to their collection next


Why do you want to collect?

Collecting can be an expensive and time intensive proposition! Before blowing all your dispensable income on cards you'll only enjoy for a month or two, let's figure out your "Why". Some of the most common reasons people decide to collect are:


  1. Passionate Sports Fandom: Do you obsessively listen to the Bill Simmons podcast and exclusively talk sports drama with your friends? Do fantasy sports dominate your free-time? Are you bummed if you miss a single game of your favorite team or player? Then you might be a passionate sports fan primed for collecting.

  2. Nostalgia: Did you collect sports cards as a kid? Many collectors develop a life-long affinity for collecting as a child and will revisit the hobby in their adulthood. Armed with a few extra dollars, you might now be able to acquire that card you always wanted when you were younger.

  3. Community: There are thousands of sports card collectors around the world and many of those collectors are eager to share their collection and insights about the hobby. This hobby is open to both the solitary collector and the social butterflies alike!

  4. Alternative asset investing/speculating: Main stream hobby influencers will have you believe that sports card investing is an easy and accessible way to blend your financial goals with your collecting fandom. Reality is, the majority of sports cards are not going to be worth anything, and its much harder to turn a profit than you think. However, if value retention and the possibility of growth are an appealing aspect of the hobby to you, then there are certain features of cards (Players, scarcity, and notoriety) that give you the best chance to retain value.

  5. Competitive challenge: There are some collectors that are motivated to be the "Best" collector of a certain player, team, or set. For these individuals, they want to have the best cards of their collecting subjects and will typically consolidate many of their "Smaller" cards into extremely rare and scare cards. Others appreciate the spirit of the chase and are looking to compete with fellow collectors to win sought after cards.

  6. Historic Connection: Sports cards have been around for over 120 years and are one of the best living documents of sport. Sports cards are a great way to travel through time and explore the interaction between sport, fandom, and culture. Whether its the tobacco cards of the early 1900's, gum cards of the 1930's, hot dog cards of the 1950's, or the ultra-high end releases in the mid 2000's, each decade has left its own unique mark through the sports cards produced during the era.

  7. Artistic appeal: As long as there have been sports cards there have been artists to thank behind the designs. For art aficionados, sports cards are an accessible way to collect many different pieces without needing multiple rooms of storage. A standard two row shoe box can fit up to 1,600 standard sized cards (2.5" x 3.5"). Each era has a unique appeal and has used different technologies to better connect with collectors over the years.

  8. Sense of accomplishment: The pure bliss you feel when you've added a card to your collection that has been on your want list for years. The joy you experience when you pick up the last card to complete your set. Collecting sports cards gives you another medium to set goals and realize those goals in a manageable and attainable way. If you are someone who loves the feeling of completing their to-do list, sports card collecting might be for you.


You don't NEED a reason to collect, but figuring out why you might enjoy collecting will help you find fulfillment quicker than the old trial and error method. Just one of these reasons or many might resonate with you. After spending some time reflecting on why you're starting your collecting journey, the next step is to figure out what to collect. No better way to figure that out than asking yourself, "What cards do I enjoy?"


What do you enjoy?

  1. Iconic players: Are you a superfan of an athlete? "Player collectors" will focus their entire collection on one or two players. They're superfans of the athlete and enjoy the cards produced of that player. The most radical version of a "Player collector" is the "Super collector" who attempts to acquire every single card of their favorite players (Essentially an impossible feat for many ultra modern players today).

  2. Favorite team: Are you a team's superfan? "Team collectors" will collect all the cards featuring that team across sets. Sure you admire the star players and the dirt dogs on that team, but you enjoy them because they were a member of YOUR team and you collect cards to honor that team.

  3. Eras: Each era of sports cards brings its own unique design and feel. Maybe you like the main street advertising styles of 50's or are a fan of the early serial numbered cards of the 90's. Finding an era to collect opens you up to a host of different sets and players, but isn't so specific that you have trouble finding cards that you enjoy.

  4. Sets: Set collecting gives the collector a pre-defined checklist to chase. There are hundreds of sets to choose from over the years and some sets have incredible continuity. Take Topps flagship for example that has been consistently released since 1952. Choose to collect a niche set that speaks to you or honor the iconic sets of yesteryear and enjoy completing that checklist.

  5. Inserts: Inserts are cards that are part of a set, but not part of the base checklist nor follow the same design of the base cards within the set. Inserts tend to be a bit more quirky or pay homage to a particular aspect of the sport. Inserts can be a more affordable way to collect iconic cards of your team/player or collect unique designs that stand out in a player's offerings.

2022 Donruss Josh Allen Downtown Insert
1997 Skybox E-X 2001 Michael Jordan Jambalaya
1997 Skybox E-X 2000 Ken Griffey Jr. A Cut Above Insert

6. Card Attributes: Refractors. PSA 10's. Team Colored Parallels. Iconic Rookies. Player "Firsts". Gold Parallels. As you explore cards that are out there, some might stick out to you more than the others. Find what speaks to you and lean into it.


Figuring out your "Why" to collect and "What" to collect is going to be an evolutionary journey. You may dive headfirst into set collecting only to figure out the reason you liked a set was because of a player headlining that set and decide to pivot to focus on collecting that player. You may amass a collection of cards you enjoy but end up consolidating those cards into your, "Holy Grail". If I had one piece of advice for a new collector or for a seasoned collector looking to reinvigorate their passion it would be: Be patient and be curious. There are so many cards and sets out there for you to explore. You'll make great purchases along the way and have other purchases you second guess the minute after hitting the "Buy-It-Now". Pave your own road to building the collection of your dreams and have some fun along the way.

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