The Lost Art of Book Values

What exactly does “book value” mean in 2008? Let’s take for example a 2007 Bowman Chrome Joba Chamberlain, seeing as it is still the hot card of the industry at least until Spring Training starts. I can find his autographed Bowman Chrome for $140 on eBay, $180 at a baseball card shop, and $150 at a bi-monthly card show. Beckett Baseball issue #274 shows that very same card for a high of $175 and no matter how cheap you can find it elsewhere people are still living & dying by the book value. While you may think this works well for the everyday collector that busts one or two boxes per year, think again. In my small but growing collection I have a signed, game-used jersey that books in Beckett for a high-value for $150. I have been doing my research and four out of seven times it has sold for close to $200 on eBay in the last month alone. Does that mean I have a card worth two Benjamin’s? Of course, not—because it is written in stone by someone from Texas that it is a $150 card and no more.

How do you price your cards? Let’s look even deeper for a moment. Let’s say your favorite baseball player for some reason is Walt Weiss. Collector A. has 20 Walt Weiss cards; 3 rookies, 10 game-used, 5 autographs, & 2 parallels. The total book value on those cards is $175. Would you trade your Joba Chamberlain ’07 Bowman Chrome for the Weiss lot? It seems almost unfair, doesn’t it? On one hand those Walt Weiss cards are pretty rare & very hard to find and worth more than just $175 to you but that Joba rookie is the top card in baseball at the moment. What a predicament you have on your hands.

I will be honest and probably alone when I say that book value means absolutely nothing to me. Back in 1997, my final year collecting, I pulled an Andruw Jones rookie out of 1 pack of Bowman (100% true story). Of course, that means nothing today but back then it was a pretty huge deal because his cards were on fire at the time and also because my neighbor happened to be a die-hard Braves fan. I was still a pretty avid Jose Canseco collector which meant that I wanted nothing but Jose for the Andruw and ended up spending an entire Friday night going through close to ten 5000 ct. baseball card boxes pulling every Jose Canseco card I could find. In the end, I found close to twenty that I didn’t have in his entire collection and made the trade for a card that had a $50 book value at the time. Want to know what the most expensive Canseco that exchanged hands that day? It was a 1993 SP Holoview FX insert which you can find on eBay for less than one dollar %95 percent of the time it is listed. It is such an obscure card you can’t even find the value in Beckett anymore. You know what? In the end, I am happy for that trade. I may have lost what back then seemed like a lock for the Hall of Famer’s rookie card but in return I received several cards I needed for my collection.

I think we all know Beckett is on its final legs these days. They are no longer a monthly publication, plus the last seven issues I have bought have been paper thin with informative articles. From this point on instead of rushing to the latest issue of Beckett to find the price of a card for a trade, I will send out the average price of completed auction listings for that specific card. It may be a little more work than flipping a few pages but in the end you might be able to add an extra $10-15 dollars on the value of your card. Of course, no one can ever tell you your card is worthless if it is the card of your dreams to you.

photo courtesy of Bryan the “Canseco King”



  1. I honestly don’t care about BV as much as today’s generation of collectors. I just traded a bronze gallery of champions Mattingly to a collector for $48 high book value canseco lot of about 15 cards that realistically he could have sold for maybe $5 dollars cash at best.. fact is I’m happy to add lots of cards like that to my collection even knowing I could buy them so much cheaper cash. I used to always just trade cards for ones I needed without real worry about the BV’s of each. after all the Beckett is a “guide” not the be all end all. Things have changed so much in the current collecting world and not all for the better.. Too many people worry about value and not the enjoyment that comes with collecting. My personal collection has never been about value or profit but more what makes ME happy. If I cared about the value I would have stopped collecting Canseco years ago!

  2. There almost isn’t any point for Beckett anymore, reason being, most all the cards that people really want to know a price on are all priced N/A due to scarcity, so the only way to know what the card might be worth is searching the completed auctions on “The Bay”.
    They seem to grossly over or under price cards-for example, the 2001 Topps Heritage Chrome Jose Canseco books at a measily $10, yet on Ebay you are lucky to see one let alone get it for under $30 or the greatest example, in my opinion, is the 1988 Topps Cloth Canseco/McGwire Team Leaders card.
    For the longest time that card booked at $150 and now for some reason the price dropped to $120, yet anybody who collects Canseco or McGwire would be happy to drop $300 on it and disregard Beckett’s price assessment. How many of those Cloth cards has anybody seen on Ebay or anywhere else for that matter(I have seen 2 in all my years of collecting) and there definitely aren’t any to be found in factory sets or unopened packs-where do you go to get one of these super rare cards? And if it is indeed so scarce, how does Beckett put a monetary value on it, and then drop that value for seemingly no apparent reason??
    They need to team with Ebay and get a “this is what they sell for on Ebay” price guide.

  3. Beckett book value has almost no meaning left for me. The best guide I have for selling is the rest of eBay. Check out the high and low price that the card is selling for and price it in the middle, usually towards the lower end.

    Book value has no value in any trade that I make. It depends on how much the other person wants the card I have. I usually let the other trader set the parameters. “This is what I have to trade that you want, what do you think is a fair value in return with cards I’m looking for?”

    I will usually accept whatever offer the other trader comes up with. Sometimes I get hosed on book value, sometimes I don’t. If I can get cards that I want for cards that I don’t want, I’m happy. If I can sell cards to someone who is happy with the price I’ve set, I’m happy. It’s not that difficult.

    Case in point, Tatiana got a $15 card of Jeter that she wanted in a bundle of cards that I sent over. In return, I got a Thome game worn Goudey that books for $10 and a bundle of cards. We were both happy with the trade. That’s all that should matter. Card value only means something to the person who wants it. You can’t put a price on that.

  4. Do you like George Washington? I would be happy to send you TWENTY George Washington dollars for one measley Ben Franklin bill. Personally, I think it’s a steal. 🙂

    Seriously, though, I know what you’re saying. But I only traded equal values back in the day. When eBay came around, I could pick up lots of cards for little money, and I didn’t have to give up any cards in return. I got several Doc Gooden and Eric Davis cards that way. But I doubt I would have traded for them, just because it would have taken forever to figure out what the book value was, and what I had that the other guy wanted, etc.

  5. The thing that gets me is that everyone wants to trade BV for BV to the penny these days… I have guys offering me lots of Canseco base and low level inserts and they price them out on my collections (which is fine to use as a guide but does not reflect what players cards are really selling for) and expect me to pay half of that value cash or trade for the full value.. the only cards I have to trade are some HOF rookie cards of players from the 80’s and 90’s which the values will always remain steady.. a guy wanted me to trade him my 89 score Barry Sanders for like 7 cards that were either base or pacific numbered inserts which are like overproduced base to me as well.. why would I even consider that deal just because the total BV is the same on Beckett? I could buy those cards for $5 or less and I’m going to give up a nice rookie card in exchange?? I will gladly trade some of my rookies such as that for some game used or auto cards but never for base or inserts unless they are rare enough that I never see them available.

    I like to try and help fellow player collectors as much as possible. I just broke 2 gallery of champions sets just for the Canseco’s and have all the rest up for grabs.. a guy contacts me about the Mike Schmidt as he’s a proclaimed super collector. I tell him that they have no book value and that the only one I see for sale is in Beckett marketplace for $4o so make me an offer. I wasn’t telling him thats what I wanted and it was clear but he just came back with something like I would never pay close to that for it… guys that truely super collect players will almost always pay a premium for something like this which comes from a set people had to pay up front to break and are not always readily available as singles. I expect him to make me an offer of around half and I’m fine with helping him out at that but it doesn’t happen. Because people can’t see a Beckett gospel BV it makes it harder for me to get a trade done that works for both parties.

    When I first started collecting things like rarity, subset only issues, and regional issue cards forced me to pay a premium at times to add to my collection and I just accepted that.. same with things like these Gallery of Champions. I was lucky enough to obtain most of them singly but have bought 2 sets recently just to get the one I need. This kind of collecting has seemed to die off these days and is a part of the hobby I can honestly say I miss. I went to my first card show in over a decade only to find out that nobody has the 5000 count boxes anymore sorted with cards by player name like years ago and that Ebay will basically be my main source of adding to my collection unlike years ago when there were no computers and I bought cards from guys that sent me paper lists yearly. Ah the good ol’ days!

  6. Its one of the rarest Canseco error cards in existence.
    I have yet to see another one. It is one of the most unique pieces in my Canseco collection.

  7. The funny thing is the only reason I bought the Beckett in the first place is for the Rookie Card rolodex.

    And now you know the *rest* of the story.

    Good day!

  8. Very good points made by all. I don’t use paper guides for values anymore. I hardly used them before the internet either. There were two main things that I used the paper guides for. One was a quick general guide for cards in a set and the other is the articles. I still subscribe to Tuff Stuff for the articles but I get my card values on the internet. Places like Ebay, SportsLizard, Naxcom and Sportlots to really figure out what something is worth. But in the end the only thing that matters is what someone is willing to pay for a card at a particular moment.

  9. Like it or not Beckett is an institution.
    As much as we all do not use it, if it where gone we would miss it.

  10. Hi Bryan!!!
    I always knew that the 1994 Holoview Canseco error was unique, when it was part of my Jose collection, but now that it’s part of your collection and the fact that your awesome collection is getting the attention it deserves, I guess it is now getting it as well! Long live the Canseco Collector!!! If anyone out there is interested I have now listed ALL the oddball Canseco items I had left!

    Take Care to all….

  11. I used to hear rumors that Beckett would only account for certain reported prices and ignore others. Usually this would come from the dealers they ignored.
    I still go by Beckett for some frame of reference when buying. I try to stay at or below low book. And I was under the impression that nowadays the general rule was that trades went by high BV. Though since “the Bay” came around, values stray from the book a lot more. Though most of the time, ebay is at or below book value on the stuff I go after.
    And don’t get me started again on the corporate inflation of values that is grading. (see

  12. Wow, I never expected these great responses. Thanks for adding your comments!
    Great to read through comments almost as long if you not longer than the original post.

  13. I agree with whatthehellme. It seems the cards you really check Beckett for are rarely listed. I only use Beckett to check short prints and to figure out what all of the subsets are. What do 07 Topps red backs look like? What is the difference between green and red backs for 07 Goudey? etc. etc.

    Back to the topic at hand. I spend anywhere between $50 to $200 a week on cards. What I get that I don’t keep goes on eBay. Have to make some cash back, right? I never start anything higher then .99 cents. If that’s what it sells for, then so be it. When I first started using eBay, way back in 2001, I would start cards just below their book value or put a reserve on the item. Guess what? They rarely sold for that price. Now your lucky if you get anywhere near guide for anything. I put up an 2006 Upper Deck MLB SP Legendary Cuts Cyan Printing Plate of Eddie Mathews. 1/1. It received no bids even with a starting price of .99 cents. Still kind of blows my mind.

    With that said, I think it might be time to start trading, instead of trying to sell and deal with all of the fees from eBay. If there is anyone or set you are looking for, let me know. It’s highly likely I can fill your want lists. Drop me an e-mail .

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