Small Bag Strategy at the National: Raw - Grade - Flip!

mobile BJK copy
Jason Koeppel // ONE37pm

I’ve always had a passion for collecting “alternative” vintage sports cards of “GOAT” athletes. In particular, I nerd out over collecting athletes whose cards feel most overlooked and under-appreciated relative to the scale of the athlete’s impact on his/her respective sport. For such athletes, it is often the case where not only are their rookie cards and other early card issuings affordable, but they are shockingly rare.

Using the basic equation of card price * card population as a back-of-the-napkin way to calculate the “market cap” for a given athlete’s cardboard, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that for certain iconic athletes, their early cards are shockingly undervalued relative to almost all reasonable comparative “mass appeal” athlete counterparts (and their associated card populations and average prices).

There are of course other factors in play here, such as whether or not the cards being compared are graded (and by whom), how “collectible” certain athletes (despite often enormous achievements) can ever end up being vs. others, etc.

To keep it simple, below I'll lay out step-by-step how one such recent exploration into this hypothesis of mine came to prove the model to be workable in driving tangible returns, which I hope in-turn will inspire some of you to pursue your own "Small Bag Strategies" in the collectibles market. What I can safely say—having completed the process—is this: I’ve never had so much fun and satisfaction making several hundred bucks in my life.

Here's The Play!

My graded slab!

The Sport: Women’s Tennis

The Athlete: Billie Jean-King

The Card: 1970 Panini Campioni Dello Sport #335 (Billie Jean-King nee Moffitt-King’s first appearance on a card, i.e. her “true” rookie)

The journey began when I was reading through the Bleacher Report article The 100 Most Beloved Athletes in Sports History—the first result after Google searching for “most iconic athletes of all time”. A third of the way down the list, I come across Billie Jean-King at #65:

bleacher report
Bleacher Report

I got excited about the possibility of BJK, despite her fame, possessing a relatively low population of key early/rookie cards given the time in which she played and limited collectibility of tennis cards, in particular women’s tennis.

A quick search in PSA’s Population Report database confirmed my thinking—there was one clear “rookie” card for BJK, the Italian-produced 1970 Panini Campioni Dello Sport (“Champions of Sport”) #335, with a staggering low graded population (graded populations also serving as a crude proxy for the “raw”, i.e. ungraded, population) of TEN.

1970 Billie Moffitt-King rookie card population report (Source: PSA)

For comparison’s sake, using an iconic baseball player with a similar rookie year—Nolan Ryan (1968), the graded population is over 1000x the size of BJK’s. It is worth noting as well that Ryan had several rookie card variations printed in 1968—this being only one of them!

1968 Topps Ryan/Koosman dual rookie card population report (Source: PSA)

A middle-of-the-pack PSA 5-graded 1968 Topps Ryan rookie, for reference, averages around a ~$1,200 price tag. We'll come back to that later.

1968 Topps Ryan/Koosman dual rookie card PSA 5 pricing (Source: CardLadder)

With the graded population for BJK’s 1970 Panini card being close to nonexistent, and no BJK cards whatsoever coming up on eBay during my initial searches, I set up a basic eBay notification to email me anytime a listing with keywords related to the card appeared (i.e. “1970 Panini Tennis”, etc.).

Eventually, a listing appeared, from an account based in Italy, selling an ungraded version of the card for 64.9 Euro, roughly $76. Given historical sales figures on the card were essentially entirely unfindable, I took a flyer at the given price, sensing it was definitely on the lower end, card condition/lack of grading aside, and bought it, which after tax + shipping came out to 81.55 Euro, or $96.04.

My ungraded BJK card purchase on eBay, Feb 2021

Rather than hold the card and eventually try to relist and “flip” raw, given the tiny number of graded versions and relatively modest grades achieved thus far (everything landing in the PSA 4-8 range; no perfect 10s or mint 9s, etc.), and also by examining the card I purchased physically and noting its condition seeming to be in the same ballpark, I decided to invest in the BJK a bit further by getting it graded and “slabbed”.

Tthere was one small problem—PSA, the top grading service in the space, was no longer accepting submissions for almost all cards (except for those on the high, high end, for huge fees).

One thing I did have going was that I was to be attending the National that July, the biggest card show of the year, with a couple collector friends of mine, where, as luck would have it, PSA would be setting up shop and accepting submissions they would then grade on site and have ready before the end of the show. The price tag was brutal—$250 fee per card—but I decided to take the chance, bring the card to Chicago, and submit on-site.

I figured even if the grade came out on the lower end, slabs of the card were so, so obscure that it was worth the grading cost (not to mention, the card itself only cost $96). I submitted the card along with three others I had been sitting on for a while.

psa charges
PSA on-site grading costs for the four card submission

So at this point I’m into the card for right around $350 inclusive of grading costs, and getting extremely impatient to receive the card back from PSA with enough time to possibly sell it while still at the National.

The morning of my final day at the show, I received the email alert that my grades were ready, and hustled over to the booth to pick them up. They handed over the submission, and I pulled out the BJK slab: it came back a PSA 4. A very solid outcome all things considered (sigh of relief).

psa Grade
PSA completed BJK grading order details (Source: PSA)

With no “comps” (comparisons to historical sales) to go off of, and feeling a bit on the optimistic side, I slapped a $2,000 price tag on the card and put it in my showcase at our booth at the National.

Then a long while passed with basically zero interest in the card; lots of folks were simply looking for modern cards of popular players and vintage baseball/basketball card “grails” as opposed to alternative rookies. The kind of buyer for my card I knew was a fairly specific one, with my shared passion and eye.

Eventually, I met that person. A fellow collector who buys and sells, who knew about the card and was thrilled to see a graded version of solid condition at the show. We talked shop for a good while, and eventually got to the matter of the sale of the card itself. Neither of us had benchmarks to draw from, but the buyer was reasonable, respected the scarcity of the card and recent grading, and after some back and forth on Instagram later that afternoon, we aligned on a sale price for the PSA 4: $1,000, done direct over PayPal, where, as the seller, I paid a 3% fee on the sale.

insta dm
Instagram DMs with the Buyer

He turned out to be a great dude! We’ve kept in touch until this day.

PayPal received! / Jon Morgenstern

With the PayPal cash received, I relinquished the card over to the buyer and shook his hand. The final accounting was as follows:

Card Sale Price: $1,000

Raw Card Cost: $96.04

Grading Cost: $250

PayPal Fee: $29.30

Total Card Investment: $375.34

Card Profit: $624.66

Card ROI: 166%

That is the story of my PSA 4 Billie Jean-King 1970 Panini Campioni Dello Sport #335 “Raw → Grade → Flip” Small 💰 Strategy success. Tune into Vol. 2 where I'll go through a similar execution involving the 1987 Chicago Bulls Entenmann’s 12 Card Set (yes the baked goods company!).

I hope you enjoyed the piece, learned a few tips + tricks, and most importantly, got inspired to try out some SBS ideas of your own!

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