When collectors think of published pricing guides, they think of Beckett magazine. It's the magazine that many sports card shops around the country carry on their shelves. Beckett has been around for a very long time, and has established itself as 'THE' pricing guide. I remember as a teenager eagerly awaiting the newest Beckett to see which cards made the hot list and which cards got an up or down arrow. I memorized prices and really thought of Beckett as the Bible of sports cards. In those years, with no eBay or widespread information through the internet, Beckett and their crack team of researchers were entrusted to accurately price cards. At card shows and card shops, dealers would sell at Beckett prices or use them as a baseline value. If a card was valued at $12 in the Beckett, that's how much I expected to pay for it if I went to the card shop for it. At a show, I might expect to bargain off that price. Beckett worked out great back then, but things have gradually changed over the years. Beckett continues on as it always has (more or less... probably less though due to cut-backs etc.) with its way of pricing cards, but less and less people are utilizing the Beckett prices to buy and sell cards.
Many collectors have started to simply search on eBay for card values. I think eBay is a great way to get an idea on pricing because it shows the price cards actually went for. eBay tends to work best when there are a few of the same card available at the same time. For example, just yesterday I was searching for a Bobby Orr on-card Goodwin Champions autographed card. In the end, I decided not to go for the card, but all three cards ended at auction at around the $45 dollar mark (before shipping). I would value that Bobby Orr at $45, give or take. Now, to me, that price seems a bit low for an on-card autograph of the great Bobby Orr. But if that's the top price people are willing to pay... then how could it be more?
Well, in actuality, the Orr could be more. Now that all three of those Orrs have sold, there may not be any more of them at auction, thus leaving the Goodwin Orrs autos still available at higher prices or Best Offers. Perhaps at a later date someone could sell a Goodwin Orr auto for $60 Who knows? It could happen; in fact, this kind of stuff happens all the time. Did the price just go up then? Should there be an 'up arrow' associated with that particular Orr card?
What I'm getting at is, eBay is a pretty good place to get an idea of how much cards are worth. They are not values that are set in stone though. Funny things can happen on eBay. Bidding wars can over-inflate prices, shill bidding could as well, and sellers with low Buy it Now prices could underprice their cards. When using eBay as a guide, you just have to be mindful of these things, but I still think it's a great place to get an idea of card pricing.
After looking at a lot of price guides and even doing many eBay searches, I have found that the pricing of cards can at least be estimated as to what a good, fair, or bad deal is in one's own mind. If we're talking money, most unnumbered jersey cards would only hold a value between $.99 and $10 at the most. Wayne Gretzky, Sidney Crosby, Mike Smith, Martin Havlat... the difference in price is just not a heck of a lot.
With autographed cards, the story is a bit different. In general, autographed cards hold a higher hobby appreciation than do game-worn memorabilia pieces. Collectors love ink. That's not to say really nasty and amazing patches aren't better, they very well could be, but in general, if a card has an autograph, it's probably going to have a better value than a piece of memorabilia would. This is especially true the bigger superstar you are. Crosby, Orr, Gretzky, Howe... those autographs command a lot of attention. You can pick up game-used pieces without the autograph of those same players for much less.
And for some very rare cards... like one-of-ones, the market is a strange animal. I mean, when someone pulls a one-of-one card, they feel like they have won the lottery. But I have to tell you that many mid to mid-high range star one-of-one cards don't actually reach astronomical sale values. For my own PC of Logan Couture, many of the one-of-one cards I have picked up have been under $50. For a hardcore PC collector, and depending on the player, I think a good number to work above or below for a one-of-one would be $100. If you're absolutely nuts about your PC guy, that number might be a good one. But depending on the player, that number is actually pretty high. And of course, with big named superstars, the price would be adjusted up accordingly. But we're talking low hundreds for the majority of cards... not thousands.... not even close that scale! (Though some collectors really wish it were.)
So, back to how you can value cards... In short, it's not an exact science like we all wish it could be. The more you buy, sell, and trade, the better sense of what a value of a card should be. For myself, I tend to always think of the lowest price in terms of card buying and selling because I always think of how much I would be willing to pay for cards. It's tough when collectors out there think their cards have more value than you think they are worth. Dealing with those people might make a good future Cardboard Commentary!
Anyways, let me know how you determine how much your cards are worth in the comments below. Are you an avid Beckett user? Do you go with eBay prices? I'd love to find out from you!