Last Updated On: September 25th, 2023
When you think of pawnshops, what comes to mind? Jewelry? Cash 4 Gold? Those guys from Las Vegas who keep priceless artifacts of American history on its walls (or disappoint money-hungry customers with the deflating news that an autograph is fake)?
But if you’re here, you’re probably wondering: Do pawnshops buy baseball cards? In many cases, the answer is yes. But no matter where you choose to sell – eBay, a platform like MySlabs, an auction powerhouse like Goldin, or a pawnshop – there are definitely caveats. In this post, we’re going to break down the intersection between pawn shops and trading cards, explaining what cards pawn shops are typically interested in and tips for getting the best price for a card at a pawn shop.
And by the way, if you need any reminding that pawn shops do indeed buy sports cards, check out this clip from those guys out in Vegas:
Let’s dive in!
Table of Contents
Role of Pawnshops
Believe it or not, pawnshops have been around since ancient times, with the Greeks and Romans commonly lending money to patrons in exchange for a signed gladiator’s jersey (kidding).
Pawnshops work like this: let’s say you’re in a pinch financially. You can bring something of value (say, a gold necklace) and put it up for collateral. The pawnbroker (the person who works for the pawnshop) will appraise the necklace’s value. Then, the pawnbroker will give you a loan based on the value of the necklace. You’ll leave the necklace at the shop and they’ll hold it until you pay back the loan (with interest). Generally, you’ll have a set amount of time to repay the loan, and failure to comply means you forfeit the necklace. In that case, the pawnshop will generally put the necklace up for sale.
But pawnshops will also buy items that they believe they can make money from. The show Pawn Stars is almost exclusively focused on this aspect of the business: a customer comes in with something valuable and sells it.
You might be surprised by some of the things pawn shops are willing to take in. While jewelry is the most common (hence all the “Cash 4 Gold” signs out front of many stores), power tools, musical instruments, and electronics are some of the most common items to pass through a pawnshop’s doors.
Add sports memorabilia to the list. Chances are, if you go into a pawnshop, you’ll see signed jerseys, helmets, or baseballs lining a wall. This helps us frame our “do pawnshops buy baseball cards” conversation. Rather than thinking of cards as an investment piece or singular hobby, think of them as a collectible.
After all, that’s technically how they started.
Baseball Cards as Collectibles
Before diving in, let’s start with a caveat: while this post uses the term “baseball card” regularly, the information here is generally good for any type of collectible card: basketball, football, hockey, Pokemon, Magic, etc. We’re engaging in a bit of genericide, but just go with us for now.
The first trading cards were actually “trade cards” – think of them as a 19th century business card. Other trade cards were thrown into cigarette packs and contained advertisements for the company, generally inserted as a way to stiffen up the otherwise fragile packs.
In the 1880s and 1890s, cigarette companies began printing pictures of events, animals, and nature on the trade cards. These largely appealed to kids, who gathered outside the cigarette stores asking customers for the trade cards.
The first “baseball cards” hardly resembled their modern equivalents. For starters, they weren’t the small rectangles we’re accustomed to. Rather, they were a photograph printed on paper and handed out to visiting spectators.
But by the turn of the century, cigarette companies began combining the popularity of their trade cards with baseball heroes and inserted baseball cards in its packs. This is when uber-popular series like the T206 (featuring the iconic Honus Wagner card) were produced.
In addition to cigarette companies, bubble gum producers got wise to the trade. Companies like Topps Chewing Gum and Bowman Gum (which should sound familiar for modern collectors) began inserting cards into its packs. The hobby has grown massive in the century since. What started out as a few kids gathering outside smoky cigarette shops is projected to grow into a $49 billion market by 2032.
The hobby has seen a massive boom over the last three years. For instance, the 27-highest selling sports card sales of all time have come since the start of 2020. That includes a 1952 Mickey Mantle that went for $12.6 million in 2022 (it was a Type 1, graded SGC 9.5 Mint+), becoming the most expensive baseball card of all time.
What factors culminate in a card earning a valuation in the millions of dollars? For starters, quality. The better quality of the card, the higher its value. Condition valuation companies like PSA and BGS are considered industry standards in identifying a card’s quality.
Of course, the person depicted on the card matters. Superstars, Hall of Famers, and giants of sport make for the most valuable cards. And without fail, rookie cards are the most valuable of the bunch. Additional features like autographs and jersey patches only add to the card’s value.
The reason for that last factor is because of the third most important factor in a card’s value: scarcity. Some cards are numbered, ensuring collectors that a card is indeed scarce. It’s simple economics: a card that is in demand with a limited supply translates into a higher price paid by market participants.
What Sports Cards do Pawn Shops Buy?
It’s a misconception that pawn shops only buy jewelry and gold. While those make up a significant chunk of a pawn shop’s dealings, sports equipment and memorabilia are also hot commodities.
Think about it – what reason would a pawn shop have to turn down a sports card? Especially with the hobby as hot as it’s been in some time, pawn shops are interested in sports cards for probably the same reason as you: it’s an investment.
But are there any secrets as to which cards specifically pawn shops are interested in? Not quite. The same rules apply to selling to pawn shops as any other service: you’ll want to keep in mind a variety of factors that would generate interest in a particular card (e.g. market trends, hot players, established vintage/legends like Michael Jordan, autos, also rising stars’ rookies like Edwards and future HOF rookies like KD, etc.).
In a similar vein, keep in mind that pawnshops aren’t going to be interested in cards with little to no value, like those from the junk wax era.
But there is a big difference between selling on a platform like eBay versus a pawnshop. Unless the pawnbroker is looking to purchase a card for their own personal collection, chances are they are looking to exclusively flip the card.
This chances the calculation quite a bit, so you’ll want to be prepared with a few tips and strategies.
Tips for Selling Baseball Cards at Pawnshops
Going into a store to make a sale can be nerve-wracking. Unfortunately, pawnbrokers can smell fear from a mile away. Here are a few tips to keep you cool during the process:
How Condition and Grading can Influence Price
The old advice holds up here: the better condition of your card, the more value it has. By extension, that means the possibility of more money in your pocket.
Keep this in mind too: even if a card is in rough shape, presentation is everything. Here’s what the Pawnbroker Network has to say about the importance of a card’s presentation:
“It’s important for your items to look presentable, clean, and nice before you take them to a pawnshop for quick cash or loan. You should clean your collectibles, taking care not to damage them. Make sure there is no debris and fingerprints on the covers of encased items. Stained, dusty, and dirty items don’t leave a good impression.”
If you can, get your card graded, especially if it’s rare and/or in good visual shape. A grade from a service like PSA or BGS is another tool in your negotiation arsenal when you take the card to the pawnshop. For alternative grading options, check out our guide to card graders.
Additionally, PSA and BGS offer autograph authentication services for cards. This isn’t quite so important in recent times, as many cards come with authenticity guarantees on the backs of cards. But if your card is signed and has no guarantee on its back, you’ll want some sort of verification for the pawnshop.
Finally, do your homework. Take advantage of services like eBay and CardLadder to get a general idea of your card’s value.
Negotiation and Multiple Offers
That said, don’t go into the negotiation expecting to get the CardLadder’s value for your card. That’s because the pawnshop isn’t interested in adding the card at top dollar for their collection; they’re looking to make a profit on the card.
But here’s the flip side to selling on eBay – multiple offers. By taking your card to multiple brick-and-mortar shops to get an offer, you get to see the entire field before making a deal. The same could work on eBay, as well, with its “buy now with offers” option that allows customers to make an offer on a card lower than its sale price. Use these online offers the same way you would as in-person ones; shop around, be patient, and don’t be afraid to get multiple offers in hand before making a decision. Bottom line: whether you’re selling online or in a store, don’t take the first offer that comes your way.
Without a “buy now with offer” option on eBay, though, you have to roll the dice with an auction or offer without the chance to see if anything better comes through.
Don’t be lowballed, either. Set your sights on a realistic price that both sides will be happy with. This also helps you develop a relationship with the pawnbroker; a good experience out of the gate might mean better prices down the road.
How to Find a Pawnshop to Sell your Cards
Long gone are the days of pulling out the Yellow Pages to find the address of your local card-buying pawnshop. Hop onto Google and search “sell baseball cards near me.” This will yield many local options, including baseball card shops that specialize in buying and selling sports cards. You may want to add “pawnshop” to that search, to really narrow the results to pawnshops particularly.
Sites like Yelp can be your best friend — it has a list of spots sorted by location and filterable by rating. Don’t hesitate to call several of the pawnshops you plan to visit before you go in either.
Lastly, check out PawnBat for a directory listing of thousands of pawnshops organized by state and city.
Alternatives to Pawnshops for Selling Baseball Cards
Classic websites like eBay, or the upstart platform MySlabs, are still excellent alternatives when it comes to selling baseball cards. In addition, higher-end auction platforms like Goldin and PWCC make for great choices, especially for expensive cards.
While the upside is certainly there (a wide audience, ease of use), the downside with these sites include sellers fees, as well as additional expenses for taxes and shipping. Additionally, an in-person experience likely means cash then and there, while it can take several weeks to get paid through online platforms.
If you’re still hoping for that brick-and-mortar experience, there are 21st-century equivalents of those cigarette stores that kids used to hang outside of to get trade cards: baseball card stores. Most medium-to large cities will have at least one of these, which might also double as a sports, comic book, and pop-culture memorabilia shop.
There’s one upside to the in-person sale we haven’t mentioned yet: the community aspect. This hobby started out as a collection of kids coming together to get their hands on a cool (albeit tobacco-soaked) product. The anonymity of being online has put something of a ceiling on the community, and sharing a bonding experience with another human over a shared interest is tough to beat.
To that end, check out our guide about dealing with individual collectors (which might also save you thousands of dollars every year).
Conclusion – Do Pawnshops Buy Baseball Cards
Do pawnshops buy baseball cards? The answer is yes. But as with any sale on any platform, there are certainly caveats. The biggest caveat is likely that the pawnshop is buying your card with the express purpose of reselling it, which might change the way you negotiate and which cards you bring in. Research the value of your cards, be prepared to negotiate, and definitely obtain multiple offers to get the best price from your local pawnshop.
On that note – if you have any questions about a card’s value or are unsure of what you have, drop us a comment below! We’d love to help out.