Home Insights Breaker Thoughts How I figured out Sports Card Collecting | by John Lee

How I figured out Sports Card Collecting | by John Lee

When I started collecting sports cards in the 1990s I had to rely on getting out of my house to enjoy the hobby. This meant going out to local hobby shops, sports card shows and even going to the occasional variety store, which for the most part no longer have sports card for sale. I also did not have that much money being in my early 20s  so I had to rely on buying packs and every once in a long while I would save enough to purchase a box.

The beginnings

I recall that my first big pull was a Wayne Gretzky autograph card from a $10 pack of 1994 Upper Deck Be A Player and silly me traded that for a bunch of common autographs from the same set. I traded the Gretzky autograph because that is what I loved about collecting at this time. I got joy from amassing as many cards as I could and dealing with people face to face and seeing what other cards other collectors had. Carrying on, the first product that I spent a large amount of money on was packs of 2000 Pacific Private Stock Titanium Hockey. What intrigued me about this product was that you were guaranteed a game used card in every pack and these cards included patch and stick cards that looked very nice. I spent close to $1000 on these cards and sadly I no longer own any of them and currently they sell for mere pennies on the secondary market.

Throughout the early 2000s there were a couple of sports card shows a week and that is where I continued to express my passion in the hobby. These shows were usually at local malls here in Toronto and it was fun to meet fellow collectors and trade with them. I do not usually sell my cards and the only reason I would sell them would be to purchase a box that I wanted, but this has not happened in a couple of years.

Real job.

My passion for the hobby started to take off when I landed my first secure job which meant I was able to buy boxes of cards on a regular basis. I am the type of collector that likes to collect from all four major sports and the first year I splurged was 2006. This was the year when the likes of Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin and a host of other NHL superstars debuted in hockey card products. For football, I was attracted to the SP Authentic rookie auto patches and for basketball I was chasing Andrea Bargnani, who was the Toronto Raptors’ first ever first overall pick.

From 2005-2010 or so I was also active on sports card sites such as Beckett and Hobby Insider. I have over 200 trades on these sites, but I have not made an online deal in years and the main reason is because most of my cards are now stored in my personal collection. Unfortunately with eBay and Paypal costs + hassle, I find it much easier to deal with people in person. However, trading online is something I truly miss and if I could have one thing back in my hobby pursuits, it would be to be able to trade with fellow online collectors on a regular basis.

Hobby Shops

As the online presence of the hobby grew from 2010 to the present, the number of local hobby shops and sports card shows continued to dwindle and it has become to what it is now. There are still a couple of sports card shows that still take place in Toronto every month, but gone are the days of having 2-3 shows a week. Unfortunately, I have not been to a sports card show in a couple of years and the scene for me has pretty much dried out.

Toronto still has a couple of hobby shops that carry sports cards, but no longer are there stores that focus on sports cards entirely.

The nature of the business has dictated that hobby shops expand and that is why I have one main hobby store that I frequent and have been going there since 2005.


Being an adult now in my early 40s I have access to enough funds to enjoy the hobby, but my passion is a little different than it was earlier in my collecting days. When I started collecting cards my passion was towards forming a collection and then trading cards as often as I could. I did not have much focus to my personal collection other than the odd player and subset, but basically in my early days of collecting, I just wanted to meet people and flip what I had.

Currently, pretty much everything I manage to pull from my box breaks I keep for my personal collection and each card holds a different meaning of significance than the other. For example, this year my focus was on hockey and most of the wax I opened was in the hope I would pull a huge Toronto Maple Leafs card. Unfortunately, I have not been unable to so far but every rookie, game used card of a Leaf that I have been able to pull is forever stored in my personal collection and that means a huge deal to me.

In the past, I have also opened boxes in the hope of landing other Toronto cards such as last years Bowman Chrome I opened seven boxes in the hope of pulling a Vladimir Guererro Jr. rookie autograph and I failed miserably. My other PC team is the Los Angeles Rams and sadly I have not been able to pull much for that team either. Other than opening wax in the hopes of landing a PC card, I also like to open products with autograph patches and that exclude game used cards. In my opinion, game used cards are pretty much worthless and typically sell on the secondary market for less than $10 and just take up unnecessary space in my storage boxes.

My favorites

Favorite products of mine include Topps Finest Football, Select Football, Soccer and Basketball and of course Upper Deck’s stellar brand of hockey products which include SP Authentic and SPX. But, I believe one of the major issues of the hobby is how saturated the hobby is.  A lot of the products on the market are extremely similar and frankly there are too many products out there. Simply put, it would be a better hobby if certain products did not exist.

If I could have one hobby dream it would be to somehow blend the passion I had early in my collecting journey with the passion I have now. The online presence makes this difficult since it is so easy to buy into group breaks today and there really is no need to go outside of your home to trade or sell with fellow collectors. My local sports card store does have a trade night every first Tuesday of the month, but this has also been dying over the past few months and it is on life support. I have only missed a couple of these in the years that it has been taking place, but it rarely has the same people attending and it is a crap shoot to who shows up. I go to the trade night more to just hang out and talk about sports and collecting more than anything else and see people open wax, but this has not been happening much either in recent months.

Call me a rare breed, but my passion for the hobby comes from a place other than money and greed. I get joy from seeing new product being busted and just chilling and talking about players and other collections. I do not remember the last time I sold a card and there are only a couple of people that I would trade and sell with from the hobby community. That being said, my journey has reached a place where the people I have gotten to know and close to I can really consider them as my hobby brothers and people that I hope to be talking sports and sports cards about for the rest of my life.

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