Collecting cards is back in a big way. How can you tell? Some cards are selling for millions of dollars, and people are fighting over them in stores.
Indeed, the resurgence of card collecting is big business and a local company is a substantial part of the process.
Certified Collectibles Group, a company based in Lakewood Ranch, provides “third-party authentication, grading and encapsulation services for coins, tokens, medals, paper money, comic books, trading cards, sports cards, magazines, concert posters, stamps and estate items,” according to its website. “Since 1987, the CCG companies have certified more than 60 million collectibles with a combined fair market value of more than $30 billion.”
CCG began grading non-sports cards in July 2020, according to Max Spiegel, the company’s president, and then expanded its footprint by adding a sports cards service in February 2021.
Certified Collectibles Group is one of four major companies that grade cards in the country, and are widely considered the most reliable.
Baseball, basketball, football and soccer cards have exploded since about 2017, according to Andy Broome, who is the company’s top grader. Pokemon and Magic: The Gathering cards are wildly popular too.
There are essentially three reasons for the boom. Celebrities with large social media followings have been flaunting their collections online, thus raising the profile; the ESPN documentary on Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls impacted card collecting; and the pandemic.
People returned to collecting cards during the pandemic, as they had more time to be at home and spend with old collections.
“The collectibles market was growing but the pandemic put fuel on the fire,” Spiegel said. “It really blew up and became this incredible phenomenon.”
When the pandemic first hit, Certified Collectibles Group employed 270 people. That amount has since doubled, according to Spiegel.
In fact, the company was offering $2,500 sign-on bonuses over the summer to attract prospective employees to a company that also has offices in Hong Kong, Shanghai, London and Munich and reportedly has around $100 million in overall revenue.
It is now looking at expanding into the certification of video games.
CCG moved to Lakewood Ranch in 2001, and then relocated to the nearby building it currently occupies, one that consists of 110,000 square feet.
In the card grading division of the company, there are 27 graders. Generally, they need to have 3-5 years of experience handling cards before the company will train them to grade, said Broome, whose title is “Senior Finalizer.”
Experts examine cards with a loupe, as if they are jewelry, using different magnifications and under different lights.
The cards are graded on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being pristine condition. Perfect cards with a 10 rating are less than one percent, Broome said.
Broome has been grading cards for 22 years, and is so good he can sometimes detect tobacco on pre-war baseball cards and sugar from gum on the post-war cards.
A card’s condition is obviously a major factor when it comes to ratings, but they also look for signs of counterfeit cards. Broome can actually tell if something is off just by holding one in his hand. He can sometimes gauge by weight. Counterfeits are more common than ever, he said, as it can be done with computers.
“We’re constantly battling new technology,” Broome said.
A 1986-87 Michael Jordan Fleer rookie card is one of the most sought-after, Broome said, and can be worth as much as $50,000. It is also one of the most counterfeited.
Broome graded a LeBron James rookie card in Lakewood Ranch to be 9.5, which is considered “gem mint.”
That card then sold on EBay for $98,000.
To give you an idea of how crazy the market has become overall, a Mike Trout autographed rookie baseball card sold for $3.9 million and a Tom Brady autographed rookie football card sold online for $3.1 million.
And because a fight broke out in the parking lot of a Wisconsin Target store over trading cards, the company was forced to pull them from the shelves.
“Some prices are so ridiculous there has been talk of market manipulation,” Broome said.
Sports cards are cards not the only expensive items the company has graded.
Since 2000, the company has graded a rare Pokemon card that sold for $360,000 online, a comic book that sold for $3.25 million and a gold coin that fetched $9 million.
That particular coin was a 1787 Brasher, named after Ephraim Brasher, who used to live next door to George Washington in New York City. He was the first person in the country to issue private gold coins.
Spiegel held the coin in his hand.
“To hold something like that is mind-boggling,” he said.
As for trading cards and sports cards, people mostly mail them to the company to be graded. Rarely are they delivered in person.
The company, according to Broome, will grade over a million cards this year. Many will not be worth much, essentially “junk” cards, but for some reason people send them anyway.
“People always send in cards they think will be worth money and oftentimes they are not,” Spiegel said.
Cost to customers varies. It is based on the number of cards to grade and the expediency of the return the customer wishes.
A customer’s name is never revealed to the grader, so the grade is based on the card and not the person who owns it.
On-site, it looks like Fort Knox, Speigel said. Cards are kept in walk-in vaults, and cameras are everywhere. A security guard is on duty around the clock too.
“No one has ever tried to get in,” Broome said. “But we are ready if they do.”
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This article originally appeared on Sarasota Herald-Tribune: Lakewood Ranch's CCG was ready for the explosion of collectibles