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Ten Million

Posts: 7
Reply with quote  #1 
Hi all,

I wanted to put a question to the forum that occurs to me from time to time in collecting. Although we have at least a general, impressionistic sense of the relative rarity of some cards or sets to one another, how much of a handle do we have on absolute total populations of any of the cards that we collect?

I mean, just for example:

What if I asked, How many Ginter N2 Indian cards are there out there in the world in any condition? How could we know? It strikes me that just knowing population reports PSA/SCG is a very fraught method for counting, even if it does offer some insight.

What about something seemingly more rare, like one of the Buchner tobacco sets? Several of those cards have apparently never been graded (though we know there are still at least some extant. But how many?). I occasionally see Buchner N281 Scenes with Policemen come up for sale, albeit somewhat rarely. How many of each example in that set might exist in the world? What's a good estimate? What do we base that on?

These are just examples to illustrate the direction of the question, not meant to be the best examples of "rare" or "plentiful" sets on which to focus a response.

I know there are also the truly, truly rare cards (sets?) of which maybe only 1 or 2 exist in the world. That's interesting, too, but really I am really more interested in getting a sense of total population size of the kinds of cards we encounter on at least a semi-regular basis. I'm interested to hear how you all think about this.

Thanks, and apologies if this has been discussed to conclusion before.



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Posts: 75
Reply with quote  #2 
My two cents worth:

Determining rarity of vintage cards is an anecdotal method for the most part. I can tell you that over the course of my collecting years I have seen this particular card once and that one twice, which would indicate some level of rarity. However, I only have one perspective and someone else might be sitting there with six of that card in his or her collection, making it much less rare.

The trouble is, there is no central database or registry that formally keeps track of these things. There are some collectors who specialize in particular sets that likely have some numerical tracking of examples found in those sets but nothing I know of does that for the overall hobby.

There have been several times on this forum where a collector has asked for input to assess the distribution of a particular series and many collectors have responded. This gives a better picture but only covers the population held by those responders.

Many collectors, myself included, don't bother grading our cards, making the card grading registries incomplete. Breaking cards out of their holders & later having them graded again results in double-counts. Registries give a general idea, though, of relative scarcity.

Two big variables - what was printed & what was preserved. I know from my research that many of the T-series were printed in the thousands, if not millions, based on the number of packs of cigarettes the ATC was selling at the time (I have unfortunately found no documents that state actual print runs). As far as preserved cards, like baseball cards of my youth most vintage cards ended up in the trash. Consequently, there's absolutely no way of knowing what's left.

An additional complicator is the "batch" problem. I know of many tobacco card series where I have only seen one or two cards and then there is a whole batch of them that shows up at once (from the only person who actually liked smoking that brand & kept the cards...). This completely distorts the population and sense of rarity.

Finally, there's the churn that occurs when a collectors sells his collection. I have seen the same tobacco card or silk appear in at least three different auctions numerous times. It's very hard to do an absolute count when you have to keep sorting through all the double & triple sales of the same item.

So, as a round-about answer to "getting a sense of total population size of the kinds of cards we encounter on at least a semi-regular basis" I really don't think there's a way to do it very accurately. My sense is that there are probably two to ten times the quantities of cards out there in any given series than I've ever seen or known about. Some are squirreled away in a collection in Pennsylvania by a collector nobody has ever heard of, some are hoarded by a paper ephemera collector in New York who has no idea of their value and no interest in finding out, etc. Getting members of this forum to divulge their holdings is tough enough; getting others to provide information would be next to impossible.



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Defender & Offender
Posts: 101
Reply with quote  #3 
I won't try to improve on Bob's thoughtful response.  There are a few things in there I hadn't even considered.

My general rule is this: collectors almost always underestimate the number of cards of any given issue.  If the question on a scarce issue is "when will you see this again?", the standard answer should be "sooner than you think".  I've chased certain cards and sets for years.  When they finally appeared, it's almost inevitable that there were more to follow.

Here's another dictum which applies: the plural of 'anecdotes' is not 'data'.  Stories can convince us of things that aren't supported by numbers.

Bill Cornell
my hobby website: The Trader Speaks
Ten Million

Posts: 7
Reply with quote  #4 
Thoughtful responses, thank you!

plural of anecdotes is not data: very well said. I have always thought of "anecdotal evidence" as a small sample size, and you're absolutely right that the conclusions that anecdotes suggest to us, even when several of them share consistencies, often don't hold up when the fuller picture is revealed.

So yeah, who knows? And the assumed risk to paying for perceived rarity in this hobby is the "batch" problem that Bob brought up--on any given day, 1000 of anything in perfect condition could be taken out of a wall somewhere. Or not.

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