A Guide To Price Guides !
By Kurt Kuersteiner ©2008 Monsterwax Monster Trading Cards for The Wrapper Magazine
Price Guides. There's plenty to love and hate about them. In the hate department, they tend to increase the amount of money we have to spend, because everyone who reads them suddenly expects the latest, greatest price. They make finding bargains almost impossible! Guides can also be very expensive to buy, since they are specialty items and have a limited audience. So they can hit your wallet twice! In the love category, guides can help protect us from crooked dealers. They also introduce us to many sets we were unaware of. It's almost like visiting a trade show where at least one card from every set is on display, along with a short written history about each series. Unlike the shows, the cards displayed are usually not in color nor are they for sale.
My price guide collection is much more complete than my card collection. That's not saying much, because both collections are far from finished! But it does indicate how much I value price guides when it comes to collecting. It's one of the smarter decisions I made early on. After all, if you're ignorant about something, the best place to learn more about it is from the experts. In our hobby, that would be the dealers, and we're fortunate that they shared their expertise with the authors and readers.
Price guide prices usually become obsolete a few years after publication. However, the other information tends to remain accurate and helpful well beyond that time. Guides are an important repository of collector knowledge and experience. If it weren't for price guides, we would rely on rumors, hype, and living memory to keep our hobby history straight. In other words, it would be chaos!
Les Davis wrote about the older price guides in Wrapper #223. I'd like to cover the more recent ones here.
The first couple worth mentioning overlap with Les' article, but no price guide library is complete without them. They are the Sport Americana Price Guides to Non-Sports Cards by Christopher Benjamin and Dennis W. Eckes. They were hefty 6" x 9" books stuffed with photos, information, and checklists. My two favorites are the tan colored 1991 edition covering cards from 1930-1960, and the red colored #4 edition from 1992, which covers cards from 1961 to 1991. There were several other editions published as well, but these two give the greatest space to the most commonly collected cards. (Other editions combined various eras and included tobacco cards and bakery cards as well!)
Benjamin went solo for the #4 red edition, and since it covered the sets of my youth (1960s and up), I went through every page looking for new and different series that I wanted to collect. My edition is riddled with notes and check marks along the many checklists. I always hauled it with me to every show until I realized the 720 page tome made my backpack so heavy, that it actually hurt to lug it around! (Bending over all those display cases for hours on end like a hunchback didn't help matters either. Where's a personal injury lawyer when you need one?) Yet despite the premature onset of Osteoporosis, I still use and enjoy this book immensely. I only wish I could still buy stuff at those 1991 prices!
The American Tobacco Cards Price Guide & Checklist was produced in 1999 by Robert Forbes & Terence Mitchell. The 8.5" x 10.75" coffee table sized book has 464 pages of entries. If you're a 19 th or 20 th century tobacco card collector, this book is very worthwhile and popular among readers. There are photos and editorial provided for each set.
The (New) World Tobacco Issues Index (commonly called the "World Index"), was a newer update of the original 5 volume set issued by the Cartophilic Society of Great Britain. It was released at the end of 2000 and was updated and expanded to include all tobacco issues (and silks) from around the world. Many consider it the most complete listing of international tobacco cards. It is offered as a two volume set, hard bound with gold lettering on the spine. Each book is about 350 pages, and includes approximately 20 illustrations (limited to those necessary to help collectors distinguish between similar groups of cards). It has over 600 pages packed with information on the card issues of all the tobacco companies.
2002 brought the release of the Gum Guide by Paul Hart of England. The 127 page guide measures 5.75" x 8.25" and boasts listings of "over 4,000 sets from film/TV and cartoons from 1960 - 2002". It included 100 color photos in an eight page insert. The rest of the listings had no photos or editorial, but was laid out more like a spreadsheet indexing the set name, company, card size and number in the set, the date of issue, and the price (in both US dollars and UK pounds). This guide is especially useful in finding foreign sets of interest, as it included both US, UK, Australia and Europe. There are even many food issues listed. A second edition was also published in 2004, and it lists over 5,000 sets, adding promos and chase cards to the mix. Paul intends a future edition as well.
In 2005, another British author released a price guide, but with a twist: it was a "yearbook" devoted only to sets released in 2004. It was the Cardzine yearbook 2005 , and it described itself as " a 162 page reference fanzine detailing the entertainment trading card, album sticker and trump card releases of the past year. Inside you'll find comprehensive information on over 150 sets issued in 2004." The spiral bound book measures 6" x 8.25" and is categorized by the company name, not the card title. It includes sample images and detailed information on each series released by the manufacturer for that year. Unfortunately, I'm unaware of any follow up series.
The NSA Non-Sport's Archive "Visual Archive- Identification Reference- Price Guide" to Wax Pack Wrappers was published in 2005 by Adam R. Tucker (in collaboration with Marc T. Simon). This is a beautiful hardback book measuring 8.75" x 11.25" and is filled with (mostly 1.5" x 2") color photos of wax packs from the 1940s through the 1990s (with some earlier packs and some more modern ones, too). The cover says there are 1,840 color images within its 250 pages. As might be expected, there are many omissions (especially from the 1930s and 1940s) but it is amazing they were able to photograph as many as they did. There are even a few foil wrappers (like the 2005 GPK series) but otherwise, it's all wax. There are also about 150 foreign issues included, and 25 pages of spread sheet-like graphs that layout the series title, date of issue, company, genre, wax pack type, and value. This used to be a very pricey book at $100 a pop and only 500 were made. It is cheaper today, however, and is a lot of fun to browse through and reminisce.
Non-Sport Update magazine produced The Encyclopedia of Non-Sport & Entertainment Trading Cards in 2007. The 528 page guide was compiled by Todd Jordan and measures 6.25" x 9". It's called Volume 1 and lists all known US sets from 1985 to 2007. It not only includes promo and chase card listings, and a sample photo from each series, but all the images are in color! This is a "must have" for modern card collectors.
The latest and biggest price guide would be Chris Watson's Non-Sports Bible. Measuring a mammoth 8.5" x 11.25" and is 2.25" thick! The black hardbound book certainly resembles a Bible and has 968 pages chronicling over 2,500 US sets from 1920 through 1985. My scales say this weighs 115 ounces. That's over 7 pounds! Although I won't be hauling this to any card shows, I certainly enjoy reading it at home. It benefited from the input of many collectors from the Network 54 vintage card forum. Watson managed to finish it despite a busy medical job and long, unplanned delays. There are a few blank images for samples yet to be found, but if there is ever another edition, we can expect those to be filled. This is the most expensive of guides though, retailing for over $100. Only 500 numbered copies were made.
And let's not forget the card catalogs put out every year by the London Cigarette Card Company. Unlike other price guides, these catalogs list prices that the cards can actually be purchased for directly from the publisher. The 5.75" x 8.25" catalogs are over 150 pages and include six or so pages of color samples of various cards. The rest of the listings do not have photos or any editorial. They just list the set name, size, date, and price. The entries are listed in order of manufacturer. There's a trade card catalog and a cigarette card (and silk) catalog. Both include US and non-US manufacturers, but they focus mostly on British issues. It's impressive to think this one small shop has so many cards, and they even sell singles. They claim they have about 70 million cards in stock! They also get credit for publishing the first card collecting magazine (Card Collectors News) which has been in publication since 1933. Both catalogs are quite helpful for learning about foreign sets, although I wish the sets were listed by title rather than manufacturer. If you don't know the company that made the set you want, you may have to read the entire book to locate the title!
Of course, we should also mention the bi-monthly price guide included free in every issue of Non-Sport Update magazine. Although space limitations do not allow photos or editorial, it does include promo and chase card entries. It is updated the most since new issues come out every sixty days. It weighs the least, and can even be detached from the rest of the magazine... so it's the logical choice to take to the shows.
Those are the more recent non-sports guides I know of, but I bet there are others still waiting to make my acquaintance. If you know of any other good ones, contact me. Good luck, and happy hunting!
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EXTRA! EXTRA-- Here's a new one out of the blue by Todd Frye, called The Vintage Trading Card Price Guide. It's a 9 x 6" book, with 320 black and white photos, 271 pages total. Retail price $25. It's dated 2013 but covers cards from 1960 to 1985 (which is before all the chase cards started.)
I enjoyed this book because it has a lot of editorial, the one thing that does NOT quickly become outdated with price fluctuations. The only shortcomings are that the resolution and contrast of the photos is somewhat poor, and only the front of a sample card is provided. Showing a sample of the back is pretty useful, since the backs of most early series are uniform throughout the set, and its very handy for identifying unknown cards, especially when there are no checklist provided (which this guide excludes as well.) Another short coming (IMHO) is that some widely discussed rumors are reported as actual fact, including the theory that the 1967 Star Trek series was produced before a license was obtained by Leaf, and when they failed to get the license, they had to stop selling the cards. Sadly, we don't really know why that series was pulled from the market, although the missing license story is a popular theory-- but there is no source or proof of that theory. Likewise, the belief that the blue samples of Horror Monster cards were test cards is also stated as fact, and again, we don't really know what they are or even who produced them. I have my own theory and I feel very strongly about it, but I still have to admit it's only a theory and that's an important distinction. All that aside, I always enjoy reading what other collectors think about cards and this book provides a lot of that. There is also a good deal of information about various test sets, which is often overlooked in other price guides or not discussed in much depth.
Links and Contact Info to Find and/or Purchase various Price Guides:
Sport Americana Price Guide to Non-sports Cards:
The American Tobacco Cards Price Guide & Checklist:
The Gum Guide by Paul Hart:
The Cardzine 2005 Yearbook by Christopher Read:
The Encyclopedia of Non-Sport & Entertainment Trading Cards:
The Non-Sports Bible: You can call the author, Chris Watson, after dinner at (267) 468-0865.
The NSA Non-Sport's Archive to Wax Pack Wrappers: http://www.scottsdalecards.com
The London Cigarette Card Company trade card and cigarette card catalogs:
Non-Sport Update Magazine (w/ price guide supplement): http://www.nonsportupdate.com/ordering.htm
The Vintage Trading Card Price Guide (From 1960 to 1985) $24.95: http://www.nsu-magazine.com/the-vintage-trading-card-price-guide/
Also available on Kindle for $7.95 at: http://www.amazon.com/Vintage-Trading-Card-Price-Guide-ebook/dp/B00DGDFPIU
And not mentioned in the article (because it's not a book) but a free on-line price guide for Monster cards (complete with many images) is Monstercards.org at: http://www.monstercards.org
OTHER PRICE GUIDES
(Here's a note about another price guide of interest to readers! )
I have just received (in Britain) my copy of the Wrapper and noticed your article about recent price guides.
I see that you mention the New World Tobacco Issues Index, of which I was the editor; you will of course appreciate that this is not a price guide, since it is meant to stand for posterity, and the Cartophilic Society never becomes involved with pricing. You may not be aware that they have in fact published in the last ten years a number of volumes on different themes, and these are all shown on their website – csgb.co.uk.
Might I also point out to you that you have omitted the leading price guide in Britain and elsewhere. That is “Cigarette Card Values”, which is published annually by my Company, Murray Cards (International Ltd.). Unlike the L. C. C. C. work, it lists all types of cards within one cover. The current volume (1908 of course) lists over 12,000 different series, including most U. S. and Canadian tobacco issues, and sell for £12.50 (about $25) including first class air mail postage. Our catalogue does have by far the largest sales of any card catalogue, and is used in Britain, Australia, etc. as the main reference guide by most dealers and auction houses.
You may care to browse through our extensive website, murraycards.com, which even includes an online version of the catalogue, with an extensive search facility – by subject if you wish.
I knew in advance I was bound to leave out someone, and I guess you were it! I'll add your letter to our web edition of the article so people can find out more about those other editions. Thanks for letting me know!
The Non-Sports Trading Card Article Index