Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Calbee Cards on Ebay: 1975-76 Calbee Sadaharu Oh

Every once in a while I go on Ebay to see what Calbee cards are listed, mainly just out of curiosity since the prices are usually more than what I can get cards for here in Japan.

Everytime I do, the above card of Sadaharu Oh is usually near the top of the list that Ebay displays and has been for years.  The current asking price is $280 US, which is on sale from its usual price of $350.  The seller has 100% feedback and seems to have been an Ebay seller for a very long time with a lot of satisfied customers.  But there are a few things that kind of bother me about this listing.

For starters, this isn`t a particularly rare card.  The listing prominently notes that it has a PSA population of only 2, but that statistic is meaningless since almost nobody ever gets Japanese cards graded (there are only a handful of Calbees from the 1970s even listed on the PSA registry).  I have a copy of the exact same card in roughly the same condition which I think I paid  about 400 Yen ($4) for a few years ago, which I think is close to the market price.  While the 1975-76 Calbee set is a bit hard to find cards for, the pink bordered series which this Oh card belongs to isn`t one of the short printed ones and can be tracked down without too much difficulty.  Even giving a bit of leeway for the fact that I may have gotten a good deal on mine and that this copy is graded, offered by an Ebay seller who needs to pay fees and had to import it from Japan I don`t see how this gets to be anywhere near a $280 card.

There seems to be an interesting disconnect in baseball card hobby logic that might be at work here.  In the US the most valuable cards from any vintage set from the 1970s are always the big name hall of famers, particularly if it is a rookie card.  In Japan though there is this odd thing which I think actually makes the cards of hall of famers worth less than those of common players (at least sometimes).  Since Calbee in the 1970s was in the habit of stuffing each set with multiple cards of star players like Oh (and Harimoto, Nagashima (manager), Kinugasa, Yamamoto, etc) its actually way easier to get a card of Oh than it is for some journeyman middle infielder who played for a less popular team in the Pacific League, who might have only had one card issued in his entire career.  So demand for that one guy`s card might actually be more than it is for some random Oh card from the same set.  With the exception of short printed cards of common players, I don`t think this same dynamic ever really existed in the US, so taking a fairly common card of Oh and asking a ton of money for it kind of makes sense by US vintage collecting logic, but not by Japanese vintage collecting logic.

Anyway, I`m not accusing the seller of doing anything wrong here, though I do think the card is overpriced.  My point is more just that I think it provides an interesting example of how applying the logic of the American card market (placing importance on PSA population reports and big name stars) produces strange results when applied to Japanese cards.

And one more thing I want to mention about this card: PSA lists it as a 1975 Calbee, but the pink border cards in this set were actually released in 1976.  As I`ve mentioned before, PSA doesn`t seem to know much about Japanese baseball cards. 


  1. I also think the power of the PSA set registry is at play here too. Someone trying to capitalize on grading and having the best set. It's interesting that PSA got the date wrong, I thought that they would have a copy of Engel's book handy. While collecting sumo cards, I've noticed similar trends. It's harder to find the obscure wrestlers and Yokozuna cards are fairly common. Great blog!

    1. Yeah that is a good point, I guess the PSA population reports are important for those top end collectors who are trying to get the best set in the registry and thus being able to say you have the highest PSA card or near to it allows a seller to command a much higher price (even if the reason for that low population is just that not many cards have been submitted).

      Interestingly nobody seems to be working on a PSA registry set of vintage Calbees, most of them don`t have any graded examples.

      Hmmmmmm....that means if I submitted most of my collection I would instantly have a bunch of PSA pop 1 of 1 cards.....which I could go on Ebay and charge ridiculous prices for.....I like this idea.... :)

      About the date on this card, just looking around on google I noticed that some of the PSA cards for the pink bordered ones say 1975 (like this one) while others say 1976. I guess its possible that at some point somebody pointed out the mistake and they started issuing them with the corrected date, so I should give them credit for that.

    2. yeah, I thought more of the Calbees would be graded. The older Japanese cards are ripe for someone to come in and start building registry sets...especially since the mainstream older American sets are getting harder and harder to build in top condition. Collectors inherently want to be #1 at something.

    3. Yeah, it is kind of interesting that so few have been graded, Japanese collectors certainly haven`t taken to it.

      Actually this reminds me of NPB Guy`s 1973 Calbee Shigeo Nagashima card that he busted out of its PSA holder. There were only 5 of them graded (as I see you pointed out in a comment on his post), so by doing that he actually reduced the population by 20% (representing 100% of the graded copies in VG condition)!