Thursday, August 1, 2019

Which is the Most Valuable Card from the Monster?

 Behold!  Hiroshima Municipal Stadium at Night, as depicted on card #157 from the Monster 1975-76-77 Calbee set!

I just picked this up and am quite excited about it because the card has a very dubious claim to being the most valuable from the set, and thus the key card to my years long quest to finish this 1472 card monster.

Why is the card's claim dubious?  Lets review the merits of the case.

Basically the claim lies with its value in my copy of SCM from 2010 (admittedly out of date but its the most recent I have).  It lists this card, which was from one of the two rare Hiroshima regionally issued series in the set, at 15,000 Yen. That puts it in a tie with the Senichi Hoshino cards from the Nagoya regionally issued series, also rare.  So perhaps its better to describe its claim as being tied for first place rather than solely occupying the position.

But the tie isn't what makes its claim dubious.  Engel lists it at $150, about the same as SCM, but it lists several other cards at $200 which is obviously higher.  The cards Engel lists are mostly those of foreign players (like Richie Schienblum's card #155 from the same series) or big stars (like Sachio Kinugasa's card in the same series).  So according to Engel, this is one of the higher priced cards, but not #1 in the set.

But even that isn't what makes the claim dubious.  I like the Engel guide and admire the work that went into it, but the prices for Calbee cards from the 1970s listed in it are completely out of whack with what the market for these cards is.  No way is the Schienblum card worth more than this one, at auction this one will easily fetch 2-3 times more than Scheinblum (or even Kinugasa), which is considered a common in the series (worth a lot by virtue of being in the rare series, but not the key card in the series).  So I prefer SCM to Engel on that point. reality neither of these is right.  The real most valuable card is, ironically, a different card featuring Hiroshima Municipal Stadium that has a photo almost identical to this one.  It is card #630 in the set, from the other rare Hiroshima regional issue (the "Red Helmet" series).

You wouldn't know this by looking at either guide.  Engel lists #630 at just $40, while my old SCM lists it at just 5,000 Yen, so both seem to agree that it is worth just about 1/3 of what #157 is.  But both are way wrong on that point.

Having followed Yahoo Auctions sale prices on the big cards in this set for a few years now, the big trend I've noticed is that the Red Helmet series that card #630 is in  is considered by far the most valuable of the entire set (which is comprised of 40 series).  Cards from it almost never sell for less than 3,000-5,000 Yen each, compared to cards in the other Hiroshima regional series which #157 is in, which usually sell in 1,000-2,000 range.  This is the reverse of SCM and Engel, which price the Red Helmet series much lower.

I'm not sure why the market is working like this, just looking at availability there usually are about the same number of cards from both Hiroshima series available (which is to say not many of either, I don't think one is noticeably rarer than the other), but the Red Helmet ones are definitely hotter and sell for higher prices. This is reflected in my own collection, I've been having more difficulty and am paying more money for the cards in the Red Helmet series than for any other.

So whatever the reason, the Red Helmet series are definitely now the most valuable series in the entire set, and #630 is considered the key card from that series, which likely makes it the key card of the entire set.  I'm still looking for it and expect it will be the card I have to shell out the most for in the entire set.

 But anyway, back to the card I actually do have.  While #157 isn't the key card to the set, it is the key card to what is probably the second hardest to complete series in the set, which means it still has a place in the pantheon of major cards in the set.
Its a bit of an odd one, it is dedicated not to the game depicted on it but rather to the general topic of stadium manners.  The back says:

Baseball Stadium Manners

When Rooting for you team, throwing objects or jumping down onto the field of play is not right.  Even when a player from an opposing team makes a fine play we should all clap.

I'm not sure that Japanese fans need to be admonished like this given that their stadium etiquette is legendary around the world, but there you have it.  Come to think of it, perhaps their etiquette is so legendary because they get reminded to be polite so often that they even dedicate baseball cards to it.  So maybe all those nicely-tidied-up-after-the-game-in-which-a-Japanese-team-played World Cup and Olympic Stadiums over the years have this card to thank for that.  

I got a pretty decent bargain on this, I only paid about $20 with shipping for it.  The cheap price is explained by the back, which has a little pen mark if you look closely.  Otherwise it probably would have sold for quite a bit more.  

This also demonstrates why the 1975-76-77 set is do-able despite its size.  You will never find the key cards from the other Calbee sets from the 1970s for $20 no matter how hard you look.  The key cards from those sets will run you into the hundreds or thousands of dollars even in lower grade condition.  But the 75-76-77 set are still kind of obtainable!


  1. > I like the Engel guide and admire the work that went into it, but the prices for Calbee cards from the 1970s listed in it are completely out of whack with what the market for these cards is.

    No disrespect to Gary Engel intended but I have absolutely no idea how he comes up with the prices he lists in his guides. Although I do get a warm fuzzy feeling when I score something he says is worth $100 for $5!

    1. Yeah, I get the feel that Engel listed prices for what he thought they should sell phone rather than on a lot of data.

    2. Yup. With the older Calbees his prices are way off most of the time (usually over priced but sometimes underpriced too). I am guessing he relied quite a bit on SCM, since the relative prices of a lot of the cards are about the same, including some of the ones that SCM gets wrong (like the difference between card #157 and 630 which I mentioned in the post). He seems to add a few percent across the board to all cards, then adds really big premiums to big name hall of famers like Sadaharu Oh and to foreign players regardless of their stature. There is a Sadaharu Oh series in the 75-76-77 set for example and he lists every card in it at 65$. SCM lists them for 1000 Yen each (about 8$), and if you are patient you can usually get them for 3-5$ each. That is just one example but there are a ton more....

  2. Hopefully Engel and SCM read this post... so they can update their price guides. That's the thing about price guides... there are just way too many cards to track out there. That's why I prefer to do my own research when pricing cards. The only problem is that sometimes there isn't enough data (completed sales) to monitor.

    1. In fairness to SCM, I don't have one of their most recent guides so its possible the difference with them is simply due to me using an old copy. Engel on the other hand I'm using the most recent (2018) one so the same excuse doesn't work....

      Totally agree about doing your own research on card prices, things change so quickly with some that the guides couldn't keep up if they tried!

  3. Awesome pickup....what percentage does this put you at now?

    1. I haven't got the exact tally, but I am in the 70% ball park. Still have a lot of the more expensive ones to go though (more like 40% complete with them).

  4. Congratulations on getting one of the big ones out of the way. If you can pick up a key card in the set for $20, I'd say that you're doing well.

    As for the price guides: here's another vote for "Engel's prices are insane". But really the biggest problem with Engel's guide, at least in America, is that there just aren't prices for these things. In order for something to have a price there has to be a reasonably efficient market for it, and Japanese cards are rare enough and are collected by so few people (in America in both cases, I don't know what it's like in Japan) that there really just isn't a market. Most of the cards that I have, I've never seen another copy of. And there are so few Americans who collect them, I wouldn't be surprised if we could all fit in my living room.

    Here's a more extreme example: what is the Mona Lisa worth? It's not clear to me that the question even makes sense. Sure, if it was sold, it would sell for some amount, but in order for something to be "worth" something, there has to be an established amount that it sells for, and non-commodities (like the Mona Lisa, or, in their own way, Japanese baseball cards) don't have that.

    1. Thanks!

      And that is totally true about the American market, there just aren't anywhere near enough transactions to establish a price for easily 99% of the Japanese cards out there. Seems like its basically just Ichiro, Ohtani, etc whose Japanese cards get bought and sold enough to be able to say with any confidence that there is some info on price in the US to go on.

      The situation in Japan is way different, there is an active market for Japanese cards and with vintage Calbees (my main area of knowledge) Yahoo Auctions alone probably has about 3,000-4,000 transactions per month. So people have a very good idea what most stuff sells for in almost real time, just like in the US with Ebay transactions.

      Stuff like valuing the Mona Lisa is a huge problem for insurance companies, which have to assign a value for something that is obviously incredibly valuable but nobody knows how much since its never been sold, nor has anything like it been.

      One of the problems with Engel in particular in pricing Japanese cards based on what he asserts to be the American market (or a mix thereof) is that prices in the US can't deviate much from what they go for in Japan. If prices in the US were to go up by too much, the few American collectors of Japanese cards would just switch to buying them in the Japanese market, which is open to them thanks to proxy services. So they'd probably just jack up the price of stuff in Japan through arbitraging the markets. This exact thing happened in the collectible video game market a few years back. The price of old Nintendo games used to be way cheaper in Japan than it was in the US or Europe, where prices started exploding about 10 years ago. Within a few years Americans had figured out how to buy stuff via proxy services on Yahoo Auctions and prices in Japan exploded too. Today the prices for old video games on Yahoo Auctions is almost the same as it is on Ebay (10 years ago it was more like 1/3 or less for most stuff). If collecting Japanese baseball cards were to ever take off in the US (unlikely to explode, but might increase bit by bit) the same thing will probably happen.