Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Set Building and Wall Hitting

As I've detailed in earlier posts, I'm working really hard on the 1975-76-77 Calbee "Monster" set of 1472 cards.  I've added quite a few cards to it over the past year and I'm about 75% of the way to completing it - I now have more than 1,000 of them!  I even have made decent headway on the rare (and expensive) regional issues and am about halfway to completing those series.

 But I've entered a new phase in my pursuit recently which has caused the pace at which I cross these cards off my checklist to drop significantly.  Basically the collection has had two phases which preceded this one:

Phase 1: just randomly amass as many cards as possible, buying them in lots whenever I could find them and not worrying about getting doubles since there were so many cards that I needed any lot I bought was bound to have a lot I didn't yet have.  Since the lots I could find were small and rarely exceeded about 50 cards at most (less than 5% of the set total), this was feasible for a long time.  This lasted about 5 years and got me past the halfway mark.

Phase 2: Stop buying the cards randomly in lots because once you pass a certain threshold the lots start producing too many doubles and it no longer makes sense as a collecting strategy.  Switch to buying the cards you need one by one.  This strategy lasted a little over a year and got me to where I am now.

Now I'm at a difficult point because I realize how few of these cards are in circulation and how small the number of dealers there are out there who actively deal in them.  I've basically stripped every dealer who has a stock of these of the cards I need, so now when I go through each dealer's list I only find cards I already have (and its getting frustrating).  So phase 2 has more or less run its course and I'm still several hundred cards short of completing the sucker.

Phase 3 is where things get tough.  I now have to wait for "new finds" of the cards I need to spring up, which is a real long game to play.  Some of the cards I still need probably aren't all that rare but rather its just coincidence that nobody happens to have any at this point and as they break up collections or whatever they do to put cards up I'll probably find them one by one for reasonable prices.

Some of the others are from the rare regional issues, which I know I'll have to pay real money for and am fine with picking those up over a long time period as it helps balance the monthly card collecting budget better that way.  I suspect though that there are also some "hidden" rarities lurking out there.  I've noticed with other vintage Calbee sets that there are a lot of cards which the guides (Engel and SCM) don't put a high price on and aren't part of any known regional limited series but they get bid into the stratosphere whenever they show up nonetheless.  I've unexpectedly lost a couple of bids on 1975-76 cards that the guides tell me aren't rare, yet they sold for several times more than what they are listed for.  Card #948 of Tanizawa Kenichi for example lists as a common that I thought I would pick up for 200-300 Yen in an auction a few weeks ago, but it ended up selling for 10 times that much (2280 Yen) much to my chagrin!  I'll try to record the existence of these as I find them for information's sake. Its obvious to me that I am not the only person in Japan working on this set, and other collectors (who are my competition) seem to be aware of which cards are rare and which aren't, despite what the guides say.  Despite all I have learned about this set over the years, there is still much that I do not know.

Anyway, I thought it was interesting to note that I've hit "the wall" at about 75% of the way to completing the Monster.  That percentage probably varies quite a bit from set to set.  With junk wax era cards, there is no "wall", you just buy the set for five bucks.  With US sets from the 60s and 70s too the "wall" probably only exists as a financial constraint.  Even the harder short printed series in most of those sets are available for sale on Ebay at any given time, and difficulty in buying them may be more related to waiting for one to come along at the "right price" rather than waiting for one to come along at all.

Hitting the wall where I have is probably not only the result of limited supply, but also of the limited circle of dealers who sell vintage Calbee cards.  There are about half a dozen guys selling on Yahoo Auctions that I deal with regularly to get cards from the set and that is about it, anything else is just somebody who specializes in other stuff but happens to lay their hands on a few old baseball cards. The brick and mortar card shops, at least here in Nagoya, don't really have anything at all and specialize in modern stuff.

Anybody else hit a wall in their attempts to put together a full set of something?




12 comments:

  1. Crazy attempt. I wonder how many are actually attempting this set. I know with some sets, supply is so low it kills its collectibility. I’ve hit a wall with the 1973 Calbee Sumo Set. Cards that I need are a minimum of ~$100 and many of the high numbers are easily 2x-3x that....if they ever show up.

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    1. Yeah, I am extremely hesitant to start any set that requires a huge outlay of money for a large number of the cards proportionate to the set as a whole. I now that 1973 Calbee Sumo set is a killer in that regard!

      Some of the other Calbee baseball sets are bad like that too, though the 75-76-77 set is a bit better in that regard. The most expensive cards, as far as I can tell, can all be had for less than $150, and there are only a handful that sell for that (I expect to pay in the 100-150$ price range for less than 10 out of the 1472 cards in the set). There are a fair number of regional rarities, but fortunately the prices are still in the 10-30$ range for most of them so they are still do-able without breaking the bank, and they only make up less than 10% of the set. So probably 80-90% of the cards in the set can be had for pretty cheap, which makes it a ripe target for collectors both 1) looking for a long term collecting challenge, but 2) not wanting to break the bank to do so.

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    2. Best of luck and I can’t wait to see you complete this set!!

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    3. Thanks! You too with that 73 set!

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  2. I don't know if they sell online so you may already be aware of their stock but there were a couple stores in Tokyo (Biblio being one of them) that had a lot of mid-70's Calbee.

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    1. Actually I'm going to be in Tokyo in November and might have the chance to hit a shop or two, I'll try to hit Biblio at least and see what they have, thanks!

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  3. Walls? Definitely. Early on I was posting a card every-other-day. Lately it's been something like a month between finds. I've started to look for other stuff to collect just because I'm getting bored.

    My first thought reading your post was that you could start a Google Doc with the #s of all the cards that you need, and ask your friends to pick them up for you as they see them. But then I realized there's a real hazard to this strategy: you and a friend might both end up bidding on a card to add to your collection.

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    1. Yes, I noticed as you got closer to the goal the posting frequency seemed to go down a bit!

      I'd try reaching out, but I don't actually know any Japanese collectors personally who are working on it (and in all likelihood we'd be chasing the same cards as you say!)

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  4. Off the top of my head... I can't think of two sets: 1981 Topps FB and 2002 Fleer Fall Classic HOF Plaques. Down to a handful for each set, but haven't picked anything up in over a year.

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  5. There are several cards on my want lists that have remained elusive for various reasons.

    I actually do have trouble with even locating some of the 1990s-2000s singles from various insert sets. They must be out there, of course, because the print runs aren't that low. But COMC doesn't have them, which is my major "supplier" for inserts. Some singles aren't even on eBay, though with some patience they tend to show up.

    A lot of those are just more than I'm willing to pay. But there are some cards that truly just don't show up. I've been looking for the batting glove relic from 2013 Triple Play since, well, 2013. It does exist, I'm pretty sure I saw a scan online. But nobody's tossed one up on eBay (at least properly labeled) or COMC.

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    1. I know how frustrating that is! I have hundreds of old Calbee cards that just don't show up anywhere but I need them!

      Good luck with them though!

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