The following is a retelling of my experiences collecting, and is purely written to share my thoughts and opinions. I hope that someone can benefit from this article!
The fundamental question that I’ve been asking myself for years as I’ve dabbled in collections is, “How do you make collecting satisfying for yourself?” There are no rules, there are no guidelines, and no one method is better than another. After (rather unrewardingly) collecting Pokémon cards (the first time), Yu-Gi-Oh cards, Canadian coins, American coins, and bank notes, I had given up on collections altogether. Remnants of my past endeavours merely sat in my dresser for years, untouched and unappreciated. About four years ago, I decided to take what I had learned from collecting in all those disciplines and formulated a plan for a new collection. I always felt the most nostalgia for Pokémon cards, so that became the basis of my new collection and that’s where I’ll start us off in this article.
1. Collect something you love; a good collection is something you can appreciate well into the future.
Some of my previous collections were based on impulse or a chance acquisition, but let me tell you that it’s not the same as a pure love for something! If you kind of like it and kind of think it can be cool, then I bet you two years down the line it will merely be another page in your book. In my opinion, there is no point in starting a collection if you don’t love what you collect to the nth degree! Figure out what you feel the strongest attachment to and go from there.
2. Collecting is a hobby; it should not be looked upon solely as an investment.
While there is a lot of overlap between collecting and investing, if you’re buying cards only to sell them at a later date, then you need a whole different system than the one I’m presenting. What it means to be a true collector is different from an investor (or seller), in my opinion. While the cards you purchase are tangible assets, the mentality of a collector should be different from that of a seller. It is a great feeling to scope out deals, as that gives you the safety net of knowing that you can resell your cards for a profit. Plus, who doesn’t like the allure of bargain hunting? It is a very satisfying way of collecting, but sometimes your pocket book needs to take a bit of a hit to get what you want. If you have decided to go the route of collecting ultra-rare cards with limited print runs, then sacrifices must be made. Sometimes it is simply impossible to find a rare card, let alone one at a bargain price. This is when a collector must throw out the investing mentality and just go for the purchase. So what if you paid an extra $200 above fair market value? You’ll be thanking yourself five years along the line when you realise that another one has never hit the markets. There is a good chance you might never have had another opportunity to get that card. This is the difference between a seller and a collector; the collector makes monetary sacrifices to get what they want, whereas the seller only picks up bargains for resale. The main point to take out of this is to buy what you want, not what you can make a quick buck on down the line.
3. Any level of collecting can be rewarding; satisfaction is unrelated to the inherent value of a collection.
The biggest thing you have to decide once you start a collection is what you want to focus on. Maybe you want to collect English cards from the Base set era, or perhaps you want to collect Japanese promos. In my opinion, it is always best to collect what you’ll appreciate the most and nostalgia is a great driving force. In my experiences, nothing has had a more profound effect on me than pure nostalgia. I can honestly say that I would not currently be collecting had it not been for that longing to relive an era of my past. Perhaps you could start by collecting the set you feel most nostalgic for because you collected it when you were little. Or maybe you can collect card artwork of your favourite Pokémon. Don’t feel like you have to collect the most popular set or the most valuable cards. I cannot stress enough that you can have a rewarding collection endeavour at any level if it’s what you love.
4. Get organized; plan and make physical lists. Don’t make random impulse purchases!
The reason most collections fail and fall out of the favour of the owner is a lack of organization. Organization is absolutely crucial if you want to get that feeling of reward and satisfaction. What you should do before you start purchasing is make a formal list of everything that you want. From that list, you can group cards into pseudo-sets and print those off as collection lists that you want to fill up. Sometimes it’s very simple and you want to collect an entire listed set (such as base set unlimited). Other times it can get more complicated and you’ll need to get creative. An example of a set that I had previously made is as follows:
• Masaki Alakazam
• Masaki Gengar
• Masaki Golem
• Masaki Machamp
• Masaki Omastar
• Fan Club Shining Magikarp
• Fan Club Eevee
• Fan Club Porygon
• Grand Party Trainer Certification Card
• Corocoro Shining Mew
Now, I know that they are largely an unrelated group of cards, but before I collected them I grouped them all together and called it my “Semi-Rare Japanese Promo Set”. I checked off the cards one by one until I had my complete set, and I can tell you, getting that last card was way more satisfying that it would have been without the list. The benefit of a list like this is that it tailors the collection to what you want, gives you specific things to look for, and most of all, gives you something to strive to complete. People are completionists by nature; only once a set is complete can it be appreciated fully, as all loose ends are finally tied up. If you’ve ever added that last card to a binder to complete a set, then you know the feeling I’m talking about! If you organize yourself, you can get that same feeling by grouping seemingly unrelated cards into cohesive lists.
5. Never bite off more than you can chew!
We as humans are not card-collecting machines, and one must not forget that. A trap that many collectors fall into is that they are overwhelmed by their own collections. If one has too many ongoing collecting projects, it will cause distress for even the most seasoned collector. I like to limit myself to a couple of specific aspects or specific sets, and that’s it. That way, I always know what I’m looking for and if those cards don’t pop up, then I can save my money for when they do. A good example would be sticking to two sets at a time, or maybe limiting yourself to one specific set of promos. Also, if you’re collecting a specific Pokémon artwork, then limit yourself to one or maybe two languages at first. It is only time to expand once you have nearly completed the sets you have ongoing.
6. Condition, condition, condition!
I would say that the most important lesson I have ever learned in collecting is that you must never underestimate the importance of condition. When you are going to make any purchase, make sure that you properly assess the condition of the collectible before you buy it. Trust me, you are going to want to buy all your cards in the best possible condition the first time around. Collectors tend to be perfectionists, and we don’t tend to love flawed cards quite the same as mint ones. Spend a little extra money and get the card in proper collectible condition to avoid having to replace damaged cards at a later date. Finishing your Mint set is always way more thrilling than finishing your Played-Ex/NM set. Graded cards are a great way to guarantee condition, but are not essential. That choice is basically going to come down to collector preference (and wallet size!).
7. Join a forum; expand your knowledge base and network.
If you’re reading this right now, you’ve probably already taken this step, and it’s a very important one. There are numerous Pokémon card collecting forums out there, such as Pokegym or this fine establishment, and I suggest getting active on them. You’ll learn a lot about collecting and different cards, plus you’ll get the added bonus of expanding your collecting network, as I like to call it. This network gives you broader access to trades and sales while introducing you to potential buyers for cards you no longer desire to keep. Most importantly, this network of people can help you when you have questions and they can often lend a hand or an opinion. In my opinion, joining a forum only multiplies collecting satisfaction and knowledge! Use the aforementioned tools to gain knowledge as there is no better buyer than an educated buyer.
8. Comb through auction sites; stay current on prices and see what’s out there.
Checking eBay and Y!J (if relevant) are crucial to most, if not all collectors. As many of you know, the best way to track current selling prices is checking frequently on eBay. Plus, it’s rather hard to expand a collection if you don’t stay on top of it and check auction sites frequently. This one is a must and sometimes you scope out deals of a lifetime! Just like frequenting a forum, checking auction sites allows one to see cards they may not have known were out there and is a great source of information/current pricing.
9. Expand your collection when your current planned sets near completion.
Naturally, you can’t limit your collecting on the basis of missing a couple cards to finish ongoing sets. Once your current sets are nearing completion, it is time to expand. As you were frequenting forums and auction sites, you likely saw some neat cards that you might like to have added to your collection. Being a responsible collector (and since you followed my guide ), you didn’t just impulse buy them! Now it’s time to formulate some new set lists of cards that you want to add and include those that you found. The whole process repeats itself, and you keep slowly but surely adding onto your collection.
Theoretically, you’re almost done your Japanese Exeggutor collection (except for those damn TMB’s!); time to expand. Formulate a list of English Exeggutor cards and onwards you go. After your English set nears completion, perhaps you’ll decide to collect German Exeggutors, or maybe you’ll start a Japanese Venusaur collection. It is completely up to you at this point, this is just an example of how the system should work.
10. Make sure you don’t forget to protect your collection!
While you are going about collecting cards, one problem you’ll run into rather quickly is that of card storage and protection. First, cards must be stored in sleeves and then top loaders or 9 pocket binder pages. I personally recommend Ultra-Pro brand name products, as they are of the utmost quality and will protect your cards the best. When using the 9 pocket pages, I tend to slip the cards into an upside down Ultra-Pro Pro-Fit sleeve first and then put them in the page. It offers unparalleled protection against dust. Cards should also be stored in a cool environment with relatively low humidity, as humidity causes holographic cards to bend. As mentioned earlier, grading cards is a viable option, and the bonus is that those cases are UV resistant and will protect your cards indefinitely. Store valuable cards in a fire-resistant safe and keep binders and top loaders organized in some sort of cool, dry location away from sunlight.
11. Catalogue and record purchase information and necessary data.
Cataloguing and bookkeeping are necessary tasks that any collector should do. Information that you should record for every purchase include:
• Purchase Date
• Purchase Price
• Any other information you find relevant
Information such as this may be recorded in a simple Excel spreadsheet or an old-fashioned notebook. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy, but this one is a necessity. It is always great to look back on past purchases and have this information written down. You’d be surprised how many details you can forget as your collection expands and time moves forward. This is also useful for tracking purchase volume over time and for budgeting. Also, should your collection grow large enough, you may want to open up an insurance plan (crazy but quite possibly a good idea) to protect your investments. Insurance plans need detailed information about collectibles such as those noted above. Keeping an up to date record is paramount.
12. Take the time to enjoy your collectibles, and never forget the reasons why you started collecting in the first place.
The most important thing to remember in collecting is that you do it because you love it. You love Pokémon cards and you love every aspect involved in collecting them. Make sure you don’t forget to take the time to enjoy your collection and revel in your achievements as a collector. Take your cards out on a rainy Sunday and show them the appreciation they deserve. Pat yourself on the back because you’re a successful collector, and the entire process has been rewarding.
Thanks for reading! –Jason