One of the most difficult tasks in building a collection of baseball cards is distinguishing between original cards and counterfeits. An original can be worth hundreds of dollars while a reprint is usually only worth a few dollars. Counterfeit cards are sold by unscrupulous collectors and are worth nothing at all. In order to make sure that the price of a card is money well spent, collectors should know about the different kinds of reprints that exist, both legal and illegal, and how to differentiate between reprints, forgeries, and original cards. This guide give information on the different types of reprints, the distinguishing marks of counterfeit cards, and tips on how to find original baseball cards on eBay.
Types of Reprints
There are three kinds of cards, and they can easily confuse the novice collector. Two of them are legal and legitimate, although they are not as valuable as original cards. The third is the counterfeit, or forgery. Here are the basics on the different types of reprints that exist.
A true reprint is a famous vintage card that is printed again by the card manufacturer years after the original was printed. These are made for the collector who doesn't want the original but enjoys having a copy of a special vintage card. Legitimate reprints are clearly labeled "Reprint" and often include a modern copyright date.
Apart from exact copies of vintage cards, there are also modern cards commemorating a player, team, or era from the past. For example, a modern series of cards could highlight various points of Babe Ruth's career. However, these cards have nowhere near the value of a true Babe Ruth original. They are also made by card manufacturers and clearly labeled as commemorative cards.
Finally, there are counterfeits and forgeries. These are cards printed in modern times which attempt to pass for originals. Some counterfeits are so close to the original in every aspect that only a trained expert would be able to distinguish the difference. However, most forgeries are "given away" by some historical inaccuracies in the card.
Distinguishing Between an Original and a Forgery
Considering that the value of some original baseball cards goes well into the thousands of dollars, it's no surprise that there are unscrupulous individuals who try to cash in by cheating unsuspecting card collectors. Thankfully, there are a variety of distinguishing characteristics that give counterfeit cards away. The easiest way to distinguish a counterfeit is to compare it with an original. If no original is available, it may be a little harder but still possible to identify a fake. Here are both methods in detail.
Comparing with an Original Baseball Card
Counterfeits are almost always different from an original card in at least one or two key ways. If possible, compare the card in question with another from the same year and set. Some important questions to ask are:
- Is the quality of the color the same?
- Is the photo of the same size? Is it cropped or enlarged?
- Are the borders of the same width? Is there a smaller or larger space between the border and the picture?
- Is the text (especially on the back) the same size?
- Is the gloss similar?
- Is the texture of the cardstock the same?
- Is the thickness of the two cards the same?
- Does a bright light or a black light travel through the card the same way?
It is important for the original to be very close in series to the card being evaluated. This is because there could be manufacturing differences between originals of one set and originals of a closely related set. Researching the series in order to find out if all the cards in the set were printed on the same cardstock, for example, is a good way to tell which original cards the card for sale can be compared to.
Graded cards are authenticated by sports card companies to be originals. They are preserved between plastic slabs and include an official grade issued by one of a few companies. The authenticity of these cards can be relied upon when looking for an original with which to compare other cards. The downside is that some aspects such as the card thickness may be difficult to gauge through the plastic protectors.
Without an Original Baseball Card
If there is no original available to compare the card with, there are still a few ways to distinguish fake baseball cards. Here are some things even a novice will be able to find out.
Counterfeits are often made by scanning and printing copies of an original card. When made in this way, creases in the original card show in the reprints but cannot be felt. A "printed crease" that doesn't actually exist on the card is a sure sign that it is a forgery. The same goes for scratches or tears which are only printed and not real.
Vintage cards were printed with half-tone printing technique in which a picture is composed of tiny dots of color. Modern forgeries printed with laser or inkjet printers do not have these tiny dots. Higher quality forgeries may have half-tone printing but many times the entire card will be half-tone. True vintage cards only have half-tone printing for the pictures. The text and borders should be solid colors with no dots.
Sometimes a counterfeit is sold between plastic slabs and with a label as if it were graded and authenticated. Real graded cards have a number that can be looked up with the grading company. Always check this number to find out if the label is valid. A label that says " ? AUTHTCT" can be modified by a counterfeiter to say "AUTHTCT," suggesting that the card is authentic. An authenticated card, however, will say clearly, "AUTHENTIC."
Size is also a good way to measure a card's authenticity. While some vintage card sets (like the T206 Tobacco Cards) can vary in size, most sets stick to a standard size. Here are the sizes for some popular years and series of vintage originals:
2 ? inches x 3 ¾ inches
2 ½ inches x 3 ½ inches
2 ? inches x 2 ½ inches
2 ? inches x 3 ? inches
2 ½ inches x 3 ¾ inches
2 ? inches x 2 ? inches
2 ½ inches x 3 ? inches
Besides the methods mentioned above, buyers should research the sets and specific cards they are looking for. For example, those who want the 1952 Mickey Mantle rookie card, one of the most valuable baseball cards in existence, should know the peculiarities of every version printed. The missing pixel in the blue background, for example, is a feature of Variation B of the original card. Variation B cards without any missing pixels are counterfeits. Other clues include printing flaws on the back, the wrong color background, cardstock that is far too bright for such and old card, and different fonts from the original. Buyers who take the time to research the card they want will have no trouble identifying the more common counterfeit cards.
Tips for Finding Original Cards on eBay
Without a doubt, the preferred place to find a large selection of cards is online. However, a common concern is how to spot counterfeit cards when shopping online. Without physically comparing the card to an original and without having it on hand for close inspection, what can a collector do to avoid forgeries? eBay has a number of safety measures in place to protect consumers from possible fraud. Along with a little common sense, the following tips will ensure that you can buy online with confidence.
1. Buy only confirmed authenticated cards. The photo should show the grade label and the number of the card. This number can be checked with the grading company.
2. Avoid blurry or fuzzy photos. Ask for close-ups or enlarged photos or scans and compare colors, borders, text and so on with a known original..
3. Buy only from "Top-Rated Sellers." These are sellers on eBay who have a history of positive customer feedback.
4. Some sellers openly sell counterfeits, but some might try to "hide" the information in the Item Specifics. Carefully read through the entire description.
5. Look for a fair price. Anything that looks too good to be true probably is. While you may certainly get a good deal by bidding at auctions, too good of a deal is usually a bad sign.
More tips for buying and selling on eBay can be found at eBay's online Learning Center.
Collectors need to be able to distinguish between original baseball cards and worthless counterfeits in order to maintain a legitimate and valuable collection. Legitimate reprints and commemorative cards can be found for much less than original cards. Counterfeits, however, are worthless. Counterfeits and forgeries can be identified by comparing with known originals and by looking for common features of fake cards. Even a novice can learn to identify most counterfeit baseball cards online and make online shopping more fun and secure.