There are a lot of player collectors in this hobby, myself included. Personally, its the only way I can stay sane, because if chased after everything from a team or a college, I would be broke. Same with set collecting, its tough to devote the time for trading and watching eBay. However, that isnt a bad thing in any way. If you are one of those team or set collectors, you have my kudos for your dedication.
Despite the sheer number of ways to collect, I get a lot of emails from fledgling player collecting that ask where to start. Its easy to see why that is a big problem for people who dont know much about the hobby, as the number of options out there can be tough to decipher.
First, and most importantly for player collectors, you need your player’s rookie card. Its tough to identify with a collection unless you see that rookie card in there. Of course, that may not be possible with some of the older, more expensive players, but for the modern guys, it shouldnt be too hard to find an affordable one. For me, I always get the Topps Chrome offering, as it is the one I have always gone after since the inception of the brand. If there isnt a Topps Chrome card for your guy, due to age of the player or otherwise, eBay is always a good place to look for one that looks the best for you. Take someone like Jared Allen, a guy who doesnt have many cards, especially from his rookie year. When I started to collect him, I had to do some research before I found out that the 2005 Score auto was the only early card worth going after for him, as Rookie cards were scarce for him. The 2004 Bowman card didnt seem like a good bet for a nice rookie centerpiece, so I had to get the auto as my staple. Yes, I know its a second year, but its all I cared about.
The second thing I think you need as a player collector, is a good auto centerpiece. In my mind, there is nothing better than Exquisite or National Treasures for that card, although the money may be a deterrant. I would say that if you can afford it, go straight for the on card auto out of one of these sets. If not, the next level of cards would come from SP Authentic, and luckily, there are a lot of on card subsets to chase from the product. The design is always great, and the autos are usually a great piece for many player collectors. They also have VERY few parallels, meaning that the numbering on those cards is legit, unlike sets like Triple Threads.
Also, if you see that auto cards are out of your price range, auto’ed memorabilia is actually a great alternative. Most 8×10’s are great for framing and mini helmets can look amazing on a shelf. They also cost a lot less than many of the top RC autos, which is great. I know those mini helmets are always a priority for every player I collect. The thing I would watch out for are fakes, as signed memorabilia is always a risk if you didnt see the guy sign the item himself.
Many player collectors also love 1/1s, especially if they have a league or team logo on it. I think that certain 1/1s are definitely worth your time, but I would watch out for others. For instance, if you have the cash to go after a logo patch card, go for it, but if its a printing plate, leave it alone. Printing plates rarely hold value, you have to pay a lot for some of them, and in my opinion, they are some of the ugliest pieces of shit out there. Save your money for other stuff, especially when you find out that most printing plates arent 1/1s, more like 1/4s due to the colors needed to print a card. Topps, UD and others number them 1/1s to hook you in to buying more product. If they make the chase easier to catch, people buy more – right Moments and Milestones?
Many player collectors also delve into super collecting, a practice where they try to get one of everything for a certain player. I really dont think this a good idea due to the number of cards and 1/1s that players have, so its better to just focus on what you like. I kind of relate super collecting to Heroin Hero from South Park, as you chase the dragon forever but never catch it. Instead of super collecting, I would rather suggest saving your money up and buying a game used item like a jersey, or going hardcore for a nice autographed item like a bat or football. If memorabilia is not your thing, there is always bigger and better. There is not a good reason to try to get every base Topps card parallel if you hate the cards. Go after something you like.
Lastly, you really should go after anything that catches your eye, but dont go busting wax to find it. The way to find it is to set up searches under “my eBay” by clicking the “save this search” at the top of search result pages on the site. You can then receive daily email notification under the settings that are customized to whatever you are looking for.What I do is I break the searches down by the categories on the side of the page to avoid general results. If you are looking for a certain card, this can be a great way to be alerted. For me, I am a huge fan of many of the late year Upper Deck broducts because I see them to be the best designed and the most valuable football products there are. I set up my searches when the products come out, and buy the ones I think look cool.
Overall, player collecting is a great way to get going in a hobby. It gives you a specific target to branch out from, and really gives you a great idea of the true value of certain products without having to monitor a ton of cards on eBay or scanning tons of message boards for trade requests. Most of the time, barring extenuating circumstances like extreme SPs, if a card for your guy is worth more in one set than another, those values should hold for the rest of the players too. Keep your head on a swivel and try to become very familiar with your likes and dislikes so that you can learn to avoid scams and problems. Of course, you can always look for answers here and on the other blogs too. We are always happy to help.