You’ve put a lot of thought and effort into curating your hockey card collection. You look for deals, track trends, listen to podcasts (most notably the Hockey Cards Gongshow), and connect with other collectors in person and online. But how much do you think about what will happen to your collection down the road?
After collecting hockey cards and memorabilia for more than 40 years, I started thinking about that question more often. I don’t consider myself old, but let’s just say I’m older than Gordie Howe was when he retired from the NHL. And recently, the unexpected death of someone close to me got me thinking about my own mortality. No one in my family – not my wife, daughter, nephews, nieces, or cousins – shares my obsessive passion for hockey, let alone hockey cards and memorabilia. Not only would they not want my hockey stuff, but they wouldn’t know what to do with it.
As Americans make plans for their estates, they’re increasingly finding that their children don’t want the things they value, including china, furniture, and other big-ticket items. From a Kiplinger article titled “Time to Face Reality: Your Kids Don’t Want Your Stuff!”:
“While your collection of Hummels, model trains, baseball cards, (insert collectible here) is your hobby and passion, rarely does that continue to your heirs. If they don't share your passion for those collectibles, they may be likely to sell them for less than their full value when they inherit them because they don't fully understand their true value as a collectible.”
With all that in mind, in the past few years I’ve become more of a seller than a buyer, and I’m having a great time downsizing. I’ve sold complete sets of Topps and OPC cards from 1970 to the 1990s, a bunch of Gretzky cards and memorabilia, and much more. I’ve freed up space in my house, made some money, and formed connections with people who understand and value the things I’ve put so much effort into collecting. Basically, having less has made me appreciate what I’m keeping even more. Now I’m focused on quality over quantity.
In my basement, I have a nice display of my favorite jerseys, cards, pucks, posters, photos, and autographs – and those things are untouchable. But my new philosophy has become “if it’s not good enough to display, there’s no reason for it to sit in a box.”
Whether you want to think about this now or years from now, here are a few things you can do to prepare for the future:
Talk to your family about your collection. What makes it special, who would be interested in it, and how would they find those collectors? Would anyone in your family value and appreciate your collection?
Put it in writing. If you want to pass your collection on to a specific family member, put that in writing. If you don’t want to pay an attorney, use an online service to write a simple will.
Take inventory. For me, part of the fun of collecting is documenting what I have. If you haven’t already, create a document or spreadsheet identifying what’s in your collection and the estimated value of each item. If you keep track of your collection online, make sure your family knows that source and your password.
Consider having your cards graded. This is new for me, because I didn’t use to like the look of graded cards, but it’s become more and more apparent that graded cards are what today’s serious collectors want. If you’re not already buying graded cards or having your cards graded, it’s worth considering since that will make it easier for a non- collector to estimate the cost, see past sales, and sell the cards at maximum value. Another way to document the value of your collection is to have it appraised professionally.
Don’t put it off. Finding people who want a piece of my collection and taking steps to ensure it will be in good hands has given me peace of mind, knowing that my prized possessions won’t end up in a garage sale or the dumpster one day. Life is unpredictable, and there’s a lot you can’t control. But nothing’s stopping you from thinking ahead and preparing for the future.
Mark Miller is a nonprofit communications executive and a longtime Capitals fan who obtained his first Gretzky rookie card 44 years ago when he bought the entire 1979-80 Topps hockey set for $11. You can see his collection of Gerry Meehan memorabilia at gerrymeehan.com. You can also follow Mark on Instagram @LaCoupeStanley