If I had bought nothing but 1950s and earlier baseball cards in high grade when I first started going to card shows back in the late-1970s I would probably not have a lot of money worries. The growth in this part of the industry has been nothing short of phenomenal. Who could have predicted grading companies, huge national sports memorabilia auctions conducted over the internet and, well, eBay?
But I didn't do that. I bought some 50s cards. Some 60s stuff. I've now got sets back to 1953 and some pre-War cards too. But it wasn't a focus --and I didn't exactly start out with an eye for quality. I wanted to finish my sets and whether they were VG or NM wasn't a big deal.
Nope. I was a collector. I bought stuff I liked. And even though some of it hasn't appreciated in value like T206 cards
or 1952 Topps
I still like it. And I think it's really undervalued--some of it anyway (we won't talk about those 1980s police sets I bought).
Publications are so much more interesting than a lot of older card sets, but you can buy a 50 year-old World Series program in nice shape for $100-200. Try touching a NM baseball Hall of Famer for that price. I love the cover designs. I love the photos. I even love the ads inside. It's more of a trip back in time than you can get even from a baseball card set of the same vintage. Same goes for old NFL Championship game programs. As a huge Milwaukee Bucks fan back in the Alcindor days, I'd love to find a Bucks-Bullets NBA Finals program from '71. Try it sometime. College football programs are almost works of art, but you can buy just about any regular season program from the powerhouse programs for a song.
Vintage sports photographs aren't really undervalued anymore. They've gained a lot of respect in recent years, thanks in part to some educational books on the subject and some articles that sort of validated the genre. But if you're not into first generation Ruth or Gehrig photos, you can grab some baseball nostalgia for a few bucks apiece by finding a dealer who specializes in paper. I had a lot of fun at the 2007 National Sports Collectors Convention going through stacks and stacks of old wire photos. I think they were $5 each--less in quantity. Definitely an underrated segment of the hobby.
Just so I'm not accused of disrespect for cards, another undervalued collectible are the empty wax boxes from the '60s are earlier. How many survived? No more than a few hundred of each I'm guessing. Less than that for some years. They're incredibly colorful, sort of reflect their time and really enhance your sets if you can display them nearby. I can't believe there isn't more nostalgia for the display boxes and wrappers on the part of collectors.
What items make your list?