One result of the COVID-19 pandemic and the forced homebody time it brought about is that more people found themselves revisiting their long-forgotten sports cards and other memorabilia, or developed a new interest in collecting items through various online options. Locally, Thomas Picher, “just looking for something to do” during the pandemic, improbably gained a fascination in old coins and stamps, and even renewed a short-lived interest in Pokémon cards that he had as a kid.
Now the 20-year-old is morphing his pandemic-borne hobbies into a business opportunity by helping others assess the value of their treasures.
“It’s not necessarily the value that gets me excited. It’s the unknown that the next thing I find could be something extremely rare or really old,” he says.
Picher was given hundreds of old coins and a big stamp collection by his grandfather in 2020, plus he was shown bins of cards from his dad and uncle. The current UMass Dartmouth sophomore then began to dig in. “For the next few months I was completely focused on that. I bought books and catalogs to figure out what we had, to learn the prices,” he says.
There were unsurprisingly no Pokémon cards in his grandfather’s collection (they emerged in Japan in the mid-1990s, in the United States in the early 2000s), but wrestler/podcaster/Youtube star Logan Paul sparked fresh interest in Pokémon cards, in part by forking over millions for a super rare one. The buzz returned Picher’s attention to the market for trading cards bearing images of Pikachu and the gang.
Picher’s father, Tom, says the value of Pokémon cards caught them by surprise. While many people might hesitate before getting rid of baseball cards, understanding they might have some value, kids—or their parents—would be more likely to just throw away Pokémon cards, he says.
For those of you who have fallen out of the trading cards loop, or who were never in it to begin with, a lot has changed from the days of flipping cards against walls and sticking them in between bicycle tire spokes. The market has had its serious ups and down, but has been booming of late. Dramatic openings of card packages are live-streamed. Topps is still a leader among card makers, but Panini and others are popular, too. Trading card grading services like PSA help collectors find out what their items are “worth,” and enable trusted buying and selling of these valuables.
Picher has been a quick study in the value of cards and other collectibles, and along with his father, has sent in cards to be graded.
Researching the value and history of cards, coins, and stamps is a mix of paper-based and online research for Picher. So while the web does provide fast access to some information, and enables transactions through services such as eBay and craiglist, the hobby itself also allows Picher a screen-time break.
Picher was excited to tell me about “a really good magnifying glass” he recently acquired that allows him to zoom in on details that the naked eye would not see on coins and stamps. “There are a lot of little things you wouldn’t realize are there…erosion of a stamp, little differences in printing that can make a big difference in their value,” he says.
Sharing his knowledge
Picher continues to learn about collectibles from home as well as by taking it on the road. He’s hit yard sales and has the Wellesley Recycling & Disposal Facility’s Give & Take area on his list. He and his dad attended a massive card show in Atlantic City, with collections worth millions on display.
Through word of mouth and other means, Picher has begun appraising the value of others’ collections.
He described visiting a couple in Wayland who had been collecting all sorts of things for 50 years. “It’s good to meet with people face to face to discuss their collections,” he says. “Their house was filled.”
Picher wisely isn’t aiming to fill his parents’ house, so keeps a balance between buying and selling. “I’m not really focused on building my collection,” he says, adding that he’ll target items that he finds particularly meaningful or unique, maybe a LeBron James rookie card, or anything to do with Yankees Hall-of-Famer Derek Jeter.
Picher’s friends include past card collectors, but none of them are doing anything like he is. “They think it’s cool, but they’re not into it themselves,” he says.
If you’re tempted to learn more about this hobby or are curious about how much your stuff might be worth, Picher is available to help.
For starters, he suggests identifying your most likely valuable items. With sports cards, this often means star players and those same players as rookies. With Pokémon cards, since they are newer, condition isn’t as much of a differentiator as it can be with sports cards, but there were fewer Pokémon cards produced at the start, so those earlier editions, and special holographic cards can be worth more. With stamps and coins, usually the older the better; pre-1964 U.S. quarters and some other coins were made from silver, so they’re worth something extra right away.
If you’re interested in having Picher assess your collection, you can text him at 617 659 2686. Send photos of a few items to start and describe what you’re interested in knowing. And if you’ve got a 1999 1st Edition Holographic Charizard Pokémon card, by all means, don’t hesitate to ping him.
(You can also check out his eBay store.)
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