A Veteran Collector’s Thoughts On The Modern Hobby: Breakers, Hits, Risk, And Finding The Love

January 16, 2023

I started collecting when I bought my first 45 cent wax packs of 1987 Topps at the corner store near my house sometime in that long-ago summer of 1987.

Over the years, my collecting habits and focus changed many times. These days, I’m a collector of vintage and PSA slabbed cards. Also, PSA slabbed vintage cards.

What I haven’t been in a long time is someone who buys current-year packs or boxes. That’s slowly starting to change, and I have Cardlines to thank (or blame?) for this recent development.

I thought I’d share a few thoughts on the topic.

Nary a box a-broken

As I mentioned, I had not broken a current-year product in roughly a decade. I broke a few boxes of Topps Heritage and Allen & Ginter from around 2009-11. Before that, it’d been a while since I bought any current-year packs.

Why? Pack prices have risen since I got into the hobby, first steadily, but then exponentially. This coincided with a focus on hits. First, it was inserts, then relics, and now parallels and autographs.

Back in the years when I had a limited hobby budget, new boxes just weren’t proving the return on investment I was hoping for. I was looking for value for my collecting dollar but was instead buying lottery tickets. Lottery tickets that never seemed to pay off.

I found I could get better value buying vintage cards, either raw or graded, or older boxes similar to those we opened in our Breaks of the Past series, such as 1996 Best Franchise Player Signature Edition or 1994 Classic Best Gold

Cardlines piques my interest

This would have been unlikely to change if not for the fact that shortly over a year ago, I started writing for this wonderful website. I started out writing on topics such as the Hall of Fame, Auctions, Vintage sets, and the like.

But then I started writing product reviews. This was not within my wheelhouse, so it required some research into modern sets and what makes them successful or unsuccessful.

In doing my research and writing articles, I found some products that appealed to me. Most of these had a vintage theme and lower price points, providing a potential return on the investment of breaking.

cardlines online sports card info

A few break articles

From reviewing products, it was a quick jump to starting to buy an occasional box. Part of the appeal was that I’d be able to share the experience with Cardlines readers. I’ve now done that with breaks of 2022 Topps Archives and 2022 Topps Allen & Ginter.

My collecting budget is more forgiving than it was a decade-plus ago, and I’ve started submitting cards to PSA for grading within the last couple of years, which makes box buying a bit easier and provide another outlet for some of the cards pulled.

On breaker culture

To research before writing my break articles, I took to “Breaker YouTube” and some card forums I don’t typically frequent. Because of the many years since I’d last bought current-year boxes, breaker and hit culture are foreign to me.

I can’t say I love what I saw. High-priced boxes have made collectors into gamblers, hoping for that big hit. Cards pulled go into one of two categories: “hits” or “junk”. Watching so many base cards, inserts, and even some somewhat limited cards cast aside was honestly depressing.

I don’t see a lot of joy in this modern way of collecting. Just disappointed with the occasional adrenaline rush from a big hit. Just enough of a taste to send you down the path with so much more disappointment.

I’m sure many collectors do find joy in the base cards, inserts, and designs, photography, and slow pursuits that make this hobby great. But many have reduced collecting to a disappointing transaction where the “big money hit” is the only goal.

That and the whole “bro culture” thing, with the loud, stupid, and unkind being amplified above all else, is just…gross.

old man yells at cloud

Old man yells at cloud

So, a middle-aged guy doesn’t like the way something is done today, and yearns for the way things were “back in the day”. Not exactly compelling or newsworthy, I know.

Everyone enjoys a big hit. They can add significant value and make your collecting experience more enjoyable. But the lack of a big hit shouldn’t mean failure. I’m a Red Sox fan. One of my least favorite things about some Yankees fans* is the whole “if we don’t win the World Series, the year was a failure” mentality.

What a way to set yourself up for misery and disappointment. Red Sox fans are far from perfect (or so I’m told), but at least we can genuinely celebrate a division title, wildcard berth, or playoff victory.

* Note that I said “some.” I also know many Yankees fans that are wonderful fans, collectors, and friends. Just don’t tell them I said that about them.

Find the love in your card-collecting hobby

So, buy the cards, and hope for the hit. But if it doesn’t come, find joy in the cards you did get. If the hit is a bonus and not a requirement, then you’ll be a much happier collector.

Or, if you’re just that adrenaline junky who feeds on the hits, be aware of that. It’s not necessarily wrong. Just be aware, stay within your collecting budget, and most of all, find a way to enjoy it — even the fails.

And if you just want the hits and don’t care about the base cards and lesser hits, don’t toss them in the trash or some box in the back of a closet. Find a way to get them to people who will enjoy them, either by selling them (to help fund your next box break) or donating them.

You can find great info on both approaches in our article The Best Ways To Get Rid Of Old Cards.

And if it’s all about the hits and the money for you, maybe card collecting is the best route to that. With the Covid collecting bubble bursting, or at least deflating, the “easy money” that pulled some back into collecting has dried up.

topps hits

Final thoughts on the modern hobby

In closing, just consider this my call to spend a little end-of-the-year reflection time on your approach to the hobby. And don’t take the above as a condemnation on any particular approach – there is no wrong way to enjoy this hobby.

Just make sure you are enjoying your approach to the hobby. If it’s not bringing you joy, look at what, and what might make it more enjoyable. This is the perfect time of year to make positive changes.

Happy Collecting (and thanks for reading)!

Mike D’s Cardlines Break Articles