The Two Dollar Tango

close up photo of wooden gavel

It has been a great feeling, watching the numbers on our eBay account tick up each month. But, for all of the successful buy-it-now listings I’ve completed and the green numbers that accompany them, so much more of my inventory sits in the reject pile. So, alas, I must now pivot from the meticulous, methodical pricing of every trading card—each a fragment of a dream, a moment in sports history frozen in cardboard and ink. 

These individual price tags I once meticulously placed on each card have become more like tiny tombstones of perceived value. So, I must give way to the wild and unpredictability of the eBay bidders. This Sunday, I find myself standing at the edge of a grand experiment. Each item has a starting bid of a mere $1.99, quite a humble sum in the vast marketplace of eBay. After the cost of a stamp, shipping supplies, and platform fees, I’m lucky to extract about half a dollar for each item that sells at that price. But, it’s a way of recouping my time and energy in dealing with these items, even if it’s at a highly depressed rate.

Now, every Sunday becomes a spectacle, an event where the unseen hands of bidders dictate the worth of my precious collectables. No longer do I sit as judge, determining the fate of each card with a few keystrokes, prefaced by countless moments of online research. Instead, I’ve chosen to now release them into the wild currents of the internet, trusting the wisdom of the crowd.

Once held prisoners to my often hopeful but wishful valuations, these cards are set free to find their true worth in the free marketplace. Every Tuesday, Sunday, and Thursday, I set up batches of like items (baseball, football, Magic the Gathering, etc.) to end on any given Sunday. I would list on other days of the week, but I’m not paying a one dollar insertion fee for one and three day auctions. Besides, I want each listing to have a fair chance at gaining watchers. 

A few cards will inevitably receive opening bids, potentially followed by another bidder here and there. Fewer still will be embraced by fervent collectors who recognize the hidden value in a card’s story, regardless of the subject’s raw stats and accolades. Many other cards will flounder, unremarkable in the eyes of the market. Most will be destined to be passed on to pasture, forgotten relics of the sports they once celebrated. Fortunately, anything that gets more than a handful of page views or receive any watchers, plus Hall of Famer rookie cards and rare insert cards, will get relisted several times to give these notable cardboard treasures a fair chance at a new home.

The thrill of these Sunday auctions is palpable. As the countdown on each individual lot ticks away, anticipation builds. It’s a time with occasional crescendos of hope as auctions gain watchers, but more often desperation, watching all of the lots with no bids. The lowly $1.99 starting point either transforms into something greater or crumbles into nothing. It’s a nod to the fickle nature of worth. Each lot I post is a gamble. Still, I’m reminded of the ancient adage: one’s trash is another’s treasure. 

Beneath any exhilaration, there’s a quiet acceptance. I’ve come to terms since my young adult days that not every card is meant to be a cherished keepsake. So, space must be relinquished to make space for new dreams and possibilities. In its collective wisdom, the market becomes the arbiter of these decisions, sparing me the agony of judgment. I must relinquish control.

Eventually, these Sundays will blend into a weekly ritual of purging of the old to make way for the new. I’ve made consistent effort to consolidate my collection into items I actually care for, and letting go of the items I collected with only hopes of future, profitable resale.

In a way, eBay auctions are likely to become a sort of confessional for me. In these, I lay bare the relics of my collection, stripped of my biases and attachments. Each and every bid I get at this point is something to be grateful for, and hints at some intrinsic value in that item I finally get to realize. When the final gavel falls each Sunday, I’m rewarded with a sense of closure, no matter the outcome. 

There will be a bittersweet farewell to the cards that didn’t make the cut and a celebratory toast to those that found a new home. I know that for the vast majority of these cards I list, they will become discarded. I can’t be held back any longer by little cardboard rectangles that hold no interest in the current market. Sure, there are a few items I will select for long-term postings, with top-of-the-market buy-it-now prices with the chance for best offers. But, I will reserve these listings for only particularly valuable commodities.

The results of these weekly auctions allow me to reflect more truthfully about the market value of my collection, untainted by my own hand. It’s hard to let go, trusting in the ebb and flow of the hobby marketplace. Ultimately, I must treat each Sunday auction result as a celebration of the unpredictable, wondrous journey of the trading card. There will sometimes be surprising winners and many more hard luck losers among the seemingly foregone conclusions.

~ Amelia Desertsong

Amelia Desertsong is a former content marketing specialist turned essayist and creative nonfiction author. She writes articles on many niche hobbies and obscure curiosities, pretty much whatever tickles her fancy.
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