Pokemon, soccer and basketball cards: Pandemic ignites collectors' market

From a Wayne Gretzky rookie card to a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle, to first edition Pokémon sets, memorabilia lovers are paying astounding sums to get their hands on coveted items.

The collector craze began around the start of the pandemic, and has been gaining momentum ever since. And despite the hit to the economy, the value of coveted memorabilia keeps climbing.

Ken Richardson, owner of Pastime Sports and Games in Langley, B.C., says he was preparing himself and his business for the worst when the pandemic hit. Instead, he said it’s been his most successful season in 30 years in business.

“It has exceeded expectations,” Richardson said. “We are definitely at a high point of interest, and hopefully we can keep that interest going.”

He pointed to the recent auctions of rare Wayne Gretzky rookie cards as an example. One sold in December for US$1.29 million. Five months later, another sold for $3.75 million USD.

Among his vast selection of collector items, Richardson has a Gretzky card for sale. It’s in good condition but not the much sought after Gem Mint 10. Just like his “low grade” 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle, it would fetch a pretty penny, but not in the millions.

Just about everyone is spending a lot more time at home, and may be going through old boxes and finding past treasures which they then put up for sale.

Richardson said what’s in demand is cyclical. At the moment, soccer, basketball and Pokémon cards are hot.

There are many theories for this collectors gold rush. Those who still have work aren’t spending as much money on shopping or going out to eat, and may have extra cash to spend. Others are simply looking for new ways to invest.

“Many people were looking to diversify their assets and put them into things that were non-traditional,” Richardson said.