The Thrill of the Trade

The atmosphere in the trading cards arena is electric - from the $4.6 million paid for a Luka Doncic Rookie card to the $5.2m for a 1952 Mickey Mantle card it is an asset class that is currently super-charged.

In the past few weeks a Pelé Rookie card became the first soccer card to break the $1 million barrier, selling for $1.33m and a 1999 SI For Kids Series 4 Serena Williams Rookie card sold at auction for $117,000 acing the record for a women's sports card – the previous record was $44,280 for a Williams card. Trade cards are the ancestors of trading cards. Some of the earliest were inserted into packs of cigarettes as stiffeners to protect the contents. Allen & Ginter in the US and British company WD & HO Wills were some of the first tobacco companies to print advertisements and it was only a few years later they were adding lithograph pictures on the cards, covering a huge variety of topics from nature to sport, grabbing the imagination of collectors. By 1900 there were thousands of tobacco card sets being manufactured with children seen standing outside shops to ask customers who bought cigarettes for the promotional cards. The Second World War put an end to production due to limited paper resources.

Pele Rookie card

The first baseball trading cards emerged around the time it became a professional sport and around the beginning of the 20th century they came in candy and tobacco products. It was during this era the most valuable baseball card ever printed was produced - the T206 featuring Honus Wagner distributed by the American Tobacco Company in 1909 - it changed hands in 2021 for more than $6.6 million.

Although traditionally associated with sport trading cards also feature cartoons, comic book characters and film stills including Wacky Packages, Star Wars and Pokémon. A holographic Pikachu card from 1998 sold for a record breaking $900,000 recently and in 2020 the rapper Logic parted with $226,000 for a card featuring Charizard.

"When I was a kid I absolutely loved Pokémon but couldn't afford the cards," he wrote on Instagram. "I remember even trying to trade food stamps for theirs and now as an adult, who has saved every penny he has made, being able to enjoy something that I've loved since childhood is like buying back a piece of something I could never have, it's not about the material it's about the experience."

Pokemon trading cards

In the UK we didn't forget the pre-war passion for collecting and Brooke Bond introduced its illustrated tea cards in 1954 – they were created by some of the finest artists and photographers of the time and looked at subjects such as endangered wildlife, freshwater fish and the space race. Brooke Bond issued the cards in Ireland, Canada, the USA, Southern Rhodesia, Eastern Africa and South Africa. The cards became so popular a special picture card department had to be set up in the 1960s to deal with the 2,000 daily orders from customers who wanted to complete their sets.

The industry Goliath is Topps who started inserting trading cards into bubble gum packs in 1951 - in 2021 it reported revenue of $560 million with its physical and digital cards selling in more than 100 countries. The company was so attractive to the US sports merchandise retailer, Fanatics, it acquired it for $500 million at the start of 2022.

Established in 1991 ILS World's private client team is experienced at working with clients who include collectibles as part of their investment portfolios and assist with trust and specialist company formation as tools to safeguard collections. We are used to collaborating with external industry professionals such as insurers.

There are several specialists who protect cards from theft, damage, mail loss whether they are at home or in a storage facility. Specialist policies also cover travel and transit for collections taking part in scheduled exhibitions, shows or displays.

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At ILS World, we don’t restrict ourselves, we like to go beyond the borders. That is why we operate globally. You will find our offices in Isle of Man, British Virgin Islands, Hong Kong, and Portugal.

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