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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.
21st March, 2022

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.

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."

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.

The ILS World team is made up of highly trained and experienced professionals assisting clients with:
• Multi-jurisdictional company incorporation
• Establishing and administering a trust
• VAT and Customs compliance
• Comprehensive administration of the ownership structure
• Management and financial reporting
• VAT and accounting services
• Provision of directors, registered offices and registered agreement/company secretary
• Acting as a trustee
• Import and export services
• Acquisition
• Sale
• Storage
• Maintenance and upkeep
• Valuations
• Inventories.

ILS World is a global provider of independent fiduciary services who successfully assist private clients including individuals, trustees and family offices on asset protection, wealth management and succession and estate planning.
We act in the long-term interest of our clients and pay careful attention to the quality and personal service we deliver.

Our private client team works hard to create long-term relationships and provide the highest level of service. We do this by being approachable, flexible and pragmatic. We offer regular face-to-face meetings as required and provide direct contact with a senior member of the team. Staff have diverse backgrounds, skills and interests and their professional experience together with their "can-do" attitude means they understand that wealth and business are inextricably linked.

Our private clients often require an international strategy and as a global business with offices in several key jurisdictions we are well-placed to provide a cohesive service. Our network includes offices in the British Virgin Islands, Hong Kong, the Isle of Man and Portugal.

For further information please email privateclient@ils-world.com

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This article is part of the ILS Private Client Series, a collection of commentaries originally generated in response to specific enquiries by individual clients. We have amended this briefing on trading cards to enable us to share it with a wider audience with similar interests. Read the full compendium on our website by clicking here.

Please note: ILS World does not offer tax advice and would therefore recommend you obtain your own tax advice. If you require an introduction to a tax adviser we would be happy to assist.