Private Sales Matter Very Little

May 17, 2024

On April 29, news broke that a vintage Magic: The Gathering (MTG) game card sold for $3 million dollars via private sale, making it the most valuable MTG game card ever sold. Magic: The Gathering is a collectible card game that was first released in 1993 by a then small up-and-coming company known as Wizards of the Coast. The game was not expected to gain mass market appeal and the earliest releases of the card game were very limited in availability. The card that sold for $3 million dollars was an Alpha edition Black Lotus game card, which was graded by CGC card grading in pristine 10 condition. The Alpha edition of MTG cards were the very first cards that appeared at retail locations back in 1993 and were quickly replaced by the next printing known as the Beta edition. It is believed that there are less than 50 examples of certain Alpha edition cards in existence, making certain cards extremely hard to find, especially in pristine condition. What makes this particular card so sought after is that it is considered the holy grail of vintage MTG collectibles. The Black Lotus is considered one of the most powerful Magic: The Gathering cards in existence and is part of the coveted reserved list, a list of cards that the company has vowed to never print again in their original form. Today, MTG is a pop culture phenomenon and, along with Pokemon, it is one of the most successful collectible card games ever created. It is also one of the first. Again, MTG premiered in 1993, while the Pokemon collectible card game first premiered in the United States in 1998. Magic did, however, have a rocky start, and it took several years for the game to build a cult-like following that eventually would spill over to the mainstream. Toy conglomerate Hasbro now completely owns Wizards of the Coast, and the MTG brand and has been key to their overall sales the past few years. While action figures and traditional toys have been languishing in toy isles due to a lack of sales, sales of collectible card games have seen astronomical growth within the past decade. In fact, Magic: The Gathering and Pokemon alone have been dominating retail sales for some time now, so it should not come as a surprise that the market for vintage cards that are no longer being produced is ripe with nostalgia and mass speculation. The record-breaking sale of this incredibly scarce game card is good for the collectors of early Magic the Gathering cards and collectibles, but it means very little overall. Private sales make up the vast majority of sales in the entire antiques and collectibles trade. This is in opposition to public sales that take place at auction where sales information is readily available to the buying public. I have long been critical of private record-breaking sales being made public, as there must be a reason the information is being made public, rather than staying private. Ask who would benefit if that information is made public? The simple answer is that it would benefit the market as a whole. I once had a mentor in the collectibles trade who always told me to ignore private sales being made public because he believed that market manipulation was the end result. I tend to agree with this logic. Up until this point in time, no other Magic: The Gathering game card has ever come close to selling for $3 million dollars. To put this sale in perspective, consider this. The recent record-breaking auction sale of Action Comics #1 graded by CGC in 8.5 was for $6 million dollars, and this comic book was published in 1938. Therefore, it took roughly 86 years for someone to be willing to pay $6 million for this comic book. There are roughly 80 known copies of this book in existence, and an 8.5 condition copy was at the higher end of all the copies in existence. That said, this particular Black Lotus that just sold for $3 million dollars was in perfect pristine 10 condition, but was printed in 1993. This means it took only 31 years for this card to sell for $3 million dollars. To be fair to my critics, I fully understand that I can be accused of comparing apples to oranges here, because I am. However, consider this: Does anyone really think if this $3 million dollar Black Lotus game card was offered in a high-end auction it would have sold for $3 million dollars? The Action Comics #1 that sold for $6 million dollars was offered at public auction and sold via Heritage Auctions. Based on this information alone one can make the case that this private sale means absolutely nothing and should be ignored. That should not mean that this particular game card isnt worth a tidy sum, as I would put the value of this particular card close to $1 million to $1.5 million dollars at auction, but $3 million seems a little excessive. Perhaps thats why the buyer wanted the sale to be made public instead of keeping it private? He simply overpaid for the privilege of owning it. And the seller and CGC card grading stand to benefit as the sale brings both free publicity. In conclusion, if we check the prices paid for a lot of high-profile collectibles being sold via private sales and compare them to similar items that have sold via public auction, you will notice a trend. In most cases, the items being sold via private sales usually sell for quite a bit more when compared to similar items that are sold at auction. As a result, my advice here is simple: take this sale price with a grain of salt as it means very little in the grand scheme of things and how a card like this should be valued going forward. Feel free to disagree with my analysis here, but do so at your own risk, as I would not be paying $3 million dollars for this particular card any time soon. There are much better collectibles one could buy, in my opinion, with that same amount, just from an investment standpoint. Thanks for reading. Shawn Surmick has been an avid collector since the age of 12. He currently resides in his hometown of Boyertown, Pa., and is a passionate collector of antiques and collectibles. His articles focus on various topics affecting the marketplace.


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