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How to Spot Fake Vintage Sports Cards: A Complete Guide




How To Spot Fake Vintage Sports Cards 

Vintage sports cards, especially those dating back to the early 20th century, have become highly coveted collector's items. Unfortunately, this popularity has given rise to a market for fake vintage cards being passed off as authentic. As a sports card collector, it's critical you educate yourself on how to determine if that shiny Honus Wagner or Babe Ruth rookie card is the real deal. 


What Makes Vintage Sports Cards So Valuable

Vintage cards are appealing for their nostalgia, artwork, historical significance in sports, and extreme rarity. The holy grails of vintage sports cards - the T206 Honus Wagner, the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle, the 1951 Bowman Willie Mays rookie - are worth hundreds-of-thousands to millions of dollars. Because of the immense value at stake, fakers try hard to make convincing counterfeits. You'll need a careful eye to avoid scams.


Warning Signs of a Fake Vintage Sports Card

Here are red flags to look for when inspecting a vintage card that indicate it could be fraudulent:

  • Suspicious wear-and-tear - Fakers try to make cards look old by staining, dog-earing, creasing. But damage should match the card's age.

  • Wrong card stock/thickness - Quality of cardboard changed with decades. Research what your card should feel like.

  • Off details - Font, image saturation, logos should align with printing tech of era.

  • No stamp on reverse - Many vintage cards have printer name/year stamped on back.  

  • Blurry text/image - Printing clarity varied over decades - does it match?

  • Deals too good to be true - Extremely rare cards seldom surface at bargain prices.

  • Google "How To Spot a Fake (insert card). Great cards worth faking are often exposed quickly and you'll find articles explaining what to look for in a real versus fake.



Common Vintage Sports Card Fakes

Counterfeiters have become adept at producing convincing forgeries of iconic cards from the early 1900s up through the 1980s. Here are some of the most seen fakes and how to catch them:


T206 Cards

This early 20th century tobacco card set is ripe for alteration. Often cards are doctored to create the illusion of rarity.

  • Tipoff: Measure suspect T206s against known real T206s. Trimming card borders to improve centering or adding printer's marks from rare back variations are common scams.


1952 Topps Mickey Mantle

The legendary card often appears in fraudulent form. There are actually two variations, the Type One and Type Two.

  • Tipoff: Examine wear patterns closely. Many altered cards will show suspicious creasing like uniform horizontal folds. Original wear is typically irregular.

  • The Type One Mantle is missing a pixel in the lower left corner, making it appear that the corner isn't quite squared off.

  • The Type Two is missing a blue pixel in the top left of the card. It may be hard to spot with the naked eye. Just another reason we love using a microscope to inspect cards. (We have a favorite linked here: Products We Love)

  • Both types should feature a yellow bat with black marks. The fakes are often missing the black marks.


1969 Topps Reggie Jackson Rookie Card

Fake rookie cards abound for the Yankees star and hobby investors.

  • Tipoff: Fluorescing tag inside printing can reveal non-period paper stock under black light. Also compare images closely to a known authentic specimen.

  • If the card is perfectly centered, it probably isn't real. The 1969 Topps are known for bad centering. While it's possible to find an authentic with great centering, it isn't likely.

  • White letters: While some players in the set did have white letters for the last name, Jackson did not.


1986 Michael Jordan Fleer 57

Everyone wants a rookie Jordan in their collection, making this card a forger's dream.

  • Tipoff: If the arrow in the Fleer logo is the same color as the background of the Premier box, you might be dealing with a fake.

  • Check out the bulls eyes. If there is no separation between the bull's pupils and the rest of the eye, it probably isn't a real Jordan rookie card.






Tips for Safely Buying Vintage Sports Cards

When seeking out vintage cards to build your collection, implement these best practices:

• Learn the market - Know the true market value from recent sales before buying. Use sold comp sites to see latest sales like 130point.com

• See it personally - Thoroughly inspect cards rather than buying sight unseen online. When buying online I suggest only buying graded to avoid headaches. 

  • Use a blacklight to look for added color

  • Make sure you compare it to an authentic card side by suede in person to make sure it is not trimmed. 

• Buy graded cards - Third party grading companies authenticate condition/quality.

• Use trusted sellers - Check seller reputation and return policies. Avoid risky private deals.

• Follow your gut - If a card seems suspect, it probably can't be trusted.



By becoming an informed collector and approaching vintage card purchases carefully, your chances of bringing home a fake are greatly reduced. Scrutinize those legendary cardboard gems closely and happy collecting!






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