When you acquire baseball cards, autographs and other sports memorabilia, are you collecting or investing?
A glance at some of the ads in a national magazine devoted to collecting (the November issue of Baseball Cards, for example) might make you think the name of the hobby is investing.
The 1985 Topps Olympic baseball team set is called a "great investment" at $39.95 by Texas Sportscard Company. The same company calls hockey cards a "super investment." Another "great investment" is a Sept. 12, 1985, Cincinnati Post, going for $9.95, but not at your newsstand.
If you're interested in hording, Collector's Universe lists prices for individual cards in quantities of 10 or more or 50 or more (for Jose Canseco, you must call for the price).
There's even a company called National Sportscard Investments. Not surprisingly it touts, among other things, "our best investment set -- A1 rated. . . Take advantage of this GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY to get in at the bottom and let your investment SKYROCKET."
But that's not the kind of talk you hear in local card stores.
"It is a hobby and should be treated as such," says Scott Michael of Scott Michael Stamps in Pikesville. "There are guys who have made money, and they were lucky."
Some customers don't appreciate this advice.
"They walk out mad," Michael says.
Enjoyment is the key for Joe Bosley at The Old Ball Game in Reisterstown, too.
"I think that you should be a collector," Bosley says. "You should invest in something you can relate to and like."
Don Bevans of All Star Cards in Baltimore, says the investment idea comes up frequently.
"Almost everyone asks that question," he says. "Even the little ones ask that."
Bevans guesses that 80 percent of his customers look on their collections as investments, although about half of them insist it's just a hobby. He says people should be patient.
"I don't recommend short-term investment for baseball cards," he says. "They're like fine wine. . . . They have to mellow and age."
Among younger collectors, Bevans finds that some know onlwho the hot players are -- Dave Justice and Kevin Maas, but especially Justice -- not even what teams they play for.
Tom Blair at Jay's Sports Connection says the Towson store'business is geared mainly toward collectors. Some parents inquire about investing in cards for their children, and other adults are eschewing stocks and futures for cards. Blair says he doesn't encourage investment in single cards, but recommends sets instead.
Among the youngsters who make up the bulk of the customers at Jay's, Blair has found "about 50 percent come in and buy the cards because they like the players," and the other half are knowledgeable about cards and interested in their appreciation.
Today: Baltimore-Washington Sports Collectibles Show, Holiday Inn, Baltimore-Washington International Airport, 10 a.m.-4 p.m., 964-8022.
Saturday: Mid-Atlantic Card Shows, Howard Johnson, Hagerstown, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.