A few thoughts on valuing vintage/antique playing cards - paraphrased from the Hochman Encyclopedia of American Playing Cardshttp://www.dawson-on-playingcards.info/Hochman/
Gene Hochman, in Volume I of the original playing card Encyclopedia, included a price guide for all the decks listed. Oh, that we could purchase these for the prices he quoted at the time! In our price guide to the revised Hochman we used three of the categories discussed under condition to describe the listed decks. These are:
• Mint – a complete deck showing no signs of use. Normally all cards would be present as would the original box in mint or near mint condition. The inside wrapper would not need to be there.
• Excellent – a complete deck that has been occasionally used, but still in first class condition. Gold edges would still be intact and you would be proud to use this deck in your game.
• Good – A complete deck showing signs of repeated use, but still useable. There would be no serious creases or bent/broken corners. The deck would not be swollen or misshapen and would fit comfortably into the original box.
Prices for decks in the other categories can be interpolated from those shown. For example, a deck that is ‘as issued’ would command a premium over the mint price. Conversely a deck that is poor would be worth less than a ‘good’ one, and one with faults would likely be subject to a significant discount.
There are still quite a number of decks where the number of known copies can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Many of these are in museum collections and many of the very early decks, listed ‘mint’ may not even exist in that condition, but the category is priced on the basis that one or more may become available in the future.
When using our guide in determining the value of any deck of cards, keep in mind that, while it has been compiled from auction lists and decks offered for sale by antique dealers, internet and other auctions, rare book shops and private collectors, prices are nonetheless somewhat subjective. As sales of rarer decks are few and far between, a particular collector’s desire for a certain deck can often result in an unrealistic price. Or, the sudden entry on the market of a few copies of a scarce deck can result in sales at prices substantially less than previously obtained.
We have tried to take note of decks that appear to be present in most collections and those that are scarce and wanted by many different collectors. Prices must also be based on the number of collecting fields an individual deck might encompass. For example, a baseball deck would appeal to baseball nostalgia collectors as well as playing card collectors. An advertising deck from the Columbia Exposition might be sought by World's Fair and advertising collectors as well as those in our field. In the final analysis, scarcity of the item, the law of supply and demand and condition will determine the price.
In Gene’s last issued price list in 1991 he presented some advice for both buyers and sellers. It was, and still is good advice, and we repeat it here. “advice to buyers .... if you see a deck that you really want for your collection and you have an opportunity to buy it, and the price seems higher than the listed value, remember you may never find another .... and if you do, it will probably be for more. Even if you overpay slightly, it will not be long before the value will surpass the purchase price. Advice to sellers .... using this list as ‘the price’ you must get, will result in many lost sales. You must find a collector looking for a particular deck and willing to pay your price. It may pay to wait, but if you must sell quickly, be prepared to take less.”
The demand for old and rare playing cards far exceeds the supply, and we have all experienced regret, on occasion, for not paying the additional dollars necessary to purchase a scarce deck that we have not had another chance to buy.
Decks are always priced based on complete decks, with Jokers if so issued, and in the original boxes, if sold boxed. Any faults or defects, of course, reduce the value and decks in mint or as issued condition will almost always bring a premium.
An important fact to remember when using a price guide, is that it is only a guide. The prices of standard decks are more difficult to estimate than those established for popular categories such as transformation and insert cards, souvenir and railway cards and advertising decks. Non-standard decks usually have beautiful and/or interesting courts, can be of historical significance and often appeal to more than one group of collectors.