Got any old ‘junk’ around? From T-shirts to baseball cards, here’s why it could be worth a ton of money

‘One man’s trash...’

FILE - In this March 6, 2007 file photo, Topps baseball cards are seen in Boston. Major League Baseball is ending its 70-year relationship with trading card company Topps, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, and will instead be working sports merchandise company Fanatics. (AP Photo/Chitose Suzuki, file) (Charles Krupa, AP2007)

DETROIT – With winter on its way, most people prefer to stay inside by the fire, binge some television (ahem, if you haven’t watched Succession yet, get to it) and keep warm. If you’re not into skiing, snowboarding or sledding with the kiddos, odds are Michigan winters are a boring time for you.

You may find yourself grabbing winter coats from the attic or your snow pants from the basement, and that’s when you unknowingly strike gold.

The pandemic has caused niche markets like sports cards, retro video games and antique goods to explode. Remember the Pokemon cards that your kids used to play with or the ones you had as a kid? Little did you know that some of those cards are worth a ton of money. It spans from Pokemon cards to video games -- a copy of NCAA 14, an almost 10-year-old game, goes for around $120 on eBay right now.

The phrase “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” has never been more relevant than now. Whether it’s at a garage sale, thrift store, or in the comfort of your own home, you never know the hidden treasures you may come across, and the resale value that is sure to surprise you.

Here’s a closer look at the valuable stuff that may be collecting dust in your basement.

Video games

To this day, one of my biggest regrets in life is getting rid of my precious video games from way back in the day. I was a PlayStation kid growing up, through and through. I never owned a system other then those of the PlayStation variety. As a kid, I had no source of income, and if I wanted something, it was up to me to figure out how I was going to get it. So what was the biggest way to get money to afford the new games and consoles?

Say it with me now: Trade in our games.

We’re all guilty of it at one point or another, and boy do I regret it. First off, when you trade in a game, you get little to no money for it. Here’s how it worked. We bought a game for $30 brand new. After playing it, beating it, and getting tired of it, we traded it back in and probably got about $7, if we were lucky. Now, some of those games we traded in are worth much more than what they initially retailed for.

John Bennett is the manager at Retro-Taku Videogames in Madison Heights. Since the start of the pandemic, he has seen the retro gaming market explode.

“The combination of being locked at home and having little other media to consume has put a large demand on revisiting a lot of classic games,” Bennett said. “In some cases, customers are buying that game they put off playing back in the day or want a nostalgic experience of something they played in a simpler time.”

I can personally attest to the nostalgic factor. The music from video games definitely contributes to the “simpler times” aspect, no doubt about it. Some of the most beloved video game titles of all time have been re-made or remastered in some form or the other, but there are reasons why those original copies, especially if unopened, are worth so much money.

When it comes to what makes these games worth so much, Bennett said there are a variety of factors.

“In some cases, notoriety, rarity, later cult fame, or sometimes being very notably bad,” he said.

Back in 1994, Nintendo released 2,500 copies of Donkey Kong Country Competition. This game was only made available as part of a competition that was held by Blockbuster. The rare cartridge made its way through the doors of Retro-Taku, eventually selling for roughly $4,500. Some of the rare games the store has on hand right now includes Pokemon Stadium for the Nintendo 64, which, according to pricecharting.com, is worth around $1,100 for the complete set. The manual alone for the game is worth around $280.

So you may be wondering, who in their right mind would shell out that type of money for an old video game? Bennett said it’s a wide variety that’s made up mostly of game enthusiasts, collectors and resellers.

“Collectors are probably the most interesting, because they have the widest variety of personalities and concepts of what someone should collect,” Bennett said. “In many cases, it’s to display these items like art in a room, often a room that seems to be their childhood goal of owning every game or just every game they wanted.”

In case you were wondering, the most expensive video game ever sold was an un-opened copy of Super Mario Bros. An anonymous buyer paid $2 million for it through an auction site.

Start diggin’!

Vintage T-shirts

One of the more popular fashion trends amongst millennials and Gen Z has been wearing vintage clothing. Here, the definition of vintage is a little bit skewed. Anything from the late 70s and 80s to the early 2000s would be considered vintage.

Now, if you were born in the 60s or earlier, don’t take offense here. This doesn’t make you ancient (eh, no guarantees).

There’s a variety of vintage styles that people like to choose from, with the most popular ranging from band tees and sports tees, to those colorful windbreakers from the 90s. The idea of vintage clothing can be quite the turn off for some people. Some shirts still have your ketchup and mustard stains from 20 years ago, or maybe they have plenty of holes. Odds are, they probably don’t fit you anymore, or they’re just sitting in a drawer collecting dust. But believe it or not, someone out there is willing to pay top dollar for it.

A vintage Grateful Dead hand-me-down from my t-shirt collection. (Copyright 2021 by WDIV ClickOnDetroit - All rights reserved.)

For example, take the T-shirt above. This is a 1996 Grateful Dead “Lithuania” tee that my uncle gave me, and this thing has quite the backstory. In short, the Grateful Dead sponsored the Lithuania Olympic team back in the 1992 Barcelona Games. They were in the midst of celebrating their new independence from the Soviet Union, but after their liberation, they were completely broke.

That’s when the band decided to take matters into their own hands and sponsor the team. The band created these tie-dye shirts, and team Lithuania went on to wear them during their medal ceremony. Those shirts are very rare and hard to come by, and as a result, the average asking price for them on Grailed is between $400 and $800.

These types of niche markets allow the seller to set the price. You can’t buy the shirt, let alone most vintage shirts, at a retail price, so the seller can set the price depending on the condition it’s in, the “rare factor,” etc.

The vintage T-shirt market can make a dent in your wallet, but it can also stuff your pockets. It’s up to you to make it happen one way or the other!

Sports and trading cards

Dave Rivetto, the owner of Grand Slam Sports in Sterling Heights, said business has been booming for some time now, especially since the start of the pandemic.

“We get phone calls all day, every day with people trying to sell us cards,” Rivetto said. “The hard part in purchasing today is offering a fair price for both a seller and myself. Many times, I recommend they sell them on eBay themselves to get the most out of it price-wise.”

People can be quick to assume the value of the cards they have. They think they found lightning in a bottle without doing their research, and then they’ll show up in the store disappointed to find their card isn’t even worth a pack of a gum.

A quick online search of “vintage baseball cards” will show you a plethora of cards from the 80s and 90s for cheap, but there’s a catch. Those cards are from the “junk wax” era, and just because they’re from the 80s and 90s, don’t get excited. Rivetto said they aren’t worth much.

“That time frame was greatly over produced,” he said. “Topps, Upper Deck, Fleer, Score and Donruss produced cards over and over and over. We don’t do any purchasing of that era of sports cards.”

There’s a lot of potential money to be made when it comes to sports cards, but with that comes a hefty investment from your pockets. If you’re looking to invest, Rovetto suggests you do your homework.

“Study the hobby, the products and the athletes,” he said. “Today’s rookies and prospects sell for such high dollar, it is hard for those cards to increase in value. For investments, I think it is better to search for players with good future potential.”

If, by chance, you have a Mike Trout autographed rookie card in the house, one sold for $3.9 million at an auction last year.

If you don’t have any sports cards lying around the house, Pokemon cards aren’t a bad bet, either. In fact, John Fodell, of Grosse Pointe, came across that exact scenario.

“It was kind of by accident,” Fodell said. “I was looking for my old sports cards to sell and happened to come across the Pokemon cards and I started selling those.”

He was buying cards online for his son when eBay kept notifying him that he had 200 free listings. He decided to list a few cards that were valuable, and they started selling for crazy prices.

“The most I have sold a card for is $350, but I have sold a lot of cards from $100-$250.”

That could be sitting in your basement or in a box somewhere in your home collecting dust, and you would never know. If you think people are crazy enough for trying to get into the Pokemon card bonanza, well, you’d be right. Target had to stop selling Pokemon cards, as well as sports cards, back in May because people were fighting over them, camping outside of stores, and even opening packs in the aisles.

If you have some Pokemon cards laying around that you think might be worth something, do your research. The better condition they’re in, the more they’ll be worth.

Final thought

What it really boils down to is simply doing your research. If you’re looking to sell what you have, look it up online to see if it’s even worth anything. Keep in mind: someone may be willing to pay top dollar for your “junk.” With Christmas just around the corner, you might just have what the right buyer is looking for.


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