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Collecting 101

Everyone and their dog have gift cards these days.

Those of us who collect Starbucks Cards do it for one reason, the love of Starbucks! We love it because of it's great coffee, lattes or Frappuccinos®, it's warm atmosphere (or "third place" as they call it), friendly people, fun retail and so much more. We collect these Cards because we appreciate what Starbucks does for us each and every day. A quick pick-me-up, a genuine greeting or a place to relax and take a break.

I sometimes wonder why someone would collect other gift cards. Truthfully, I haven't seen gift cards that even come close to the interesting designs that we see on Starbucks Cards. The uniqueness of Starbucks Cards is what has made them interesting and collectable from day one. Collecting is for the love of a product. Do you love 7-11 or Wal-Mart? Then collect their products, but keep in mind Starbucks Cards have a tremendous track record on investment/return.

Collecting Starbucks Cards is much like collecting anything. You'll find common items that everyone seems to have, but it's those unusual hard-to-find cards, Sleeves and other unique products that make collecting these cards fun! As you collect, you'll find a LOT more product than you thought was available. Even we're amazed at how many versions of cards were produced, or that some countries will issue Sleeves with a card, but others didn't. North America (USA and Canada) release a new card about every 45 days on average or 8 cards a year. Some issues will be printed in other countries, i.e. the Greece Olympic Card, where others are exclusive to a country or region, i.e. all of the Taiwan or Germany Cards.

For those that collect every variety of each Card, you may find the serial number chart helpful. It's a great cross reference to identifying your Card collection.

Grading a Starbucks Card is very subjective and means different things to different people. Below is a helpful understanding of what someone might expect when using these terms.

Mint (MT) -- A card with no obvious imperfections or signs of wear. Pin covering is intact and has no imperfections. Minor scratches from manufacturing are not visible without a magnifying glass. Card has never been swiped. Card is glossy and looks like it was just pulled off the shelf or from the original manufacturing pack. However, even cards straight out of the pack do not always grade mint as sometimes there are obvious manufacturing flaws. A card may be “new” but NOT “Mint”. (See also Freaks)

Near Mint (NM) -- A near- perfect card with perhaps one minor imperfection such as a single swipe mark or very minor shelf scratches that are hardly visible. This can be  a new card with manufacturing scratches. Pin covering is intact. Storage and manufacturing scratches are very minor. Card is still shiny. These cards still look brand new. A Near Mint card may be new with manufacturing scratches or Used with one minor visible swipe mark which does not mar the appearance of the newness of the card as in Starbucks corporate cards.

Excellent (EX) -- A card with minor storage scratches or minor swipe marks. Pin is covered but may show minor imperfections from manufacturing or storage. Card must have original gloss and still be shiny.

Very Good (VG) -- A card that shows obvious handling but is still attractive despite wear and imperfections. A VG card may have swipe marks, but that are not severe enough to make the card unattractive. The pin covering may be partially missing. Overall glossiness is still apparent.

Good (G) – A card that has had its pin covering removed but that is still glossy.

Fair (F), Poor (P) -- A very worn card with many major imperfections. Lots of scratches, most of the gloss is gone. The pin covering has been removed. Collectors use cards of these grades as fillers until better ones can be found.

Freaks – A card that was manufactured with a glaring flaw i.e. a massive missing piece, a large groove or gouge in the plastic from manufacturing, a bug or other material manufactured inside the plastic, obvious artwork differences, etc. Freaks are often valued more than Mint grade cards.

Thanks to Janeen Hunt - Voyajer on eBay for this grading information.

Here are some things to watch for as you take this journey.

  • Some issues have a straight silver strip, while within the same issue they also have a silver strip with a black overprint.
  • Some refer to them as "freaks" which are cards that obviously had a printing process error. Case in point, the Doves card where the words in the background were NOT visible.
  • Cutting errors are also something to look for, where the card has shifted during the cutting process, exposing some of the color registration information in the margin.
  • Cards where the strip, or serial number is misplaced. A simple shift of the card during the manufacturing process causes this.
  • Another "freak" card was identified and would be considered priceless because it contains a "foreign object"- A FRUIT FLY- sandwiched between the card layers. As these are produced as multiple laminated cards, there are likely other embedment's that will be found in the future.
  • It is always necessary to caution the difference between the above freaks, which stand alone as a single card, or in the case of an off cut row of cards, and those errors that would occur over a large number of cards, making them easier to find. An example are two versions of the Penguins card, one with gray penguins, and one with black penguins. Again, this may simply be dilution of the ink by solvent, or a change in the actual ink color.
  • Be careful of fakes. Every once-in-a-while we'll see Cards for sale that have been altered. Case in point, the original Core Card in this case. It has a plastic film over the top that has all the writing. This can easily be removed and sold as an error Card. The image below shows one we did in about 2 minutes.

  • In 2014, the Teacher Card was produced with an asterisk (*) in the top right corner. We received a response from Starbucks that said: "It appears to be a minor glitch during the personalization process, however that card will behave just like any other."

    Nobody knows how many are in the marketplace - maybe a few hundred or possibly a few thousand. In short, depending on how many surface will depend on their current and future value. This was not an intentional asterisk, so its considered an error card. (see image below)

      The * asterick even has shown up on the 2014 Holiday Monogram Cards (below)  

    Actual error Cards like the one below is a great example of a "whoops" from the factory.

    The Card below shows a piece of paper embedded in the plastic.

    Most recent is the Valentines Doily Card with the wording HAPPY VALENTINES DAY upside down

    Below the NYC is missing

Any way you look at collecting these cards and Sleeves, there really FUN to collect. The best part is you can start collecting with little or NO money.

Storing and Displaying Your Collection

Many have asked us ways to store or display their collection. One place for idea's is storesmart.com. Here you can find just about anything to showcase your collection. Another simple idea is to visit your local business supply store (Office Depot or Staples) for more 'hands on' ideas. The item in the pictures below is here.

One collector has shared her Card/Sleeve collection with us. This is a great example of properly storing your collection. As you share your collection with others, this example will keep nasty little finger prints off your valuable Cards. Also note how each plastic slot has a label with the name and year of release.

As noted before, Starbucks Cards have become extremely valuable (especially early years), but completing your collection with matching Sleeves helps the overall value. Some early Sleeves once selling for under $10.00 just a few years ago can bring much more now (many over $100.00). You want to protect your hobby and investment with examples like this.


For eBay buyers and sellers

  • Buyers, be sure to search different patterns. i.e. "starbucks cards" and "starbucks card." It's always important to search through the entire "starbucks" catalog, as you'll find cards and Sleeves entered improperly, meaning if a Sleeve was entered as "Starbucks folder", it won't come up in a "starbucks Sleeve" search. To see what we mean, do a search for "Starbucks folder", next "Starbucks Sleeve", then "Starbucks envelope." Each search will populate a different product. I promise you'll find great stuff for a steal if you just vary your search criteria.
  • Sellers, don't list your cards as "rare", unless you truly have a rare card. Rare meaning you've NEVER seen it on eBay before, or the last time one was posted was over 6 months prior. I've seen too many entries of very common cards being listed as rare, including cards that were still available at the local Starbucks store for free. This is a good warning for buyers too! Be patient and don't fall for the hyped wording, and you'll ultimately find a good deal.

    What Starbucks cards are being sold NOW!

The 10 rules in Collecting

    1. It's the hunt that's fun. Collecting on a budget can be more fun than working with unlimited funds -- it's a challenge.
    2. Do the collecting yourself so that you can learn by doing. It's not as much fun to get someone else to do it for you.
    3. Most importantly, get to know what it is you like. Learn before you spend your money by reading and talking to collectors or communicating via this Website.
    4. Buy for the love of it, never for appreciation or investment.
    5. Know that your taste will change as you grow and learn. At some point in time, you may edit, trade, give away, or change your collecting focus.
    6. Try to specialize. Specialization will enable you to more fully explore and learn. But, don't lose the sense of fun.
    7. Learn how to care for and store the collection. Remember, we don't own anything; we are merely caretakers for the next generation.
    8. Don't fret if you can't afford cards now. Forge your own territory. It's okay to begin collecting common cards and Sleeves until you can afford more collectable ones.
    9. Look everywhere for your collection. Start with your local Starbucks store, ask friends or barista's, hunt on the Internet, watch eBay, even look at garage sales .... it's amazing what you'll find.
    10. Collecting is a long term process, so relax and enjoy.

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