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Q&A with Gordy Bonker, Host of Bonkers Cards

PJ Kinsella

PJ Kinsella in Q&A With REA
Sep 21 — 7 mins read

Gordy Bonker is a passionate collector who has garnered a strong following in the vintage-card community, hosting numerous set breaks for some of the most iconic sets from the 1950s. This year, he teamed up with REA to host a livestream event on the final day of each auction, highlighting some of the top lots that are available. In this Q&A, he talks about his unwavering passion for the hobby, some of his favorite cards, and what it’s been like working with Robert Edward Auctions.

How did you initially get into the hobby and what were some of the first types of cards and collectibles that interested you?

Like so many collectors, I first started collecting as a kid. It was a Christmas tradition to get the factory set of Topps each year, and I would always sleeve the set up in a Card Binder organized by team. I remember around that time (2005-2009) my favorite cards were of my favorite players like Albert Pujols, Derek Jeter, and Bernie Williams. I still have them all today, and they will be with me forever. 

I got back into the hobby in late 2021 as the Covid price boom was starting to settle down a bit but the heightened interest in cards and collectibles remained. I write a financial blog, The Bonker Beat, and I had written a post about going to my first card show and buying baseball cards as investments. It was abstract to me at the time that baseball cards could serve as an alternative asset class and investment vehicle, and I wanted to write about the experience and the cards I had bought. The full article is on my blog titled Alternative Assets, and Investing into your hobby

I bought a 1954 Topps Willie Mays that day that would ultimately kickstart my renewed love for the hobby as well as start me on the path of collecting the complete 1954 Topps set.

Gordy's 1954 Topps Willie Mays

Gordy's 1954 Topps Willie Mays

What are some cards that you're most proud to say you've owned? Are there any that you've added to your collection that you would never sell under any circumstances?

Some of the cards I am most proud to have owned include my 1954 Hank Aaron SGC 4.5. I recently sold it in hopes of landing an upgraded copy. I’ve also been fortunate to land a few incredible signed copies of Hank Aaron cards that have very low population counts. Two of my favorites are the 1958 Yellow Letter Hank Aaron Auto (Pop 4) and the 1956 Topps Hank Aaron Auto Grade 10 (Pop 19). I can't ever imagine myself selling these.

A 1958 Topps Yellow Name Hank Aaron PSA Authentic with a 9 auto

A 1958 Topps Yellow Name Hank Aaron PSA Authentic with a 9 auto

I also recently acquired a very rare playing year Babe Ruth card, the 1928 George Ruth Candy Co. Blank Back in an SGC 1.5. This card is #2 in a six-card set that was included with the George Ruth Candy Co. bars. Interestingly, Ruth was involved in the chocolate candy business and ran up against the manufacturer of the “Baby Ruth” candy bar that still exists today. Babe took issue with the name, there was litigation, and ultimately the manufacturer of the “Baby Ruth” bar got to keep its name by attributing the inspiration to President Grover Cleveland's deceased daughter.

The very rare 1928 George Ruth Candy Co. card that is one of the most unique pieces in Gordy's collection

The very rare 1928 George Ruth Candy Co. card that is one of the most unique pieces in Gordy's collection

You do vintage set breaks regularly. How do you approach getting cards for breaks and adding new pieces to your collection? How can people tune in to watch your set breaks?

Yes, I just opened our sixth vintage complete set break on the @BonkersCards channel, the 1955 Topps Complete Set Break. I am a diligent collector and have been fortunate to build some really strong relationships in the hobby the last few years. I attend at least two card shows a month to meet with card dealers and see what sets they may have for sale. I also put together sets over time through buying here and there on Facebook, eBay, and through members of the Bonkers Cards community. 

For anyone unfamiliar with the concept of a set break, essentially it's like opening a pack of vintage baseball cards virtually. Participants in the break buy "slots" for the number of cards in the set. Every slot guarantees a card. Once all slots are filled, I upload the full list of participants into a randomizer tool on a livestream that everyone watches in real time on my YouTube and TikTok channels. We randomize the list, and attach each name to a number that is in the set. For the 1955 Topps Set break, for example, whoever lands on #123 will win the 1955 Sandy Koufax PSA 4 rookie card! Cards are then shipped the following day to participants to enjoy. 

We have done previous set breaks with 1954 Topps, 1953 Topps, 1950 Bowman, 1964 Topps Giants, 1956 Topps, and we just launched 1955 Topps this week. They’ve been well received so far, and I plan to continue to do breaks monthly as long as the community still loves doing them. I have some big plans for future breaks and am really excited for the audience to see what's coming. If you subscribe to my YouTube channel at @Bonkerscards and on TikTok @Bonkerscards, you can stay up to date on all these events.

Through your relationship with REA, you've been hosting a livestream highlighting key items on the final night of our auctions. Tell us about your experience working with REA and why you wanted to partner with the brand?

As a vintage baseball fanatic, there is no brand in the hobby that represents the history of baseball cards and memorabilia better than REA. I have always admired the brand and the incredible pieces of history that REA has had the opportunity to get on consignment and display for collectors. 

When I saw the REA team was local to me in Chester, NJ, and were having a showcase event for their Spring Auction this year at the Just Collect store in Millburn, NJ, I had to go and introduce myself and talk about the hobby and what I was building at Bonkers Cards. Having the opportunity to align my audience and brand with REA's has been a truly symbiotic and enriching partnership, and I have had a blast getting to work with their team. 

What is clear about the REA team across the board is that they are passionate collectors and fans of the hobby, just like I am. I've had the opportunity to stop by their office a few times this year, and every time I'm there I get caught up talking at length about the hobby, collecting, and stories from cardboard. 

Be sure to check out our next LIVE watch event on my YouTube channel this Sunday, September 24 at 7:00PM!

Gordy interviewing REA President Brian Dwyer during the company's Spring Auction pop-up event at Just Collect in April

Gordy interviewing REA President Brian Dwyer during the company's Spring Auction pop-up event at Just Collect in April

You attend a lot of shows and hobby-related events. What are some of the trends that you've seen recently around vintage cards versus modern cards?

I love getting out to card shows and speaking with every corner of the hobby. While I primarily speak with vintage dealers and collectors, I have begun to educate myself on certain aspects of the modern market as well, which behaves as a completely different market to vintage. The modern market has had a much harsher and more volatile correction over the last few years. Many of the "flippers" who entered during the Covid era have left the hobby, which resulted in less liquidity and lowering prices. I have noticed that modern cards in today's hobby are viewed more for what their value "could be" based on betting on players’ performances, accolades, team success, etc. This trend has emerged coinciding with the rise in sports gambling and offers another way for sports fans to speculate on the players and teams they love. 

It's not a good or bad thing, it's just different. The vintage market does not behave that way. It’s held up much better compared to the modern market. This is largely due to the fact that most of the flipping and speculative activity that increased during the pandemic was in the modern market. 

One key takeaway from these shows is that regardless of what cards are selling for, there is such a strong passion for collecting and the hobby. The shared experience of finding cards for your collection, talking about your favorite players, teams, and moments that these cards represent are what the hobby is about and that's embodied in every show I go to.

Gordy visiting the REA booth during the 2023 National in Chicago, holding a copy of the company's new magazine "Hobby Intricacies"

Gordy visiting the REA booth during the 2023 National in Chicago, holding a copy of the company's new magazine "Hobby Intricacies"

If you had to start your collecting journey all over again, what are the five cards that you're adding first as the cornerstones?

That's a really difficult question. From an investment point of view, I believe strongly in Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Jackie Robinson. For the first three vintage cards I would probably go for:

1.) 1954 Topps Hank Aaron Rookie 

2.) 1953 Topps Jackie Robinson 

3.) 1952 Topps Willie Mays 

The last two cards in my collection would be less about the long term investment as an asset, and more for just my love of the cards as collectors pieces. 

I would probably pick up cards of my favorite players growing up. I'd pick up an Albert Pujols rookie card and lastly a Derek Jeter autograph card, which has been on my personal collection wantlist for some time now.