In what will be the biggest sports auction the industry has ever seen, over 1,300 collectibles are set to sell and multiple pages within the record books are poised to be rewritten. In this edition of Auction Action, we preview what is set to be a historic night for the entire sports collectibles space and review the most intriguing storylines and items scheduled to sell.
The wait is almost over and only one question remains: How high can this 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle go? Earlier this week, the Altan Insights team sat down with Heritage Vice President Derek Grady, the man who helped bring this incredible piece of history to auction, for a most-listen interview detailing the discovery and consignment process (Click here for that exclusive interview). In our conversation with Grady, he discussed how highly Alan Rosen, the famed collector of '52 Mantle's, viewed this particular card which now carries a 9.5 grade from SGC.
The above letter details Mr. Rosen's opinion and if there is any opinion that should carry weight, it should probably be the man whose entire hobby identity was built around the '52 Mantle. This exact card was initially purchased by Rosen for $1,000 in 1985, then quickly flipped for $3,500. Rosen bought the card back for $40,000 in 1991, before selling it to Anthony Giordano for $50,000 in July of that year. The $50,000 sale marked the first time a sports card had ever reached that price and passed the previous record of $49,500, which was set at Sotheby's just a few months earlier. If you are keeping track at home, the annualized ROI for this card based on the original $1,000 price (not inflation-adjusted) would be 24.95% if it sells for exactly $10 million. With the number of bids that have already been placed though, $10 million could be surpassed earlier in the evening that initially expected.
For years, leaders within the sports card space have been waiting for a sale that finally pushes the market closer to the one we see within fine art. It was always known that while players like Luka Doncic and Patrick Mahomes stole the spotlight for a period in 2021 and while card types like Rookie Patch Autos and Logomen saw a surge in valuation, if cards were going to reach eight-figures, it would take a vintage masterpiece. Yes, it could have been a 1954 Hank Aaron or a T206 Honus Wagner, and of course one of the PSA 10 Mickey Mantle's would have been up to the task as well. Ultimately though, it is this SGC 9.5 Mantle that will finally push the sports collectibles market into a price range once only represented by Monet's and Warhol's.
If $8.2 million for a Mickey Mantle card is out of your price range, how about going for a complete set of all 407 cards printed in the 1952 Topps series? The collection, which is anchored by a PSA 5 graded Mantle, is 95% composed of cards graded PSA 7 or 8 and includes a PSA 6 graded Jackie Robinson and a PSA 5.5 graded Ed Mathews. There are already four complete sets that have reached six figures with another four nearing the $100k threshold. One of the most extensive auctions ever, this event features complete set from every Topps baseball production between 1952-1967. There is a plethora of opportunity within these lots as the 1954 set displays PSA 8 graded copies of Hank Aaron and Ernie Banks while the 1953 series has a PSA 8 graded Jackie Robinson and a PSA 7 Mickey Mantle. Additionally, the auction is packed with modern sets including the 1984 Star Co. Basketball series plus one lot that includes the 237 cards that comprised the 1990-2009 Hall of Famers Goal Line Art series. There will be plenty of attention on the individual cards and collectibles set to sell this weekend, but the complete set market has portrayed continued strength over the past year as demand remains steady.
*( In addition to the 1952 Mantle... yes, we are watching that one too)
Most expensive sports card ever sold? Check.
Most expensive baseball bat ever sold? Maybe.
This incredible piece of lumber has already reached a price that places it amongst the highest valued sports collectibles on the market, but with hours remaining before extended bidding, it seems increasingly likely that this Ruth gamer might become the first multi-million dollar bat ever sold. The provenance and authentication are unmatched for a Ruth bat from the post-World War I era and there is even potential for further value discovery to take place which could aid in boosting the final sale price. Similar to vintage jerseys which have sold recently and are then boosted in price due to additional research and knowledge, this signed Hillerich & Bradsby might have been the bat that Ruth gifted to Hall of Famer Frank Baker. No player in baseball history combined sheer power and might quite like Ruth and the 43.8 ounces the bat commands gives a perfect representation of the player who lives on today as one of the primary faces of baseball. The current record for any Babe Ruth bat was set back in 2004 when a 40-ounce early Ruth bat sold for $1.265 million at auction. The bat at Heritage is currently priced at $1.260 million, which means by the time you read this, it might have already secured its place at the top of baseball bat history.
Item: 1979 Topps Wayne Gretzky Rookie Card (PSA 10)
While the Canadian-produced O-Pee-Chee edition of Gretzky's rookie card tends to command higher prices, the American-based Topps example headlines this auction and is expected to reach a price never achieved before by a US-produced hockey card. The only other PSA 10 Topps Gretzky is currently trading on the fractional marketplace Rally at a $740,000 market cap. That valuation is currently being chased down by the PSA 10 set to sell via Heritage which has already reached $675,000 with buyer's premium and could be lined up for a seven-figure finish before the night is over. As mentioned previously, the OPC copies appraise at a multiple higher than the Topps, but for a collector who is buying the card for its eye appeal, the Topps is a no-brainer. Due to faulty saws, the OPC cards have rigged edges and often carry worn and damaged corners. The PSA 10 Topps et to sell at Heritage is in pristine condition with impeccable centering, flawless edges, and displays what might be the best surface of any Gretzky rookie I have ever seen. These cards are infamous for having slight yet careless flaws, from the oil drop in the Oilers logo being off-centered to discoloration in the image of 'The Great One'. This PSA 10 somehow managed to avoid all of the common defects and stands as one of the only examples in existence worthy of a gem mint label.
For any vintage sports collector, this is a dream piece.
This Old Judge Tobacco Advertising Sign manages to combine America's favorite pastime with history and art in the form of a 26x39 poster. The display depicts 19th-century baseball icons like Cap Anson and Pud Gavin, who was the first 300-game winner in baseball history. The coloration presented is also inconceivable when you consider the fact that it is 134 years old and was initially designed to hang as an advertisement, only to be torn down and disposed of afterward. The poster was produced just 23 years after the Civil War and was curated during the heart of the Gilded Age, when business magnates like Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller were laying the foundation for the American industrial revolution which would serve as the most influential period of economic growth in U.S. history. At the same time, professional baseball was in its infancy and while demand for the sport was rising, it would be nearly another decade before a formalized league would capture the eyes and hearts of fans across the country. This poster captures a moment frozen in time, before the dead-ball era of the early 20th century and before names like Cy Young, Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, and Christy Mathewson. With the sport still years away from reaching its earliest stages of a 'Golden Age', this poster presents one of the earliest crossovers between American consumerism and a new age in professional athletics. The sign currently has a reserve of $300,000 with buyer's premium but based on the fair market value of comparable examples, should be primed to hit that number and possibly reach higher when the final bid settles.
In a word, 'astonishing' probably fits this card best although no one would contend if you chose something like 'staggering' or 'unimaginable' instead.
In an auction overflowing with vintage grails, this might be the most impressive modern card available, short of the BGS 8.5 graded Tom Brady Championship Ticket. With an image of Kobe donning the number '8' and attacking the basket with his trademark tenacity, the Topps #138 card has consistently stood alone as the premier non-insert Bryant rookie. Adding to the impressive factors already at play with this card are the shimmering boarders and flawless qualities. With any refractor, centering flaws are not only obvious, but even the slightest slide in one direction becomes negatively eye-catching. This exact card sold for $1.75 million in March 2021 during the height of the sports card market run last spring. It is no secret that we are currently living in a different market which makes this sale especially intriguing to see where the highest-end for late-1990s basketball current stands. In any capacity, these were selling for less than $75,000 in 2016, which shows just how far the market has climbed in a short timeframe.
All Images via Heritage Auctions
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