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Auction Action: REA Spring 2024 Preview (Part 1)

Auction Action: REA Spring 2024 Preview (Part 1)
April 15, 2024
Altan Insights

REA’s first major auction event of 2024, the Spring 2024 event, closes this Sunday, offering a formidable assortment of vintage and modern card grails, as well as some unique memorabilia pieces. In partnership with REA, we’ll be previewing the action throughout the week to highlight some eye-catching lots with insightful market context. Today, we kick it off with a look at three unique, vintage baseball lots that will no doubt capture collectors’ attention.

Lot # 5: Signed 1933 R319 Goudey #92 Lou Gehrig PSA/DNA MINT 9 - Highest Graded!

Photo: REA

While Lou Gehrig’s playing career and statistics are often compared to other mid-twentieth century New York legends like Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle, one area where the three are incomparable can be found through the rarity of their autographs. While Mantle and Ruth signed well after their playing days were over, Gehrig’s early passing means that anything bearing his signature came from his playing days.

The rarity and history behind Gehrig’s signature have led to not only consistent appreciation on a value basis but have also made his autograph one of the most forged. This has led authenticators to offer an additional level of scrutiny to any Gehrig auto that comes across their desk and in turn, leads to a significant number of rejections by agencies like PSA, Beckett, and JSA.

It’s known that examples of Gehrig’s autograph, when signed in a more relaxed setting such as on a check or legal document, feature ‘Lou’ and ‘Gehrig’ separated by a distinct space. This Goudey card carries a Gehrig auto known as his “ballpark signature”. In layman's terms, the “Lou” and “Gehrig” are connected, something found on specimens that were signed at a baseball game, presumably when Gehrig was rushed or surrounded by a throng of young fans.

The signature displayed on this card was granted an impressive grade of PSA/DNA 9 and it’s easy to see why. For an on-card-autograph enthusiast, the placement couldn’t be better. With the pen ink angled across the center of the card, it creates a visually appealing effect that almost gives the impression that it’s a facsimile. The autograph itself features a defined outward-facing point on the “L”, something commonly missed by forgers, and also nearly perfectly matches the loop height of both the L and G. One could say that you would be hard-pressed to find a better Gehrig auto on a 1933 Goudey, but thanks to the PSA database, we know that none exist. Not only is the autograph graded by PSA, but it comes with additional papers from JSA to provide a level of authenticity that is rare even for a signature that is so commonly faked.

The 1933 Goudey set combined the golden era of pre-war baseball with the newfound hobby of card collecting. The 1930s marked the sunsetting of tobacco cards and the dawn of the chewing gum card. As collectors opened packs from the 240-card Goudey set, they found, for the first time, sticks of bubble gum. With more than a dozen bids already pushing this Gehrig Goudey into six-figures, the card is set to become the most expensive Gehrig card or memorabilia sold in 2024. According to our data, two Gehrig cards have sold for at least $100,000 through the first 100 days of the year. The total sum of all Gehrig card and memorabilia sales is already nearly $800,000, a strong pace when compared to last year’s total sales of nearly $4 million.

Lot # 17: Circa 1913 Joe Jackson Original Charles Conlon Photograph PSA/DNA Type I

Photo: REA

The rise of Type I photography is no secret, or at least it isn’t anymore after we detailed it in our recent Q1 report on the Sports Collectibles Market. Sports photographs have become a popular collector’s item, and like many collector’s items, they require authentication and grading, because not all photos are created equal. PSA grades photographs on a scale ranging from Type I to Type IV based on when it was developed and whether it was developed from the original negative. A Type I photograph carries the distinction of being developed from the original negative within approximately two years of the photo’s capture, while a Type IV photograph comes from a duplicate negative or wire transmission and was developed more than two years after the photo was taken.

Interest in Type I photography has sparked a wave of auction activity over the last year. For instance, our data shows that four auction houses (REA, Goldin, Heritage, and Memory Lane) sold 115% more Type I photo lots in 2023 than in 2022, generating 85% more sales volume. In just the first quarter of 2024, sales activity exploded at a rate that would see another 73% annual increase in lot count if maintained for the full year. While average prices are falling with the increase in supply, interest is trickling up-market to the most rare and desirable photographs; the number of five-figure Type I photo sales at those houses was up 122% in 2023 and is on pace to increase a further 15% in 2024 based on Q1 results. 

While overall activity is way up in the Type I photography space, activity for Joe Jackson photos is decidedly not, because supply is limited. Over 1,900 Type I lots sold at the aforementioned houses in 2023 and through Q1 of this year. Just ten of them were Joe Jackson photographs, and two of those were actually team photos. Of those ten, five sold for five-figure sums. Even rarer still, though, are Type I photos from the lens of one of the great baseball photographers of all time, Charles Conlon, making this a Jackson grail. To put the admiration for Conlon in perspective, an archive of 7,492 of his original negatives sold for $1,792,500 in 2016. 

This exact iconic photo, taken of Jackson during his Cleveland days, has sold several times since 2012, each time reaching new heights:

  • May 2012 - $32,587.50 (REA)
  • March 2019 - $66,000 (REA)
  • March 2021 - $105,888 (Memory Lane)
  • April 2023 - $132,000 (REA)

The opportunity to acquire it is here once again, but this time it comes against a backdrop of a market clamorous for Type I photography. One final thought: it bears noting that the record for a sports photograph stands at $1,470,000 for a signed photo of, you guessed it, Joe Jackson.

Lot # 18: Exceptional Circa 1920 Babe Ruth Single-Signed Baseball PSA/DNA NM/MT+ 8.5 with MINT 9 Signature! 

Photo: REA

Babe Ruth was a particularly generous autograph signer, and thanks to his mythical status in pop culture (with a special nod to The Sandlot for further emphasizing the sentimental value of a Ruth-signed ball), his single-signed baseballs are popular among collectors. However, his generosity means that the population is not quite as lean as you might expect for a player that enjoyed his heyday in the 1920s and ‘30s. However, there are two distinguishing factors that help some Ruth balls stand out from the pack: 1) when it was signed, and 2) the quality of the ball and signature, as graded by PSA/DNA. 

There have been more than 200 sales of single-signed Ruth baseballs since the start of 2020. Of those sales, only eight commanded auto grades of 9 or higher, and only two achieved a 10, with 7s and 8s proving more common. There is additionally a difference in supply based on era. Of those balls that have sold for more than $20,000 since the start of 2020, fewer than a quarter of them (about 21%) date to a period before 1930. As you can imagine, when these factors - top condition and early era - are combined, the population gets quite small. While there are a handful of balls graded 8 that were signed pre-1930, we were unable to find any others to achieve a higher grade that have sold in recent years, which brings us to this example. 

The ball for sale at REA is graded an 8, while the autograph is graded a 9 by PSA/DNA, yielding an overall grade of 8.5. Based on the “Thos E. Wilson & Co.” print on the ball, it dates between 1916 and 1925, a range confirmed by Ruth’s placement of “Babe” in quotation marks, which is a practice he discontinued in the late-1920s. Examples with a quotation-laden “Babe” possessing similar eye appeal are scant. A glance at the Ruth balls that have achieved the highest prices underscores the importance of eye appeal, and relative to balls from a similar era, there is minimal fading of the signature present here.  

This particular ball last sold in 2018 for $144,000. It attracted 15 bids last year, ultimately falling short of its reserve price. Can it become the first six-figure Ruth ball of 2024? The highest price achieved last year was $137,620, set by a PSA 8 ball dating to the final two years of Ruth’s life.

Stay tuned for the next edition of our preview - on Wednesday, we'll share a primer on game-worn memorabilia as REA brings a significant collection of sneakers to the block.

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