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Auction Action: REA Spring 2024 Preview (Part 3)

Auction Action: REA Spring 2024 Preview (Part 3)
April 19, 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. On Monday, we learned about some vintage baseball grails. On Wednesday, we took a deeper look at the game-worn market and the market for early Jordan sneakers. Today, we wrap it up with some unique card lots and consider the allure of sealed packs and set collecting.

Lot # 14: 1969-1970 Topps Basketball Complete Set (99): #4 PSA Set Registry (8.77 GPA)

Photo: REA

After more than a decade in hiatus beginning in 1957, Topps returned basketball cards to the collecting forefront with its 1969-1970 set. The set brought striking and colorful issues for the likes of Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Lew Alcindor, John Havlicek, and Walt Frazier to collectors, with the latter three representing rookie cards. Given the void in releases, the memorable nature of the set’s design, and the stars featured, 1969-70 Topps has become one of the more cherished sets in basketball card history. In fact, it sits behind only 1986 Fleer and 1986 Fleer Stickers on the PSA Set Registry in terms of number of sets tracked. Put differently, only the power of rookie Michael Jordan proves superior in desirability.

Recent results for offerings from the set further emphasize that desirability. Take, for instance, a full, uncut sheet of all the cards in 1969-70 Topps. That work of art sold at Heritage earlier this year for $216,000. Or, there’s a set with a GPA of 9.01 that was ranked #6 on the registry at the time of sale in May of 2023; it sold for $174,000. While many have tried and successfully completed sets, doing so in high grades or otherwise desirable condition is a vastly more difficult task, and the market rewards the achievement in kind.

Of the 197 sets PSA counts on its registry, this example offered at REA currently ranks number 4, with a grade point average of 8.77. With that GPA, the set boasts a considerable number of cards that grade a PSA 9, and the infrequency with which some of those cards change hands says much about their rarity. A PSA 9 Jerry West, for example, hasn’t sold since January of 2021. A PSA 9 Oscar Robertson hasn’t sold since June of 2022. Nate Thurmond’s rookie in that grade last sold in February of 2022. There are countless, similar examples that aren’t exactly the types of cards you can pick up monthly in 2024. 

While the set that sold for $174,000 in May 2023 may have offered a slightly higher GPA, the set at REA makes up for that shortcoming with a number of key cards in higher grades. While both sets land the most important Alcindor and Chamberlain cards in PSA 8 grades, the REA offers Oscar Robertson and Bill Bradley cards in a PSA 9 instead of a PSA 8 and an Elgin Baylor in a PSA 8.5 instead of a PSA 8. The difference between a PSA 8 and a PSA 9 can amount to several thousand dollars. Let’s use Earl Monroe’s card as an example; while he’s represented in PSA 9 format in both sets, his PSA 9 and PSA 8 cards both have relatively recent sales. In September of 2023, his PSA 9 sold for $10,010, while his PSA 8 recorded two sales that same month for $510 and $585 respectively. 

In other words, GPA - while a very helpful tool in evaluating sets - may not tell the whole story, particularly when differences in score are relatively minor. The composition of the set is similarly important, and the composition here is quite strong, pushing the bidding to $174,000 with buyer’s premium before the weekend even begins. Now we wait to see if the power of top tier set collecting will once again demonstrate its might.

Lot # 2207: 1954-1955 Topps Hockey Unopened Five-Cent Wax Pack PSA EX-MT 6

Photo: REA

Released during the prime of the "Original Six" era, the 1954 Topps Hockey set represented the entry of the biggest name in trading cards into a sport that was gaining increasing popularity in the United States.

With the National Hockey League confined to only six professional teams, the 1950s were defined by bitter rivalries, Canadian dynasties, and an uptick in star-power on the ice. The 1940s belonged to Toronto, as the Maple Leafs won five titles throughout the decade. Then, it was the Detroit Red Wings, powered by a lineup laden with hall-of-fame icons, who would win four championships between 1949-1955. In the latter-half of the ‘50s, the torch was passed to Montreal, who secured five consecutive titles while winning 57% of their games between 1955 and 1960.

The legends who built the NHL into a thriving 32-team league can be found within the iconic 1954 Topps set. 

Something that you won’t find: Any card from that set in a gem mint grade.

The hockey card market debuted in the early 1900s with the introduction of tobacco cards like the C55 set, but it wasn’t until O-Pee-Chee and Parkhurst produced their first hockey sets in the 1940s and ‘50s that hockey cards were manufactured and distributed at scale. 

Spurred by their early success within the baseball card market, Topps entered the industry of hockey cards with this set in 1954. With vibrant colors and intricate illustrations, the 1954 Topps set was loaded with legends. Known simply as “Mr. Hockey”, Gordie Howe had already transformed Detroit into a dynasty, and today, prices for his cards reflect his influence on the game. His teammate, goalie Terry Sawchuk, stymied opponents during Detroit’s reign of dominance and also made his Topps debut within the 1954 printing. 

The set wasn’t released without controversy. Any astute hockey collector might notice that despite printing a hockey set in 1954-55, Topps took time off before returning to the sport in 1957. This wasn’t by accident or oversight but, instead, was due to a lawsuit filed by the NHL against Topps due to the 1954-55 edition. You wouldn’t know it by looking at the cards found within the set, as they carry the name, image, and likeness of all players featured in addition to the actual team logos, but Topps didn’t carry a license with the league. This legal breach and lack of permission led the NHL to sue Topps and halt any production until an agreement was reached and the trading card company restarted its hockey card operations two years later.

Robert Edward Auctions has been a leader within the Topps hockey market. According to our data, REA has sold more than $1.7 million in Topps hockey cards over the past five years with more than $300,000 coming by way of sealed wax and unopened case sales. The pack presented by REA is graded PSA 6, one of the highest graded five-cent specimens in existence. Just as the 1954 set was the first appearance of Topps within the hockey card market, this pack is the first unopened example ever offered by REA. This hockey history has already attracted more than two dozen bids and surpassed $20,000 with just days remaining in the auction.

Lot # 19: 2017 Panini National Treasures Football #161 Patrick Mahomes II Rookie Patch Autograph Green #3/15 BGS MINT 9 with GEM MINT 10 Signature

Photo: REA

The modern NFL collectibles market is dominated by two names: Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes.

Considering 8 of the last 10 Super Bowls featured at least one of those two superstar quarterbacks, their control over the card market is fitting.

The premier card for Mahomes is the 2017 Panini National Treasures rookie patch auto (RPA), which comes in multiple variations including gold, holo, and green. Each variation provides a source of forced scarcity as the print runs are limited and, in turn, create an active market as collectors clamor for an opportunity to own one of these prized football collectibles.

The market for Mahomes reached a crescendo in 2021 with more than $23 million worth of cards and memorabilia sold including a $1.1 million sale of a BGS 9.5 graded Holo Gold RPA. In addition to the million-dollar result, 38 six-figure sales combined to contribute more than $11 million to the annualized total.. The market receded slightly in 2022 with $22 million in sales before really hitting the breaks in 2023, as the combined auction sales across all major houses tracked by Altan Insights settled below $12 million. 

With little momentum heading into 2024, collectors of Mahomes memorabilia had to be impressed by the results in the first quarter. For starters, there was a National Treasures Red RPA that sold for $330,755, surpassing any sale at auction in all of 2023. The Mahomes market also saw a sports memorabilia record established by way of a game-worn jersey. Heading into the new year, the auction record for game worn Mahomes memorabilia was just above $50,000. There were two sales in Q1 that exceeded any previous result as a pair of photomatched cleats sold for $71,980 and a game-worn jersey realized a record-setting $213,500.

Since 2019, Robert Edward Auctions has sold more than 60 Patrick Mahomes cards and collectibles with a top sale of $60,000. That sale was for the same 2017 National Treasures Green RPA that is up for auction this week with bids already pushing above 50% of the previous sale price. The card is graded BGS 9 with gem mint corners and mint centering. The tri-color patch showcases the unmistakable red, yellow, and white color scheme that has adorned the uniforms of the team since the 1960s, when the franchise was headquartered in Texas. Completing the card is the penmanship of Mahomes in blue marker that earned a gem mint 10 from Beckett. 

In February, Mahomes secured his third Super Bowl title in five years as the Chiefs officially entered the dynasty conversation. In 1Q24, collectors took notice with record-setting sales and a positive turn for five and six-figure Mahomes cards. During that same quarter, total sales for comparable active quarterbacks like Josh Allen, Joe Burrow, Jalen Hurts, and Lamar Jackson declined as the market made a statement. No current star QB can compete with Mahomes on the field, and we’re witnessing a similar trend on the auction block.

The REA Spring 2024 auction, featuring all the items we've previewed this week, closes this Sunday (4/21) at 9PM.

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