This article was featured in our newsletter, Alts & Ends. Click here to subscribe for free and receive the best collectible market insights straight to your inbox on a weekly basis!
2023 was not the brightest year in collectible markets, but that doesn't mean it was without action. On the contrary, when you think back, you'll be startled to learn just how much happened last year. Be honest: if we asked when Fanatics bought PWCC, you might say 2022. And if we asked when The King of Collectibles debuted, we know you'd break out in a cold sweat and question the existence of a world in which The King of Collectibles didn't exist.
But it's the first week of the year, and you probably don't have the time or the energy to summon those memories, so we put together a rundown of the key sales, events, and headlines that shaped 2023 in collectibles. Without further ado...
- After an appearance by John Reeves, an Alaskan gold miner, on The Joe Rogan Experience, divers took to New York City's East River in search of woolly mammoth bones and tusks that were said to have been dumped there in the 1940s. You're not going to believe this, but they found....nothing.
- The year of jaw-dropping Princess Diana auction sales begins. Sotheby's sells Princess Diana's Ball Dress, designed by Victor Edelstein, for $604,800 against an estimate of $80,000 - $120,000, establishing a record for the most expensive dress ever sold at auction.
- In that very same event - perhaps the most eclectic assembly of items ever sold in the same auction - Sotheby's sells LeBron's jersey from Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals for $3,680,000. signaling a continuation of high-end game-worn activity that began in 2022.
- Audemars Piguet announces it will launch a certified pre-owned program by the end of 2023, following a similar announcement made by Rolex at the end of 2022. By the end of 2023, details on the program will remain murky.
- Totaling over 250 auction lots of more than 420 Star Wars action figures, "The Morphy Find" sells for more than $760k at Morphy Auctions. A rough estimate suggests that the toy collection, bought at retail, appreciated at a rate of 16% annually, net of buyer's premium.
- Hermes prevails in a lawsuit filed against the creator of "Metabirkins," with the court ruling that the project had infringed on the company's trademark. The NFTs were not considered to be protected by free speech, as many famous works of art have been.
- Speaking of Birkins, Hong Kong billionaire Joseph Lau sells 76 Hermes handbags through Sotheby's, totaling sales of $3.2 million to become the largest single-owner collection ever sold in Asia.
- VHS copies of the first three Rocky movies sell for $53,750 at Heritage, led by the $27,000 sale of the original film. The VHS tapes were placed in a time capsule by a dad of the 1980s who purchased them for $60 apiece. They appreciated at a rate of 15% annually in that capsule, emerging in a very different and strange world.
- LCG Auctions sells a sealed first-generation iPhone for a then-record of $63,356. The AT&T-exclusive phone was gifted to a Verizon customer named Karen Green way back in 2007. Not up for switching plans, she kept it safely in a drawer. The iPhone madness was only just beginning.
- Steve Aoki, in partnership with CAS, launches Audio Media Grading to grade and authenticate vinyl, cassettes, and CDs. Tuned In Grading, offering similar services, opens to the public for business mid-month.
- Joe Montana's jersey worn in both Super Bowl XIX and XXII sells for $1.2 million at Goldin, establishing the record for any NFL jersey and becoming the first football jersey to reach seven-figure territory.
- The Dynasty Collection, featuring one sneaker from each of Michael Jordan's six NBA Championship-clinching victories, embarks on a selling exhibition with Sotheby's. The collection is available for private sale, but by 2024, it will be up for public auction at the house.
- Silicon Valley Bank, a key lender and deposit destination for premium wineries and vineyards, fails, leaving those businesses in limbo. As of the end of 2022, the bank had $1.2 billion in loans outstanding to wine industry customers. Depositors are ultimately backstopped by the government, and SVB is later sold by the FDIC to First Citizens Bank, which retained SVB's Wine Division.
- Tarisio sells a violin constructed by Giuseppe Guarneri for $9.44 million, becoming the third most expensive violin ever sold at auction.
- Notorious short-seller Bill Ackman tweets "trading cards can be good investments" in reaction to news that Fanatics and the Professional Tennis Players Association had reached agreement on a twenty-year exclusive trading card partnership.
- Fanatics Collectibles, MLB, and MLB Players unveil the "MLB Debut" patch, which will be worn by rookies on their debut and later included in trading cards, which released later in 2023.
- Beckett unveils plans for a new grading scale. Within 48 hours, those plans are booed right out of existence by the Hobby's loud and change-resistant social media presence.
- Michael Jordan's Air Jordan XIIIs, worn in Game 2 of the 1998 NBA Finals, sell for $2,238,000 at Sotheby's, establishing a new record for any sneakers. The sale is consummated by a lone irrevocable bid at $1,800,000.
- Hunt Auctions announces that it privately sold a baseball bat used by Babe Ruth circa 1920-21 for $1.85 million, a new record price for a baseball bat. The bat was purchased at auction in 2018 for $400,800 and was photomatched by PSA/DNA before its record sale.
- Panini files a lawsuit against Fanatics seeking injunctive relief from alleged poaching of employees. The skirmish is just the tip of the iceberg in what will become a much larger and wider-reaching legal battle.
- Adding some kindling to that fire, Fanatics and WWE announce a long-term, multi-platform merchandise partnership that features digital and physical cards and collectibles. Anybody want to guess who was making WWE cards previously? Hint: it's a type of sandwich.
- Sotheby's sells Eddie Van Halen's guitar, used in the "Hot for Teacher" music video, for $3,932,000, making it the third most expensive guitar ever sold at auction. Got it bad, so bad....
- The King of Collectibles, a reality TV show focusing on the goings-on at Goldin, premieres on Netflix. It performs well enough to earn a second season.
- Sotheby's Metaverse launches its own curated marketplace for digital works, offering editorial context and storytelling to a space short on both.
- 16 watches sell for more than 1,000,000 CHF each at auction events across houses in Geneva, led by the 3,690,000 CHF sale of a Rolex Cosmograph Daytona bejweled with diamonds and sapphires.
- Despite significant controversy relating to the Horten family's Nazi ties, the Heidi Horten Collection's first round of sales at Christie's grosses $196 million. By August, the house cancels further sales of the collection.
- Fanatics makes a shock acquisition of PWCC. Rumors swirl that the acquisition was motivated by PWCC closing in on insolvency, with some pointing to suspicions that the company's trading card loan book was significantly underwater.
- The Supreme Court rules that Andy Warhol's Orange Prince work was a copyright violation of Lynn Goldsmith's photograph of the late artist. The ruling raises significant questions on fair use and the role of the judiciary as art critics.
- Karl Malone's Dream Team collection sells for a total of $5.4 million at Goldin, with Michael Jordan's semifinal-worn jersey leading the way at $3,030,000.
- The marquee art auction season closes in New York, with the $1.8 billion sales total across the three major houses down 35% from the year prior.
- The bar from Cheers sells for $675,000 at Heritage, drawing the envy of mancaves worldwide.
- DraftKings conducts its first auctions featuring sports cards, but the effort doesn't seem to take hold over the balance of the year.
- The jersey worn in the second period of Wayne Gretzky's final NHL game sells for $715,120 at Grey Flannel.
- Michael Jordan's Flu Game sneakers sell for $1,380,000 at Goldin, underperforming expectations set by the $2.2 million Jordan XIII sale two months earlier. Still, the sneakers were last purchased in 2013 for $104,765, appreciating at a rate of 29% annually net of buyer's premium.
- Wilt Chamberlain's rookie uniform sells for $1,792,289 at SCP Auctions, becoming the most expensive vintage basketball item ever sold. However, the result falls well short of a September 2022 buyout offer of $3 million dating to the uniform's fractional ownership on Collectable.
- The Goose by Dmitri Cherniak sells for $6.2 million at Sotheby's in an auction of NFTs once held by Three Arrows Capital. The winner is "6529," referring to the prominent NFT collector who owns CryptoPunk #6529.
- CGC announces that CGC Trading Cards and Certified Sports Guaranty will merge in July, uniting under a new, updated grading scale.
- Fractional platform Rally unveils the Rally Museum in NYC, housing many fractional assets from dinosaur skulls to Jordan-worn sneakers.
- A handbag smaller than a grain of salt, created by art collective MSCHF and modeled after a popular Louis Vuitton design, sells for $63,000 at auction. Good luck fitting your Stanley tumblers in there.
- Batman's Batpod from The Dark Knight and Princess Leia's dress from the end of A New Hope see bidding soar to $975,000 each but fail to meet reserves and go unsold at Propstore.
- A broadside of the Declaration of Independence printed by John Rogers in Salem, Massachusetts sells for $2,895,000 at Heritage, becoming the most expensive non-Dunlap broadside sold at auction.
- The "Dune Bible" a book of the original conceptual designs and storyboards for the film, sells for $90,625, coming up juuuust a bit shy of the $2,900,000 paid for it by Spice DAO in November 2021.
- A sealed, first-generation iPhone sells for $190,373 at LCG Auctions, effectively tripling the prior record. This particular phone was of the rarer 4GB SKU, and it was consigned by someone who was a member of the engineering team at Apple when the iPhone first launched. It appreciated from the retail price of $499 at a rate of 45% annually, dramatically outpacing AAPL stock with dividends reinvested.
- Fanatics announces the launch of Fanatics Events, nodding to Comic-Con as inspiration for a new era in events revolving around sports fandom and collecting.
- Panini and Fanatics escalate their legal battle, with the former suing over antitrust claims and the latter countersuing for alleged unfair competition.
- A 1/1 Arch Manning Black Prizm sells for $102,500, $30,000 more expensive than any Peyton Manning card. Arch goes on to throw 5 passes in the 2023 season, completing 2.
- REA sells a T206 Joe Doyle error card for $1,323,000, demonstrating the impressive appetite for rare vintage grails of the card world.
- Heritage sells a Mickey Mantle jersey photomatched to the 1958 season for $4,680,000, establishing a record for any Mantle jersey. In the same event, an SGC 9 1952 Topps Mantle sells for $4,500,000.
- Scandal emerges in the world of photomatching, as industry observers point out potential issues with a Jordan jersey recently photomatched to the 95-96 Eastern Conference Finals. MeiGray initially defends the match but redacts its statement within a week. It's discovered that a fraudster cited a nonexistent foundation of a late sports photographer to support the existence of private, never-before-seen photos used for the match. That fraudster is alleged to be the person behind the hobby watchdog account, Cardporn.
- An Ultra High Relief Double Eagle sells at Heritage for $4,320,000, appreciating at a rate of 7% annually from its prior sale for $242,000 back in 1982.
- According to an SEC filing, it's revealed fractional sports memorabilia investing platform Collectable is set to be sold for $1,353,000 after transaction expenses, following several months of platform assets making their way to auction.
- A new trading card game, Disney Lorcana launches, with initial releases proving difficult to come by, inspiring secondary market prices for packs and boxes much higher than MSRP.
- Post Malone buys the "One Ring" Magic: The Gathering card for a reported sum of $2 million.
- Freddie Mercury's estate sells over multiple events at Sotheby's, grossing over $41 million in total sales. Handwritten lyrics to "Bohemian Rhapsody" become the second most expensive sold at auction at $1.728 million, while his Yamaha Grand sells for $2.178 million.
- Mile High sells a PSA Authentic restored Honus Wagner for $1,968,000. Despite a card market in decline, that result easily hurdles the most recent sale of the same card for $1,102,806 at SCP in October of 2021.
- The Nike Air Yeezy Prototype worn by Kanye West at the 2008 Grammys sells for $180,106 at Goldin. The shoes previously sold privately in April of 2021 for $1.8 million to fractional platform Rares, which was never able to fill a public offering for them.
- Not to be outdone, the Nike Air Ships worn in Michael Jordan's fifth regular season game sold for $624,000, 58% less than their sneaker auction record price achieved in October of 2021.
- Princess Diana's iconic sheep sweater sells for $1,143,000 at Sotheby's, while three Princess Diana-worn dresses sell for over $500k at Julien's. Is she on the worn memorabilia Mount Rushmore? We say yes.
- The U.S. Copyright Office rules that Jason Allen's AI-generated painting, which won first place in the Colorado State Fair, does not qualify for copyright protection, setting a potentially major precedent in the era of artificial intelligence.
- Two tickets to a performance of "Our American Cousin" at Ford's Theater on April 14th, 1865 sell for $262,500. The tickets to the show where Lincoln was assassinated last sold at Christie's for $83,650 in 2002, appreciating at 5.6% annually (gross of buyer's premium).
- Wilt Chamberlain's jersey worn to clinch the 1972 NBA Finals sells for $4,900,000 at Sotheby's.
- At Sotheby's Hong Kong, sales from the collection of China's best-known art collectors, Liu Yiqian and Wang Wei, total just $69.5 million, about $26 million short of the $95.5 million low estimate.
- Christie's announces that it will sell The OAK Collection, a collection of 500 watches assembled by Patrick Gretreide. The early returns from the initial sale event later in the year are mostly uninspiring.
- A screen-matched X-Wing Starfighter model sells for $3.1 million at Heritage, becoming the most expensive Star Wars prop ever sold.
- Fractional investing platform Rally announces it will launch an offering of shares in Mickey Mantle's childhood home, which it purchased in 2022 for $175,000. With plans to turn the home into a museum, Rally offered the IPO at a market cap of $329,000.
- RTFKT offers a "forging period" for holders of the RTFKT x Nike Dunk Genesis Cryptokicks NFT to purchase physical Nike Dunk sneakers, marking a significant moment in the convergence of digital and physical goods long heralded by NFT enthusiasts. The forge inspires 7x more trading activity in the NFTs in October than in September.
- 13 more watches sell for seven-figure CHF sums in Geneva, as the three major auction houses combine to sell about $117 million in rare watches despite a down year for the category. The most expensive watch is the 5,127,000 CHF Philippe Dufour Grande and Petite Sonnerie Minute Repeater, which previously sold at Phillips in 2021 for 4,749,000.
- The finest Inverted Jenny stamp extant sells for $2,006,000 at Siegel Auction Galleries, becoming the first multi-million dollar U.S. stamp. It previously sold in 2018 for $1,593,000.
- A C3-PO head from A New Hope commands £687,500 (approximately $843k) on the auction block at Propstore, delivering another headline sale in a market for movie props that saw growth at the high end in 2023.
- The Macallan 1926 becomes the most expensive whisky ever sold at auction, drawing $2.7 million at Sotheby's.
- RM Sotheby's sells a jersey from Tom Brady's last game for $1,391,000, displacing Montana's Super Bowl jersey as the most expensive NFL jersey ever sold. Just a month prior, Brady's 700th touchdown game jersey had sold for $1.2 million at a charity auction.
- Sotheby's and the NBA announce a multiyear partnership that sees Sotheby's become the "Official Game Worn Source of the NBA." The partnership tips off with the $762,000 sale of Victor Wembanyama's game-worn NBA debut jersey. It was estimated to sell for between $80,000 and $120,000.
- The three major auction houses combine to sell $2.1 billion in art during the marquee fall New York auction season. That total falls 33% and $1 billion short of last year's mark, but despite an expectation for disaster, careful auction management delivered healthy sell-through rates close to 96% in aggregate and evening sale hammer ratios higher than 1.0.
- A 1962 Ferrari 250 GTO becomes the second most expensive car ever sold at auction, selling for $52 million at RM Sotheby's short of its $60 million estimate.
- REA sells Babe Ruth's 1914 Baltimore News card for $7.2 million, making it the third most expensive card ever sold. 1% of the card was offered fractionally on Collectable in 2021, valuing the card at $6 million. Net of fees, the result leaves little in the way of potential profit to the 2021 buyer.
- 2023 Bowman Draft launches, featuring cards depicting Tom Brady in a Montreal Expos uniform to imagine a baseball career that never actually happened. The inclusion draws an increase in secondary market prices for boxes and packs relative to the 2022 set, with the most coveted cards (the Superfractor and the #12 Gold and Orange parallels) expected to draw six-figure sums.
- 37 Bored Apes and other NFTs are stolen in a security breach caused by an outdated smart contract (not so smart, is it?!) affecting users who had previously transacted on NFT Trader. The Apes are later returned to their owners thanks to a bounty paid by Boring Security, funded by Greg Solano, co-founder of Yuga Labs.
- The Realest launches its first auction of entertainment memorabilia, sourcing and authenticating items directly from Megadeth using Truest Authentication, which includes on-site,witness-based verification.
- A set of six jerseys worn by Lionel Messi in the 2022 World Cup-winning campaign and obtained by AC Momento sells for $7,803,000 at Sotheby's. AC Momento had since pivoted away from the game-worn business but delivered on that effort's biggest opportunity imaginable.
- Goldin announces that it brokered the private sale of a PSA 9 1998 Pokémon Pikachu Illustrator card for $2,000,000, highlighting a year in which there was a growing number of big-ticket TCG card sales.
- Panini and FIFA announce they renewed their partnership, with Panini set to produce World Cup cards until 2030. The announcement interrupts a spell of lost licenses for Panini and reassures soccer sticker collectors that their coveted prizes will continue to roll off the assembly line.
Whew! Thanks for making it through that with us. That was a lot, huh? And we left plenty on the cutting room floor. Even a "down" year in most collectible categories offers as much breakneck action as a John Wick movie. We can't wait to see what 2024 brings. Speaking of which....
Enjoyed this article? Don't forget to subscribe to our newsletter to receive more like it in your inbox weekly!
Disclaimer: You understand that by reading Altan Insights, you are not receiving financial advice. No content published here constitutes a recommendation that any particular security, transaction, or investment strategy is suitable for any specific person. You further understand that the author(s) are not advising you personally concerning the nature, potential, value or suitability of any particular security, transaction, or investment strategy. You alone are solely responsible for determining whether an investment, security or strategy, or any other product or service, is appropriate or suitable for you based on your investment objectives and personal financial situation. Please speak with a financial advisor to understand if the risks inherent in trading are appropriate for you. Trade at your own risk.