Bull Case Bear Case: Jordan Debut Ticket, Kobe Sneakers, Nolan Ryan Milton Bradley, CryptoPunk 2981, and More (Pro Edition)
February 22, 2022
Dylan Dittrich, Bradley Calleja
Welcome to the latest edition of Bull Case Bear Case, with a full slate of offering analysis for our Pro subscribers. As always, the goal is to give investors a clear, balanced view of both sides of the coin. Prepare to tackle the week with confidence!
1968 Topps Nolan Ryan Milton Bradley Rookie (PSA 9)
2/22 @ 2:30PM ET
Multi-generational, iconic flamethrower. Nolan Ryan’s career spanned the administrations of SEVEN different US Presidents. He struck out SEVEN pairs of fathers and sons - when we use the word multi-generational, we mean it literally. During that long career, Ryan amassed a statistical resume that will be near impossible to rival for decades to come. He ranks first all time in strikeouts, opposing batting average, no-hitters, and hits per nine innings pitched. The strikeout record leaves a more than 800 K gap to second place, Randy Johnson, who played 22 years. Max Scherzer leads all active pitchers and remains about 2700 strikeouts behind at the age of 36. Importantly, Ryan did it all in style, consistently registering 100 mph+ pitches over the course of his career and mixing in a venomous curveball.
Incredibly favorable population. Before even delving into the stats for the Milton Bradley edition, the population numbers for the regular Topps Ryan rookie are impressive. There have been over 13,000 Ryan/Koosman rookie cards graded by PSA - only one has received a PSA 10, and just 66 have received an unqualified PSA 9. But also printed for the 1968 set were cards to be included in the Milton Bradley “Win A Card” trading cards game. These cards bear slight distinctions to the regular Topps set, namely a white strip on the left hand side of the card and a lighter yellow background on the reverse. As they were part of a game, condition was more likely to suffer. Consequently, a little over 450 Ryan cards have been graded by PSA, and just 3 (!) have received a PSA 9, with none higher. Fun note: the rarest version of all is the O-Pee-Chee version of this card; the population features zero PSA 10s and zero unqualified PSA 9s.
Rapidly appreciating Ryan market. Ryan’s regular rookie card is one of few to rise throughout 2021 without ever really dipping. In fact, over the last two years, a PSA 9 has failed to sell at a higher level than the last sale just one time, and that was a pullback of a mere $950 back in January of 2021. Every other successive sale has set a new high, with the card’s value nearly quadrupling in value in a little over a year’s time. All of the above was true….until this past weekend (more on that in bear case). Additionally, there have been just four sales of the card over the last year, six since the start of 2021, and eight over the last two years; PSA 9 Ryan rookie cards do not appear for sale often, and therefore, opportunities for collectors to gain exposure are limited. Finally, the most recent instance of a Milton Bradley card selling - this one in PSA 8 condition - was in August at Heritage, where it sold for $15.6k about two weeks before a standard PSA 8 sold for just $8.8k.
Low recent comp. This past weekend at Memory Lane, a PSA 9 example of the standard Topps card sold for $112,003. That’s an 18% decline from the last sale in October and breaks the remarkable track record of appreciation. That also puts the valuation for this offering 43% above the most recent comp for a PSA 9 Ryan rookie. Of course, that point may be moot if the investor believes in the value of the Milton Bradley card relative to the standard issue, which brings us to…
Sales record vs. standard card unreliable. Given the incredibly low population, sales of higher grades of the Milton Bradley version are quite infrequent. However, there have been a handful of instances of PSA 8 and even PSA 9 sales over the last decade, but the results are inconclusive. For example, in May of 2015, one of the other two Milton Bradley PSA 9 examples sold at Memory Lane for $18.2k. A month later, a standard PSA 9 sold for $22.6k. Or, we can look more recently. In March of 2021, Heritage sold a PSA 7 Milton Bradley card for $5,400 - that sale was sandwiched between two lower sales of standard PSA 7s for $4.2k and $4.55k. In June of 2021, Goldin sold a PSA 8 Milton Bradley for $6,600. There were two June sales of the standard PSA 8 which averaged close to $9k. But then, the aforementioned most recent data point at Heritage is highly favorable. So, the Milton Bradley card has oscillated around the standard card’s value, trading at both vast discounts and vast premiums over time and even in the last year. That being the case, a bear might argue that there is not a clear upside thesis for the MB card relative to the standard, and that the MB card may actually pose risk at this value, which as mentioned, is a significant premium to the most recent sale of the standard card.
Resume fully bulletproof? Despite the strengths detailed at length above, there are critics of Nolan Ryan, at least in terms of where he falls amongst the all time greats (which introduces questions about where his card values should fall amongst them). This feels like sacrilege, but here we go. In 27 seasons, Nolan Ryan never once won a Cy Young Award; he was runner-up just once, and otherwise never came particularly close. He garnered All Star honors eight times in those 27 seasons. Consider the last two pitchers to have assets IPO on Collectable: Warren Spahn (a similarly long-tenured workhorse) got 17 All Star nods, and Sandy Koufax got 7 in just 12 seasons. Ryan is first all time in walks, with 50% more than any other pitcher…ever. The gap to second there is larger than it is for his strikeout record. As a result, he ranks 336th in walks & hits per nine innings and 334th in strikeouts-to-walks. Assuredly, an all time great pitcher, but a bear might argue his resume won’t hold up as well as his values would dictate against the test of time.
2016 Kobe Bryant Game Worn & Photomatched “Black History Month” Sneakers
2/23 @ 8:24PM ET
Sneaker legacy second only to Jordan. Kobe’s sneaker legacy has only strengthened in recent years since his retirement and his passing. His signature sneakers remain among the most worn by currently active players in the NBA, who have long appreciated both the style and feel on court. More than 100 players wore the Kobe 4 Protro during the 2019-20 season, when the sneaker was re-released. Per ESPN, nearly one-third of the players in the bubble wore a Kobe signature sneaker in 2020. However, upon the expiry of Bryant’s contract with Nike, production of the sneakers has halted, and NBA players are increasingly either hoarding them or desperately searching for more. The model here, the XI Elite Low, was the last model Kobe wore as a player, featuring prominently during his final season. The XI typically ranks in the middle of the pack amongst Kobe signatures, albeit behind beloved models like the Kobe 4, 5, and 6. Retail releases of this model from 2016 now commonly sell for several multiples of their retail price on StockX. Just earlier this month, Goldin sold a signed & inscribed but not worn pair of the Bruce Lee colorway for nearly $10k. The colorway here is a special celebration of Black History Month - and the resale price has steadily climbed, though not to the heights of other Kobes and XI Elite Lows.
Strong Kobe & sneaker data points to close 2021. There has been evidence of growing demand for game-worn sneakers in recent months. While the $1.472mm sale of Michael Jordan’s Air Ships at Sotheby’s in late 2021 was a catalyst, most relevant here are two six figure sales of rookie-worn, non photo-matched Kobe Bryant sneakers at Heritage in December (for $192k and $156k respectively). Those sales destroyed previous marks for similar sales, which hovered around $25k as recently as May, and reset expectations for sneaker strength going into 2022. Two sneaker buyouts - $203k for LeBron’s High School worn Kobe’s and $110k for Stephen Curry’s Photo-matched Nikes, provided further evidence of concrete and growing interest in the category, though it bears noting that these both came from the same buyer. Still, to see Kobe sneakers drawing six figure sums provides some encouragement that his memorabilia and sneakers in particular are becoming increasingly coveted. A bull would need to fervently believe that those December Heritage sales reset the Kobe sneaker market higher, breaking game-worn Kobes out of their low-to-mid tens of thousands range.
Challenged secondary market performance. This will be the fifth pair of Kobe Bryant game-worn sneakers that Collectable has offered. The other four have begun trading, and the average ROI as of 2/17 is -25.38%. All four have negative double digit returns, and the best performing asset is down 17.5%. Fractional investors have, in large part, asserted with trading activity that the IPO values for these assets have been too high. Whether you feel the valuation is appropriate or not, a bearish investor would argue that the trend indicates a better entry point will become available once the asset trades.
Lower desirability versus other pairs. You’ll quickly notice that one thing is missing from this offering: a signature or inscription. It’s actually quite a rarity to find an auction listing for a pair of game-worn sneakers without some form of insignia from the Mamba. A bearish investor would assert that is not a good kind of rarity. The other pair of this particular colorway to surface at auction, photo-matched to a game the same month against the Pacers, is both signed and inscribed. Those sold at SCP in August of 2016 for $8.3k. At the time, they were not photo-matched, but they came directly from Panini, which certified their use in that game. In May of 2020, the same pair, now photo-matched by MeiGray, sold at Goldin for $25,000. That’s a 34% annual growth rate, setting aside the impact of the photo-match, which would likely be muted given the provenance was fairly ironclad already. So, not only do you have to believe that pair has increased in value by 188%, or 83% annually, in the last almost two years to meet the $72,000 valuation here, you actually need to believe it’s increased by more to account for the fact these feature no auto.
Track record of game-worn sneaker strength is short. Prior to the momentum seen at the end of 2021, the track record of game worn sneaker strength outside of Michael Jordan was fairly limited. Kobe’s rookie sneakers - similar to the pairs that garnered six figures at Heritage - had sales of $24,000 and $26,400 at Goldin in May 2021 and December 2020 respectively, not to mention $10,367 at Grey Flannel in June. Really, it’s in that low-to-mid ten thousands range that game worn sales have typically clustered in recent years. Between Goldin, Heritage, SCP, and Grey Flannel, only approximately 20 sneakers have ever sold above the valuation here. Sales to start 2022 have not soared, with $31k being the high mark for a dual signed, game-worn (but not photo-matched) 2006 pair of Nike Kobe 1s at Goldin. This is more in line with other game worn pairs that have sold in recent years, though perhaps a bit stronger given the lack of photo-match. The only Kobe sneaker to clear $50k other than the two rookie sales at Heritage was a pair photo-matched to the 2001 Finals clinching game. Those sold for $70,000 at Goldin in 2020, shortly after Kobe’s passing. The true test will come at Heritage this weekend, as a signed pair photo-matched to two 2004 Western Conference Semifinals games comes to auction with an estimate of $50k plus. Even if those hit that mark, a bear would find it hard to argue that this unsigned pair should be worth more, or that they should be worth half of signed rookie sneakers.
1948 Leaf Warren Spahn (PSA 8)
2/25 @ 2:30pm ET
An all-time workhorse. Warren Spahn was essentially omnipresent in baseball for over two decades. He was selected to 17 All Star Games, is sixth all time in wins (surpassed only by dead ball era pitchers), eighth in innings pitched, and sixth in shutouts. He led the National League in wins eight times. These numbers are made all the more remarkable by the fact that Spahn served in World War II and didn’t record his first win until the age of 25.
Rarified air for Spahn. In the entire PSA population of over 26,500 1948 Leaf cards, there are just 97 PSA 9s and 3 PSA 10s. This Spahn card’s standing as one of four PSA 9s (with just one PSA 10 higher) puts it in the top 0.5% of cards in the population. While none of his 1948 Bowman cards have attained PSA 10 status, there are ten PSA 9s in that population (putting it in the slightly less vaunted top 0.7%). Simply put, with the exception of the PSA 10, you’re not likely to find a more desired Spahn card.
Improvement in the Spahn market. After quieter results throughout the 2010s, Spahn cards have seen their breakout moments in 2021. Notably, the only PSA 10 example of this card sold for $252,000 in May, a 31% improvement over a $192,000 April 2018 result for the same card. At a lower tier of the market, results have been even more pronounced. A PSA 9 1948 Bowman sold for nearly $30k in this summer’s marquee Newman Collection auction at Memory Lane. That result was more than 3x the 2019 low for the card. Similarly, a July 2021 result of $8,400 for a PSA 8 1948 Leaf card was 2.5-3.5x results from 2018. A bull would be encouraged that today’s market continues to take notice of key Spahn issues.
Short of top tier, waning relevance. While Spahn’s resume is certainly impressive, as argued above, a bear might argue that much of his standing towards the top of many statistical leaderboards is the result more so of longevity than dominance. On many statistical measures that do not consider volume, he ranks far less favorably. For example, he is 199th all time in ERA and 145th in walks & hits per inning pitched. In 21 years of service, he won the Cy Young Award just one time. In a Hobby that doesn’t typically attribute as much value to pitchers as it does position players, a bear would argue it takes unquestionable dominance to remain relevant and command top values over time.
Muted track record of appreciation. Prior to the broad upturn in the market beginning in 2020, the track record for premier Spahn cards was not particularly encouraging. His 1948 Bowman card in PSA 9 condition sold with relative frequency at Memory Lane, and almost each successive result from 2015 onward was lower than the last: $16.5k in 2015, $13.2k in 2017, $11.3k in April 2019, and $9.3k in August 2019. Of course, the Newman auction this summer quickly rectified that pain, drawing nearly $30k. Results for PSA 8 1948 Leaf examples showed a similar pattern in the late 2010s. While the Spahn market participated in the broader market increase, a bear would have concerns about the sustainability of interest in sleepier moments.
Valuation concerns. As noted above, PSA 8 examples of this card are up in the range of 2.5-3.5x from 2018 levels, while the PSA 10 sale was just 31% higher in 2021 than in 2018. Applying the midpoint of the PSA 8 range to a $31k November 2018 PSA 9 sale of course gets you to over $90k, clear of the valuation here. Similar points could be made about the appreciation of the PSA 9 1949 Bowman card. However, whether that level of appreciation would carry over to a higher value tier of Spahn card is anything but certain, a hypothesis further disputed by the more muted PSA 10 value improvement.
1961 Fleer Wilt Chamberlain Rookie Card (PSA 9)
IPO 2/27 @ 8:00PM ET Valuation: $320,000
Legendary pedigree. Has there ever been an athlete that dominated their sport more than Wilt Chamberlain? From his 100-point performance to holding multiple NBA records, Wilt is one of the safest bets for continued long-term appreciation. When examining prices for retired players, one key factor to consider is how at risk their records are. For Wilt, the vast majority of his records are likely untouchable. For starters, the single-game record of 100 points has never had a serious challenge. Kobe Bryant came within 19 points of it in 2006 but outside of that performance, only one player, Devin Booker in 2017, has scored 70 or more points in the 21st century. Some other records that will likely never fall include the number of 50-point games he had during his career: 188. To understand just how insane that number is, Michael Jordan is second on the all-time list with 31. No other player has more than 30 and no active player has more than 25. While there are records that have fallen in recent years, like Steph Curry knocking off Reggie Miller and Ray Allen for most career three-pointers, many of the records that exemplify Wilt’s dominance will never be touched. For collectors and investors, this fact alone provides piece of mind that some other star athletes do not have. For example, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has the most career points but LeBron James is closing in fast on his total. Or even the ‘Great One’, Wayne Gretzky, who is at risk of losing the all-time goal record to Alexander Ovechkin.
Microscopic Gem Mint market. When collecting or investing in any card that is not a PSA 10 or from a limited print run, there is a level of concern that comes with buying a mint or lower example. Their concerns are valid, just look at the price difference between most PSA 9 and PSA 10 graded cards from nearly every post-1980 production. The 1961 Fleer set predates the mass production of cards though and in return, investors pay gem mint prices of mint quality examples. There are over 1,800 graded examples in PSA’s database (including qualified) and only three have earned a PSA 10. Not only is there such a limited quantity of PSA 10s, but none have appeared at auction in the last 10 years. This gives the 31 cards that are graded PSA 9 an added value boost since they are the highest graded copies on the market.
Strong fractional performance. Across both cards and memorabilia, fractional Wilt offerings have shined on Collectable’s secondary market. The 1959-60 Rookie Uniform is up 94.5% since IPO and has climbed 17% in the last month while Wilt’s High School Uniform is up 120% since IPO and has ballooned 37.5% in the last week. This is the second time one of these 1961 Fleer Wilt Rookie Cards has appeared on Collectable and the first showing resulted in a lucrative quick-flip for investors. Collectable offered the PSA 9 graded Wilt card at a $200,000 market cap and just four days later, investors accepted a $350,000 buyout offer for a 66.5% ROI after fees.
Priced in line with recent sales. At face value, this probably does not seem like a bear case. Is it really a negative if the card is priced in line with recent comps? Not necessarily, but this bear case is primarily tied to the previous PSA 9 offered by Collectable that was bought out in four days for a 66.5% return. That card IPO’d on April 4th for $200,000 with 50.1% of the offering retained. The $200,000 market was well under recent comps at the time though which made the buyout acceptance somewhat questionable. Sales data at that time was limited but there had been a PSA 9 sold via eBay through PWCC for $400,000 on February 28th. Then on April 24th, less than one month after the Collectable buyout, Goldin sold a PSA 9 for $461,250. Unlike the April IPO, this new PSA 9 offering is not opening in at a steep discount to recent valuations. Instead, the market cap falls 8.75% below a sale on January 28th and around 10% above prices realized this summer. There are only 31 examples graded PSA 9 so direct comps are limited. In the spring, this was a card with catalysts due to the rising market. While it is still the same iconic card, there is no longer an immediate opportunity between Collectable’s market cap and auction prices. This can also impact secondary market performance as the upside could be capped until another breakout sale.
Straggling sales. When will we see this card surpass $400,000 again? And when will we see Wilt’s only recognized rookie card reach seven figures? Considering this is considered one of the finest vintage NBA cards in existence, why have sales lagged behind other similar sets? These are all valid questions that can result in a bearish attitude toward the 1961 Fleer Wilt rookie. While other basketball cards such as the 1986 Fleer Michael Jordan and 1980 Topps Scoring Leaders have pushed toward $1 million at one point over the last twelve months, this Wilt Chamberlain card has never exceeded $500,000. From Steph Curry and Kobe Bryant to LeBron James and Luka Doncic, there are plenty of modern NBA players that have had cards sell for seven figures but this vintage example has never come close. There are some potential reasons, such as the overall underperformance of the vintage basketball market and the mystery surrounding the three PSA 10s. Whatever the actual cause for lagging performance is, the 1961 Fleer Wilt market will still be waiting on its banner sale when this offering goes live.
1915 Cracker Jack Ty Cobb Card (PSA 7)
2/22 @ 12:00PM ET
Timeless treasure. When purchasing pre-depression cardboard, aside from the T206 Honus Wagner, only early Babe Ruth rivals the desirability and values of Ty Cobb cards. When you consider that the majority of Cobb’s career occurred more than a century ago, his hold on the MLB record books is incredibly impressive. His .366 batting average is the best in league history and is one record that grows more and more impossible to beat as the game continues to shift away from consistency and more towards power. Cobb was a threat on the basepath and is currently ranked fourth all-time with 897 stolen bases and second in triples. When looking for cards and memorabilia to build a collection with, finding players who have cemented themselves in the history books is a good starting point. Even though there is some negativity surrounding Cobb which seemed to peak around the latter half of the 20th century, appreciation has since spiked as new revelations have offered evidence which challenge the accusations of dirty play and racist acts. Barring any new information, Cobb seems to have settled into a positive light among baseball’s best.
Historic appreciation. For sports card collectors and investors looking for an asset with extensive historic performance, there are few players who deliver more of it than Cobb. With a track record matched by names like Mantle and Ruth, Ty Cobb cards have an established history of valuation growth that has cemented the Tiger legend as a blue-chip offering. The 1915 Cracker Jack was the second Cobb card to ever break above $500,000, when a PSA 9 example surpassed the half-million mark in 2019, and Cobb is one of the few players who has cleared the seven-figure hurdle. Heritage Auction has sold over 30 different Cobb cards for at least $100,000 and the values of memorabilia such as original photographs and bats also command six-figure bids. In 2011, a 1915 Cracker Jack Cobb in near-mint condition sold for $17,925. Less than a decade later, Christie’s sold a PSA 7 for $68,750. That price growth represented a 284% ROI and a 14.6% annualized return over the ten-year period. The annualized ROI for this card in the 21st century is around 13% with a total return of more than 550%. Similar to Mantle and Ruth, Cobb offers investors a piece of mind that can be difficult to find in this space. Of course, past performance is never indicative of future results, but there are few cards that offer a 20+ year track record of double digit returns like this 1915 Cracker Jack Cobb has delivered.
Secondary market performance. Currently, there are two Cobb cards trading on Rally and both have returned positive performance as of this latest IPO. The average return for sports cards trading on Rally is 6.2% but the average for Cobb cards is 23%. It is important to note that performance is carried by T206 Cobb, which is up 44%, compared to the 1910 E98, which has gained 2.8%. In addition to the Cobb market returns, pre-war cards in general offer a bullish case for this IPO. While the average return for sports cards is under 7%, the average return for pre-war cards is 47.8%. When you drill down even further, the trend continues to be positive as performance for cards printed prior to 1920 are up 24% on average.
The Cobb market is playing catch-up. Sales data for PSA 7 examples is limited as there are only three results over the last ten years. While cross comparisons are not always ideal, they do help paint a clearer picture for the direction of a particular market and prices for mint to near mint Cobb cards have lagged over the last twelve months. For example, PSA 9 copies of Cobb’s 1910 E98 card have doubled in price since 2020 but closed 2021 with an underwhelming performance. Prices opened the year between $44,000-$46,000 but then slipped under $30,000 in the summer before closing at $38,000 in November. Additionally, the last two sales for the 1915 Cracker Jack while impressive, did trail the overall Cobb market. On September 10, 2020, Heritage sold a PSA 7 for $45,600 and then on October 6, 2021, the $68,750 sale occurred at Christie’s. This represents a 1.5x increase in 13 months, but when compared to the 1910 E98, which is trading at a 2x multiple to its prices from September 2020, the 1915 market has not kept pace. The new year has offered impressive vintage prices through the first two months but with multiple Cobb cards closing this weekend at Heritage, investors could be in wait-and-see mode as the event includes two 1914 Cracker Jack Cobb cards.
Near-mint condition, near-mint returns. It is an age-old dilemma for sports card collectors. The prices of the top graded examples are often out of reach for everyday collectors and investors, but consistently offer the premium return multiples when compared to the 2nd and 3rd tier graded examples. In this case, 14% of the total population of this card is graded PSA 7 or higher, which is a higher than average percentage for pre-1920 cards. While there are no PSA 10 graded examples, there are 15 graded 8.5 or higher. One of the primary reasons why lower graded copies have historically offered lower return multiples compared to the top tier is the lack of catalyst potential. This is emphasized even more for a vintage card that is already lacking the opportunity of a breakout performance. It is reasonable to believe that someday there will be a $1 million 1915 Cracker Jack Cobb sale which will provide a catalyst for the 1915 Cracker Jack Cobb market. It is not reasonable to believe that it will be a PSA 7 that provides that catalyst though. That is not to say that the PSA 7 would not see an uptick in value if a PSA 9 breaches $1 million, but based on past evidence, the appreciation will lag the rest of the PSA 8 and 9 market on both a price and multiple basis.
Premium price. This IPO opens at a 12% premium above the highest price a 1915 Cracker Jack Ty Cobb (PSA 7) has ever sold for. There has only been one public sale for a PSA 7 in the last 500 days and it is unlikely that we will suddenly see a sudden surge in the 1915 Cracker Jack market. For a card that has delivered 13% annualized returns over the last twenty years, buying in at a 12% premium to last sale could result in some waiting until prices appreciate. This exact card sold at Heritage in 2019 for $54,000, which means that while the market has appreciated around 27% as of November 2021, this offering is priced 42% above that 2019 valuation. The IPO price is heavily weighted on the last sale not being an outlier and although based on the current market it seems to be in line with comparable Cobb prices, it was the first and only sale above $60,000, which means it could take another result to solidify the new range for this Cobb card.
Fahrenheit 451 Signed 1st Edition
2/23 @ 12:00PM ET
Iconic novel, relevant subject matter. Ray Bradbury is among the most celebrated American authors, particularly of the 20th century, and his list of awards and accomplishments over the course of his career and posthumously is lengthy. His most celebrated and recognized work is 1953 dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451. The plot centers on a fireman in a short-attention-span society whose job is to burn books, before he eventually becomes disillusioned and begins to wonder if books (and their contents: knowledge) do still retain value. In an era where increasing proportions of the population are heavily reliant on either their social media information sources or media channels of choice, the novel’s themes remain incredibly relevant, as do concerns around censorship. It seems, at least monthly, a new review or article is written suggesting that the novel’s contents are perhaps still reaching new heights of relevance.
Significant rarity. Long before serial numbered chase cards became a thing, B