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February 15, 2024

What are the Most Expensive Pieces of Sports Memorabilia of All Time?

By 
Altan Insights
We compiled the all-time auction price records for sports memorabilia as of February 2nd, 2024. Be sure to check back as we update the list as new records are set!
Read More...
Categories
What are the Most Expensive Video Games of All Time?
Records

What are the Most Expensive Video Games of All Time?

By 
Keenan Flack

We compiled the all-time auction price records for video games as of February 23rd, 2023. Be sure to check back as we update the list as new records are set!

What are the most expensive video games ever sold at auction?

10. 1991 SEGA Genesis (USA) "Sonic the Hedgehog" Sealed Video Game - WATA 9.4/A - $420,000 - September 18, 2021- Goldin

Goldin

As one of the only two non-Nintendo games on the list we have to give Sega some credit for keeping Sonic on the mind of gamers all these years later in spite of losing the console wars around 30 years ago now. It is even more fun when you know that Sonic was created in an effort to compete with Nintendo’s own mascot, Mario. Sonic’s attitudinous, devil-may-care demeanor was meant to appeal to teenaged North American fans.

The company pushed very hard for Sonic to become the face of their brand. “Sonic the Hedgehog” became the bundled game with the Sega Genesis replacing ‘Altered Beast’ (another classic, we might add); in fact Sega even offered those that bought a Genesis with ‘Altered Beast’ a trade-in replacement for Sonic. 

This example is one of 42 graded copies from WATA. Of those, 17 were graded higher. This is a beautiful, well-maintained object, but since it was sold at the height of the video-game market frenzy in 2021 it received a significant premium. To see this record broken we would likely have to see one of the two highest graded copies (WATA 9.8 A++) be sold.

9. John Madden Football - WATA 9.2 A+ Sealed [Cardboard Box], Genesis Electronic Arts 1990 USA - $480,000 - January 28, 2022- Heritage

Heritage

Alright second Genesis game, but also the last. A good one to be sure though, like all the titles on this list the Madden name persists into video gaming today. So much so to the point that most young fans today have no clue that John Madden was a wildly successful NFL coach and broadcaster on top of his achievements in the world of gaming. 

Madden lent not only his name, but his expertise to the game. It began development in 1984 and was not released until four years later in 1988, albeit on the Apple II not the Sega Genesis. The game spent so much time in development due to Madden’s devotion to accuracy. When arguing with EA developers over how the game needed to be 11-on-11, he was quoted as saying “I'm not putting my name on it if it's not real.”. He was thinking of the game as an educational tool for people to better understand the game of football. Madden’s uncompromising attitude led to his game being the football game. 

It is always interesting looking back to see how mega-brands came to be. The Madden name is now indelibly linked with football. Fifa, NHL ( AKA “Chel” *gag*), NBA 2K, MLB The Show. Boring, the whole lot of them. John Madden may have passed away in 2021, but he gets to live on in the PS4's and Xbox One's of football fans everywhere.

WATA has graded 14 copies of the 1990 Genesis version of “John Madden Football” of those 14 there are 8 better. This is another object that isn’t exactly the crème de la crème of graded copies, but when you consider 400,000 copies of this game were sold 1 of 14 ain’t too shabby. Especially when you consider that this copy came from the office of John Madden himself.


8. Super Mario Bros. - WATA 9.4 A Sealed [Hangtab, 2 Code, Mid-Production], NES Nintendo 1985 USA - $492,000 - October 29, 2021- Heritage

Heritage

Although not his first appearance on the small screen, ‘Super Mario Bros.’ on the NES was Mario’s first go-round at being the title character. Released in 1985, just four years after his initial debut in arcade cabinets everywhere in ‘Donkey Kong’.

The industry was in dire straits after the video game crash in 1983. Sega and Nintendo were struggling for games that would renew interest in their consoles; this game did that and more. Cited as the first “killer-app” for the NES, Nintend is said to have sold over 50 million units in the ten years that followed the release. The best selling video game of all time for quite a while, until it was unseated by another Nintendo classic, “Wii Sports”.

“Super Mario Bros.” had 11 unique printings, each differentiated by things like stickers, tabs and text on the box. This example is among the most scarce variants as it was packaged in the span of just a couple of months in 1987; a year where Nintendo sold approximately 1.8 million consoles in North America. In the following four years the Japanese company would sell around 27.54 million units in the region. 

This hangtab version only has 12 graded copies in the WATA population report. Among those there are only two graded higher. In total WATA has graded 205 copies of “Super Mario Bros.” which further illustrates the limited supply of this piece.

7. Super Mario Bros. - WATA 9.6 A+ Sealed [Hangtab, 1 Code, Mid-Production], NES Nintendo 1985 USA - $660,000 - April 2, 2021- Heritage

Heritage

Earlier in 2021 another copy of “Super Mario Bros.” was sold, but for a more impressive sum. This April sale outstripped the last one by about $260,000; the difference can mostly be explained by this box being from an even more scarce set. 

This example is the fourth version of the game that was produced. Known colloquially as “1-code, hangtab”, there are only four graded copies of this print-run, making it a very sought-after collectible. This copy also happened to be the highest graded of those four. Only 8 of the 205 total graded WATA copies received higher than this 9.6, but not a single one of them was printed earlier than our example here.

6. 1985 NES Nintendo (USA) "Super Mario Bros." (Early Production) Two Code Hangtab Sealed Video Game - WATA 9.2/A - $660,000 - September 18, 2021- Goldin

Goldin

I am sure you are getting tired of seeing gaming’s favorite plumber on this list. So we will break up the monotony with a fun fact!

Mario was named after Mario Segale, a prominent Seattle real estate developer who was renting out a warehouse to Nintendo of America. Segale angrily came in to speak to president of Nintendo America, Minoru Arakawa, after they had been late on rent. His name was chosen thereafter by employees who witnessed the heated exchange. So next time you are having a hard time thinking of a name for the main character of a creative project, just go for your landlord’s name! It worked for Nintendo!

But seriously, this example is graded lower than the above #7 on our list, but received a worse grade. What gives? Although this copy is stellar in terms of rarity and quality; you will only be able to find 4 copies graded better from earlier productions. There are 58 copies graded above in total, but many of them belong to later print-runs that are far less valuable.

5. The Legend of Zelda - WATA 8.0 A Sealed [NES TM, No Rev-A, First Production], NES Nintendo 1987 USA - $705,000- October 29, 2021- Heritage

Heritage

Ah, finally! A new entrant to the list. And one that likely holds a special place in the heart of gamers everywhere. In one fell swoop with ‘The Legend of Zelda’, Nintendo launched a tentpole franchise and created one of the most celebrated games of all time. 

Beloved by fans and critics alike, the game went on to sell 6.5 million copies. Further solidifying Nintendo’s brand as the gold standard in video games. 

As far as the rarity of this individual example goes it looks like this: there are only 3 sealed copies of this print-run that are known. 120 of the total 186 graded copies out there received above an 8, but nearly all of those copies are from far less desirable production-runs that came in the late-80s/early-90s.

4. Super Mario Bros. - WATA 9.6 A Sealed [Hangtab, 3 Code, Mid-Production], NES Nintendo 1985 USA - $720,000 - November 4, 2022 - Heritage

Heritage

This example is from the same production run as #8 in the list above. This one received quite a bump up in price, around a $225,000 bump to be exact. Likely due to the simple fact of this example receiving a 9.6 to the 9.4 of the other. 

This early production-run of the game has seen zero copies graded higher. There are only 8 graded higher in the entire population of 205, none of which are from earlier or scarcer releases.

3. 1996 N64 Nintendo 64 (USA) "Super Mario 64" Sealed Video Game - WATA 9.8/A++ - $799,500 - September 18, 2021 - Goldin

Goldin

In the early 1990s during the development of “Star Fox”, legendary Nintendo game developer, Shigeru Miyamoto, imagined how the most recent developments in home console computer chips could lend itself to a 3-D mario game. This idea never came to fruition while working on the SNES, but upon the release of the Nintendo 64 with its more powerful processor and larger controller he was finally able to execute on his vision.

With a team of just fifteen to twenty people Nintendo developed SM64 in just under two years. The game was released alongside the new console to wild success. Nintendo knew they had a hit on their hands–assuming SM64 would be their ‘killer app’ for the console. The marketing budget for the game was set at $20 million and the game went on to do $140 million in gross sales in its first three months in North America. By 2003, 11.9 million units of the game had been sold; Nintendo sold about 32 million units of the N64, so around 37.5% of all consoles had a copy. Not bad!

This example is from the first printing of the game, there are 90 similar copies WATA has graded from this production run. This one however is among the three highest graded copies. It should be said that these three copies are not only the highest graded examples from this production, but from any production. Compared to this example there are zero copies graded higher from any of the 142 sealed copies in the WATA population report.

2. The Legend of Zelda - WATA 9.0 A Sealed [No Rev-A, Round SOQ, Early Production], NES Nintendo 1987 USA - $870,000 - July 9, 2021 - Heritage

Heritage

This copy of “The Legend of Zelda” is a variant that has seen just 4 WATA graded examples in existence. The sale of the same game above at #5 in the list is part of a different variant, but one that is similarly rare. Though when accounting for the difference in sale price of the two assets we can only assume that this one received $165,000 more due to its grade being one full number higher. 

There are no other examples of the original ‘Zelda’ that have come up for public sale like this one. Even with a far lower grade this would still be a sought after piece for any collector in the space. The WATA 9 is simply the cherry on top that propelled this copy to #2 in our list.

1. Super Mario 64 - WATA 9.8 A++ Sealed, N64 Nintendo 1996 USA - $1,560,000 - July 11, 2021 - Heritage

Heritage

Ahh finally made it! Number 1! 

We saw a like-graded copy of this example above at #3 in the list which was sold in September just two months after this $1.5 million sale at Heritage in July of 2021. The two copies are nigh-identical, yet the difference in price represents the most significant disparity in the list among two games.

The frenzied market at the time of these sales likely speaks to the difference, but it is also a good learning on the value of uber-high-quality-grail-objects. When it comes to the best of the best within a certain collectible category it is often very hard to predict the final price when these pieces comes to public sale; bidding action can be frenetic, many times between just two or three deep-pocketed bidders that can send the hammer price soaring over estimate. 

Only time will tell whether or not spending 7-figures on a sealed Mario game will have been a profitable endeavor. The current owner may well have severely overpaid, but whether it is a a Mickey Mantle rookie card selling for $12.6 million or a Warhol canvas going for $195, trophy assets are priced the same way everything else in a market economy is–by way of supply and demand. Except in this case there are only three "supply" to go around, and well, lets just say that is a demand curve that is very hard to draw.

What are the most expensive sales outside of auction houses?

  • 1985 NES Super Mario Bros. Hangtab, NES-GP, Code, No NES TM (No Rev-A, Round SOQ) Wata 9.8/A+ - $2,000,000 - August 16, 2021 - Rally

Fractional platform, Rally, exited their 'Super Mario Bros.' asset for a price of $2 million. Higher than any asset on this list. At the peak of the market insanity around video games in 2021, Rally was in the right place at the right time. They had the foremost asset in video games: a "WATA 9.8 A+ Hangtab Variant Super Mario Bros.". Zero copies graded higher. The examples that also received a WATA 9.8 A+ seal? From variants that are much more abundant.

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.

All information provided by Altan Insights is impersonal and not tailored to the needs of any person, entity or group of persons. Past performance of an index or asset is not an indication or guarantee of future results.

What are the Most Expensive TCG Cards of all time?
Records

What are the Most Expensive TCG Cards of all time?

By 
Keenan Flack

We compiled the all-time auction price records for TCG Cards as of September 25th, 2023. Be sure to check back as we update the list as new records are set!

What are the most expensive Trading Cards ever sold at auction?

12. 1996 Pokémon Japanese Base Set Holo Charizard - No Rarity - #6 PSA 10 - $324,000 - April 16, 2022

PWCC

The Japanese Base Set No Rarity Charizard card is an iconic Pokémon treasure, and its depiction of the dragon Pokémon has reached significant cultural relevance outside of the game. This card, depicting maybe the most famous Pokémon of all time—Charizard, is among the earliest and most coveted copies ever produced. Designed by artist Mitsuhiro Arita, the card's beautiful artwork and holographic finish have made Charizard the most iconic character in Pokémon.

Unlike the English ‘Base Set's 1st Edition’ stamp, which is prominently displayed below the left-hand corner of the artwork, the ‘Japanese Base Set No Rarity’ version is differentiated by the absence of the black rarity star on the bottom right corner. Released two years prior to its English counterpart, the Japanese version of the Base Set showcases the beloved dragon against starlit holofoil pattern—as opposed to the dimmer standard holo foil used by Wizards of the Coast in their later base set.

Only 32 copies of this card graded PSA 9, and just 7 have achieved the coveted PSA 10 designation. With its immaculate edges and corners, as well as a near-pristine holographic surface, this copy stands out as a truly exceptional specimen. Further adding to its allure, the case of this card has been hand-signed by the artist. Is there a better duo than the TCG community and signing the case?

11. 1999 Pokémon Base Set 1st Edition Shadowless Holo Charizard #4 PSA 10 - $349,995 - April 27, 2021

PWCC

Get used to seeing Charizard on this list—I won’t spoil how many times he appears, but this will not be the last time he appears.

Though this card does differ markedly from the above. This is the original printing of the card in English; still using a similar image of Charizard from artist Mitsuhiro Arita, albeit with a slightly less flashy background.

As Charizard cards go, it does not get much better than this one. Beautifully centered, pristine corners and edges, the card is among 123 PSA 10 graded first edition Charizard cards. Which is out of a total of 3,884 total graded; just over 3% of graded first edition Charizards are of similar quality.

10. 1999 Pokémon Base 1st Edition Holo Thick Stamp Shadowless Charizard #4 PSA 10 - $350,100 - December 12, 2020 - PWCC

Here he is again, what did I tell you? First Edition Charizard cards are going to continue appearing on this list. People like dragons, what can we say!

The card’s equivalent in other categories would be cards like ’86 Fleer Jordan or ’52 Topps Mantle. Iconic pieces of cardboard depicting legendary figures. Though in our case, the legendary figure is fictional.

9. 1998 Pokémon Blastoise Commissioned Presentation Galaxy Star Hologram CGC 8.5 - $360,000 - January 14, 2021

Heritage

In 1998, American game publisher Wizards of The Coast was intent on acquiring the rights to Pokémon. During this process they commissioned multiple English mockup cards to show what the franchise’s cards would look like in North America.

Today, four of such cards are known today. Three that feature Blastoise against a non-holo background. And the one we have here, CGC 8.5 graded Holo Blastoise with a blank back. The other three cards had “Magic: The Gathering” Backings (the game that WoTC had been producing for many years prior).

CGC, as well as others in the industry, performed an exhaustive investigation into the voracity of these cards. They determined that all four were printed by WoTC in 1998 to market Pokémon cards to north American consumers.

The value definitely fits in accordance with the rarity and story behind this card. It is possible that this card was the very first Pokemon card printed in English. Before the onset of Pokemon-mania.

8. 1998 Pokémon Japanese Promo Holo Illustrator Pikachu PSA 7 NRMT - $375,000 - February 27, 2021 

(Cert# Deactivated by PSA “due to its use on a known counterfeit in the market)

PWCC

Coro Coro, a Japanese Magazine held a comic drawing contest in January 1998, 39 winners were sent copies of the now infamous “Pikachu Illustrator Card”. Designed by Pikachu’s creator, artist Atsuko Nishida, the card has become the holy grail of Pokémon TCG collecting.

This copy is a PSA 7, funnily enough there are 7 similarly graded copies—as well as 9 graded higher. These cards change hands so infrequently that even a PSA 7 coming to auction is a rare event.

Like many others in this list, the value of this card comes from a number of factors. Fans’ love of the games mascot, the extreme scarcity of these cards, as well as the endearing story of 39 children being rewarded for their creations with a unique image of maybe the most celebrated character in the history of animation.

7. 1999 Pokémon Base Set Shadowless 1st Edition Holo Charizard #4 PSA 10 - $420,000 - March 19, 2022

PWCC

Here he is again, folks. I told you he would be back.

Not much to say that has not been said above on this 1stedition Holo Charizard card. A beautiful example of a legendary character—and so on, and so on.

Charizard has been featured on over 40 different cards from various sets in the series. It is obvious that his fame is on par with the brand itself. Pikachu may be the mascot of Pokemon, but Charizard holds a similar place in the heart of fans and collectors alike.

6. 1998 Pokémon Japanese Promo Silver 2nd-2nd Tournament #2 Trophy Pikachu - PSA GEM MT 10 - $444,000 - September 6, 2023

Goldin

Presented as the second place prize to a series of 1997-98 Japanese Pokemon TCG tournaments, it is rumored that only 14 copies of this card exist. Each runner-up of each of these events received one, but today? There are only five that exist in the PSA pop report. This example is one of two GEM MT 10 grades, along with two PSA 9s and one PSA 6. 

Aside from the interesting backstory and scarcity, another factor propelling this card’s valuation is its artist. Drawn by Mitshuhiro Arita the prolific Pokemon TCG artist known for his work on the 1999 base set Charizard.

This confluence of factors have made this card become among the most sought after cards in the game. 

5. Pokémon "Pikachu" Illustrator Unnumbered Promo CoroCoro Comics CGC Trading Card Game - CGC Gem Mint 10 - $495,000 - September 23, 2023

Heritage

The previous Pikachu Illustrator in this list, a PSA 7 copy, sold for $375,000 in the throes of the bubbliest moments in TCG; it only found a price $100,000 less than this CGC 10. 

Of the 39 of these cards we know to be printed, we were able to find 37 in population reports: 26 graded by PSA, 9 graded by CGC, and 2 graded by BGS. Just five of those received GEM MT 10 grades, four at CGC and one at PSA. The PSA copy was the highest valued TCG card in existence, when it was privately sold to Logan Paul for $5,275,000 in 2022.

The sale of this nearly half-a-million-dollar card is evidence that the value of grails can hold up even in uncertain economic climates.

4. 1993 Magic The Gathering MTG Alpha Black Lotus R A AUTO PSA 10 - $511,100 - January 27, 2021

eBay

“The Alpha Black Lotus” is the cream of the crop when it comes to Magic cards. This particular card, graded as PSA 10 Gem Mint, surpassed all other TCG card price records at the time with this eBay sale.

The bidding for this extraordinary card reached incredible heights, eventually selling for an astounding $511,100. The Alpha Black Lotus Masterpiece is a testament to the enduring legacy of Magic: The Gathering as one of the most influential and beloved TCGs of all time.

It bears the signature of the artist who drew the image of the Black Lotus, Christopher Rush. A prolific illustrator within the series, cards with his signature are especially valuable due to his stature in the scene.

Showcasing the elegance and mystique of the Alpha Black Lotus, this PSA 10 Gem Mint card is an unparalleled treasure in the world of TCG. Combining artistry, history, and rarity, the Alpha Black Lotus Masterpiece firmly establishes its position as the fourth most expensive trading card of all time. As a symbol of Magic: The Gathering's enduring impact and appeal, this exceptional card is a prized addition to any collector's portfolio, and an unforgettable piece of TCG history that will continue to fascinate enthusiasts and investors for generations to come.

3. 1993 Magic The Gathering MTG Alpha Black Lotus Auto PSA 10 - signed on case by Christopher Rush - $540,000 - March 16, 2023

PWCC

Behold, the one card that keeps coming back to enchant us all: the Alpha Black Lotus. As if we hadn't gushed enough about this card already, it seems that Magic: The Gathering (MTG) collectors just can't help but dig into their pockets and to show their love for this piece of TCG history.

This particular gem of an Alpha Black Lotus boasts not only a PSA 10 GEM MINT grade but also a signature by the late Christopher Rush on the case, making it an extraordinary piece of MTG memorabilia. It's easy to see why so many desire to possess a fragment of the enchantment that has sparked the creation of numerous other TCGs, most notably the beloved and recurring list favorite, Pokémon.

2. Magic: The Gathering Artist Proof Black Lotus Limited Edition (Beta) CGC 8.5 - Signed by Christopher Rush - $615,000 - March 24, 2023

Heritage

Feast your eyes on yet another astounding Magic: The Gathering gem – the Artist Proof Black Lotus Limited Edition (Beta). For those of you at home who have been keeping count, this marks the third Black Lotus card on our list, solidifying its status as the magical flower that just keeps on giving.

This card is a so-called artist proof, similar to the blank-backed Blastoise above in the list, it was created so that the team could better understand how the card would come together in a final product. This is to say that the card was not designed for mass printing, making it all the more rare—and therefore all the more valuable. Like others in this list much of the allure of this card comes in the form of a signature, specifically, the signature of Christopher Rush (this time directly on the card, thankfully), the legendary artist responsible for over 100 cards in the MTG series. Graded by CGC with a "blue" label and a NM/Mint+ 8.5 rating, this card is a gorgeous example of the simple beauty that is present in so many MTG card images.

The past three in the list have been the only non Pokemon cards represented here. Obviously MTG is a powerhouse brand in its own right, but to compete with Pokémon they all required an artist signature to push them up to the top. MTG folks cannot seem to get enough of this Christopher Rush guy.

Sign it on the card, sign it on the case, if your name is Christopher Rush, you can sign it any old place!

1. 1998 Pokémon Japanese Rare Holofoil Illustrator Pikachu – The Swirllustrator Pedigree – CGC 9.5 – Pop 1 - $672,000 - October 10, 2022

Goldin

In the world of Pokémon, there's no denying that Pikachu is the most beloved and iconic mascot. With its rosy cheeks and happy-go-lucky demeanor, Pikachu has captured the hearts of millions. And with this card, it seems Pikachu's charm knows no bounds, propelling it to the heights of Pokémon card value.

The Swirllustrator Pedigree, graded CGC GEM MINT 9.5, is the only card of its kind at this tier, making it a truly exceptional piece. Just like the Artist Proof Black Lotus Limited Edition (Beta) card we mentioned earlier, this Pikachu card comes with a special touch – a "doubleswirl" variant that is somewhere between an intended variation and a misprint, resulting in a unique alignment of the foil background. If you inspect the left of the image you will see a cluster of stars (or a swirl) that does not appear in standard illustrator Pikachu cards. The CGC has even certified "The Swirllustrator" as the official pedigree of the card, further amplifying its rarity and appeal.

As you may recall, another example of the Illustrator Pikachu card made an appearance earlier on this list. This specific card, however, stands out not only for its unique double swirl but also due to its grade being a CGC 9.5—nearly perfect. This card perfectly captures the spirit of the Pokémon franchise and the enduring resonance of its most iconic character.

Whether you're an MTG fan with an appreciation for Christopher Rush's signed creations or a die-hard Pokémon fan on a mission to catch 'em all, one universal truth stands: the fascination with trading cards transcends the confines of their respective games and unites collectors in their shared pursuit of exceptional and eye-catching treasures.

What are the most expensive sales outside of auction houses?

  • 1998 Pikachu-Holo Illustrator Nintendo Pokémon Japanese Promo - $5,275,000 - July 2022- Private

Private sales usually account for the highest end of sales in every collectible category, but since these sales are usually unconfirmed without hard data, we elected to leave them off of the main list.

The purchase of this card in particular was documented by renowned youtuber and less-renowned boxer, Logan Paul. If you are curious as to how he obtained this card. Look no further.

  • 2023 MTG Lord of The Rings The One Ring Tales of The Middle Earth 1/1- $2,000,000 - August 2023- Private

A collector named Brook Trafton pulled 'The One Ring' card, which was bountied at $1 million by Dave & Adam's card world. He got it graded by PSA, where it received a grade of MINT 9. Shortly thereafter, Trafton found himself selling the card for double that sum to none other than Post Malone. $2 million for a Magic card sets it as the second highest price in TCG of all time. As it is a private sale, we didn't include it on the list itself.

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.

All information provided by Altan Insights is impersonal and not tailored to the needs of any person, entity or group of persons. Past performance of an index or asset is not an indication or guarantee of future results.

What are the Most Expensive Comic Books of All Time?
Records

What are the Most Expensive Comic Books of All Time?

By 
Keenan Flack

We compiled the all-time auction price records for comic books as of February 12th, 2024. Be sure to check back as we update the list as new records are set!

What are the most expensive comic books ever sold at auction?

11. Action Comics (1938-2011) #1 CGC VF+: 8.5 WHITE pages - $2,052,000 - June 12, 2018

Comic Connect

The first comic book to feature maybe the most singular character in the history of western media. Published by DC Comics in 1938, the cover as well as the first thirteen pages of the book depict "Superman"; established in those pages is the foundation of the character that kicked off the superhero era. We learn that he is sent away from his dying planet as a baby, he can leap tall buildings in a single bound, he is a reporter at a newspaper (although it is named "Daily Star" instead of "Daily Planet"), and that he is interested in a woman named Lois Lane.

Originally discovered in 1986 at a Pittsburgh auction of hardcover books, this copy of of 'Action Comics #1' was tucked into the pages of one of said books—likely the reason why it stayed in such good condition for nearly 50 years. Upon bringing this book to a comic convention two weeks later, all hell broke loose as dealers and collectors did what they could to obtain the book from the lucky auction winner.

10. Action Comics (1938-2011) #1 CGC VF/NM: 9.0 CREAM to OFF-WHITE pages - $2,161,000 - November 30, 2011

Comic Connect

Déjà vu, am I right?? Get ready to see a lot of 'Action Comics #1' in this list. As mentioned above, it is the genesis of the superhero genre, and copies of all manner of quality are highly valuable. This copy in particular is 1 of only 2 CGC 9.0 grades with none graded higher; the other copy happens to have 'WHITE Pages" as opposed to the "CREAM TO OFF-WHITE Pages" on this one. Read on if you are curious how that other one performed at auction...

9. Batman #1 (DC, 1940) CGC NM 9.4 WHITE pages - $2,220,000 - January 14, 2021

Heritage

Everyone's favorite caped crusader made his first appearance in 'Detective Comics #27' a year prior to the release of his title series 'Batman #1' in 1939. His popularity in the original DC run propelled creators Bill Finger and Bob Kane to write him his own series which then went on to be even more successful. This copy introduced us to two of the most well known Batman characters: The Joker and Catwoman. Both of them have even served as the titular character in massive blockbuster films—to varying success anyway. We would like to know if the buyer is one of the 17 people who saw Catwoman (2004) in theaters (Sorry, Halle Berry!!).

With zero copies graded higher by CGC, this copy is among the most pristine Golden Age books in existence. But you don't need some fancy-shmancy grading agency to tell you, just take a look at the cover. Yellow backgrounds are known to fade quite quickly, but this one has bucked the trend in stunning fashion. In one of the most iconic covers of all time, the bright red and yellow background is contrasted beautifully against the dark costume of Gotham's Dark Knight. Just as good as when it was picked off the newsstand in the summer of 1940.

8. Superman #1 (DC, 1939) CGC FN/VF 7.0 - $2,340,000 - January 11, 2024

Heritage Auctions

The first multi-million-dollar sale of 2024 hammered at Heritage as this CGC 7.0 graded copy of Superman #1 sold for $2.3 million. The specimen is bested by only two copies in the CGC pop report and the result gave Superman #1 two sales above $2 million. While the high-end of the comic book market struggled to reach record-breaking prices in 2023, this sale secured at least one top-10 placement for a comic book in 2024.

7. Marvel Comics #1 (Timely Comics, November 1939) CGC NM-: 9.2 Off-White pages - $2,427,777 - March 17, 2022

Comic Connect

Surprised it took this long to get to a Marvel comic book! Although this book did not introduce us to the most well known characters from the universe, it is the first appearance of The Human Torch and Sub-Mariner. The significance likely stems not from the characters, but from the first use of the name "Marvel Comics"; the value makes sense when you consider that 80 years and $26 billion in box-office receipts later, that name has become maybe the most powerful media property on planet earth.

This copy's value is also derived from it being what is called a "Pay copy", meaning that it was used by publisher Lloyd Jacquet to record payments to the artists that contributed to the book. Most notably, a hand-written detail specifying reimbursement to legendary comic book artist Frank Paul. Only one copy is graded higher and was sold in 2019 for $1.26 million; three years of time and "pay copy" status propelled this CGC 9.2 copy to sell for nearly twice that sum.

6. Superman #1 (Summer 1939) CGC F/VF: 7.0 OFF-WHITE pages - $2,604,750 - Dec 17, 2021

Comic Connect

If you're keeping count at home, that's three Superman books out of the last four; what can we say, he is a popular guy! Although not the first appearance of Superman, this edition gives us some vital information about Clark Kent's lore. We learn the name of his home, Krypton, and his adoptive parents, the Kents. They teach Clark that he must hide his powers, but when the proper time comes, he must use them to assist humanity.

With only 3 copies graded similarly or higher, this Superman #1 is a magnificent example of Golden Age art. Superman leaps above the city in his bright attire, adorned with the first edition of his iconic "S". A far more family-friendly cover compared to "Action Comics #1," the hero's friendly smile is a much more accurate embodiment of his mission.

Superman may seem like a passé character nowadays; where is the dark angle? Where is the brooding bad-boy demeanor? The problematic/troubled superhero trope may be in vogue for now, but Superman's story has proven to be a timeless one; just some dude from Kansas trying to do the right thing.

5. Captain America Comics #1 San Francisco Pedigree (Timely, 1941) CGC NM 9.4 OFF-WHITE to WHITE pages - $3,120,000 - Apr 7, 2022

Heritage Auctions

Captain America may have gotten a career revival since Disney and Marvel studios won the superhero box office wars. Before all of that, he was the face of some very effective allied propaganda. "Captain America #1" is purported to have sold one million copies a year before the United States entered the war. Captain America creators Jack Kirby and Joe Simon received numerous threats for the subject matter of this book at the time, but the $3 million price tag would indicate that punching Hitler has thankfully become a welcome image in a saner society. Talk about an introduction, though! Not many characters get to be introduced against such a pivotal moment in history.

Unsurprisingly, yet another cover of these top ten books is in gorgeous condition. The quality of the drawings on the cover are sharp and energetic. Massive block letters reading "CAPTAIN AMERICA" against an American flag backdrop fill the top third of the page. Not to mention the back cover of this copy received similarly high praise from graders. There is only one copy graded higher than this superlative example. Who is to say what that one, a CGC 9.8, would find on the auction block.

4. Action Comics #1 Rocket Copy (DC, 1938) CGC FN 6.0 WHITE pages - $3,180,000 - January 13, 2022

Heritage Auctions

This copy of 'Action Comics #1" actually holds some historical significance outside of what's been already mentioned about this book above. The 13-year old boy who bought it off a newsstand promptly stamped the rocket onto it. Only 8 are graded higher, but quality copies of Action Comics #1 do not come up to auction very often, so it fetched quite the price.

From time to time, distinct copies of otherwise impressive books receive a premium to the market due to the story involved. Like the "Pay copy" example above, the story of the 13-year old with a stamp in his hand is an endearing one. And what are bidders paying for besides a good story?

3. Action Comics #1 (June 1938), CGC VF/NM: 9.0 - WHITE Pages - $3,207,852 - August 24, 2014

CGC

The other CGC 9.0 graded 'Action Comics #1' at the 9th spot in this list is the only other copy known to CGC of this quality. Even with the fuzziness of this 2014 image you can tell the book is in stupendous condition. The white behind "ACTION COMICS" seems less worn than lower graded copies. It's surprise enough that 43 unrestored copies survived these 80 years without falling apart. Seeing one that could be fresh off of a 30's newsstand is unbelievable.

2. ACTION COMICS (1938-2011) #1 CGC VF+: 8.5 - $3,250,000 - April 6, 2021

Comic Connect

Okay, last time I promise. This copy sits at an 8.5 just below the two 9.0 copies mentioned above and in the 9th spot. It is telling that the current auction record for this book is not held by the highest graded copy. These things just do not come up for sale very often; if you are a collector looking for one graded above a 6 then you would be lucky if it comes up every few years.

1. Amazing Fantasy #15 (Marvel, 1962) CGC NM+: 9.6 OFF-WHITE pages - $3,600,000 - September 9, 2021

Heritage Auctions

No superhero has captured the imagination of a city like Spider-Man has for New York. In his first outing in a Marvel Comic, we learn foundations of the character that have been told and retold through any number of films, television shows, and comic books. Peter's initial use of his powers is as a means to make money by wrestling and entertaining people, but when his uncaring behavior allows a burglar to go free and shoot his Uncle, he changes his ways. He comes to understand that "with great power comes great responsibility" and he must use his powers for good.

The cover does well to illustrate the crux of the ongoing appeal of Spiderman—the push and pull between him and Peter. When Stan Lee created the character he did so with an intent to give him "problems". And those problems are only exacerbated by the onset of his powers. Relationship issues with Mary Jane cause him to be distracted or unfocused while fighting crime, financial problems keep him from being able to fix his web shooter. Bullies go from some kid at school to Doc Ock and The Green Goblin. He is truly the every-man hero. Struggling through life one problem at a time.

This copy is tied for the highest quality "Amazing Fantasy #15" books of all time; including this one, there are four CGC 9.6 copies out of 2,407 unrestored copies. It is a beautiful illustration of the character's iconic outfit which has not changed very much in the past 60 years. It seems fitting that if the great Stan Lee's work was only going to be featured in one spot of this list, it would be this spot. Number one, baby!

What are the most expensive, known private sales?

  • Superman #1 (Summer 1939) CGC 9.8 WHITE Pages - $5,300,000 - April 2022

In a private sale brokered by Tony Arnold and Roy Delic, two very well respected comic book dealers, the book sold for the highest price of any comic book ever. It is likely the highest price paid for a comic book, full-stop. Superman is the top dog.

  • Action Comics #1 Rocket Copy (DC, 1938) CGC FN 6.0 WHITE pages - $3,400,000 - September 2022 AND $3,550,000 - January 2023

The "Rocket copy" that holds the above #4 spot was sold twice in the span of a year in two separate private sales. The first in September of 2022 brokered by Goldin and again in January of 2023 brokered by Comic Connect. It seems collectors continue to be very taken with the story of the 13 year old kid with a rocket stamp.

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.

All information provided by Altan Insights is impersonal and not tailored to the needs of any person, entity or group of persons. Past performance of an index or asset is not an indication or guarantee of future results.

What Makes a Sneaker Valuable? A Guide to Collecting & Investing In Sneakers
Guides & How-Tos

What Makes a Sneaker Valuable? A Guide to Collecting & Investing In Sneakers

By 
Altan Insights

Sneakerheads are a committed group. For them, most Saturday mornings are devoted to hopelessly opening Nike’s SNKRS app, frantically searching retailers from Foot Locker to boutiques, and completing CAPTCHAs (where are the traffic lights?!), all in hopes of securing the latest drop. Often, the only things secured are “Ls”, and from that frustrating rite-of-passage sprouts the growing sneaker resale phenomenon. Due to the significant imbalance between supply and demand, secondary market sneaker prices are frequently multiples of a given pair’s retail price. What was theoretically a $160 sneaker at 10:00am, when the possibility of acquiring them still lingered, is a $480 sneaker by 10:05.

While the sneaker market softened in late 2022 (check out our blog post that explains why!), much to sneaker purists’ chagrin, the dynamic described above has attracted fervent profiteering, bolstered by sophisticated bots and carefully cultivated connections, which enable the most successful resellers to acquire hot pairs in heavy volume. The headline-grabbing practice of acquiring for retail and selling immediately at elevated prices on the secondary market is flipping, not altogether the same as embracing sneakers as a collectible asset class.

What does it mean to "flip" sneakers, and how is it different from sneakers as an asset class?

In flipping, appreciation for what makes a sneaker culturally valuable is not required to provide an edge. In fact, in today’s sneaker market, many would argue hype has rendered that appreciation almost entirely irrelevant. If social media hype surrounds a sneaker, flippers will flip it – not because of anything particularly special about the sneaker itself, but because they know Nike will release a quantity dramatically lower than the demand built by the social media hype cycle. It’s more a matter of access, less a matter of acumen. Such a practice is common in any market where supply is insufficient to meet demand, and the retail price is therefore artificially stifled somewhere below where supply and demand intersect in reality. It’s analogous to the way in which many card flippers aren’t necessarily staking out retailers due to a long-term, bullish thesis on a given underlying card, but instead for the possibility of instant profit on offer.

What does "flipping bricks" mean?

Bricks are discounted, readily-available sneakers that you can generally find on shelves or on websites with relative ease. The practice of flipping bricks is somewhat of an "asset" play, though it's more akin to arbitrage resulting from market inefficiency. Due to the fragmentation of the sneaker markets, a brick-flipper can spot excess supply at a discount in one channel, unmet demand at a higher price in another channel, and bridge that chasm. It's an interesting strategy, and it can work very well, but it's potentially unsustainable and best executed at high volumes.

What does it mean to invest in sneakers, and how is that different from flipping?

Alternatively to flipping and flipping bricks, just as with other collectible assets, it is possible to devise a capital appreciation thesis for a given pair of sneakers based on various criteria. We'll take you through the criteria that make a sneaker valuable below. Such criteria aren’t exclusive to these factors, but they stand out among the most influential. When we talk about "investing" in sneakers, we're generally talking about the effort to achieve capital appreciation beyond just simply buying at retail and immediately selling at prevailing resale prices. A collector or investor would be purchasing sneakers with the expectation that, over a matter of months or years, they can go up in value due to favorable changes in the prevailing supply and demand dynamics. Each of the factors below - and the market's awareness of them - can have an impact on supply and/or demand, which ultimately affects the value of the sneakers, making some pairs winners and others losers. The latter is often more common than the former, so it's critical to research and understand these factors well. Even then, as sneakers are speculative assets, there are no guarantees of appreciation.

What makes a sneaker valuable?

Richness of the sneaker's backstory

Was it the debut of a successful model? A landmark collaboration? The signature sneaker of an athlete worn in a decisive moment?

Without rich associated stories, sneakers very infrequently command high values. It would be a misconception to believe that a sneaker becomes valuable solely on the basis of “looking cool”; that absolutely matters, yes, but it’s not always enough on its own. Before we go any further, let’s debunk the idea that cool-looking sneakers are analogous to valuable sneakers. We see it all the time – two pairs of sneakers appear virtually identical, but due to one small tweak, there’s a $1000+ differential in market value.

Take the Air Jordan 1 “Colette” for example. That's a special pair of Jordans made in limited quantities to commemorate the closing of the French boutique back in 2017. These sold in 2021 for over $23k with Sotheby’s, though prices are closer to the mid-teens today. Meanwhile, the “Storm Blue” Jordan 1, essentially identical to the Colette, but missing the “1992” and “2017” printed on each pair and the “Bonjour” and “Au Revoir” on the outsole, sells for approximately $500-700, depending on size. Minor differences in appearance, huge differences in value owing to story & scarcity.

For another example, look at the Jordan 3 in “Fire Red” and “Varsity Royal” colorways. These are roughly $250 sneakers on the secondary market. Now take their very similar looking counterparts made in collaboration with DJ Khaled in very limited quantities. These are $5,000 sneakers, give or take a grand. Both were released in promotion of one of the artist’s new albums, and whether you’re a fan or not, it’s clear that the combination of his promotional capacity (24mm Instagram followers) and extreme scarcity (more on that next) can make all the difference in market values.

The main takeaway from these examples: aesthetic alone is not enough.

And what about backstory? Consider two Jordan 1 Retro releases from 2016, one in a black and red colorway, the other white and metallic navy blue. Both were colorways dressing the original Jordan 1 way in 1985, but the black and red colorway sells for 3-4x the metallic navy.

Why?

Well, that black and red colorway is better known as the “Banned” colorway, and it epitomizes the mythology of the Jordan 1. Nike expertly marketed the Jordan 1 in that colorway as the sneaker banned by the NBA; Jordan had, in actuality, worn a black and red Nike Air Ship in garnering a reprimand from the league, as black was not a primary uniform color for the Bulls.  Still, the marketing worked wonders, and the “Banned” Air Jordan 1 remains among the most sought after today.

Sneaker Collaborations

Collaborations can also enhance the richness of a sneaker’s storytelling. Whether it’s a brand collaboration with a retailer, an artist, a designer, a celebrity, or another brand, the sneakers are usually developed to fit a certain theme or concept. Speaking of concepts, let’s use the sneaker retailer Concepts as an example. They’re considered a master collaborator, having worked with several brands on countless well-regarded sneakers for over a decade. Concepts, which hails from Boston, is perhaps best known for their Lobster Nike Dunk SBs. The first of those pairs, the Red Lobster, was released in 2008, and was designed to evoke imagery of the New England lobster bake. That first pair has inspired several other “Lobster” colorways, becoming an icon in the process. The Red Lobster frequently sells for over $2,000, while the Yellow Lobster, which debuted a year later in lower quantities, now costs more than many cars. The collaborator, the theme, the sneaker model, and the reputational success that followed all contribute to a rich story here.

Scarcity & the pace of deadstock supply digestion

Were the sneakers released in limited or large quantities? Are they making their way to feet, thereby reducing the supply of deadstock pairs? Or is there still a huge volume on StockX and GOAT?

All else equal (aesthetic included), scarcity is often the difference between the next four-figure flip on StockX and the bricks sitting in the sale section. This is a familiar factor for connoisseurs of any collectible. People want what not everyone can get. And while it’s just one piece of the puzzle, limited quantity releases can do a strong favor for secondary market prices, so long as the other pieces of the puzzle are sufficient to generate demand well in excess of that reduced supply.

But the scarcity story doesn’t end at release. In the immediate aftermath, it bears watching if a given drop was devoured by resellers without strong underlying collector demand. This means fewer pairs ending up on feet. If that’s the case, the deadstock supply available on the market will remain elevated, and prices will drop to meet that weaker than expected demand. Conversely, satiated end-user demand in the immediate aftermath of release will reduce deadstock supply quickly, potentially yielding larger future price increases.

A recent example would be the Air Max 90 “Infrared” release from late 2020. Despite being a high-volume release with muted flip potential, pairs found their way to StockX and GOAT in droves. As it was not a particularly difficult pair to find, the price fell from the mid-to-high $100s towards $130 a few months after release, a $10 discount to retail. With some of the deadstock supply being thinned out of the market, the sneaker now sells for more than $200. The 2015 release of the same sneaker eventually worked its way in to the $300s before news of this 2020 drop broke (we'll explain this risk shortly).

Cultural relevance and significance

Does the sneaker resonate past the realm of the sneakerhead niche for myriad reasons?

Jordan sneakers aren’t popular solely because Michael Jordan was really good at basketball or because they’re cool-looking. They’re popular because he was really good at basketball, he’s a global icon that transcended sports, he made Nike into a global phenomenon wearing their shoes, the sneakers are a bedrock piece of street fashion, and their must-have, sometimes unattainable nature fueled further must-have, unattainableness. Those are merely a few reasons, but a run-on sentence can’t run on forever.

Before Kanye West went fully off the rails, the Yeezy Prototype became the most expensive sneaker ever sold at $1.8 million. Again, speaking about the status before the meltdown, it was a sneaker that sat uniquely and historically at the intersection of music, culture, fashion, business, and sport, both because of Kanye himself when at his best and because of everything that followed for Yeezy sneakers with Nike and Adidas.

Photo: Rares

Or consider the Dior Jordans that released in 2020. Sure, sneakerheads alone would have made this release a smash-hit, but it was the notable intersection of sneaker and streetwear culture with high-fashion, two worlds growing ever closer in recent years, that attracted interest beyond sneaker-centric blogs and IG pages.

The likelihood and implications of re-release

Is Nike going to re-release this sneaker frequently, or is it permanently one for the archives? Will are-release tank value due to the new supply, or draw attention to the OG?

Considerations here can be a bit tricky, particularly in an era when “retros”, re-releases of old models, comprise such a large portion of key drops. So, collectors are left to ask, as they purchase an “OG” release of a model, whether future retros will be a detriment to their asset’s value, or conversely, if those future retros serve to amplify the importance of the OG. The latter is best evidenced by the massive values of good-condition, 1985 Air Jordan 1s. Those originals command tens of thousands of dollars even though the Jordan 1 is one of the most longstanding, consistently released sneakers on the market. In this case, the OG’s value is boosted by the reverence for its standing as a foundational piece of sneaker culture, in addition to the rarity of examples in good condition given the passage of time.

On the flip side, a Jordan 11, which is among the very most beloved Jordan models, in its OG form from the 1995 release doesn’t fetch much more than double what a retro released in 2019 or 2020 commands on the secondary market.

Renowned collaborations aren’t immune to re-releases either. The original Animal Pack Air Max 1 release from Atmos and Nike in 2006 garnered prices over $2,000 on a fairly consistent basis….until 2018, when the sneaker was retroed (retro’d?). While sales of the original are infrequent fifteen years on, they’re certainly no longer consistently in excess of $2,000. Meanwhile, the 2018 release goes for $300-500. Not to pick on Atmos, but the 2007 release of the Atmos Elephant Air Max 1 effectively halved in value from $1,500 when the sneaker re-released in 2017. That’s not to say that the OG maintained in good condition can’t one day sell for multiples of the more common re-release, but that’s not a certainty today.

Certain sneakers have become part of borderline folklore, and therefore its hard to see how a re-release would be anything but detrimental. For example, Nike Yeezy releases have attained a premium of sorts due to the low likelihood of Kanye ever coming back into the fold with the Swoosh. The Staple Pigeon Dunk is one of the most memorable sneaker releases of all time, due to the ensuing riots and the portrayal of said riots on the cover of the New York Post (talk about a rich story). While variations and approximations have released, the luster of that historic sneaker moment would be tainted by another release. And so, the sneaker is worth close to $50k.

The Staple Pigeon Dunk (center) as featured in the Otis x Staple collection. Photo: Otis.

While not an unmitigated death-knell to sneaker values, the likelihood, implication, and timeline of a potential re-release must be considered in relation to the intended holding period.

Potential to draw previously disinterested demand

Are trends, whether fashion, cultural, or otherwise, going to drive new demand to previously disregarded models?

The case study here is a simple one. If you believed that Nike Dunk SBs were going to come back into vogue before 2020, or better yet 2019, you stood to make a lot of money. As part of a years long strategy to make the Dunk highly coveted, Nike brought the frenzy to a crescendo in 2020, delivering millions of Ls on the SNKRS app to a mainstream public suddenly rabid for the sneaker. Whether it was the Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Dunky, the Grateful Dead pairs, or Travis Scotts among many others, nary a week went by in the sneaker world without a Dunk dropping to great acclaim.

What’s important for this discussion, though, is that the rising tide of the Dunk frenzy also lifted the boats of Dunks released in years past. The Newcastle Brown Ale Dunk, released in 2008 for $90 and a $300 sneaker as recently as 2018, tripled to over $900. The Heineken Dunk, released for $65 in 2003, traded for around $900 in 2018. In 2021? It was a $4,000 sneaker. The Purple Lobster Dunk SB by Concepts is an even more recent example. Released in late 2018 for $130, the Purple Lobsters spent the first half of 2019 below $400, breaching $600 by the end of that year. Today, sales are often above $1,500. If you managed to get this pair at retail (it wasn’t the hardest drop of all time), kept them on ice, and sold today, you would have achieved a return of over 1000% in under three years. Even if you missed at retail and felt the Dunk wave building at the end of 2019, you’d still be looking at 2.5x.

The 2020 Dunk wave is an extreme example, but still, the sneaker market abounds with tales of well-theorized bets on future demand growth for certain pairs.

Stage in the lifecycle

This is a tricky one that also underscores a significant risk in sneaker investment. As a sneaker approaches the later stages of its lifecycle, there are pushes and pulls on value. On the one hand, the longer its been since a sneaker released, the fewer deadstock pairs will exist as more and more pairs find their way to feet over the years. This could have a favorable effect on values as supply dwindles. However, on the flip side, demand could also dwindle as the sneaker drifts further from the mind of consumers and younger generations demonstrate little interest.

Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, many sneakers begin to decay or deteriorate in condition after a certain number of years have passed. Of course, once that happens, the value is detrimentally impacted considerably. Some sneakers can cruise past a decade or even close to two decades with no issue, but others might fare worse, particularly if stored poorly. This presents great risk. Those looking to move sneakers on at a profit should take care to act at the appropriate moment in the lifecycle, when there is still demand from buyers eager to put the sneaker on foot, and when there's little danger that the sneaker will effectively disintegrate on foot. That's a delicate balancing act, and it's a relatively unique one for the asset class.

It's also worth noting that if sneakers are carefully preserved and appear pristine and intact, some collectors will have little issue purchasing them, as their intent is not to wear them but instead to display them. However, that typically only applies to very high-end, very collectible, very significant sneakers.

Where can I buy and sell rare and valuable sneakers?

Resale Marketplaces

The sneaker market has grown so significantly in part because it's so much easier than it used to be to buy and sell sneakers. Thanks to the rise of resale marketplaces like StockX and GOAT, the experience of buying a sneaker on secondary markets is effectively the same as buying one at retail. Selling them on those platforms is similarly straightforward, though costly for low-volume sellers (typically a 10% fee, in addition to payment processing at 3% and shipping). eBay, the forerunner in online sneaker commerce, has recently dedicated greater resources and attention to its platform, and it remains a popular arena even if not the leader it was once perceived to be. Any of those marketplaces are generally beginner-friendly, reliable places to start, and each offers some level of authentication for those purchasing sneakers.

Consignment-Oriented Resale Marketplaces and Services

Consignment services like Stadium Goods and Flight Club (owned by GOAT) can also be leveraged by sellers looking for higher-touch service, and they boast strong and rare inventory for buyers as well.

Auction Houses

At the ultra high-end, premier auction houses like Sotheby's, Christie's, and Heritage Auctions have begun to offer rare sneakers both at auction and in buy-it-now formats. This has the potential to introduce sneakers to new, affluent audiences, and it positions the sneakers included in sales as premier offerings. Of course, one can expect that listing with these houses may not be the most cost efficient way to sell, given the marketing and fees associated. A buyer may pay $5,000 for a pair, but at least $1,000 of that (25%) is likely going to the auction house in buyer's premium.

Sneaker Events and Conventions

If live negotiation is your thing, many cities around the country host large sneaker events and conventions at which collectors come together to buy and sell sneakers. This can often be a convenient way to transact, removing middlemen, shipping, and other processes from the equation, but it can also be both time-consuming and frustrating should the haggling prove difficult.

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.

All information provided by Altan Insights is impersonal and not tailored to the needs of any person, entity or group of persons. Past performance of an index or asset is not an indication or guarantee of future results.

What is Liquidity? How Does Liquidity Impact Alternative Assets & Collectibles?

What is Liquidity? How Does Liquidity Impact Alternative Assets & Collectibles?

By 
Altan Insights

What is liquidity?

When used in reference to market dynamics, liquidity is the efficiency or ease with which an asset can be liquidated (put differently: sold for cash) at market prices or without significantly impacting market prices. Markets that are liquid are characterized by very active participation from a large number of parties. The stock market, for example, is generally said to be quite liquid, as participants can very often liquidate their holdings at or very near to the prevailing market price. This is not necessarily true of all stocks, but for the purposes of illustration, consider the well known, mega cap names like Apple, Alphabet, or Microsoft.

An illiquid market, then, is one without active participation and a large number of participants. In this type of market, where liquidity is low, you might expect that when you want to liquidate your asset, you may have to do so at a significant discount to prevailing fair market value in order to entice a willing buyer. In effect, you’re making a tradeoff between the value you’ll realize and the speed with which you’ll realize it. 

How does liquidity affect collectible markets? 

Liquidity can play a significant role in a collector’s success or failure in realizing optimal value for their collectibles. Many collectible markets are beset by low liquidity, and that’s especially the case in times of stress, but relative to more efficient markets like stocks, liquidity is persistently quite low.

Consider what you have to do to sell a collectible asset. There isn’t an active exchange that operates with specific hours that sees millions of traders ready to do business. Instead, you have to list the asset, either with an auction house or on a marketplace, and you either wait for the auction to end, or you wait for a buyer to surface. Sometimes this can be quick and painless, others not so much. Under regular circumstances, you might hope that your asset transacts at the same level as a recent transaction for an identical or near-identical asset. This would be the hope in times of higher liquidity. 

In times of lower liquidity, sellers have to settle for whatever their asset will fetch at auction or whatever offer they receive if they’re motivated to sell, and generally, that will be at a lower price relative to recent results. When various collectible markets were melting down in the summer of 2022, there were still sellers motivated to liquidate their assets against a backdrop of low liquidity. The buying pool was growing smaller and less motivated each day. More than ever, yesterday’s price was not today’s price. 

How does liquidity affect fractional collectible markets?

While fractional collectible markets are intended to function more like the stock market in structure, the young age of the concept and the marketplaces means there isn’t nearly the same sizable audience, and that audience isn’t nearly as active in trading. So, much like in regular collectible markets, when things go south, the impact can be amplified by low liquidity.

For example, shareholders in an asset may see that an identical asset just sold for $60,000 at auction. Seeking an exit from the asset, they may place an ask for a share price that values the fractional asset at $60,000. Due to low liquidity though - a lack of bidding activity - there may be no interest whatsoever on the buy side of that transaction. So, the seller is then forced to lower the price if they want out, and there are no guarantees as to what level (if any) may motivate buyers. In a more liquid market, there might be a larger pool of buyers more quickly motivated by a disconnect in value between the fractional asset and its real world counterpart. 

In the absence of solid liquidity, fractional shareholders may be forced to hold onto an asset they’d prefer to liquidate, rather than realize a significant loss that values the asset well below the market.

What challenges does low liquidity present to collectibles as alternative assets?

Illiquidity can introduce many challenges for any asset class. In some asset classes, illiquidity is a forced constraint, as vehicles like hedge funds and private equity funds have differing liquidity parameters allowing customers to redeem quarterly (in the case of hedge funds) or after as much as 10-15 years (in the case of PE). 

There is no imposed constraint in collectibles, but perhaps collectors would be wise to impose constraints upon themselves in certain cases. The illiquidity in collectible markets means that timing sales is perhaps even more important than it is elsewhere. Liquidating assets in times of stress can create dramatically different outcomes than doing so in more stable moments, often for the worse. 

It can also make evaluating sales and sales data challenging. Outlier sales may result from moments of very low liquidity, and that can make it difficult to understand the value of one’s asset and how it performs over time. 

Can liquidity in collectible markets improve?

Liquidity in collectible markets is consistently improving and has improved leaps and bounds in recent years. These markets are the most liquid they've ever been. Significant investment has flowed into collectible markets, leading to competition and important innovation. More than ever before, it’s possible to purchase and sell collectible assets with reduced friction, and stakeholders continue to reduce that friction. For example, markets now boast a greater frequency of auctions, more marketplaces, vaulting services, lending solutions, fractional investing, and more. Essentially, innovation is focused on lowering the various barriers to transacting. 

Ultimately though, while those measures are indeed helpful, at some point, improved liquidity will rely mostly upon increased participation. The degree to which that occurs is anybody’s guess.

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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.

All information provided by Altan Insights is impersonal and not tailored to the needs of any person, entity or group of persons. Past performance of an index or asset is not an indication or guarantee of future results.

What are Catalysts? What are Catalysts for Collectibles?

What are Catalysts? What are Catalysts for Collectibles?

By 
Altan Insights

When people discuss collectible alternative assets, you might hear the term “catalyst” used in relation to an item’s value. But what is a catalyst? And how can collectors and investors position themselves to prepare for one?

What is a catalyst?

A catalyst is an event or occurrence that has the potential to cause significant changes in an asset’s value. Catalysts can be positive or negative, meaning a catalyst can cause an asset’s value to go up, or it can cause the value to go down.  Catalysts are typically expected to drive short-term, rapid changes in value. Longer-term forces that contribute to changes in value over the course of years would generally not be attributed to catalysts.

What are some examples of catalysts in alternative assets?

Each collectible asset class can benefit or suffer from catalysts, these key events that drive their value. 

In fine art, for example, an artist’s works can experience an increase in value when it’s announced that they'll be exhibited in a museum, when they’ve secured representation from a top dealer, or, sadly, when they pass away.

In modern sports cards, a player’s cards may become more expensive when they become likely to win a championship, win an award, or break a record. Cards of players who have retired may see positive changes in value due to a Hall of Fame induction or a widely-watched documentary, or values may be adversely affected by that player getting in legal trouble or facing other reputational damage.

A rare book or a comic book might see changes in value when that material is set to be adapted into a major movie, as the story is reintroduced to old fans and introduced to new ones.

A catalyst in fine watches might be the news that a watchmaker is discontinuing production of a certain model. Such was the case for the Patek Philippe 5711, for example.

A sneaker catalyst might be a collaboration between a brand and a popular collaborator on a previously less desired model. That event can draw attention to other sneakers of the same model, thereby increasing their value. Conversely, sneakers can also have negative catalysts. One very common example is news of a restock or re-release, which will often lead to declining value for existing pairs of that model. 

How does an investor or collector benefit from catalysts?

Identifying a potential catalyst is only half the battle. The timing with which one acts to account for the catalyst will make or break performance. For example, you’ll notice above that, in sports cards, we suggested a player’s cards become more expensive when they become *likely* to win a championship - not when they actually win it. By the time it becomes clear that a catalyst will happen, in most markets, that news will have already been priced in. 

What does it mean that the news is "priced in"? Well, market participants will have speculated or anticipated that a catalyst could unfold, and as a result, they will have bought that asset (if they expect a positive outcome), driving the price up, or they will have sold that asset (expecting a negative outcome), driving the price down. This activity will continue as the outcome becomes more probable. So, if you were only to buy an asset right before or right after the catalyst occurs, you would likely miss most or all of the upside. 

The key, then, is to both identify and act on a potential catalyst before it becomes popular and well-known. That ensures you buy before the market for an asset has done most of the rising it will do, or that you sell before the market for an asset has done most of the falling it will do. You might recognize that this means more risk. In acting early, you’re perhaps operating with less clarity on the probability that the event will occur. But the closer to the event, and the more clarity there is and the higher probability there is, the less opportunity there is to profit. 

If you’re taking that risk, you’re going to want to be sure that if and when the catalyst occurs, it will indeed have a significant impact on value. For example, you might identify that a comic book will be released as a movie seemingly before the market does. However, if that movie turns out to be a flop or if it simply doesn’t make a broad cultural impact with a big audience, then the change in value to the upside is likely to be muted. You don’t want a catalyst to be so niche or so intricate that nobody ever reacts to it and values don’t move. To be most successful, you’re looking for major impact and easy digestion. Striking that balance between having an edge and ensuring that its an edge others will validate is challenging, but studying historical results can be instrumentally helpful in understanding what has worked previously and when.

So, keep an eye out for potential catalysts, act on them with caution, and be mindful of your timing! 

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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.

All information provided by Altan Insights is impersonal and not tailored to the needs of any person, entity or group of persons. Past performance of an index is not an indication or guarantee of future results.

Scarcity in Collectibles: Artificial Scarcity vs. Natural Scarcity, What's the Difference?
FAQs

Scarcity in Collectibles: Artificial Scarcity vs. Natural Scarcity, What's the Difference?

By 
Altan Insights

Common among most, if not all, collectible alternative assets of significant value is one key trait: scarcity.

What is scarcity? What does it mean for a collectible to be scarce?

When something is scarce, that means it’s deficient in quantity or number compared with the demand for the asset. Simply put, demand exceeds supply, and when we’re talking about valuable collectibles, the gap between the two is quite large. 

Scarcity lies at the root of the most basic economic principles guiding collectible market values. When there’s minimal supply of an asset relative to strong demand, the potential for high prices is strong. The assets that are everywhere (think the general release sneakers, the base sports cards, the commercially-produced art prints) have supply that satiates demand fairly well...or even overdoes it. Those values are generally tame relative to more scarce assets in each category. 

That’s why present-day collectible manufacturers aim to create scarcity - or at least the perception of scarcity - when developing and marketing products….but we’ll get to that in a bit.

What’s the difference between scarcity and rarity?

It’s chiefly the demand component that differentiates scarcity from its oft-used and oft-confused sibling, rarity. An item that is rare is seldom occurring or found. There’s nothing in the definition that describes quantity in relation to demand. 

An item can be very rare without being scarce. If there are very few of an item in existence, but demand for the item doesn’t overwhelm supply, that item is not scarce, just rare. Conversely, an item can be scarce without being rare. For example, if Nike releases a sneaker in quantities of 200,000 in the US, but demand far exceeds that supply, you’d call that sneaker scarce. It’s not rare - there are 200,000 pairs in the country, and likely hundreds of thousands more that are very close in appearance. 

The two words can very often be used interchangeably without issue, and very few will call you out for mixing them up (we won't!) - just know that there is a difference, albeit slight.

What is natural scarcity?

Some items are said to have natural or naturally-occuring scarcity. That’s the type of scarcity that develops when, often due to the passage of time, supply of an asset naturally becomes extremely limited relative to the demand for it. It doesn’t have to be due to time passage either - some resources are naturally scarce to begin with. Think precious metals or gold. Natural scarcity can also develop due to overconsumption. 

Now, the definition of natural scarcity might be a bit more flexible for collectibles than it is elsewhere. When talking about collectibles, it’s usually the passage of time that leads to an item’s scarcity. Take vintage baseball cards for example. When many vintage baseball sets debuted, while there was an element of artificial scarcity (more to come on that), the coveted cards weren’t nearly as scarce as they are now. But, over time, those cards were lost, thrown away, damaged, or otherwise compromised. Most pieces of cardboard would fail to survive over the course of decades or even a century. Their scarcity today is more naturally-occurring then. 

Or take fossils for example. There was a time when woolly mammoths wandered the earth en masse. Their tusks were not scarce then - there was no demand. Fast forward thousands of years after their extinction, and they still weren’t as scarce as they are today. Precious metals and oil miners cast the fossils they found aside, unaware of their value. Today, the number of surviving tusks in museum quality condition is scarce, not because somebody decided they should be, but because natural factors made it so over the course of epochs.

What is artificial scarcity?

We’ve established that scarcity can lead to increased values for collectible assets. Modern manufacturers of collectible items recognize this reality, and they capitalize on it. It took time to build that recognition though. For example, the sports card industry went through the “junk wax” era of overproduction; when customers realized how many of the cards were out there and how little value they held, many stopped buying entirely, crippling the industry for many years.

Today, brands across various collectible categories pursue a strategy of “artificial scarcity.” What does that mean exactly? The manufacturers release a limited quantity of highly-desired product, so that demand far exceeds supply. They’re effectively creating scarcity. In some industries, like sneakers for example, the frenzy to secure the product conveys the image that the brand is hot, trendy, and coveted, offering momentum and demand to even the non-limited product. In cards, manufacturers create “chase cards,” the low-numbered parallels  that consumers will desperately seek by buying pack-upon-pack, box-upon-box, and case-upon-case of product. 

These products are scarce solely because someone decided that it should be so. Often, the strategy works, so long as demand is maintained. To some outside of collecting spheres, the results can be astounding. A card executive decided that a black parallel of a sports card should be a 1-of-1, so that card is worth $100,000, while another piece of cardboard featuring the exact same image but without the shiny black look is worth $10. A pair of “Chicago” Jordan 1 Highs sells for $500, while a Jordan 1 Mid with a near identical colorway sells for $135 or less. 

It takes some suspension of disbelief on the consumers’ part to enable artificial scarcity to take hold in prevailing market prices. If consumers broadly decided “there’s nothing special about this card, there are actually tens of thousands just like it” or “I actually prefer a mid-top sneaker over a high-top,” these assets would be more rare than scarce. Alas, that’s not how these markets function, and it’s hard to see that changing dramatically in the near term. 

 

What’s the difference between natural and artificial scarcity?

At least when talking about collectibles, natural scarcity arises when organic circumstances or the passage of time create a significant supply deficit relative to demand for an asset. Artificial scarcity, on the other hand, is typically created from intentional human intervention and decision making. 

Importantly, an artificially scarce asset is often at some level of threat of its scarcity being reduced by other decision making. More of the asset could be produced, and even if there’s a preference for the original, this impacts scarcity and value, while also raising the barriers to understanding what makes the “original” scarce. If they’re not at threat of greater quantity being introduced, they might be at threat of consumers reducing demand by considering alternative, less scarce options and holding them in similar esteem. 

Generally speaking, naturally scarce assets do not face the same threats. The supply is less flexible (in reality, it should be totally inflexible), and potential substitutes are far less comparable or completely inauthentic altogether. 

Is natural scarcity better than artificial scarcity for collectors?

Not necessarily. There is perhaps a slightly lower level of risk associated with naturally scarce assets; the supply side of the equation is under less threat. Ultimately though, both types of scarcity are - to some degree - subject to the whims of the demand of the collecting public. Many artificially scarce items are currently among the most popular, particularly with younger generations. Most important is that a savvy collector understands which scarcity applies to their asset of choice and is fully aware of the risks associated with that asset. 

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.

All information provided by Altan Insights is impersonal and not tailored to the needs of any person, entity or group of persons. Past performance of an index is not an indication or guarantee of future results.

What is Speculation? Are Alternative Assets Speculative?
FAQs

What is Speculation? Are Alternative Assets Speculative?

By 
Altan Insights

Speculation is perhaps more prevalent today than ever before. Crypto, NFTs, collectibles, meme stocks, even sports gambling - no matter the speculative endeavor of choice, more people are taking more risk with their hard earned money. But make no mistake, speculation is hardly a “new” fad. In fact, the history of speculation dates back many centuries. 

Be that as it may, engaging in speculation today is inarguably the easiest it’s been in history, with countless avenues for monetary risk available at a few taps of the finger on smartphones. The link between speculation and entertainment is at its strongest as a result. So, what should you know about speculation before embarking down one of these paths?

What is speculation? What makes an investment speculative?

Speculation is the participation in a financial transaction - in most cases, the purchase of an asset - with the expectation of financial gain, but with substantial risk of losing all of the capital involved. It’s the second part of that statement - the risk - that crucially characterizes speculation. Speculative investments are generally less reliant on fundamental factors and analysis and more dependent on uncontrollable forces, chance, and market psychology. Put another way, the value of a speculative investment is often based less on underlying cash flows and output and instead more on supply & demand, investor sentiment, and the popularity of certain tastes and trends. 

Those factors are far more difficult to measure, predict, and control, thus introducing a substantial degree of risk.  When those factors turn against you, the downside can be devastating. This is particularly the case in the absence of underlying fundamentals and cash flows, which render selling below a certain level irrational, thus limiting losses.

What’s the difference between investing and speculating?

The primary difference between investing and speculating is the amount of risk taken in deploying capital. While the risk in speculation is quite high, meaning there is a significant chance of total or near-total loss of principal, investing is generally done with the goal of optimizing the balance of expected return and risk, with lower risk of losing one’s entire principal. Investments are generally made on assets with either a history of producing cash flows (which provide clear value to the investor) or a track record of output and a calculable likelihood that output can later lead to profits for the investor. 

Speculation and FOMO.

FOMO, or the fear of missing out, plays a significant role in perpetuating speculative activity. When speculative markets heat up, those winning in the space are generally quick to advertise their gains or newfound riches. These boasts capture the attention of those not yet in the market, who fear they’re missing out on similar opportunities to build wealth quickly. 

Motivated by that fear, those individuals enter the market, purchasing assets with the expectation that they’ll experience the same appreciation. When that happens on a wide enough scale, the entrance of new parties to a market will drive market values higher with buying activity. Conveniently, the participants on the other side of that buying activity are the earlier entrants, who are now provided an exit opportunity to crystallize their gains. 

In many cases, those motivated by FOMO will not do the requisite research to understand the assets and markets they’re buying into, instead relying on those success stories as sufficient evidence of merit. If you’ve heard the phrase “apeing in”, that’s essentially what we’re describing here. These new market participants may lack an understanding of risks and market drivers, therefore missing signs that a market is approaching peril. When it eventually turns, it’s those participants left holding the bag, experiencing significant losses as a result. 

Why are collectibles considered speculative investments?

Collectible assets are most typically considered speculative investments. As mentioned above, the values of speculative investments are often driven predominantly by factors like supply & demand, investor sentiment, and the popularity of certain trends. Those are effectively the precise factors driving the value of collectible assets. Perhaps more importantly, collectible assets are categorized as speculative based on what the vast majority of them don’t produce: cash flow. For most collectibles, there is no underlying economic output. Investors in collectibles don’t earn dividends or clip coupons, and they can’t point to improving underlying revenue and profitability trends that would make those things possible in the future.

Instead, at its core, the value of a collectible is most often driven by how much of that asset exists in the market and how many people want that asset. The prevailing market sentiment in a given moment can make the latter fluctuate up or down, and it can also impact the magnitude of their willingness to pay. When times are good and values are in the ascendancy, people are more likely to pursue speculative assets, and the amount that they’re willing to pay for them - with the expectation that they’ll continue to go up - also rises. When economic conditions worsen and people are less excited about the state of the economy and more nervous about their personal financial standing, the opposite happens. For many collectibles, there’s no real hard, quantifiable limit to just how far values can fall (with the exception of to zero), because there is no utility, no underlying economic output. 

It’s important to note, though, that highly traditional financial instruments can be incredibly speculative as well. Equities can be very speculative - just look at the Gamestop saga and the money that flowed into and out of AMC. At certain levels, even buying well known and successful companies like Tesla can be considered very speculative. When stocks are trading at astronomically high multiples versus their earnings or, worse, their revenues, there is considerable risk involved, and activity in those stocks can lean far more speculative in nature. Even bonds, which many would consider boring, can be speculative. For example, bonds can be purchased for pennies on the dollar on the basis of a speculative belief that distress won’t turn out to be as grave as originally thought.

So, it’s really less the vehicle used that defines speculative vs. investment activity, but rather the thought process, the expectations around drivers of value, and the corresponding level of risk.  

Is all speculation uneducated? Can you speculate smartly?

This is perhaps a matter of opinion, but the multitude of individuals, funds, and businesses that have enjoyed repeated success stories in certain speculative markets suggests that not all speculation is uneducated. It’s possible to speculate smartly on the basis of an educated thesis: an investor can lay out a credible case for why demand for an asset or asset class might increase, or why supply and demand are actually imbalanced but the market hasn’t realized it yet. 

It’s not uncommon that market participants are able to speculate successfully, armed by robust data, an ability to forecast trends, and a strong understanding of investor psychology and sentiment. It’s logical - if wealth was never accumulated in these markets, they would not rise to prominence in the first place. 

The challenge, though, is that investors can develop well-conceived investment theses that are ultimately never validated by the whims of the market and instead lead to significant losses when things don’t play out. In less speculative arenas, it’s more often the case that an investment thesis will revolve around improved business prospects (stronger revenue growth, higher margins, a larger dividend, greater creditworthiness) that eventually work their way into the prevailing market thought around an asset. That’s a core difference: even when speculation is well-educated and savvy, the risk (in theory) can still be very, very large. 

What is risk tolerance?

We’ve detailed the high degree of risk that is generally commensurate with speculation. Given that high risk, it’s important to discuss risk tolerance in the context of speculative investments. Risk tolerance is the level of risk that a given investor is willing to tolerate or endure to achieve certain results. 

It’s often the case that, in order to achieve significant gains, an investor needs to embrace a higher level of risk - the potentially large gains are the reward for embracing that risk. Put another way, an investment in a large, stable corporation that doesn’t fluctuate in price very much is considered a relatively low risk investment. But, because it’s low risk and stable, an investor wouldn’t expect the same high-flying returns possible in growth stocks, where the array of outcomes is much wider. 

An investor with a very high risk tolerance is willing to lose a lot of money in the pursuit of higher returns. They can stomach those losses. Typically, high risk tolerance investors are earlier on in their lives or careers, have steady income to replace losses, and don’t require their principal for retirement or other large expenses in the near future. On the flip side, low risk tolerance investors may be in the late stages of their earning years, preparing for retirement, and really can’t afford to have a large hit to their portfolios. 

Now, these are just examples of people that might gravitate towards a certain risk tolerance, but in practice, it can be quite personal. However, it’s most important that an investor understand the magnitude of loss possible with any investment, and that they truly consider their capacity to endure that investment going to zero. 

How much of my portfolio should be speculative?

This is where it becomes critically important to understand one’s risk tolerance. The lower one’s risk tolerance, the lower the allocation to speculative assets should be. That way, if the worst outcome does occur, and the speculative assets do become worthless, it affects only a very small percentage of an individual’s overall portfolio. A 100% loss on 1% of the portfolio still leaves you 99% intact. That’s not a suggestion that 1% is the “right” number, but it does illustrate how a conservative tact can spare investors from considerable stress.

If an individual has a higher risk tolerance, they might pursue a more aggressive allocation to speculative assets, particularly if they feel they have an informational edge or a very well conceived investment thesis. Even if that is the case, though, it’s generally ill-advised to pursue truly outsized allocations to speculative investment plays, even if they’re spread amongst different categories. Why? Well, as we saw at the beginning of the summer of 2022, it’s not uncommon for speculative assets of wide variety to suffer at the same time. Crypto, stocks, collectibles - all suffered considerably. An investor significantly exposed to these assets would’ve been looking at a significantly battered net worth, margin calls (though leverage is another topic for another day), and maybe even an inability to meet certain liabilities or liquidate assets to cover unforeseen expenses. The regret arising from that situation is likely to be far worse than the FOMO that might’ve inspired the large allocation. 

For most individuals (and this is not investment advice), an allocation to speculative assets will not make up more than 5% of a portfolio, and they might thank themselves for keeping it that low in times of distress, even if FOMO makes it seem foolhardy in brighter moments. 

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.

All information provided by Altan Insights is impersonal and not tailored to the needs of any person, entity or group of persons. Past performance of an index is not an indication or guarantee of future results.

Sports Card and Trading Card Grading FAQ
FAQs

Sports Card and Trading Card Grading FAQ

By 
Altan Insights

What is a 'Card Grader'? And why are card graders important to collecting?

A card grader is a firm that receives cards from collectors only for them to be sent back encased in a “slab”--a transparent plastic container--labeled at the top with a grade from 1-10. A card with a high grade imputes a higher value; only the most pristinely printed and maintained cards are given a 10, the most highly sought after grade. 

2021 Panini Donruss Trevor Lawrence | PSA CardFacts®
PSA Slab
Credit: PSA

Card Graders have become an essential piece of the hobby’s infrastructure. A decent analogue for graders in card collecting would be to credit rating agencies in financial markets. The card graders are analyzing the quality of the card itself so as to help investors accurately decide on a value; while Moody’s or Standard & Poor’s analyze the quality of the organization, with respect to credit-worthiness, so as to help collectors accurately decide on a value. 

What is all of the text printed on a graded card's label?

Grade Label
Credit: PSA

Going clockwise from the top-left:

  • Card Name: Names are usually formatted as follows: year of the card's printing, brand of the card, name of the player. In the above case, "2021", "DONRUSS", "TREVOR LAWRENCE".
  • Card Number: Number of the card within the set it was released in. Each card in a set is assigned a number out of the total number of cards released in the set. In the above case, #251 out of 350.
  • Grade: The grade given to the card. This will include a short string of text followed by a number from 1 to 10. In the above case, "GEM MT" (denoting "Gem Mint' quality) and 10 the highest number grade possible.
  • Cert Number: A unique identifier given to every graded card. Allows you to look up the individual card when selling online. In the above case, 94893127.
  • Cert Barcode: Serves the same purpose as the cert number. Allows collectors to scan a card to verify its authenticity.

What companies offer card grading services?

There are four grading firms that make up nearly all graded cards. They are as follows:

  • Professional Sports Authenticators (PSA)
PSA Label
Credit: PSA

Founded in 1991, PSA is the de facto king of card grading. They grade far more cards than the rest combined and their red and white label has become a powerful icon within the collecting community.

  • Beckett Grading Service (BGS)
WHAT IS A BECKETT ''BLACK LABEL'' AND HOW CAN I GET ONE? - Black Label  Grading
BGS Label
Credit: Black Label Grading

Beckett Media was founded in 1984 covering the hobby with magazines and price guides. In 2001 they began grading cards themselves. Beckett uses a similar 10 point scale to PSA, but they also have additional 'subgrades'. These include: Centering, Corners, Edges, and Surface. These four subgrades are also used by the following two graders.

  • Sports Guaranty Company (SGC)
New SGC Holder w/ 1-10 grading scale — Collectors Universe
SGC Label
Credit: Collectors Universe

SGC has been grading and authenticating cards since 1998. They are among the most reputable names in card grading. Although Beckett and SGC do not grade nearly as many cards as PSA, they are still well-respected brands in the space.

  • Certified Sports Guaranty (CSG)
CSG Label
Credit: CSG

CSG is by far the most recent entrant into the sports card grading space. In 2021 'The Collectibles Group' added sports cards to their list grading offerings. The company has previously graded everything from coins to video games. Currently the smallest player in the space, it is still yet to be seen if CSG will be a mainstay in the hobby like the above mentioned services.

How do card graders decide what grade the card receives?

The simplest way to understand how a grader determines a final score is by breaking down the scoring rubric. The four following sub-grades are used to analyze the overall quality of the card:

  • Centering
Credit: CSG

Arguably the most important factor in determining the grade. If a card is perfectly centered it can buoy the overall grade when compared to underperformance in the remaining categories. Ideally, a card is centered ‘50/50’ or in the exact center of the card; the above Ken Griffey card received a 'GEM-MT 10' which implies at worst a 60/40 centering on the front of the card.

  • Corners
Credit: PSA

Corners are one of the easiest aspects to notice when grading a card. Is it beat up from regular handling of the card? Has it been bent or dented while placing the card into a sleeve? The above Trevor Lawrence card has crisp, 90° angled corners. You can see that the card’s corners have not been damaged or misshapen in any way–allowing it to receive a 10.

  • Edges
Credit: SGC

Edges can be damaged in many ways, including: taking the card out of the pack improperly, dropping the card, and/or the card being used as a tasty snack; sometimes by a dog, sometimes by a precocious collector who enjoys the sweet taste of cardboard. Any of this damage will reduce the chance for a high grade. Our Steve Garvey example above would likely have fetched a higher grade if not for the beat-up, frayed edges.

  • Surface

Deductions can be made by any noticeable defect on the surface of the card. Wrinkles, scratches, and discolorations caused by the initial printing of the card or otherwise will lower the grade of a card. Our Micheal Jordan example has quite a few noticeable dings and scratches on the top half of the card; each of these hurts the overall grade.

What does each card grade mean?

Each Grading firm has slightly varying methodologies on how they come to each grade. These methodologies do have significant overlap that simplifies the comparison between firms. All of these four major firms use scales from 1-10. Each number grade has a 'Quality' code attached to it.

PSA Grades

Each grade means something slightly different. For example PSA describes their highest grade as the following:

"A PSA Gem Mint 10 card is a virtually perfect card. Attributes include four perfectly sharp corners, sharp focus and full original gloss. A PSA Gem Mint 10 card must be free of staining of any kind, but an allowance may be made for a slight printing imperfection, if it doesn't impair the overall appeal of the card. The image must be centered on the card within a tolerance not to exceed approximately 55/45 to 60/40 percent on the front, and 75/25 percent on the reverse."

And their lowest grade PSA doles out, save for altered cards reads:

A PSA Poor 1 will exhibit many of the same qualities of a PSA Fair 1.5 but the defects may have advanced to such a serious stage that the eye appeal of the card has nearly vanished in its entirety. A Poor card may be missing one or two small pieces, exhibit major creasing that nearly breaks through all the layers of cardboard or it may contain extreme discoloration or dirtiness throughout that may make it difficult to identify the issue or content of the card on either the front or back. A card of this nature may also show noticeable warping or another type of destructive effect.

All graders use “half-grades” between 9 and 2 in order to give a more accurate grade to each card. In these situations the quality tag will be given a ‘+’. For example: 5.5 would be EX+ and a 3.5 would be a VG+. These cards will have features that would land it at the high end of the lower grade, but not enough to push it up to the next level.

There are a few differences in the syntax of each grading firm. BGS' highest grade is also a 10, but 'PRI' meaning Pristine while their 'GEM-MT' is only a measly 9.5.

SGC separates their 10 into two–’Pristine’ and ‘Gem Mint’. Here, ‘Pristine’ is the top dog. Only cards described as “virtually flawless” will receive such a grade. Their Gem Mint allows for “a slight print spot”, but only if it does not detract from the rest of the card.

CSG also has two 10 grades, but they are 'Perfect' and 'Gem Mint'. Perfect being a card that has received a 10 in all subgrades and be "flawless under 10x magnification."

The quality abbreviations are quite simple to translate, but here is the full list:

Quality Abbreviations

Is there any difference in the value between similarly graded cards from different card grading firms?

There can be differences in values between the same grade from different firms. PSA is the dominant name in the space, which is reflected in the value of their graded cards. If a card is in a PSA slab it has been stamped with the seal of approval from the most powerful name in grading–this can imply a premium when compared to similar grades from competing firms. Although, depending on the card, deciding which grader to use can be a strategic decision. If you believe you are holding onto a card that could fetch a perfect ten then it may be worthwhile to use BGS as it will display a 10 across each category. Since PSA does not list individual category grades on their label, the same card would likely be valued at a discount to a so-called quad ten grade.

For the most part you cannot go wrong by choosing PSA. Although you will see below that PSA understands their stature in the space and has set their prices accordingly. 

How much does it cost to get a card(s) graded from each card grading company?

The following are current prices and are subject to change:

PSA

  • Walk-through: 3 days, $600/card (value less than $9,999)
  • Super Express: 3 days, $300/card (value less than $4,999)
  • Express: 5 days, $150/card (value less than $2,499)
  • Regular: 10 days, $75/card  (value less than $1,499)
  • Value-Plus: 20 days, $40/card  (value less than $499)
  • Value: 65 days, $25/card  (value less than $499)

BGS

  • Immediate: Same-Day, $500/card
  • Next Day: 1 business day, $400/card
  • Priority:2-5 business days, $140/card, $100/card without subgrades
  • Standard:10-20 business days, $40/card, $30/card without subgrades
  • Base: 40-60 business days, $22/card, $18/card without subgrades
  • Collector’s Special: 40-60 business days, $18/card, $16/card without subgrades

SGC

  • >$100,000: 1-2 days, $3,750/card
  • <$100,000: 1-2 days, $2,000/card
  • <$50,000: 1-2 days, $1,000/card
  • <$20,000: 1-2 days, $500/card
  • <$7,500: 1-2 days, $250/card
  • <$3,500: 5-10 days, $85/card; 1-2 days, $125/card
  • <$1,500: 5-10 days, $24/card; 1-2 days, $125/card

CSG

  • Unlimited WalkThrough: 3 days, $120+0.8% FMV, (no value limits)
  • WalkThrough: 3 days, $120/card (value less than $50,000/card)
  • Express: 3 days, $56/card (value less than $10,000/card)
  • Standard: 7 days, $28/card (value less than $1,000/card)
  • Economy: 10 days, $20/card (value less than $500/card)
  • Bulk: 20 days, $12/card (value less than $250/card)

How many cards do each of these card grading companies grade?

You can get into the nitty gritty details of each individual population report from each grader, but here is a good overview below for last year.

Credit: GEMRATE

PSA is by far the leader in total number of cards graded and they have been for some time. More than 78% of all graded cards in 2022 were graded by PSA. The remaining 22% is split up between the remaining three.

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