Rare Book Monthly

Articles - April - 2021 Issue

Collector Sports Cards Smashing All Sorts of Price Records

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Million dollar men Luka Doncic and Tom Brady.

Collecting interests have evolved over the years. The “works on paper” field, once almost synonymous with books, now covers a wide range of collectible paper. Maps, manuscripts, prints, photographs, comics, posters and other ephemeral material are in various stages of popularity these days. Now, here is one form of paper that has seen exponential growth in prices in recent years, something of a surprise to many. Sports cards keep achieving record high prices on a regular basis now. If books are the equivalent of utility stocks, sports card are more like high-flying new technology stocks. Will they come crashing back to earth, or are we just at the beginning of the cycle? It's anyone's guess.

 

Once upon a time, it was only baseball cards that seemed to matter, but now all sorts of professional sports are taking in amazing prices. The speed with which they are rising is astonishing. This year was barely over two months old when new records were set for baseball, basketball, and football cards. Throw in last December and you can add hockey cards. Include November and you can tally soccer cards.

 

These high-priced cards are no longer limited to something ancient like a 1911 Honus Wagner. Many of these seemingly crazy high prices are going for players who are currently still active. Many are specialist cards, highly decorated ones created in great rarity, sometimes one of a kind, to generate astonishing prices right from the start. Collectors are buying these like they were created by Banksy, whose every print is beyond the reach of 90-something percent of the population. Sports cards are hot, and for the past few years, they have been enormously lucrative investments. Whether this will continue or for how long is unknown. You might clean up with these investments, or you might get cleaned out. At these levels, you need nerves of steel.

 

In February, we wrote about a new record high price set for a baseball card or any card. A 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle rookie card sold for $5.2 million. It eclipsed the record for the rookie card for the still active Mike Trout that sold for $3.93 million. That was a specialist Bowman Chrome Superfractor one of a kind. To give you an idea of the appreciation in the most valuable cards, the $5.2 million Mickey Mantle sold two years earlier for $2.88 million. The buyer is convinced he got a bargain, that it will go much higher.

 

A few weeks ago, an NBA card became the most valuable basketball card ever sold, and the second most valuable sports card of any kind. This was not one from some long ago star, nor even a grizzled current veteran like LeBron James. No, this one was for Luka Doncic, the very talented young guard for the Dallas Mavericks. Doncic has been playing ball in the NBA for all of three seasons, though he did play European ball for a few years earlier. He just turned 22. The card is all of three years old. It is another one-of-a-kind rookie card, and Doncic will undoubtedly go on to have an outstanding, Hall of Fame career, but whether he will end up meriting this sort of price for a rookie card will take many years to determine. The price was $4.6 million. Doncic's card surpassed the previous record $1,857,300 paid for a Giannis Antetokuonmpo card in September 2020, which in turn broke the record of $1,845,000 paid for a LeBron James card in July 2020.

 

Also earlier this year a record price was set for a football card. Interestingly, though football is America's most popular sport, its cards aren't the most valuable of cards. This one was for a man who does not need to prove his worth to the sport. He has already made more than enough of an argument to be considered the GOAT (Greatest of All Time). That, of course, would be Tom Brady. He has been playing in the NFL since 2000 and is now 43 years old, but he is still active and is playing at such a level that he just won another Super Bowl. It was his seventh appearance in the big game. His rookie card sold for $1.32 million. It surpassed the record $840,000 paid for a Patrick Mahomes card in January of this year. Mahomes is 26 years old and has played only four seasons in the NFL so far.

 

We have to go all the way back to December of 2020 to find the record price for a hockey card. So far, that record has managed to stand for a full three months. This card, of no great surprise, was a rookie card for Wayne Gretzky. Gretzky is certainly a prime candidate for hockey's GOAT. Hockey may not be as popular as the other sports in America, but Gretzky's card still sold for almost as much as Brady's. The price was $1,290,000. Soccer is perhaps the most popular sport around the world, but it does take a backseat in America, the primary card market. Nonetheless, a card for then 17-year-old rookie soccer star Pele sold for a record $295,200 last November.

 

So, should you invest in collector sports cards? Recent results make a case for this investment, but as investment houses always caution at times like these, “past performance is no guarantee of future results.” I certainly have no advice. I wouldn't have the courage to invest so much in a sports card even if I could find someone foolish enough to loan me the money. However, I can also say, I wouldn't bet against them either. At the moment, it looks like clear sailing, but one cannot always see when there are storms brewing on the horizon.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b><center>Sotheby’s<br>Bibliothèque littéraire<br>Hubert Heilbronn<br>11 May 2021</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s May 11:</b> Breton, André. <i>Nadja.</i> Paris, N.R.F., Gallimard, 1928. €15,000 to €20,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s May 11:</b> [Stendhal, Henri Beyle dit]. <i>Le Rouge et le Noir,</i> chronique du XIXe siècle. Paris, Levavasseur, 1831. €20,000 to €30,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s May 11:</b> Dumas, Alexandre. <i>Les Trois mousquetaires.</i> 1844. 8 vols. In 4. Paris, Baudry, 1844. €30,000 to €50,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s May 11:</b> Mallarmé, Stéphane -- Edgar Allan Poe. <i>Les Poèmes d’Edgar Poe.</i> Bruxelles, Edmond Deman, 1888. €18,000 to €25,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s May 11:</b> Proust, Marcel. <i>Le côté de Guermantes II. Sodome et Gomorrhe I. [and] Sodome et Gomorrhe II.</i> Paris, N.R.F., 1921 et 1922. €20,000 to €30,000.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries, May 12:</b> <i>Westvaco–Inspirations for Printers,</i> 3 volumes, 1938-61. $200 to $300.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, May 12:</b> Proef van Letteren, <i>Welk gegooten worden in de Nieuwe Haerlemsche Lettergietery,</i> 1768. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, May 12:</b> Paul Klee, <i>Bauhaus Ausstellung Juli – Sept.,</i> Weimar, 1923. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, May 12:</b> Michel Seuphor & Jozef Peeters, <i>Het Overzicht Nos.</i> 22-23-24, Antwerp, 1922. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, May 12:</b> Wolfrum & Co., <i>Modern Graphik, Serie I…,</i> complete portfolio, 1909. $1,200 to $1,800.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, May 12:</b> <i>Gravure et Fonderie deC. Derriey: Specimen-Album,</i> Paris, 1862. $5,000 to $7,500.
  • <center><b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>12/13 May<br>Printed Books, Maps & Prints, Numismatic Books from the Milne-Henderson Collection</b>
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> Mariette (Pierre-Jean). <i>Traité des pierres gravées / Recueil des pierres gravées...,</i> 2 vols., 1750. £1,000 to £1,500.
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> [Bryant, Jacob & William Cole]. <i>Gemmarum Antiquarum Delectus, [Marlborough Gems],</i> 2 volumes, [privately printed, 1780-83], £800 to £1,200.
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> Caylus (Anne Claude Philippe, Comte de). <i>Recueil d'Antiquités Egyptiennes, Estrusques, Grecques et Romaines,</i> 7 volumes, Paris, 1756-67, £700 to £1,000.
    <center><b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>12/13 May<br>Printed Books, Maps & Prints, Numismatic Books from the Milne-Henderson Collection</b>
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> Devonshire Gems. <i>Duke of Devonshire's Collection of Gems,</i> privately printed, c. 1790, [one of 8 copies], £1,500 to £2,000.
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> Goltz (Hubert). <i>Le Vive Imagini di tutti quasi gl'Imperatori,</i> Antwerp, 1557, £500 to £800.
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> Manuscript. <i>An Explanation of Dassier's Medals, by Charlotte Hanbury,</i> c. 1795-1800, £700 to £1,000.
    <center><b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>12/13 May<br>Printed Books, Maps & Prints, Numismatic Books from the Milne-Henderson Collection</b>
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> Paoletti (Bartolomeo and Pietro). A collection of 300 plaster cameos presented in 7 leather-bound double-sided faux book boxes, Rome, c. 1820, £2,000 to £3,000.
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> Mayer (Luigi). <i>Views in Egypt, from the Original Drawings, in the Possession of Sir Robert Ainslie,</i> London: Thomas Bensley for R. Bowyer, 1805, £2,000 to £3,000.
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> Blaeu (Willem Janszoon & Johannes). <i>Theatrum orbis terrarum, sive Atlas novus, pars quarta</i> [England and Wales], Amsterdam: Johannem Blaeu, 1648, £6,000 to £8,000.
    <center><b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>12/13 May<br>Printed Books, Maps & Prints, Numismatic Books from the Milne-Henderson Collection</b>
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> Reuter (O.M. & Mela, A.J.). <i>Finlands Fiskar. The Fishes of Finland,</i> 12 parts (complete), Helsingfors: G.W. Edlund, 1883-93, £500 to £800.
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> Lunardi (Vincenzo). <i>An Account of the First Aerial Voyage in England,</i> 2nd edition, London: Printed for the Author, 1784, £700 to £1,000.
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> North America. Jansson (Jan). <i>Virginiae partis Australis et Floridae partis Orientalis,</i> circa 1641. £400 to £600.
  • <center><b>Hindman Auctions<br>Fine Books & Manuscripts,<br>Including Americana<br>Live and Online<br>May 12, 2021</b>
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> CURRIER and IVES, publishers -- After Frances F. Palmer. The Rocky Mountains. Emigrants Crossing the Plains, 1866. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> [BIBLE, in English]. <i>The New Testament of Jesus Christ, translated faithfully into English.</i> Rheims, 1582. $6,000 to $8,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> [BIBLE, in Latin]. <i>Biblia latina.</i> Venice: Franz Renner of Hailbrun [Heilbrunn], 1483. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <center><b>Hindman Auctions<br>Fine Books & Manuscripts,<br>Including Americana<br>Live and Online<br>May 12, 2021</b>
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> SHELLEY, Percy Bysshe (1792-1822). Autograph letter signed ("P. B. S."), to Charles Ollier. Florence, Italy, 15 December 1819. “MY PROMETHEUS IS THE BEST THING I EVER WROTE.” $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> RAMSAY, David (1749-1815). <i>The History of the Revolution of South-Carolina…</i> Trenton: Isaac Collins, 1785. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> [BINDINGS]. MUIR, John (1838-1914). <i>The Writings of John Muir.</i> Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1916-1924. 10 vols. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <center><b>Hindman Auctions<br>Fine Books & Manuscripts,<br>Including Americana<br>Live and Online<br>May 12, 2021</b>
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> [CHICAGO] -- <i>Park & Guide Map of Chicago.</i> Chicago: Jas. Van Vechten, 1873. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> CURRIER and IVES, publishers -- After Frances F. Palmer. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> [ALLEN PRESS]. SHAKESPEARE, William (1564-1616). <i>Romeo and Juliet.</i> Greenbrae: Allen Press, 1988. $1,000 to $1,500.
    <center><b>Hindman Auctions<br>Fine Books & Manuscripts,<br>Including Americana<br>Live and Online<br>May 12, 2021</b>
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> BEMELMANS, Ludwig (1898-1962). Pencil drawing on paper. 247 x 198 mm, sight, matted and framed. Showing a child shooting at a baby's balloon. $1,000 to $1,500.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> [LOGAN ELM PRESS]. HARVEY, Rebecca. <i>Any Number of Things.</i> Ohio State University, 2013. Single sheet paper scroll. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> BINYON, Laurence (1869-1943). A small archive of letters and pamphlets. $200 to $300.

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