Baseball cards that once sold for cents now fetch millions at auction. Chris Carter reports.
A mint-condition baseball card from 1952 featuring New York Yankees baseball player Mickey Mantle sold for $2.88m at Texas-based Heritage Auctions last Thursday. But the price wasn’t the most remarkable thing about it, says David Seideman in Fortune. Nor was the fact that it was printed with even borders instead of off-centre, as was often the case, or the identity of the seller – former American football player Evan Mathis, who won the Super Bowl in 2016. Rather, it was that the card made it to auction at all.
In 1960, chewing-gum brand Topps, which printed (and still prints) the collectable sports cards, had a warehouse in Brooklyn, New York, stuffed with hundreds of cases of unsold cards, including many of the 1952 Mantle. So Topps boss Sy Berger resorted to desperate measures. He and a friend loaded the 300-500 unsold cases onto a barge and sailed a few miles out into the Atlantic, where they dumped the lot. “Whoever would have thought they would have the kind of value that they would have,” Berger later mused in a 2010 interview. So valuable is the sunken treasure that fans on one online forum discussed putting together a salvage operation to see if any survived. For now, they remain at the bottom of the ocean.
A 590% gain in a decade
Another 1952 Mantle that escaped destruction belongs to Brady Hill, the chief executive of T-shirt printing company Greensource, says Paul Sullivan in The New York Times. His 1952 Mantle is graded at “near-mint” (NM-MT 8), just one notch down from the $2.88m example, which was a “mint 9”, according to the Professional Sports Authenticator scale. (The scale runs from PR 1 (“poor”) to Gem-MT 10 (“gem mint”) – half points are also awarded.) Hill’s 1952 Mantle is thought to be worth around $400,000, while a “near-mint 7” example fetched $120,000 last week. Over the past decade the 1952 Mantle has appreciated in value by 590%, according to auction site PWCC, which tracks the value of baseball cards, putting it second in its index after the 1954 Hank Aaron card (829%) and ahead of the 1933 Babe Ruth (305%).
Hill bought his first car and put himself through university with the proceeds from buying and selling baseball cards, and remains an avid collector. “Seven or eight years ago I went to see these cards I had in my safe-deposit box that I was going to keep forever,” he says. “I said, ‘This is cool.’ Then I looked on eBay and said, ‘Wow, this is legit’,” he tells Sullivan. Small wonder – the returns from the top 500 baseball cards have beaten America’s benchmark S&P 500 stock index by more than 200% since 2008. After all, “what’s more fun”? asks Hill – who, with his wife, has around a fifth of his assets in cards –“having a Babe Ruth rookie card or shares of stock where one false move and it goes down”?
An £8,100 T-shirt
With the World Cup just a couple of months away, now’s the time to check the attic for a piece of football history, says Rob Goodman in The Sun. Rare and vintage shirts are going for far more than a song from the terraces, with fans eagerly snapping up club memorabilia.
Rare players’ shirts (ie, not replicas) are most sought-after, and watch out for fakes, of which there are many. Match-worn and players’ shirts should come with a certificate of authenticity when bought at auction. You shouldn’t trust auto-graphs alone – “most modern signatures are just a squiggle”, says Chris Williams from specialist auction house Sportingold. Buying through reputable auctioneers will help you avoid losing your shirt.
One muddied example that was worn by Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo during the 2010/2011 season in a match against fellow Spanish side Sporting Gijón sold for an “eye-watering” £8,100 on eBay, says Goodman. It also came with a certificate of authenticity. But even shirts from humbler English sides can fetch a high price. A white Sheffield United shirt – one of around 500 made when the team played Nottingham Forest in October – sold for £5,600 earlier this year.
The pair of black Florsheim Imperial loafers that Michael Jackson wore when performing the moonwalk for the first time on stage are going up for sale at GWS Auctions in California on 26 May. The late pop star tried out his signature dance move while rehearsing Billie Jean for the Motown 25 television special in 1983. A conservative estimate of $10,000 was placed on the shoes; by Tuesday, online bidding had reached $50,000. “Anything related to Michael Jackson is extraordinary, and to have something so incredibly historical as these shoes worn by Michael when he first did that now famous moonwalk is beyond special,” Brigitte Kruse of GWS Auctions’ told CNN.
Last month GWS Auctions sold an iconic pair of Elvis Presley’s sunglasses for $159,900 – a record for a pair of the King’s specs, says Forbes. Presley, whose daughter Lisa Marie later married Michael Jackson in 1994, was photographed wearing the chrome and plastic custom-made sunglasses on multiple occasions, including on his last summer holiday to Hawaii in 1977. Other items in The Legends of Hollywood & Music Auction included Marilyn Monroe’s brush, comb and mirror set, which sold for $23,985, and Liberace’s custom diamond and gold piano ring, which fetched $23,370.