Some well known sports personalities sign as many autographs as they can to keep the value low and, they hope, keep the opportunists to a minimum. Others don’t sign many at all to keep the price up so they can make more money in their next private signing deal or card company autograph contract. One factor that neither philosopher can control is how long they have to maintain their desired practice. When you’re dead, you can’t sign anything.
For years, a player’s death has resulted in dealers charging a premium for autographs he signed before heading to the great beyond.
There shouldn’t be a shortage of autographs of personalities who lived a long time and were generous with their signature. Former New York Giants’ great Andy Robustelli passed away this week. You can bet that somewhere is a dealer with a stack of signed Robustelli photos. Is there a demand? Probably not enough of one to match the suddenly increased price.
It depends on the player. For Harmon Killebrew, the answer to whether death can impact the value of an autograph, is yes. Killebrew died May 17. Immediately following his death, baseballs signed by the popular slugger skyrocketed in value, according to Ben Milch of New Jersey-based SigPrices.com, a site that tracks the selling prices for autographs across multiple platforms.
“For example, in May 2010, this same time a year ago, a Harmon Killebrew singled signed baseball authenticated by PSA DNA was selling for an average of $38.59 on eBay,” Milch told Sports Collectors Daily. “Now, following his death, that same ball more than doubled in price. In fact, the next day after his death, the same ball sold for $92.66 on eBay. That is an increase of 240 percent.”
On the other hand, Bob Feller collectors were not as fortunate. Feller died on December 15, 2010. Yet, his autograph had only a marginal change in value following his death, according to SigPrices data. For example, in May of 2010, this time last year, a Bob Feller single signed baseball authenticated by PSA DNA was selling for an average of $43.80 on eBay. After the former Cleveland great passed away, however, the price of his autographed baseball actually decreased slightly to an average of $40.30 on eBay.
“Now, nearly six months after his death, the price of his autographed baseball decreased again to an average of $34.65 on eBay,” Milch reported. “That means that after his death, the price of his autographed baseball actually decreased by 26 percent.”
Why did this occur for Feller and not for Killebrew?
“There could be many theories,” said Milch. “But when you dig a bit deeper for more facts, the reason becomes more clear. Unlike Killebrew, who died at age 74, Feller lived a long life to the ripe old age of 92. Feller was also known to be extremely friendly and willing to sign his autograph upon request. Since Feller had an additional 18 years to sign his autograph, his signature became one of the most easily accessible in the hobby. Thus, based on the lack of scarcity of Feller autographed baseballs, his signature did not increase in value following his death.”
As a whole, interest in a player’s autograph increases with their passing.
“Immediately following a player's death, one will usually see more autographs of that player for sale as dealers clean off the cobwebbs of that player and put it out on the market again,” Milch explained. “After a player retires, most likely the only time you will hear that player's name in the media again is if they are selected for the Hall of Fame or if they die. Dealers tend to be ready to pounce on those opportunities when those events occur because that player suddenly became of interest once again.”
While some autographs, even after a player’s death, tend to settle into a certain value range without changing much from year to year, autographs of some of the more well known figures do see a slow and steady year-to-year increase.
“As time passes, the deceased Hall of Famers that continue to grow in value are the iconic players who are beyond just mere stars of the game,” Milch stated. “That list includes Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Johnny Unitas, Walter Payton, and Wilt Chamberlain.”
While it may seem rather uncouth to even discuss, Milch says it’s no secret that checking the age and health of iconic former stars and securing multiple autographs to hold onto could prove to be a wise investment.