by Rich Klein
I had a very slow day at work a couple of weeks back. In fact the day was so slow that I spent most of the eight working hours monitoring CNBC as sure enough that was the day Gold and Silver took a major price plunge. Now some people starting thinking all of that activity was caused by the belief Cyprus would soon sell their gold supply, while others believe this may have been the first step in the gold “bubble” bursting. So while many people think of the present, all that activity made me start thinking of the importance of the gold and silver boom of the 1979-80 period and how it impacted the hobby.
Today, more than 30 years later, it’s still hard to forget if you lived through that time. Gold exploded to $800 per ounce while silver went up to $50 per ounce. That period gave many people who had held on to both gold and silver plenty of extra cash to spend and in addition, the dealers who were buying and selling those metals had so much extra money that the demand for the older cards (and eventually even the newer cards) really took off not just among collectors who remembered putting their cards in bicycle spokes but also among those dealers looking for another avenue of collectibles to make money with.
During the same period where gold and silver soared, many vintage cards also exploded in price. The 1952 Tiopps Mickey Mantle went from $500 at the beginning of 1979 to $3000+ in early 1980. Those sales in 1980 at the public auction at the famous Willow Grove show led to a ton of 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle hitting the market.
About two months later, I counted the ’52 Mantles available in the June issue of the Trader Speaks and my memory says 17 of these cards were offered in that issue alone. Tons of these cards also were offered in Sports Collectors Digest.
Needless to say, just as the Gold and Silver market settled down (not to explode for about 30 years), by late 1982, the market for vintage cards did too. The 1952 Topps Mantle had returned to the $500 level where it would stay for a few months before beginning a steady climb back upwards which has basically continued to this day. Other older Topps and Bowman cards which saw a big uptick during the boom also calmed down in price. In fact I was offered on more than one occasion very nice 1950-52 Bowman cards (mainly commons but with some stars) at $1 each on a regular basis. Yes, I wish I had bought all of those lots!
Today, there is not really any interrelation between the previous metal market and the sports collectibles market but the sudden rise and fall of prices in the 1979-81 era will never be forgotten by any collector or dealer who lived through that era. Could such a boom or bust happen today? I doubt that it would but as Joaquin Andujar used to say “Youneverknow”.
Rich Klein can be reached at [email protected]