The second of a two-part look back at the sports collecting year. The first part focused on the first six months of 2019, while Part II takes us to the National, recalls some incredible finds and big auctions, Zion mania and more.
In July, Sports Collectors Digest magazine was among 50 hobby-related titles sold in a bankruptcy auction for the assets of publisher F+W Media. The buyer for SCD and five other collectible-oriented publications was Cruz Bay Publishing out of Colorado.
Anticipation was high for the 40th National Sports Collectors Convention in Chicago with reports of strong ticket sales ahead of the show’s mid-summer opening in Chicago, always a popular spot with collectors who travel to the hobby’s biggest event. While the NSCC doesn’t release specific attendance numbers, organizers said after it was over that the number was the highest since 1991.
“It was the significant increase in Wednesday and Thursday turnouts that was most impressive,” said Ray Schulte, Director of NSCC Communications. Entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk brought his brand of hustle to the show. “Gary V” also spoke, bought, sold and traded with collectors and other dealers.
Multiple FBI agents were at the show, too, and several hobby businesses received subpoenas seeking sales lists, customer records and other material in the wake of revelations that thousands of cards had been bought, altered, re-graded and sold again to unsuspecting buyers.
You can check out all of our content from the National here.
Offered at auction for the first time, a jersey once donned by Lou Gehrig sold in August for $2.58 million, the most ever paid for a jersey not worn by Babe Ruth. The dirt-stained relic originally belonged to a family that had received it as a gift from former Yankees general manager George Weiss. “I have long felt uniforms like this one remain comparatively undervalued, especially if you take the time to actually understand and appreciate what they are and just how rare the chance of ownership is,” said uniform authenticator Dave Grob, who examined the jersey for SGC.
Another md-summer monster was a game bat from late in Honus Wagner’s career, which sold for $442,000.
Ricky Williams’ Heisman Trophy wound up on display at the National after it was consigned to Heritage Auctions, along with several other awards earned by the former University of Texas great. It sold to an alumnus for $504,000– a record price for any Heisman.
If you bought and pack of cards and pulled something great this year, you probably didn’t do as well as the guy who sold a one of a kind Michael Jordan card he’d pulled out of a $3.99 pack purchased as a kid at Target 17 years ago.
There were plenty of other “finds” that hit the market. One of the coolest? The first known example of the 1916 Babe Ruth rookie card with a Holmes to Homes Bread ad on the back. Mile High Card Company has secured the Ruth card along with five others from a family in Kansas City that had inherited them many years ago. Graded SGC 1, it sold for $162,850 this fall.
Another gem: the “Philly Find” of over 300 M116 Sporting Life cards, including original envelopes. Passed down through a family for generations, the collection sold through Heritage for $324,000.
A 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle graded PSA 8.5 sold for $765,000 this fall. It wasn’t a new find, but part of the hobby’s most famous one.
Babe Ruth had lots of friends, but not all of them received a game bat from the big guy. The Babe told buddy Jim Rice in the 1940s that he’d used this stick to hit his 500th home run. After it spent more than 75 years in the family, Rice’s son brought it to SCP Auctions where it sold for just over $1 million.
A new record for the highest price piece of sports memorabilia was shattered late in the year when Sotheby’s sold the 1890s manifesto that launched the modern Olympic Games for $8.8 million.
Hackers again disrupted things during major auction events. The malware attack seemed to hit Heritage the hardest, likely due to the company’s multiple auction divisions. The second half of a two-part sale was delayed a week while things were cleaned up. Earlier in the year, Topps had also found its site impacted by a data breach.
Panini also had its share of trouble with web traffic overloading the company’s website during some online releases of Zion Williamson-powered “First Off The Line” products. Eventually, the company switched to a Dutch Auction type format that allowed buyers to decide how much they were willing to pay for a box.
As for Zion, he’s still rehabbing from knee surgery and hasn’t played a minute of NBA basketball, but collectors continue to zero in on his cards in hopes he’ll eventually become a star (not to mention the rest of a pretty solid rookie class).
The popularity of Zion and other rookies led to some lawsuits, too. Panini spent several months chasing down sellers of homemade cards that violated their trademarks, eventually taking legal action against three (now four) of them.
2019 continued the rise of online exclusives. Topps has increased the output of products only available for purchase through the company’s website. With no real limits, some products are gone in minutes including Chrome Sapphire, a September baseball release that was gone in about seven minutes. Topps also partnered with StockX for an exclusive release.
Also new this year: the opportunity to own “shares” of high-end sports card and memorabilia assets. Rally (formerly Rally Rd), which launched in the expensive automobile sector, brought its platform to the hobby, serving up tiny financial stakes of ownership in a 1952 Topps Mantle and a T206 Wagner during the second half of 2019. Both sold out quickly.
Late in the year, Hunt Auctions announced plans to sell items from the collection of legendary broadcaster Vin Scully as the highlight of next summer’s All-Star FanFest in Los Angeles.