You love the action. You love the stuff. The desire for tangible connections to the games and the goods bubbles at the surface of everyone who follows sports. Whether you’re buying to collect, invest or simply to provide some décor for your fan cave, we’re guessing you could use some insight on the best autographed sports memorabilia to own. After all, the choices are many.
If you’re buying a piece of signed memorabilia for yourself or looking for a gift to give someone else, there are several things that will help you make the right call.
Types of Autographed Items to Collect
There’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to collect autographed sports memorabilia but practicality and your own taste should dictate the direction you go. Signed baseballs are a time-honored collecting segment. You can collect single-signed balls, balls with a certain theme (Hall of Famers representing one specific team) or team-signed balls. Those themes work for other sports, too. Baseballs and pucks don’t take up much room if you’ve already got a large collection or have limited space and can be displayed in a case or stacked in the plastic cubes many collectors prefer.
Often colorful, signed jerseys make for great wall display pieces when framed, whether game-used or simply an exact replica model.
By far the most popular athlete autographs to collect are those who have been elected to the Hall of Fame in their particular sport or were iconic in their day. There is no sports autograph more desired than Babe Ruth. The demand far outweighs the supply. If you’re buying, look for PSA/DNA authentication on any Ruth item. The Babe signed a lot and his signature is very consistent through the years. Buy the best quality Ruth autograph you can afford.
Among the most popular athletes of all time, the late Mickey Mantle signed thousands of items during and especially after his playing days, regularly appearing at sports card and memorabilia shows where fans lined up to meet him. Even fans who are too young to remember Mantle’s playing days want something to commemorate his life and times. Mantle just looks the part of the hero, even if he was flawed and his autographs have proven to be a very good investment. Today, you can find plenty of authenticated Mantle items for sale online.
Other deceased legends have increased in value because of the limited number of autographs available. Football fans may gravitate toward Vince Lombardi autographs or those of one of the game’s great quarterbacks, Johnny Unitas, both of whom died relatively young.
Those who grew up watching Ken Griffey Jr. and Bo Jackson will never forget what they did on the field. Trading card contracts have put plenty of signed cards on the market at fairly reasonable prices, many of them serial numbered.
Hockey fans gravitate toward Wayne Gretzky. Always gracious with fans, Gretzky’s best signed items have come via his long relationship with the Upper Deck Company. Cool pieces like this signed photo featuring a very young Gretzky getting “the hook” from his idol, Gordie Howe, are hard to top. Kudos to whomever uncovered it years ago and brought it to market. Even unsigned, it’s a great piece.
Anyone who grew up in the 1980s has fond memories of the rivalry between Magic Johnson’s Lakers and Larry Bird’s Celtics. Both have signed a lot over the years, keeping prices somewhat reasonable but considering their place in history and popularity, they represent an excellent value.
Of course, Michael Jordan is the king when it comes to autographs and he, too, has been an Upper Deck exclusive for many years. While there are thousands of authentic Jordan autographs and hundreds available online, it’s not likely the supply will ever outpace the demand.
Like players, great teams live on forever in history and one option for collectors is to features some of the greatest of all-time. Autographed baseballs featuring World Series championship teams are always popular.
Signed team photos are little harder to come by but thanks in part to ‘reunion’ type card shows, they’re out there. In the 1970s, no team was more feared than Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine and with all of the players in the starting lineup still living, great signed photos like these are among the best autographed sports memorabilia to own both now and in the future since acquiring all of the signatures at once isn’t easy to do on a regular basis.
Collecting championship or “greatest moments” items from teams you follow is a popular way to collect items that mean something.
Common Sense Sports Collectibles
Don’t forget the power of simply buying something that’s meaningful to you or the recipient. The ‘most valuable’ sports collectibles aren’t necessarily the ones that make for a great purchase. If you love historic moments, look for items that you appreciate. There are signed photos of Don Larsen’s 1956 World Series perfect game, some signed by Larsen alone and others with catcher Yogi Berra’s signature too. Both have led long lives and continue to sign, meaning the supply keeps prices low.
Hank Aaron’s 715th home run and Willie Mays’ catch in the 1954 World Series make for autographed moments that will stand the test of time.
If the driving force behind your collection is a specific player or you’ve just always wanted to own a signed item from that athlete, owning an autographed jersey, ball or photo is a natural step. The best sports memorabilia to collect is really all about what makes you happy.
Displaying Autographed Sports Memorabilia
Thirty or forty years ago, displaying autographed sports memorabilia was a challenge. Few items were made specifically for displaying signed items. Thankfully, the growing value and interest led to manufacturers creating various types of plastic and glass protection. You can buy tubes or glass display cases for bats, balls, helmets, pucks, caps, jerseys and autographed jerseys.
Don’t skimp if your items are valuable and decide where you’re going to display them before you make a purchase. UV protection is vital and always be sure to display your items out of direct sunlight for any length of time during the day.