On April 14, Brian Dwyer, president of Robert Edward Auctions, gave about four dozen guests a chance to see world’s most iconic baseball card in person ten days before the trimmed “Authentic” specimen sold for over $1.5 million. Dwyer and his new friends were attending the first Brigand’s Coin and Collectibles Collectors’ Night. The venerable New York City store, which sells high-end vintage sports cards and memorabilia, hosted two groups of panelists who shared stories, insights and commentary while enjoying some historic memorabilia and downing some snacks and cocktails.
The Brigandi team knew it had to pull out all the stops for its second Collectors’ Night in Rockefeller Center on Thursday night to keep customers happy. Ticket prices were bumped from $50 to $59, but the venue shifted from the basement to an upstairs space that was roomier, with more panelist participation. For four exuberant hours the room came alive with a shared energy for collecting, new discoveries, and some insight into market trends.
The crowed increased 50% to 75 collectors with many fresh faces who came from far and wide. They flew in from Florida, Louisiana, Texas, North Dakota, and even cross-country from California. No one left early or disappointed.
The festivities opened on a high brow note. Graig Kreindler, the noted sports artist, recalled his father’s vintage baseball card collection, particularly the illustrated Bowman baseball cards from the early 1950s. “As a little kid, they were an inspiration for me,” he said. “I tried drawing the Mantle Bowman rookie for him.”
Kreindler brought along two beautiful oil paintings based on 1910 Cuban Punch Cigarro cards he regarded as “absolutely gorgeous and incredibly scarce.” Kreindler added that, “Cuban players are woefully under regarded in the collecting world.”
One of the subjects of his paintings was Pop Lloyd. Bill James rates him as one of the top 30 players of all-time. Lloyd was known as the “Black Wagner” as a comparison to Honus Wagner. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1977.
Sports art is fun to collect if you like a particular piece but can be risky to invest because it’s so subjective. Kreindler’s work, however, appears to have flourished on the secondary market. A 44″ x “66 painting of the 1927 Yankees a collector commissioned in 2009 for about $11,500 now goes for $80,000. He also mentioned a “20 x “30 Roberto Clemente work that originally sold for $12,000 several years ago, but fetched $59,000 in Love of the Game’s spring auction, though that was for charity which may have pumped up the price.
Following Kreindler was Ezra Levine, CEO of Collectable, the digital platform for fractional shares of high end sports cards and memorabilia, from Frank Robinson’s 500th home run bat ($200,000) to 2019 Luka Doncic’s game worn sneakers ($115,000). For $10 anyone can buy shares of such significant pieces out of the reach of most collectors. To date, Levine said Collectable has attracted almost 100,000 users and dealt in about $55 million in assets.
The power of nostalgia dominated much of the conversation. When it came time for show and tell, Levine pulled out a PSA slabbed ticket stub from the 1996 Yankees World Series clincher. “My dad, an avid Yankees fan, bought tickets ten rows behind third base where Charlie Hayes caught the pop up and final out of the series,” Levine said. “That championship was the first in my lifetime. It brought me back. It’s one of the most meaningful pieces in my collection, but not the most expensive.”
Among the assets Collectable shareholders have voted to sell after receiving private offers is an original example of a photo used for Willie Mays’ 1951 Bowman rookie card purchased by one of country’s top photograph collectors, Ben Weingarten, for $75,000, a 40% return for shareholders, Levine noted. By coincidence, Weingarten had traveled from his home in Fargo, North Dakota to sit on the panel beside Levine who noted that vintage photos sell out quickly on Collectable.
The day after Collectors Night, Weingarten planned to visit PSA’s New Jersey office to have his raw photos slabbed. Before the event began he pulled several out of a small canvas briefcase for my benefit.
My eyes bugged out. Besides the Mays, there was an example of a Type 1 original photo used in Jackie Robinson’s 1948 Leaf rookie card and a Type 2 example of the photo used for Mickey Mantle’s 1951 Bowman rookie card— both in simple top holders. Weingarten has amassed a premier collection by being so ahead of his time. He has been buying for years. “I could not afford the cards to chase my childhood dreams,” he explained. So he bought the photos that are now going for a fortune.
His “biggest score,” he said, was the Robinson Leaf photo. Fifteen years ago, he snapped it up for $42 on eBay. “Five years ago, I sold it to a friend for $5,000,” Weingarten says. “A year and a half later, I bought it back from him for $30,000. The last one, in lesser condition than his, sold publicly for $330,000.” Weingarten estimates that his, in superb condition, might command $500,000.
Most of the speakers focused on the scarcity of memorabilia compared to cards. Weingarten corrected me when I wondered if there were more newspapers in the digital age who would divest themselves of their old print photos. “Most of the archives have been tapped out,” he told me while scrolling down his phone, showing Type 1 photos of Babe Ruth pitching for the Red Sox in his rookie season and Type 1 photos of Ruth and Lou Gehrig that showed up in Exhibit postcards and other cards.
“Card images are exploding,” he told the audience. To put things in context, there are three examples of Type 1 Willie Mays Bowman rookie photos, but PSA has graded 1,635 cards. “So ticket stubs are on the rise,” he added. “But there are 20 Lou Gehrig Day tickets and three or four (original) Gehrig Day photos.”
And what about the Carl Horner image that ended up in the Honus Wagner T206 card? Weingarten believes there are one or two in private collections.
Kevin Royal, manager of a new shop in Greenwich Village called Cards and Coffee, which has outlets in Los Angeles and other cities, spoke next. The idea is a throwback to the 1980s and 1990s when such stores were fairly prevalent throughout New York City. Coffee and Cards is the city’s second shop. Billing itself as the top destination to buy, sell, trade and invest in sports cards, it is big on building a local club for box breaks and wheeling and dealing deep into the night— giving a new twist to the old school hobby shop. “I am a sneaker kid, reselling sneakers,” Royal said. “Sneaker buyers and sellers are so ruthless. Nobody helps each other. Cards are so welcoming. It’s a big-time community.”
On this night, the crowd leaned heavily towards vintage. But Royal tried to simplify the modern market a bit in terms even the biggest vintage fan could understand. He touted Panini Prizm and National Treasures as blue chip modern products.
But Jason Simonds, a New York City consignment director for Heritage Auctions, later joked that, “you need a PhD to figure out how much supply of Panini there is. There is so much product out there. Mantle has four rookie cards. How many does Mike Trout have?”
Mike Heffner, the president of Lelands, one of the country’s oldest auction houses, tried to put the best face on it: “Modern is cool. I have been buying it myself. But it’s hard to learn on the Internet. I’ve sometimes got the raw end of the deal.” Having known Heff, as he is affectionately known, since I reported for Time magazine on the novelty of dirty, sweaty jerseys going for tens of thousands of dollars in 1993, I have rarely observed him getting the raw end of any deal.
Almost every speaker agreed that modern is red hot, and two panelists tried to guess what the 2020-21 Panini Flawless Triple Logoman LeBron James 1/1 in Goldin Auctions would fetch. But no one questioned the market’s volatility or the riskiy nature of betting on rookies. “I remember in the 1980s people buying 100s of Joe Charboneau, Greg Jeffries, Darryl Strawberry, and Eric Davis,” John Brigandi, the store’s owner said. “I never wrapped myself around that.”
Heffner, Brigandi, and Simonds all shared their enthusiasm for Derek Jeter. “If there’s a Mount Rushmore from the 2000s, it’s Kobe, Jeter, and Brady,” Simonds declared. “Jeter belongs on that list. He’s very underrated. Compare his second and third year cards to Brady’s. They could be worth thousands.” (Frankly, this is the first time I’ve ever heard of a Yankee being underrated).
Heffner added that “a lot of the guys in the audience saw him play. Five years ago bats were $1,500. Today they’re more like $10,000. His game jerseys were sold by the Yankees and Steiner.“ In the next few years, they could reach $30,000 to $50,000, according to Heffner.
In the modern market, the panel was also bullish on LeBron game jerseys, which have heated up over the past few years from about $35,0000 to $100,000 or more. That’s still relatively cheap, compared to the million dollar prices of his cards. And jerseys are far rarer than most of his cards.
At show and tell time, Heffner pulled out a 1966 Roberto Clemente jersey from his duffel bag, one worn during the late Hall of Famer’s MVP season.
“I am a big jersey guy,” Heffner said. “It’s literally the shirt straight off his back. You can still buy a Clemente jersey for a few hundred thousand dollars.” And they are exceedingly rare. Many, if not most, were eventually sent down to the minors for reuse.
When it was John Brigandi’s turn, he held up a 1929 game used Babe Ruth bat, graded 9.5 by PSA/DNA for quality on a scale of one to ten— one of the hobby’s highest graded. That year the Bambino led the lead with 46 homers and had a .697 slugging percentage. Brigandi told how emotional he felt gripping Ruth’s tool of trade.
He told me that he paid about $70,000 15 years ago in a Lelands auction because he trusted them before John Taube at PSA authenticated bats. Today Brigandi believes it would sell for more than $1 million. “Seven figures isn’t a big deal anymore,” he said. He also mentioned twice to me that he had hired a former FBI agent to help with security that night.
Bats aren’t the only memorabilia to soar in value. It hadn’t occurred to me that high-grade signed Ruth and Gehrig baseballs bring colossal money if they came to the market. They discussed a PSA 9.5 Ruth, the finest known. Ten years ago, Heritage sold it for $388,375. If it came up for sale now, Brigandi and Heffner agreed that it would easily surpass $1 million.
One of my personal passions for many years, signed vintage baseball cards, came up. If you don’t know by now, it was once considered taboo to “deface” a card by having it signed. Mantle penned a gazillion baseballs and other memorabilia, but few cards because they were too valuable. A limited number of collectors brought cards in average condition to the ballpark or mailed them off to the park or player’s home to have them signed.
From all indications, they almost never had minty cards autographed for obvious reasons, which makes those the rarest of all. “I had several mint ’52 Mantles from the famous Alan Rosen find in the 1980s. They used to be $2,000 to $3,000,” Brigandi recalled. “Buyers would ask if they should have them signed. ‘Absolutely not! Don’t do it!”
Brigandi sincerely regrets he had the same advice for game used bats at a time when you could send a Mantle or Ted Williams game bats off to Upper Deck Authenticated for them to be signed for $1,300 to $1,500. “Obviously, they have done very well,” Brigandi said. Really well. In 2014, Heritage sold a signed 1956 Mantle All Star game bat (PSA/DNA 10) for $430,000. Heaven knows what price it would command today considering the rarity of signed game bats.
Brigandi didn’t suffer a total washout. He acquired a 1964 Willie Mays game jersey and brought it to a show to get Mays to sign it. “It’s worth significantly more,” he said. On Collectors’ Night he was also consigning to Heritage a signed Clemente rookie card, and a signed Thurman Munson rookie card, both of whom experienced untimely demises. On top of that, he gave Heritage a signed 1969 Lew Alcindor card penned two years before he changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Heffner chipped in some advice about signed 1980s rookies. Skip Griffey and Boggs, though Brigandi recently sold a Griffey for $995. They still sign. Kirby Puckett is another matter. Since he died 15 years ago, there are few. Heffner reported that a signed 1984 Fleer Update recently sold for $25,000 to $30,000.
The night’s biggest surprise occurred when Brigandi hailed Heffner as the world’s top wrestling collector. Heffner explained that while growing up he attended far more wrestling matches than ball games. He held up a pair of Andre the Giant’s trousers, which were big enough to fit an entire family. Andre was ‘7 4’’ and 525 pounds, dwarfing even Refrigerator Perry by almost 200 pounds. Heffner bought the pants along with Andre dress shoes from his daughter, The shoes are size 22, the same as Shaq’s.
Andre led a short life, dying in 1993 at the tender age of 47. “His autographs are almost worth as much as Ruth’s,” Heffner said. “Babe Ruth is Babe Ruth. Andre the Giant is Andre the Giant.”
On a final note, Brigandi was asked to name the all-time Mount Rushmore of six to eight players for buyers to consider. While composing his thoughts, he pretty much nailed it: “Ruth, Gehrig, Cobb, Mantle, Clemente, Jackie Robinson. Robinson could be number one or two right now. Old, nice signatures of Mays. Oh, and Wagner, too. 1950s vintage. That would be my advice.”
Over his 40-year career in sports cards and memorabilia, Brigandi has enjoyed more success than missed opportunities like signed high end cards, so I’m happy to heed his advice— if I can afford it.