If you’re willing to collect baseball signatures on trading cards rather than insisting on oversized photos, baseballs or other items, the marketplace is full of cheap Hall of Fame autographs. Trading card companies have been hitting up living enshrines for years, hoping to add value to their products by including signatures randomly inserted into packs.
It’s become cottage industry for former players, who think nothing of sitting down and hammering out 500 autographs in a couple of hours in exchange for a nice four or five-figure paycheck. For collectors, the arrangement is also a win—as long as you’re not expecting to trade your collection for a retirement nest egg years down the road.
Case in point? 2012 Panini Cooperstown Baseball. Released a couple of months ago in accordance with Panini’s contract with the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, each box contains one autograph. It’s only been a modest hit because of those…well…modest hits.
Many of the boxes contained an autograph of a broadcaster or Hall of Fame writer and while you may have enjoyed listening to Denny Matthews or reading Murray Chass, their autographs aren’t exactly a hot item. However, it’s also yielded lower priced signed cards of some noteworthy players. A recent check of eBay showed an eye-popping list of stars whose signed cards from Panini Cooperstown have sold for less than $10 over the last 90 days.
- Paul Molitor
- Dennis Eckersley
- Don Sutton
- Bruce Sutter
- Tony Perez
- Bert Blyleven
- Juan Marichal
- Jim Bunning
- Whitey Herzog
- Phil Niekro
- Andre Dawson
- Jim Palmer
- George Kell
- Rollie Fingers
- Goose Gossage
- Gaylord Perry
Red Schoendienst and a few others are often sold at $10-12.
And the cards and autographs are nice. It’s a clean design with black and white photos as the background for bright blue Sharpie autographs signed legibly, not scribbled in a half second like you get from many of today’s athletes.
Some of the above players signed 500-800 autographs for the product, which isn’t licensed by MLB but is licensed by the Hall of Fame. That’s a lot—and why prices are low, but at least most of the autographs are on card. Only the few deceased Hall of Famers’ signatures are on stickers.
Several Jenkins and Rice autographs on that list above sold for less than $5 each. Compare that to what you’d pay to have Rice sign at a show or through mail order. Rice is one of the more inexpensive Hall of Famers overall, as are other recent inductees, but buying a signed card of one of the all-time greatest Red Sox players at that level seems like the proverbial no brainer.
Not all sellers price them that low. You have to keep an eye on Buy it Now offers from motivated sellers or place bids on several cards and hope for the best. More are hitting the market every day as more boxes from a still relatively new product are opened.
Will those autographed cards see a huge spike in value over the course of the next ten years? Maybe not, but it’s hard to imagine they wouldn’t hold their value and perhaps climb a bit as some of the older players pass on or lose interest in signing bulk autographs.
You will of course pay a premium for players whose signed cards may only be offered once in a blue moon like Cubs’ legend Ron Santo and Gary Carter who no longer with us and have only 10 autographs apiece in this product, some of which no doubt reside in private collections. Carlton Fisk and Frank Robinson are among those who signed just 10 cards and George Brett penned only 30. However, it’s not impossible to at least come close when roughly half of the cards (including the general manager types and those media members referenced above) can be purchased at an affordable level.
Cheap Hall of Fame autographs on cards like this won’t take up as much room either which often keeps the other occupants in your house happy, too.