After selling a Joe Montana rookie for over $65,000, one auction house hopes to corner the market on high grade modern sports cards.
Think high dollar rookie cards and the vintage faces of Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Jackie Robinson are among those who come to life.
For a new generation of collectors, though, names like Rice, Elway and Montana are just as desirable–provided, of course, they’re of the "gem mint, graded" variety.
Some may scoff, but the interest in PSA 10, SGC 100 and BVG 10 rookie cards of modern era players and Hall of Famers is a significant part of the current market.
Last summer, Beckett Grading slapped a perfect "10" on a 1981 Topps Joe Montana for the first time. It’s book value was $3000 but less than nine months later, the card was sold for a purported sum of $65,880.
Modern Marvels Auctions, a relative newcomer to the auction business, facilitated the sale. President Dave Amerman, a serious collector since 1991, has staked his business on the buying and selling of the "highest of the high end", focusing primarily on items priced at over $5,000.
"I like to specialize in memorabilia that people want, that hold value, not mid-level products. Only 9’s and 10’s or items you simply just can’t find online at any other site," Amerman told Sports Collectors Daily.
The Montana card, which was crossed and upgraded from a 9.5 grade given by another company, would change hands privately on several occasions after being graded in Chicago last year. Amerman said the card sold for $25,000 before his company put the card on its website. A three-month auction process followed before a businessman made the $65,800 winning bid.
Since the advent of the 1 of 1 autographed insert card and the super premium products, a new market for modern cards has emerged. "Manufactured rarities", as some call them, have their own following. Autographs and jersey swatches of players like LeBron James, Micheal Jordan and Tom Brady regularly change hands at five-figure levels.
Yet grading companies who apply a first-ever ’10’ grade to a rookie card can fuel even a 1980s rookie card to prices that would seem illogical. Beckett’s association with price guides and its familiarty to a 1980s and 90s generation of collectors, has no doubt pushed sales of its highest graded cards despite having graded fewer pre-1980s cards than its competitors. The key is often to sell before the next "10" is graded.
Amerman has found plenty of clients with the disposable income to chase the prestige that comes with owning a card considered the best ever, no matter the age. "The more high end items you have to sell and the more sellers that you deal with, the more high end buyers you will also have," he said.
Modern Marvels is now offering a 1951 Bowman Mickey Mantle (PSA 8), a 2001 Upper Deck Five Cut Inaugural HOF Class cut autograph card, a 1982 Cal Ripken rookie jersey, a signed scorecard from Tiger Woods’ amateur days and a 1976 Walter Payton, also graded "10" by Beckett. One of precious few desirable rookie cards from the mid-1970s, Amerman believes the Payton will follow Mantana’s path to big bucks, even though its current value is $3500. His current auction runs through September, although the card is currently listed as ‘best offer’.
"I have received some pretty decent offers, but ones we really haven’t considered yet," Amerman said. "The seller is a huge Payton fan and has one of the top registered Payton master sets."
While few 1970s and 80s cards are considered rare unless slabbed and given the highest grade possible, it’s the familiarity with players that also helps drive value according to Amerman. "It’s a new generation of stars," he said. "We’ve got a 1986 Topps Jerry Rice rookie card that’s autographed in a 9.5 with a 10 autograph. That card is legendary and it’s 23 years old now but fans can still remember Jerry Rice."
Collectors and dealers who work the high grade market can usually rattle off what quantities of rookie cards and 1-1 premium autographs are in the market. A large bankroll is required but Amerman knows a strong knowledge of everything from vintage game-used jerseys to Albert Pujols rookie cards is also essential.
"It’s something I’ve done and know better than any other industry for nearly my entire life."