2020 was a watershed moment for sports cards but it wasn’t just the decades-old icons making news as was once the case. This time, icons from the present day and not so distant past were selling for big bucks. Six and seven-figure hammers on early cards of Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Mike Trout, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Wayne Gretzky drew plenty of attention.
The meteoric growth of the market for modern era trading cards hasn’t gotten lost on auction companies, who are now committing significant catalog space to material produced from the 1980s to the present day.
Some are even making them the focus of new events.
For the first time in its history, Heritage Auctions has launched a sale devoted exclusively to material produced over the last 40 years or so. The company’s Modern Sports Card Auction opened late last week.
Of the more than 450 lots offered, a sealed wax pack of 1979 O-Pee-Chee hockey cards – with a shot at one of those Gretzky rookie cards – is the oldest in the sale.
The catalog features numerous Jordans, among them a 1986 Fleer PSA Gem Mint 10 rookie card. Both that issue and two others being offered by Goldin Auctions, all appear poised to set new benchmarks for the hobby’s hottest card. There’s also a box of 1986-87 Fleer unopened packs.
The most popular lot so far also features Jordan—one of 23 1997 Upper Deck Autographed Game Jersey cards that’s expected to sell for more than $400,000.
Already pushing toward its pre-sale estimate of $150,000 is a 1997 Metal Universe Red Precious Metal Gems Jordan graded BGS NM-MT 8 and numbered 52/100.
The auction also has the 2002 Upper Deck SP “Course of a Champion” Tiger Woods Autograph Complete Blue Set (18) and Near Complete Green Set (15/18). The autographed collection is rare and hitting the market at an opportune time. Just as ESPN’s The Last Dance redirected the spotlight back to Jordan in the absence of sports last spring, HBO’s new Tiger documentary refocuses our attention back to Woods’ earliest, brightest and occasionally very worst moments.
Other highlights include a 2006 SP autographed relic card signed by Jordan, James, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, a PSA Mint 9 numbered 5/5 – a winning lottery ticket once pulled from a pack, a 2019 National Treasures Zion Williamson (Emerald-Jersey Autograph) graded BGS Mint 9 and numbered 3/5 and a 2018 Panini Flawless Juan Soto Rookie Dual Patch Autograph Emerald graded Gem Mint 9.5, Auto 10, and numbered 3/5.
There’s also one card of a player who has yet to make his professional debut: Justin Fields, the Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback who, in 2017, graced a Leaf Perfect Game National Showcase baseball card along with a Nike patch and his autograph.
Not every card is worth a fortune. The auction includes several lots with current bids of $150 or less.
Chris Ivy, Heritage’s Director of Sports Auctions says growing interest in modern cards is good news, promising that the “new generation of deeply engaged collectors serves as a harbinger of a bright future for this hobby for decades to come.”
All told there are more than 450 lots in the auction, which goes into extended bidding at 10 PM Feb. 4. To participate, bidders must place their initial bids before extended bidding begins.