Sixty-five years ago next month, a 17-year-old boy named Edson Arantes do Nascimento made his debut as a member of the Brazilian national soccer team in the final contest of the World Cup group stage.
In two weeks, the world would see the sport’s newest and youngest superstar emerge. He scored two goals against host Sweden in the final, leading Brazil to its first World Cup title. Gustav VI Adolf, the king of Sweden who visited the pitch to shake the young man’s hand before the match, already knew what the world was about to discover: The kid known as Pelé was the real deal.
There would be too many highlights and achievements to count before Pelé would retire from the game in 1977. Now, Heritage Auctions is offering a dozens of items from his legendary career in its May 11-13 Spring Sports Catalog sale.
“This is an extraordinary representation of Pelé’s remarkable career, featuring some of his rarest soccer trading cards and memorabilia from his personal collection,” says Chris Ivy, Heritage Director of Sports Auctions. “Pelé spent his entire career amazing, amassing fans worldwide for the sport he loved. This is only the first offering from this one-of-a-kind collection.”
According to Heritage, each item in the collection was autographed by the international icon during a signing session just weeks before his death last December.
Despite soccer’s place as the world’s most popular game, card issues for the sport are vastly underrepresented in the collectible market, which was especially true during Pelé’s ascension. That has created a large gap between supply and demand for Pelé cards, especially for the rookie and early career entries collectors most covet. The collection includes nearly every important issue, among them: the ultra-desirable 1958 Aquarela Ltda entry; the rare 1958-59 Tupinamba Ltda Quigol and the 1970 Panini Mexico 70, his first Panini World Cup issue.
Despite his age and ailments, the autographs garnered a host of 9 and 10 graded signatures from PSA/DNA, which witnesses the autograph session. The auction features more than 100 examples with several only known signed entries and nearly all at the top of PSA’s population report for autographed cards.
Pelé also graced the cover of soccer sticker albums, popular South American collectibles in the 1950s and ’60s. His autograph adorns his likeness on the front of a 1958 Quigol Album and a card album from the 1958 “Brazil Campeao Mundial de Futebol” issue celebrating Brazil’s first victory in the World’s Greatest Soccer Tournament.
Also part of the auction are autographed photos of Pelé in action and even one of his 1968 meeting with Queen Elizabeth. Signed programs and pennants also populate the collection from Pelé’s globetrotting endeavors to elevate the sport and meet fans.
The collection also includes items from other soccer superstars acquired by Pelé, particularly those that derived from his native Brazil. Chief among those are a Brazilian National Team jersey signed by Pelé and Ronaldo and a Barcelona FC jersey where Pelé’s signature joins that of phenom Neymar.
One item combines two of the greatest names in the sport’s history: an Opus produced in 2005 to celebrate the career of Diego Maradona. The Argentine legend signed the limited edition that held a place of honor in Pelé’s personal collection. He added his autograph alongside Maradona’s on the cover page to complete the only known edition signed by both legends of the sport.
When Pelé signed with the North American Soccer League’s New York Cosmos in 1975, it changed the course of soccer in America forever. His presence in this country transformed the sport from an also-ran among American fans to one every kid in the country played at some point. The auction includes items that feature Pelé with other American athletic icons. There’s a signed Muhammad Ali biography, a football signed by both Pelé and another New York legend, Joe Namath, and a boxing glove signed by Pelé and Mike Tyson.
Winning bidders will receive a video showing the moment when Pelé signed the item they’ve purchased. Heritage is also including a 1/1 NFT with each piece.