The sports collecting hobby went through seismic changes in the 1980s. From one major trading card manufacturer to three…then four…then five.
Rookie cards became a thing.
The National Sports Collectors Convention was born.
And autographs became a major drawing card for shows. By the middle of the decade, big names from the past were showing up at autograph signings arranged between promoters and those former players’ agents. Joe DiMaggio would come…but promoters charged customers $5 for the privilege.
At the time it was seen as a giant cash grab by some, who felt fans should never have to pay to land a player’s signature. Never mind that the players would no longer get off their couch without sizeable compensation.
The Photo of the Day from RMY Auctions captures a moment at the end of the decade when that feeling was still around—but collectors and fans were more than willing to fork over the cash. The image was taken in a New Orleans suburb, where Mickey Mantle and his agent/girlfriend Greer Johnson were seated as a line of autograph seekers made their way to him. The photo appeared in a New Orleans newspaper in 1989 and has been in their archive until recently.
The caption indicates the cost of Mantle’s autograph at “$18 a pop”, a subtle reference to what was seen as a large sum of money for a retired ballplayer’s signature. That’s about $35 in today’s dollars but those same single-signed balls are now worth upwards of $500.
Signing his name was good business for Mantle in the 1980s and early 90s, where he eventually earned a six-figure income. Mantle died in 1995.
The photo is part of RMY’s August Premier Auction, which ends Friday, August 19.