A pair of Babe Ruth rookie cards, a 1952 Topps baseball set, T206 and Old Judge cards set the pace as Robert Edward Auctions’ April event set several records, including a total one day take of $8.7 million, all on consignment.
Robert Edward Auctions shipped 10,000 catalogs to potential bidders for the company’s April sale of nineteenth and early twentieth century baseball cards and memorabilia. The result was that each catalog averaged nearly three bids placed and a new record for a one-day auction. Total sales were $8.7 million.
“It is hard to put into words the success of this auction,” said REA president Robert Lifson. “Everything went perfect. In many ways, this was the single most successful baseball auction in the history of the collecting world.” The sales also set a new world record for a multi-owner all-consignment baseball card and memorabilia auction.
In fact, the total is also a new record dollar volume ever to be hammered down in a single day in the history of sports collecting, surpassing the previous record of $7.5 million set by REA in 2006.
“The disclosure policies of the REA auction process, our focus on there being no conflict of interests, the unparalleled confidence that bidders have in REA, all of these factors naturally contribute to strong results and the market’s confidence in these results,” explains Lifson. “Of course, it helps to have great material, and we really had a lot of incredible consignments. The confidence our consignors and buyers have in us is the real key to the great success of this sale.”
Record prices were set on many items, both in baseball cards and baseball memorabilia, and spanning all eras. Rare sports autographs could be found as well.
The results do, indeed, leave no doubt that every item was sold to the person or institution that was willing to pay the most. The 1594 lots offered were won by 629 different bidders. Successful bidders, according to REA, included some of the nation’s most prestigious museums and corporate institutional collections.
“We set record prices across the board” reports Lifson. “All areas of the auction received a tremendous response and very strong prices. Nineteenth-century baseball items were unbelievable, as always.”
“Our Honest-Auto Bid system allows bidders to place limit bids and know that they are the only ones in the world that know their limit. The fact that we are truly an all-consignment auction, maybe the only one in the field, and the fact that we don’t allow auction house executives, employees, or the auction house itself to bid, is also very confidence-inspiring to serious bidders."
The sale was the most successful auction in Robert Edward Auctions’ 37-year history. Thousands of bidders from all over the world, primarily the U.S. but also including Europe, Japan, and Hong Kong, participated. Exactly 24,470 bids were placed and over 99% of the lots sold. The average lot sold for more than double the high-end estimate.
Highlighted by The Barry Halper Estate Collection, the REA auction also included numerous additional important collections and new discoveries. The recently rediscovered 1838 Olympic Constitution, previously known to exist but which had been lost to the collecting world for decades, sold for $141,000, setting a record price not just for any baseball publication but a record price for any sports related publication of any kind.
The 1914 Baltimore News Babe Ruth rookie card was consigned by a non-collecting family from Providence, Rhode Island. The grandfather, who passed away in 1985, was a casual collector who had a small vintage card collection he assembled mostly from frequenting flea markets. The collection, which had been kept in storage since 1985 until very recently, by chance included the Ruth rookie. Just prior to contacting REA, the family came very close to selling the heirloom outright to a dealer who offered $8,000. They’re glad they waited. The card sold for $200,000.
Their previously undiscovered Baltimore News team card with Babe Ruth (discovered with the 1914 Ruth ‘rookie’) sold for $52,875, bringing the total take for the Rhode Island family to just over a quarter of a million dollars for the two cards. “This has been very exciting. It’s been like winning the lottery for us, only more fun,” said a family representative.
The Halper Estate Collection, consigned directly from the Halper family and comprised of the “small collection” of items that Halper kept for his personal enjoyment during his “retirement from collecting,” was offered in 247 lots and realized $1.4 million dollars. The Halper baseball film library alone (reserve $2,500) sold for $117,500.
Significant card highlights in the auction include: A 1952 Topps baseball set (reserve $50,000), with complete PSA grading, sold for $164,500. An impressive collection of 403 1886-1889 Old Judge tobacco cards in varying conditions, with a reserve of $10,000, sold for an incredible $111,625. A complete set of T206 White Border tobacco cards in varying condition (reserve $10,000, estimate $20,000/$30,000) sold for $105,750. The 1953 Bowman set (which was entirely graded by PSA, with an SMR value of $65,000 and a reserve of $25,000, sold for an amazing $94,800.
REA is famous for handling vintage Babe Ruth baseball cards and a M101-4 1916 Sporting NewsRuth card, graded Near Mint 7 by PSA, sold for an astonishing $82,250, by far a record price for this important card in this condition. Another example of this very same card graded by PSA in this very same grade sold for $41,520 at another auction just one day earlier.
“We are told all the time that the fact that we don’t do anything to the cards and have a strict policy against resubmitting cards or in any way lobbying for higher grades, all of which are common practices in the baseball card industry, means that many times our professionally graded Near Mint card actually is better than another auction’s Near Mint card graded by the same company. This is starting to show up in a big way in auction prices realized. Of course, grading is subjective and many cards we get are already graded when we get them, so it could have just as easily been the other way around. But it wasn’t. And it usually isn’t."
"When we catalog already encapsulated graded cards of significant value, we often provide our own commentary, sometimes positive, sometimes negative, which collectors take very seriously. Sometimes we absolutely kill these cards, they have so many problems. If the consignor won’t let us describe them accurately, it’s our policy to send them back."
"We know that sometimes our descriptions on overgraded cards sound harsh, but we’re just telling it like it is. Bidders really appreciate this. When we get a completely professionally graded 1941 Play Ball set with an average grade of 7.19, better than Near Mint condition, and all the key cards representing a very significant percentage of the value of the set are extremely overgraded, like Lot 453 in this auction, there’s no way to sugarcoat it. If those cards had deserved their grades this set would have sold for a huge premium to its SMR book value of $23,500. It sold for $21,150. Still a lot of money but a discount instead of a premium. A set like that should sell at a discount. The consignor was very happy by the way; we insisted on showing him our description before we went to press and he was fine with it."
"On the flip side, sometimes cards look nicer than their assigned grades. On the $82,250 1916 Sporting News Babe Ruth card, we thought PSA was very fair and, if anything, conservative in grading this card at Near Mint. In our catalog description we didn’t say the card should have been graded higher, but it was such a beautiful card that we had to say ‘if the card was in a NM-MT 8 holder, we wouldn’t bat an eye. It looks like a NM-MT 8’. Our opinion on this card, which was right on the money, was very meaningful to bidders and probably contributed to why this important high profile card sold for literally double what the same card in the same grade sold for elsewhere just one day earlier. It works both ways.”
Additional auction highlights include: The 1912 Fenway Park First Pitched Ball sold for $85,000; a 1915 Yankees jersey (with a reserve of $2,000) sold for an unbelievable $55,812, by far setting a record for a non Hall of Famer jersey style of any team from any era; the circa 1869 bat attributed to George Wright, with a reserve of $10,000, sold for $88,125, setting a new auction record for any nineteenth-century bat; Mickey Mantle’s 1955-1965 era cap (reserve $5,000) sold for an incredible $52,875, setting a new world record for a postwar game-used cap.
Additional early card highlights: The Tango Eggs near-set (16 different cards, #1 on the PSA Set Registry) sold for $58,175. The $100,000 reward publicly offered by REA for proof of the existence of six rumored-to-exist but not yet formally documented Tango Eggs cards went uncollected.
“They could certainly be out there but, fortunately for us, no one actually came through to claim the reward” reports Lifson. “But it was fun talking to collectors about the reward money.”
The auction included two examples of legendary T206 tobacco card rarity Eddie Plank. The first was graded PR-FR 1 by PSA, the lowest grade possible. With a reserve of $2,000, the PR-FR example sold for an incredible $21,500. The second T206 Plank (reserve $2,500) was graded “Good” by PSA grading and sold for an amazing $35,250. Both of these results are by far record prices for this card in each of these grades. The T204 Ramly tobacco set in mixed grade sold for $52,875. A very clean mixed-grade T205 Gold Border tobacco card set (208 cards) with a reserve of $10,000 generated tremendous interest, finally selling for $70,500.
“Some of the prices on these vintage mixed grade sets may seem high, but collectors were particularly drawn to these sets. They may have ranged from Fair to Excellent condition, but most of these cards were assembled decades ago by old-time collectors, as opposed to being collected in modern times. Collectors told us again and again that they appreciated that the cards had not been doctored or tampered with. Many bidders were willing to pay a significant premium because of this,” explained Lifson.. “I can’t blame them.”
Nineteenth-century cards and memorabilia were extremely strong, setting record after record, as is always the case at REA. The 1887 N690 Kalamazoo Bats cards of Danny Richardson, graded EX/MT by SGC (which was previously sold by REA in June 1995 for $3,357, and was consigned to the 2007 REA auction directly by the original 1995 buyer), sold for a record $49,937. An 1871 George Wright cabinet card by Warren Studios (reserve $1,000; estimate $2,000/$4,000), which was the only baseball item discovered among a group of unrelated-to-sports documents during the settling of an estate in Colorado, sold for a record $17,625.
The 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings Peck & Snyder advertising trade card, one of the classics of nineteenth-century card collecting and featuring the first professional team, was encapsulated as “Authentic” by PSA and sold for a new world record price of $29,375. A collecton of 59 1898 Cameo Pepsin Gum pins, one of the largest groups of these important early baseball celluloid pins ever assembled, was offered in seven lots and sold for $44,236. The 1864 Brooklyn Resolutes CDV team card featuring Henry Chadwick, which last sold for $16,000 at auction just a few years ago, set an extremely important new record when offered at REA, selling for $47,000. This is a record price not just for this particular nineteenth-century team card, but for any baseball CDV of any kind to appear at auction ever.
Results on all vintage baseball cards, especially extreme rarities, were very strong. A T206 of Ty Cobb with a rare UZIT advertising back sold for $29,375.
It was only a few years ago, in May 2004, that a color 1912 Boston Garter of Hall of Famer Christy Mathewson in Very Good to Excellent condition sold for a then mind-boggling record price of $31,900. In this auction a common player, Robert Bescher, in Very Good condition sold for an astounding $35,250.
“We can’t explain some of these prices,” comments Lifson, “It just goes to show that in an auction, anything can happen, and when it comes to really rare material, collectors will often throw out the book as far as referring to past prices. As advanced collectors grow more and more experienced, they’re learning what they will see again and what they won’t. There will always be cards that get a lot of hype and go for a lot of money but aren’t that rare. Advanced collectors are growing more sophisticated and many are putting a greater emphasis on rarity in determining values. That hasn’t always been the case. The market is constantly changing. It’s hard to predict what some significant rarities will bring when they finally go to auction, but clearly, in some cases, it’s a lot more than any guide will say and a lot more than people expect.”
As strong as cards were, a case can be made that memorabilia was even stronger: An original 1923 Yankee Stadium Terra Cotta figural piece, one of the great souvenirs from Yankee Stadium which previously had an auction record of $9,600 sold for an astounding $52,875. The Joe Jackson signed document in the sale was last sold at REA in 2004 for $25,875. In 2007 this very same document sold for a record $44,062. Additional signed items include: An autographed photo of Christy Mathewson sold for $19,975; an autographed photo of the 1939 Hall of Fame Induction Ceremonies brought $23,500; a Roberto Clemente single-signed ball sold for $9,987. A presentation photograph of the 1917 All-Star team assembled in honor of Timothy Murnane Day was highly sought after, selling for more than double its previous auction record at $18,800.
The 1870 New York Fashions litho, the auction catalog cover piece, was instantly propelled to being one of the most valuable nineteenth-century baseball display pieces, selling for more than three times its previous record at $22,325. A recently-discovered Babe Comes Home insert movie poster with restoration sold for $23,500. The title lobby card from this same movie sold for $16,450. A particularly strong and magnificently signed example of Mathewson’s book “Pitching In A Pinch” (reserve $2,000; est $4,000/$8,000) sold for $26,437, by far setting a record for any Christy Mathewson-signed book ever sold at auction.
Additional highlight memorabilia results include: 1927 Jim Bottomley St. Louis Cardinals game-used road jersey (reserve $5,000) sold for $38,187; a 1911 Boston Red Sox jersey of a common player realized $12,925; Derek Jeter game-used 2002 Yankee pinstripe jersey (reserve $2,000) sold for $15,275; 1911-16 Ty Cobb pro model bat sold for $29,375; 1917-1920 era Joe Jackson pro model bat sold for $35,250; 1939 era Ted Williams pro model bat $17,625; 1956 Mickey Mantle game-used bat $32,312.
Pete Rose’s Hall of Fame Lifetime Pass signed inscribed to Barry Halper: “Barry, I shouldn’t need this pass to get into the Hall of Fame” was always one of Halper’s favorite “story” items, and sold for $18,800. A very noteworthy new record was set for highly respected baseball artist Mike Schacht (1936-2001). His Warhol-style four portraits on one canvas of Joe DiMaggio sold for a world record for this important artist at $29,375.
As usual, all items related to Babe Ruth were red hot. A never-before-offered autographed photograph of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, taken on July 4, 1939, the day of Lou Gehrig’s famous farewell speech, sold for $58,750, deservedly selling for a great premium to what Ruth-Gehrig autographed photos normally bring. A beautiful and extremely striking large-format 11 x 14-inch signed presentation photograph of Babe Ruth originating from the H&B archives sold for $26,437. Ruth’s book contract for his biography, The Babe Ruth Story, sold for $38,187. A promissory note relating to the 1920 sale of Babe Ruth from the Yankees to the Red Sox, signed by Frazee, Ruppert, and Huston, sold for $44,062. Ruth himself was sold for only $100,000. Even Babe Ruth’s hair, which REA officials noted they have no way to authenticate but which had for decades been a highly-prized keepsake in the legendary Barry Halper Collection, sold for $38,187.
The last lot in the auction, Lot #1594, was comprised of cards donated by generous vintage card collectors to raise money for charity. The lot raised $7,050 for The Painted Turtle, an innovative camp and family care center for children with life-threatening illnesses.
"It seems most fitting to us that a shared interest in collecting baseball cards, which were intended to bring joy to children long ago, should play a role in contributing to the well being of children today who have to deal with the most serious hardships that life can offer to them and their families," Lifson said. "This project was conceived, organized, and executed by the vintage card collectors of the Net54 Vintage Baseball Card Forum. The Painted Turtle and the children whose lives they enrich give thanks to the contributing members of Net54, all bidders, and to auction winner Jon Rogers of North Little Rock, Arkansas for your great generosity."
The auction also included an impressive selection of select items from other sports, Americana, nonsport cards, and original card artwork, all of which sold extremely strong, including: A Michael Jordan rookie jersey (reserve $10,000) sold for a new world record price, an extraordinary $70,500. The 1992 Jordan Olympic jersey also sold very strong at $38,187.