Facts and figures from a landmark sale for Robert Edward Auctions reveal interesting data–and a little about who is bidding on that baseball memorabilia.
249 different people consigned items to Robert Edward Auctions for the company’s annual spring catalog sale. When the auction ended May 5, it’s likely more wished they’d found something to sell.
REA’s 1607 lots brought in $9.07 million. If you’re a regular reader of Sports Collectors Daily, you already knew that. What you might find surprising is that in the midst of an economic downturn, there was no shortage of bidders willing to fork over big money for pieces of rare sports memorabilia.
Among the highlights revealed this week:
- The sale of the 1914 Baltimore News Babe Ruth card at $517,000 is one of the highest prices ever attained by any sports card
- The $317,250 paid for the T206 Wagner in REA’s sale, sold in partnership with Beckett Grading, smashed last year’s record price for a poor condition Wagner set last year at $192,000
- The 1889 Anson-Ewing beer poster which sold for $188,000 set a record for a baseball-related advertising poster and a record for any American advertising poster featuring a product of any kind.
- The Nagy example of the famous T206 Ty Cobb with Ty Cobb back, graded Fair by SGC, sold for $64,625. The card had been purchased at auction by the consignor for $28,970. “He thought he was going to lose a few dollars because of the economy,” said REA officials. “Instead it sold for more than double what he paid. That’s a pretty big difference for such a major high-profile rarity.”
- 24,575 bids were recorded with an average lot selling price of $5435
- 637 different bidders won items in the auction
- Many bids were made by museums, corporate institutional collectors and by representatives of Major League Baseball clubs according to REA
- The $9.07 million auction 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 $8.7 million set by REA in 2007
The auction results at REA are widely recognized as providing the most important and respected snapshot of the vintage baseball card and memorabilia marketplace of the entire year.
“We work really hard to make everything perfect and the real collectors and most serious buyers really appreciate what we do," said REA president Rob Lifson.
"The disclosure policies of the REA auction process, our focus on there being no conflicts of interest, 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.
"The fact that that REA bidders don’t have to worry about shill bidding, and so many other common fraudulent industry practices, and the fact that we are activists against the fraud, crime, and corruption that plague the field, these are all elements that promote bidder confidence."
REA prides itself on keeping a close watch over items which appear in catalogs.
"We try to protect our bidders. Our bidders never have to worry about bidding on a fake T206 error card at REA. Our customers never have to worry about the auction house or its employees bidding against them. And our prices are real. That may sound like an unnecessary statement, but in this field it isn’t. When we say that a Josh Gibson signed postcard sold for a world-record $81,200, or report any other incredible price, or bid level for bidders to contemplate topping during the auction, the results and bid levels are real, and bidders know this. It makes a big difference. The most serious bidders can and do bid at REA with the ultimate confidence in the integrity of the auction process. It shows in the prices.”
REA’s mailing list also helps bring bidders to the table, with the phone-book sized catalog reaching over 10,000 collectors. With non-genuine vintage memorabilia and altered cards a recurring problem in the industry, REA rejected many items submitted for consignment.
"Our commitment to research and authentication is universally recognized as unparalleled," Lifson said. "Our expertise in general is highly valued by bidders in a way that is very rare for an auction house. There are many collectors that only bid with us. It’s not an accident. We go out of our way to do a better job. It shows in the prices realized.”
Nineteenth-century cards and memorabilia were extremely strong. The 1887 Kalamazoo Bats tobacco card of John Ward sold for an astounding $141,000, by far setting a new world record for any nineteenth-century baseball card ever sold at auction. This was one of three newly-discovered 1887 Kalamazoo Bats tobacco cards of New York players consigned by a Cooperstown-area family.
The three cards, which the family had thought were worth hundreds of dollars (not thousands), sold for a total of $190,937. The N172 Old Judge Cigarettes card of John Ward, graded MINT 9 by PSA, sold for $29,375. A small original-owner collection of 57 Old Judges in mixed grade (reserve $2,000, estimate $4,000+) brought a surprisingly strong $23,500.
As is nearly always the case in sports memorabilia auctions, Babe Ruth memorabilia was red hot. Ruth’s 1938 Brooklyn Dodgers cap from his coaching days sold for $70,500; Ruth’s bat dating from 1921 sold for $94,000. The 1927 Yankees team-signed ball, naturally signed by Ruth as well as all his teammates, realized $38,187. The Babe Ruth signed sepia Hall of Fame postcard sold for $44,062, a new record price for any signed Hall of Fame postcard for any player ever. Even the Babe’s spittoon (reserve $500), a gift to a business associate (apparently as a joke) sold for $14,100.
A few of the many significant card highlights in the auction include: 1952 Topps #311 Mickey Mantle, graded EX/NM 80 by SGC, sold for $35,250; 1916 Sporting News card of Babe Ruth in Near Mint condition, his first card as a Major Leaguer, sold for $44,062. Jim Thorpe from the same 1916 M101-5 Sporting News set, graded NM-MT 8 (OC) by PSA, also sold for $44,062, a world record in any condition for this significant card.
A complete set of all six 1911 M110 Sporting Life cabinet cards, offered individually, sold for a total of $133,362, including $41,125 for Ty Cobb, a record price for any M110 Sporting Life cabinet card. The collection of sixty-nine 1903 E107 Breisch-Williams caramel cards, mostly in low-grade, sold for a combined total of $96,643, for an average of $1,400 per card. The 1894 Mayo’s Cut Plug set of forty-eight cards, which were also offered individually, sold for a total of $129,308. The 1916 Holmes-To-Homes Bread card of Joe Jackson, purchased just a few months ago by the consignor on eBay for $4,000, sold for a little more: the final price in the REA auction was $32,312.
Complete sets were on fire: The 1914 Cracker Jack set of 144 cards, all graded by PSA, sold for $88,125; the 1934 Goudey Gum near-set (89 of 96 cards), also graded by PSA (average grade 7.12) sold for $64,625; two 1952 Topps sets in mixed grade, each with a reserve of $5,000, sold for $26,437 and $32,312 respectively. The 1954 Topps set (average PSA grade 7.42) sold for $22,325; a 1956 Topps set, with every card graded PSA 8, was hammered down at $38,187; and the 1957 Topps set, also graded PSA 8, sold for $41,125.
Even more recent PSA-graded sets sold for big money: a PSA-graded 1969 Topps Super set (average grade 9.60) sold for $17,625; a PSA-graded 1971 Topps set (average grade 8.10), sold for $29,375; a 1972 Topps set (PSA grade average 8.50) sold at $23,350; and a 1973 Topps set (PSA grade average 8.51) brought $10,575.
Additional rare card results include: 1915 E145 Cracker Jack #103 Joe Jackson (graded EX-MT 6 by PSA) sold for $26,437 (275% of the $9,500 SMR guide price); Christy Mathewson, also from the classic 1915 Cracker Jack set (graded NM/MT+ by SGC), sold for $16,450; a 1911 T210 Old Mill Tobacco card of Casey Stengel, graded VG-EX by PSA and featuring the “Ol’ Proffessor” as a minor leaguer in his earliest days as a ballplayer, sold for $41,125, setting a new world-record price; a 1933 Goudey #144 Babe Ruth in PSA 8 NM-MT condition realized $23,500; and an 1887 Kalamazoo Bats New York Mets player card in Excellent condition sold for $26,437.
A collection of ten Voskamps Coffee cards featuring 1913 Pittsburg Pirates players, saved in the same family since the year of issue, sold for $44,062, including $17,625 for Honus Wagner graded VG by SGC; the E90-1 American Caramel company card of Joe Jackson in Good condition sold at $16,450, and a second example that was trimmed but had an impressive Nr/Mt appearance sold for $20,000. An original-owner shoebox collection of 722 1949 Bowman baseball cards, an unusual year for such a large group of Bowman bubble-gum cards, did not escape notice: the final price for the lot was $26,437. An original-owner collection of thirty-six rare 1910 Clement Brothers Bread cards, consigned directly from a family that has saved them since 1910, sold for $57,868, including $11,750 for the highlight card of Hall of Fame pitching star Addie Joss.
As strong as cards were, a case can be made that memorabilia was even stronger:
A game worn Stan Musial jersey from 1953 went for $44,062; a 1939 letter written by Lou Gehrig discussing his illness, with a reserve of $10,000, sold for $41,125, a record for a Gehrig letter; Wilcy Moore’s 1927 Yankees uniform sold for $64,625; Josh Gibson’s 1932 Homestead Grays player contract with a reserve of $5,000 sold for $32,312; a newly-discovered panoramic photograph of the American Negro Giants including the legendary Rube Foster was offered with a reserve of $5,000 and was hammered down for $35,250.
A 1972 Hank Aaron jersey graded A9 by MEARS sold for $29,375. Ken Boyer’s rookie 1955 St. Louis Cardinals uniform (graded A10 by MEARS) sold for $22,325, a record for a 1950s non-Hall of Famer flannel. A 1919 World Series program at Chicago, for Game One of the infamous “Black Sox” scandal, with a reserve of $2,000 sold for $17,625. Early World Series press pins, which have long been depressed in price, sprang to life, selling extremely strongly, including a record $15,275 for a 1915 Phillies press pin.
Items from other sports included a Michael Jordan rookie jersey graded A10 by MEARS which sold for $50,000; a 1959 Jim Taylor jersey Green Bay Packers jersey sold for $22,325, and a 1962-1965 Jim Brown Cleveland Browns jersey realized an extraordinary record $70,500.
Many other auction records were shattered for pre-1948 baseball cards, nineteenth-century baseball cards and memorabilia, non-sport cards, and Americana. Further information and complete auction results are available on the Robert Edward Auctions website.
Copies of the 724-page full-color premium catalog are also still available free via the website.