With a chance to settle back and digest the results of its annual spring catalog, Robert Edward Auctions is offering some numbers from the event that generally offers a pretty fair–and extensive– barometer of the vintage sports card and memorabilia market.
The auction, which concluded April 25, drew some national media attention thanks to the sale of a T206 Honus Wagner card, but in all, 121 lots offered in the auction sold for $10,000 or more and four lots eclipsed the $100,000 mark. Total sales for one of the two auctions the company now holds each year reached $7.54 million. REA says a total 18,973 bids were placed.
Among the most popular items with bidders were 19th century baseball items, all early baseball cards, advertising and display pieces, graded cards, Babe Ruth items, autographs, memorabilia, non-sport cards and artwork. The average lot realized more than double the high-end estimate.
“These results speak for themselves,” said REA President Rob Lifson. “The market was extremely strong.”
Graded PSA 3 (VG), the Wagner card sold for $1.32 million, establishing a new record price for the grade. The card had previously sold for $791,000 in 2008 and is now one of only a handful of baseball cards to ever sell for more than $1 million. REA says 42 bids were placed.
“The interest in this card was tremendous,” said REA Consignment Director Brian Dwyer. “Bidders really appreciated the quality of the card, its great story, and the rare opportunity to own one of the most famous baseball cards in existence.”
1910 T210 Old Mill Tobacco Collection
The collection was highlighted by an SGC VG 40 example of the key Joe Jackson card, one of fewer than 20 known to exist, which sold for $168,000, a record price for the assigned grade. The same card had appeared at auction only once before, originating from a freshly-discovered collection consigned to REA in 2006 by the family of the original owner, at which time it realized $116,000.
REA says the escalation in price illustrates the continuing great appreciation for one of the rarest and most desirable baseball cards.
More $100,000+ Highlights
A 1916 M101-4 Sporting News Babe Ruth rookie card graded PSA EX-MT 6 was hotly contested, reaching a record-setting final price of $204,000 against a book value of $95,000 for a Ruth card in this condition. The card was purchased in the 1980s directly from legendary dealer Larry Fritsch, who at the time was breaking up a complete M101-4 set, selling them individually. The Ruth card, which cost several thousand dollars at the time, was carefully saved for nearly 30 years by the collector and his family before the decision was made to offer it at auction.
REA’s vintage card expert Dean Faragi noted that the condition of the Ruth card was particularly strong for its grade, which no doubt contributed to the final price. “We’ve handled more than a dozen Sporting News Ruth cards over the years, and this example was by far the nicest one we’ve ever seen. The bidders definitely agreed that the technical grade didn’t tell the whole story, which is why it commanded such a premium. I predict we’ll see this card sell for a lot more someday. That said, the premium it realized is astounding. It’s one thing for a $100 card to sell for $200. It’s another thing for a $95,000 card to sell for $204,000. It’s a great card, and it was a great price. Our consignor was floored.”
The hobby’s finest example of a 1933 Goudey Uncut “Triple Ruth” Sheet, featuring three Babe Ruth cards, a Lou Gehrig, and four additional Hall of Famers, sold for $168,000, establishing a new record for any Goudey sheet. In addition to the record-setting sale price of the 1933 Goudey “Triple Ruth” uncut sheet, four other uncut sheets from the 1930s sold for $57,000.
An extremely rare 1909-1911 T206 Ty Cobb with Ty Cobb Back, one of only thirteen known and graded SGC GOOD 30, realized $132,000. The card originated from the historic find of five different Ty Cobb with Ty Cobb back cards offered at REA in 1997, each of which realized $25,000 or less at the time.
Iconic Cards Stay Hot
Many of the hobby’s most iconic cards continue to trend upward, according to REA. The auction featured five 1952 Topps #311 Mickey Mantle cards, long considered the most famous postwar card ever produced, in a variety of different grades. An SGC EX/NM 80, which was last sold in REA’s Fall 2014 auction for a then-record price of $41,475 and consigned by the buyer to this auction, sold for $54,000. The equivalent SMR value in the assigned grade was $35,000.
“It’s rare to see items increase in price by such a large percentage so quickly, but it does seem to happen with some degree of regularity when dealing with the most universally recognized iconic cards” Dwyer said.
Four lower-grade examples of the ’52 Mantle, ranging in grade from Authentic to PSA GOOD 2 with qualifier, combined to sell for $27,300, led by $10,200 for a PSA FAIR 1.5 card, setting a new record for a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle in that modest grade.
Mantle’s true rookie card, the 1951 Bowman #253, graded SGC 55, sold for $7,800, also a new record for the grade. A 1954 Topps #128 Hank Aaron rookie card graded PSA NM-MT 8 (res. $2,500; est. $5,000+) soared to $21,600, nearly doubling the previous public auction sale. A 1948 Bowman Basketball #69 George Mikan rookie card, considered “the king of basketball cards,” graded PSA NM-MT 8 (res. $2,500; est. $5,000/$10,000) established a new record by a large margin, ending at $16,800.
Nineteenth-Century Baseball Card Rarities
A newly-discovered 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings team CDV (res. $5,000), found among old family papers in a Pennsylvania home, sold for $27,000. Another newly-discovered 19th century rarity, a cabinet card featuring the 1879 Chicago White Stockings California Tour Team (res. $5,000) featuring Hall of Famer Cap Anson, tripled in price just during the extended bidding period, selling for $42,000.
An 1879 Worcester Grays team-composite cabinet (res. $300; est. $1,000+), originating from the personal collection of Cleveland News sports columnist and pioneer collector Charles W. Mears and consigned directly by his family, climbed to $7,200.
A collection of twenty-one N172 Old Judge Hall of Famers in various conditions, highlighted by Cap Anson, Bid McPhee, and Ed Delehanty, was sold individually and realized a total of $50,280. A N173 Old Judge Cabinet of Mickey Welch (res. $2,500) hammered for $12,000, while a rare 1887 N693 Kalamazoo Bats Philadelphia Team Card (res. $2,500) ended at $10,200.
Two exceptionally rare 1888 N338-1 S. F. Hess California League cards, one of 19th century card collecting’s most elusive sample cards, combined to sell for $13,800. A graded complete set of eight 1888 N162 Goodwin Champions baseball players (res. $1,500; est. $3,000+) exceeded its book value of $5,900 and realized $10,800 after the dust settled.
Icons Often Equal Consignor Profit
REA is first and foremost a baseball card auction, so it is not surprising that the big money, as usual, was in the cards. A 1909-1911 T206 Eddie Plank graded SGC GOOD+ 35 (res. $10,000) hammered for $42,000, as did a 1909 T204 Ramly Tobacco Walter Johnson graded SGC NM 84 (res. $10,000), submitted by REA for a consignor who purchased it for much less in the early days of the hobby long before the introduction of professional grading.
A rare 1921 Frederick Foto Babe Ruth, graded SGC GOOD 30 and one of only five known examples, also ended the night at $42,000. The same card had been purchased at auction by the consignor for $11,163 just four years prior.
Another Ruth item, a 1916 M101-4 Sporting News rookie card graded SGC FAIR 20 (res. $5,000), illustrated that collector demand for this iconic card is extremely strong in all grades, selling for $36,000, while Ruth’s first card as a Yankee, the 1917-1920 M101-6 Felix Mendelsohn graded SGC VG 40 (res. $5,000), sold for $24,000.
A rare 1912 E300 Plow’s Candy Ty Cobb PSA EX 5 (res. $10,000) also went to a new home for $36,000 as did one of the very few known examples of Lefty Grove’s true rookie card (res. $5,000) from the rare 1921 White’s Bakery Tip Top Bread set. A 1914 Cracker Jack Ty Cobb (res. $5,000), graded SGC EX 60, sold for $19,200, while an exceptional 1915 Cracker Jack Joe Jackson (res. $2,500), graded SGC VG/EX 50, sold for $18,000 against an SMR value of $5,750.
Rare-back T206 cards continue to cement their place as one of the hottest segments of the market, with countless impressive prices turned in throughout this auction. Two Ty Cobb cards saw intense competition among bidders, with a PSA VG 3 Lenox Back Cobb (res. $2,500) ending at $27,000 and a SGC VG 40 Uzit Back Cobb (res. $2,500) selling for $19,200. A Sid Smith Brown Old Mill example (res. $1,000) sold for $24,000. A Broad Leaf 460 Addie Joss (res. $1,000) brought $16,800.
A complete “back run” collection featuring all fifteen backs for Hall of Famer Vic Willis’ batting pose, including Brown Lenox, Drum, and Uzit, realized $22,860. A total of 37 cards depicting common players, each sold individually and featuring a rare back such as Broad Leaf, Carolina Brights, Drum, Lenox, and Uzit, combined to sell for a staggering $75,720.
High Ranking Sets and Near Sets
The #11 ranked PSA-graded master set of 1959 Topps (res. $10,000), with almost all cards graded NM-MT 8 or better, realized $45,000. The #3 ranked PSA-graded set of 1978 Topps baseball (res. $10,000), featuring an astounding 640 GEM MINT 10s, sold for $48,000, illustrating the enormous interest in the market for high-end sets from the 1970s.
A complete SGC-graded 1941 Play Ball set (res. $10,000) sold for $33,000 as did a mixed-grade near-complete set of 1909-1911 T206 White Borders (res. $10,000), featuring 519 of 524 cards.
A complete set of 1954 Topps (res. $5,000), with all 250 cards graded NM 7 by PSA, sold for $24,000, a significant premium to its SMR value of $18,090.
The #4 ranked master set of 1911 T205 Gold Borders, missing just four cards for completion, sold for $16,800. The #3 ranked set of 1921 E253 Oxford Confectionary (res. $2,500) sold for $14,400. A complete set of 30 1911 E94 George Close Candy cards, entirely graded by SGC and presented in ten different lots, combined to realize $56,640, led by sales of an SGC EX 60 Ty Cobb (res. $2,500) at $13,200 and a SGC VG/EX 50 Cy Young (res. $500) at $9,600.
Three PSA-graded 1951 Topps sets, relics from the company’s first year producing mainstream baseball cards, combined to sell for $24,600 as collectors snapped up sets of Connie Mack All-Stars, Major League All-Stars, and a near-complete master set of Topps Teams.
A newly-discovered set of ten 1915 Schmelzer’s Sporting Goods Pins (res. $2,500) hammered for $19,200. This set, which had been saved by a family of Midwest antiques dealers for more than fifty years, was of great significance as it expanded the checklist of known pins in the set from eight to ten, with examples of Evers and Stallings confirmed for the first time.
Ungraded sets also drew extremely strong collector interest, with a collection of 14baseball sets spanning the years 1962 to 1975 and saved by the original owner since the year of issue, combining to realize a staggering $132,600, led by $16,800 for a near-complete 1965 Topps set (res. $1,000; est. $2,500+), $15,600 for a complete 1963 Topps set (res. $1,500; est. $3,000+), and $14,400 for a complete 1964 Topps set (res. $500; est. $1,000/$2,000).
Unopened Stays Hot
Vintage unopened packs delivered strong prices across the board. A 1971 Topps football second-series wax box with 24 unopened packs (res. $5,000; est. $10,000+) was hotly contested and sold for $21,600. A 1972 Topps baseball third-series wax box set a new auction record hammering down at $13,100, while a 1975 Topps baseball wax box turned $11,400.
In total, the 13 high-end wax and vending boxes, each authenticated and wrapped by unopened material expert Steve Hart, realized a combined $101,880.
A1950 Satchel Paige barnstorming contract, signed by Paige along with J. L. Wilkinson and Oscar Charleston, two of the scarcest of all Negro League Hall of Fame signatures, realized $22,800. A new discovery to the modern collecting world, the contract was only recently found among old business documents by the family of Jules Trumper, cousin and former business partner of legendary Negro League Philadelphia Stars owner and promoter Ed Gottlieb.
A collection of 500 Home Run single-signed baseballs was presented in four lots and tallied $66,300, highlighted by individual examples of Babe Ruth, Mel Ott, and Jimmie Foxx, which sold for $22,800, $27,000, and $13,100, respectively.
A Christy Mathewson check, accompanied by a letter from his wife, who personally sent the check as a gift to the consignor’s husband in 1956, sold for $19,200. Babe Ruth items continued to be especially popular among collectors, as a Ruth-signed 1934 All-America Baseball Team Certificate presented to Hall of Famer Vernon Gomez (res. $2,500; est. $5,000+) sold for $19,200, a 1929 autograph album page signed by Ruth and Lou Gehrig (res. $1,000) realized $10,800, and a pair of first-edition books authored and signed by Ruth combined to sell for $9,600.
An extremely rare Vic Willis handwritten note dating from 1942 and with impeccable provenance (res. $2,000) sold for $11,400. The short Vic Willis note originated from the collection of pioneer autograph collector Stephen Silagi, a very active collector in the 1940s, and was accompanied by various supporting provenance materials that were much appreciated by bidders.
“With memorabilia and autographs, time and time again, we see how well-documented provenance plays a role in delivering strong prices,” Lifson explained. “It’s not always possible to have this kind of provenance, but when it’s there, it’s impossible not to notice how collectors respond.”
A relatively recent, but remarkably significant, 1965 Satchel Paige Kansas City Athletics contract (res. $1,000) sold for a staggering $48,000. It is Paige’s final contract and made him the oldest player ever in professional baseball.
“In our opinion, this was one of the most interesting contracts we have ever offered,” said REA memorabilia expert Tom D’Alonzo. “It was great to see collectors share our enthusiasm for this gem.”
A 1919 Ross Youngs New York Giants contract (res. $1,000), which was consigned directly from the Youngs family, also resonated with bidders, receiving 44 bids and ending the night at $33,000.
A 1919 Frank Baker New York Yankees contract (res. $2,500), the first Baker contract ever sold at REA, realized $9,600, while a 1931 Pie Traynor Pittsburgh Pirates contract (res. $1,000), also signed by Hall of Famer Barney Dreyfuss in his capacity as owner, realized $9,000.
Roy Campanella’s first contract in organized baseball, a 1946 Nashua Dodgers minor league document (res. $1,500), sold for $6,600.
Game-Used Jerseys and Bats
A 1970 Hank Aaron Atlanta Braves Game-Used Home Jersey graded MEARS A10 (res. $10,000; est. $20,000+) sold for $66,000 while a 1979 Thurman Munson New York Yankees Game-Used Home Uniform (res. $25,000), complete with jersey and pants, representing one of the final uniforms ever worn by the popular Yankees captain before his untimely death, sold for $54,000. The uniform, which originated years prior directly from Munson’s widow, Diana, had the distinction of being one of only two surviving complete Munson uniforms known.
A 971 Willie Mays San Francisco Giants game-used home jersey which originated from a former member of the Giants’ AAA affiliate who’d been assigned the jersey as a minor leaguer, sold for $27,000 while a 1970 Brooks Robinson Baltimore Orioles game-used road jersey brought $30,000.
A 1950 Philadelphia Athletics home shirt, a style used by the team for only one year, was consigned by the original purchaser from REA’s 2005 auction (where the jersey realized $4,930). It nearly doubled in price during the last decade, going to the winner in 2015 for $9,000.
Record Book (and Reward)
REA says a 1899-1900 Brooklyn Dodgers Financial Record Book (res. $2,500), which provided a complete accounting of the team’s day-to-day financial operations at the turn of the century and was penned in the hand of owner Charles Ebbets and another team official, saw interest from historians, institutions and collectors, generating extremely spirited action. When the dust settled, the financial ledger realized $48,000. REA says the ledger was literally saved from the dumpster during the dismantling of Ebbets Field following the club’s move to Los Angeles in 1959.
More Memorabilia Highlights
Championship rings continued to be a popular attraction for collectors: A 1980 Kansas City Royals American League Championship ring presented to Ken Brett (res. $1,000), which had been offered for sale on eBay for $6,000 just six months earlier, soared to $33,000.
A 2009 New York Yankees World Series ring (res. $5,000), issued to a front office staff employee (as opposed to a player) sold for $16,800. Two other Yankees World Series rings, one from 1949 and one from 1953 (issued to pitcher Bill Miller), combined to realize $15,600.
A rare 1950s Brooklyn Dodgers usher’s cap, which was purchased by the consignor in the 1970s at a Brooklyn-area secondhand store for just $20, sold for $10,200.
Further information and complete auction results are available online at www.RobertEdwardAuctions.com.
Copies of the 560-page full-color premium catalog are also still available free of charge. Go to www.RobertEdwardAuctions.com, click “Free Catalog,” and fill in your name and address.
REA is currently assembling its next sale. For further information contact: Robert Edward Auctions, PO Box 7256, Watchung, NJ, call (908)-226-9900, or e-mail [email protected]