There were phenomenal finds and disturbing discoveries.
Record revenue and sensational selling prices.
No matter the month, there was something collectors were talking about this year. In the first of a two-part series, we look back at the last year in the hobby with some happenings from the first half of 2019.
The year began in strange fashion with the viral nature of a strange discovery on an early 1990s basketball card: someone finally noticed brothers Lyle and Erik Menendez sitting in courtside seats in the background of Mark Jackson’s 1990-91 Hoops card.
The photo was captured between the time when the brothers murdered their parents and they were taken into custody. The story generated worldwide interest and a suddenly hot market for a junk wax era card.
Not long after, two other modern era cards generated national headlines when a 2000 Tom Brady Contenders Rookie Autograph sold for $400,000, the most ever paid for a single football card and a 1997-98 Precious Metal Gems Green Michael Jordan set a record for a single Jordan card at public auction when it went for $350,100.
Some big ticket items from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s collection were dispersed through a few auctions during 2019, including his 1987 Lakers championship ring, which netted nearly $400,000 at Goldin Auctions, the most ever paid for an NBA championship ring at auction.
Another museum-quality hoops item surfaced early in the year: a score sheet from Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game in Hershey, PA in 1962. Signed by The Big Dipper, the sheet sold for $214,579 through SCP Auctions.
Just after the start of the year, long-time dealer/auctioneer Paul Fusco passed away suddenly. His popular, vintage-oriented Strongsville, OH show went on in April but later it was announced that Lelands would take over promotion of the event beginning in 2020.
A Long Island estate find of 19th century cards caused a buzz after an eagle-eyed buyer snared them and turned them over to Weiss Auctions. The “North Fork Find” included several N173 Old Judge Cabinets, including a Buck Ewing that sold for over $109,000.
A Babe Ruth rookie card found along with numerous other cards inside an old piano years ago finally made it to auction, with the Ruth generating a six-figure price tag.
In early spring, an online forum discussion launched a still ongoing revelation of altered cards. A small number of Blowout Cards forum members have worked diligently to uncover a significant quantity of both vintage and modern graded cards that were sold, altered and re-graded at a higher tier, typically for a tidy profit. The discoveries became numerous enough to catch the attention of federal law enforcement officials, who served numerous subpoenas at this summer’s National Sports Collectors Convention.
Criminal defense attorney Jeff Lichtman stated that he had been retained by eBay seller PWCC Marketplace, which has been the buying and selling portal for many of the altered cards. The Blowout investigators have pinpointed several dealers who they’ve identified as having ties to some of the trimmed or otherwise altered cards. It’s a story with plenty of unanswered questions, some of which may be addressed in the new year.
PSA enjoyed record revenue throughout the first half of 2019, with so much business that the backlog of submissions reported in 2018 was still an issue for the company, which tried to improve communications with customers while taking steps to try and speed things up.
Collectors with deep pockets had the opportunity to latch onto plenty of iconic cards during the year. A PSA 2 T206 Honus Wagner sold privately for $1.2 million and was later auctioned for over $1.3 million through Mile High Card Company.
A PSA 3.5 copy of Joe Jackson’s 1910 Old Mill Tobacco card hit the market in February, selling for $600,000.
SGC announced it would be ending its autograph authentication business at the end of March in order to focus on its card grading and uniform authentication platforms.
Another long-time corporate entity, Steiner Sports, was sold to Fanatics. Company founder Brandon Steiner, who had stayed on after selling the business to Omnicom, was forced out and later started his own company. Months later, Fanatics announced a new game-used partnership deal with the New York Yankees.
The modern baseball card market got a jolt from some new stars who made noise, including Pete Alonso, who set the rookie home run record and signed exclusive game-used and autograph deals. Mid and late-season callups have kept the 2019 rookie card market robust.
Vintage sports photographs continued their upward climb with multiple auction houses now offering them in standalone auctions. Others sold privately, including a Type I example of the famous image of Ty Cobb sliding hard into third base. Even with edges missing, the photo sold for $250,000 in a sale brokered by Memory Lane, setting a record price for a Type I image.
A St. Louis family contributed one of the year’s top finds with their consignment of hundreds of pre-War cards that had been passed down for generations. Non-collectors, they were stunned to learn of the potential value of the nice looking 1916 Famous & Barr Ruth rookie. It didn’t disappoint, selling later in the year for $540,000.
Early in the year, the Babe’s surviving family members revealed that they were holding onto hundred of items from his life and career. They partnered with Hunt Auctions for a special sale at Yankee Stadium that also included high-end pieces consigned by others. One of his old jerseys was the star of the sale, selling for $5.64 million, the most ever paid for a piece of baseball memorabilia.
Tomorrow, Part II