The baseball season is just around the corner and fans are eager to watch for the next Mickey Mantle or Bob Feller.
Collectors of one of the most popular hobbies search for anything connected to the Grand Old Game. The reason for this popularity is quite simple: no other category kept such defined records.
If you wanted to know how many games Grover Cleveland Alexander started in his first season, it is recorded in full detail. And, wouldn’t it be great if you could find a scorecard or ticket to that game in which a young hopeful (named after a president) appeared? This is just an example of how far and wide baseball collectibles will go.
Where can you go to find the unusual artifact of your interest? During the year, no less than 15 major auctions take place with very attractive catalogs describing each lot, with photos and very detailed descriptions. In almost all cases these sales are restricted to pre-1970 items.
Catalogs could be from 30 to 700 pages, listing 600 to 2,000 lots. In most cases, there is a 20% buyers premium and a 15% to 20% sellers fee. Catalogs can cost the auction house up to $45 each.
Results? A recent auction out of Chester, N.J., took in $9 million – and they have three per year. A worldwide Dallas, Texas, firm eclipses these figures by even more.
The interest in baseball, a game that began in 1869 with the Cincinnati Red Stockings, really became a collectible category with baseball cards that were inserted in packs of tobacco. A bit later, they were inserted in Cracker Jack and then with bubble gum, Hostess cakes, hot dogs, and cereal.
The intrigue sets in when a superstar emerges within a stack of cards from the early 1900s, and is in very good condition. For example, a tobacco card of Ty Cobb with various ads on the reverse becomes quite valuable versus an unknown like Clyde Milan.
Of course, we all have heard about the Honus Wagner card that recently sold for close to $2 million. Only a handful of the cards were released because the famed Pittsburgh Pirate objected to the use of tobacco.
Today, the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle rookie card is the current generation’s Honus Wagner. Why? The card number is 311 and came only in a high series box that failed to sell very well, and Topps dumped surplus cases in the Atlantic Ocean.
As with all collectibles and values, the above is a perfect example of supply and demand.
Serious collectors will go to the extreme to get what they want. My partner and I attended a high-powered auction at Christies in New York City and witnessed the absurd. A lady sitting behind us bid $4,000 on Ty Cobb’s dentures!
We later read in the Daily News that she headed up a dental clinic in Pennsylvania. So, it wasn’t so absurd after all, was it?
As we have stressed in previous columns, collectibles with history and the research of them is the fun of collecting. Put some fun into your collecting life, and start searching for the next Honus Wagner.
Jerry Glenn is co-owner of Reminisce in Bluffton, where sports collectibles are bought and sold.