I’ve never been a huge hockey collector, but it makes me want to jump into the space when I see incredible unopened pack runs like these.
The Era of Million Dollar Cards
This week, Goldin Auctions reported that it sold a 2000 Playoff Contender Tom Brady for $1.7M (in LiteCoin Crypto). And on April 26th, they sold a LeBron James 2003-04 Upper Deck Exquisite rookie patch autograph for $5.2 million.
Over the past year, some of the other big sales you may have read about include a Luka Doncic Panini Treasure for $4.6M and a T206 Honus Wagner for $2.5M. This follows the recent sales of a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle for $5.2M and a 2009 Bowman Chrome Mike Trout Superfractor for $3.94M. There are more in the past year, too, a 2003-4 Upper Deck autographed game-used jersey Card of Lebron James sold for $1.8M in July 2020, an autographed 1997 Upper Deck Michael Jordan game-used jersey card sold for $1.44M a few months ago, and there are others.
In March 2021, a single auction had five cards sell for over $1M (previously there had been only ten public 7-figure sales), including a 1996 Topps Chrome Refractors Kobe Bryant at $1.795M, a 2004 Ultimate Collection Lebron James for $1.291M, a 1955 Topps Roberto Clemente for $1.107M, and a 2003 Upper Deck Exquisite Collection Lebron James for $1.537M, and a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle for $1.353M. I’m sure there will be plenty more $M sales this year too.
I’m not an investment advisor, and I have no clue if we are in a bubble or not. I also have no right to tell anyone how to spend their money. But, is this good or bad for the hobby, overall? I’m not sure, so here are a smattering of thoughts on what this means and a few concerns.
Do kids have a path to enter the hobby anymore? It appears that high-end cards are bringing up the prices of cheaper cards too, both in vintage and modern. Plus, you see flippers clearing Target and Walmart out of product the moment they are re-supplied. I’ve heard about teenagers in card shops again, but there’s certainly a limit. These cards won’t hold “value” if the next generation isn’t interested; look at stamp collecting. And it isn’t just kids; adults are getting out-priced too.
New 3rd party grading companies are coming up and trying to disrupt PSA, SGC, and Beckett. But I know some of the major auction houses won’t take slabs from HGA or CSG for a few years until they establish long-term viability and a consistent track record. This means the new grading card company’s slabs could risk some price manipulation, particularly in the high-end market. Certainly, PSA, SGC, and Beckett have made their mistakes; I’m not saying they are perfect. I’m just saying we have more data from them. Overall, I’m optimistic that more competition will lead to more transparency, better products, and consistent results – but there will be some short-term volatility.
The role of eBay is interesting too. PWCC and Probstein are two of eBay’s biggest sellers, but their significant sales always seem to be private. How can these resellers promote eBay as a great platform to sell on but then not use that platform for high-end cards? I suspect eBay is struggling to verify bidders and provide value the way an auction house or eBay seller can off the platform (besides eBay’s additional fees). However, my concern is that it’s hard to verify if private sales are real – are these sales legitimate?
I’m a technologist and a degreed computer engineer, so I understand the appeal when it comes to digital cards. My thoughts circle whether there is enough room in the market for both digital and physical goods to co-exist and how they affect one another. But the digitization and NFT movement is too new for me to really have any strong opinion just yet. For reference, NBA Top Shot registered ~$250M in sales over a 30 day period. I’m also intrigued by fractional investing in high-end items – which is a form of digitization meeting physical goods. But overall, people only have so much disposable income.
Clearly, the hobby is getting a lot of press, and some say any press is good press. But there are long-term impacts from bull runs. I ran a poll on Twitter a while ago asking which of four cards had the most upside potential, a 1952 Topps Mantle, the T206 Wagner, the 2009 Mike Trout, or the Luka Panini Treasure, and I got a very though-provoking comment on the poll. A user wrote, “I really wish there was a ‘None’ option. While all of these could be ‘Grail’ cards, it seems like the market is out of control and, even in these cases, ready to revert. Short term, there could be more gains; long term, I am a None.” Is there a point when the ‘nones’ overwhelm the bulls?
*Action Network keeps up a great post on The 10 Most Expensive Sports Trading Card Sales of All Time if you want to stay up to date.
- TanManBaseballFan shared an excellent overview of a recent pickup of theirs, a complete w514 set.
- Another great read from the SABR Baseball Card Blog, From the Negro League to MLB.
- Sports Collectors Digest ran down how the PSA shutdown is impacting sports card collectors and dealers.
- I also ran across this nice comparison, across the major sports, of 1973 Topps cards.
- Rare, Relevant and… Anonymous?? Michael Jordan’s 1985-86 Star Card.
- Yesterday, I took A Closer Look at the Last 5 Willie Mays Topps Baseball Cards.
I saw a few posts and chats this week about Exhibits being underrated collectibles. One of the more popular “sets” is the 1947-66 Exhibits. Here is what the Standard Catalog says about them:
Produced by the Exhibit Supply Co. of Chicago, these issues cover a span of 20 years. Each unnumbered, black-and-white car is printed on heavy cardboard measuring 3-3/8” x 5-3/8” and is blank-backed. The company issued new sets each year, with many players being repeated year after year. Other players appeared in only one or two years, thereby creating levels of scarcity. Many cards can be found with minor variations in the wording and placement of the credit line at the bottom. Some pieces have been found printed on semi-gloss paper stock, perhaps as proofs. Their value is 50 percent or less than the issued version.
In the News
- The LA Times wrote about Mike Trout and the hobby.
- Sports Collectors Daily shared a newly uncovered Tobacco Card Hoard with 18 T206 Cobb cards.
- eBay is expanding its standard envelope service beyond cards. If you weren’t aware, you can ship cheaper cards, with tracking, for much more reasonable prices.
- There have been a bunch more articles written about cards as a commodity and making a career of collecting.
1973 Topps Annual Report
With Topps going public, I’m looking forward to seeing stunning imagery in their annual reports again.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any updates, news items, comments, corrections, suggestions, or questions. All are appreciated.