The collectibles industry is on fire. Despite this website’s focus primarily being on new card releases from Topps & Panini, and how often the products can suck – the bulk of the sports collectibles industry is focused on items from the distant past.
2016 saw prices inflate nearly across the board for high-end vintage baseball cards. While the criminal convictions of ‘shill bidding’ at auctions both online & off are real concerns, that shouldn’t diminish the excitement collectors are experiencing buying these collectibles from their past.
High-end vintage baseball cards have skyrocketed along with the general
economy (stock market) over the last 8 years. Collectors tend to gravitate towards the “holy grail” collectibles during these booming times, much like investors flock to the best performing stocks, and art collectors flock to the best known works of art.
There’s virtually no card is more iconic than the 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle. Aside from the cards’ visual appeal, there’s still many fans alive today that saw Mickey Mantle play. Having that connection to their childhood is certainly a factor in Mantle’s card prices continuing to accelerate well after his career and death.
During 2016, numerous Mickey Mantle cards sold, but the highlights include a PSA 8.5 version of his 1952 card which sold for over $1.1M in November. The same card sold for a ”mere” $130,000 back in 2010, when economic times were much bleaker.
We know employees related to PSA & the major auctions houses were involved in shill bidding at auctions that attract the highest quality cards … so we have to take their own data with a grain of salt. However, it’s possible the values are more accurate given the scrutiny the industry must be under by high-end clients. I really have no clue, but PSA recently counted down the highest selling collectibles on their twitter stream this week – and posted a recap on their blog here.
Here is a look at the top selling sports cards according to PSA:
#1 Honus Wagner T206 – Graded PSA 5 (MC)
Sold For: $3.1M – October 2016
#2 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle – Graded PSA 8.5
Sold For: $1.1M – November 2016
#3 Honus Wagner T206 – Graded PSA 2
Sold For: $776K – November 2016
#4 (tie) 1963 Topps Pete Rose – Graded PSA 10
Sold For: $717K – August 2016
#4 (tie) 1916 M101-5 Sporting News Babe Ruth – Graded PSA 7
Sold For: $717K – August 2016
#5 1909 E90-1 American Caramel Joe Jackson – Graded PSA 8
Sold For: $667K – August 2016
Online auctions have seen the trickle down from the record prices seen at the auction house. Cards of Roberto Clemente, Hank Aaron, Pete Rose and others have skyrocketed over the last few years. While Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner remain the “holy grail” type cards to collect – collectors are paying up for a wider range of baseball players than I can remember. In a ‘rising tides lifts all boats’ scenario – we’ve seen online auctions for virtually all HOF players from the 1960s era trend upward in 2016.
Below is a website I follow during the year. They keep track of the top selling online auctions. Below is a look at the top selling baseball cards in 2016. Notice Mickey Mantle doesn’t appear in the top 5 … partly due to his cards being in the hands of collectors already – and the fact many of his top sales occur at the more ‘private’ auction house setting.
One thing that stands out about the top selling baseball cards is that only 2 cards made after 1980 appear on the top 50 selling baseball cards list. However, comparing that to football, and particularly basketball paints a different picture – as modern cards are some of the most valuable cards in those sports.
Michael Jordan is clearly still the king of NBA cards. For a period of time, Steph Curry cards were in high demand. However, following a dramatic NBA finals loss to the Cavs (where Curry was inconsistent) and after Kevin Durant joined the Golden State Warriors – Stephen Curry card prices have trended downward, along with his statistics. However, many of his cards still remain some of the most valuable basketball cards sold in 2016.
Peyton Manning and Tom Brady rookie cards are from a similar era – and often are some of the top selling football cards each year. While you’ll occasionally see a 1st or 2nd year player in the top selling NBA cards for the year, even with how popular Ezekiel Elliot and Das Prescott have been for the Dallas Cowboys, neither can crack this list of top selling NFL cards. In fact, Tom Brady’s rookies, which were made in 2000, are the most current card on the list below:
Overall 2016 was a huge year for vintage sports cards. The adults who are buying these cards are getting to the age in life where they have some money to spend. What will be interesting to follow in the coming years is if future generations will continue to bid up the values of these cards … or will that generation start favoring a different era of cards? Certainly the Honus Wagner, Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth, ect cards will stay valuable, but will the values continue to accelerate? Will Mike Trout, Derek Jeter, Buster Posey, ect cards start appreciating to the levels seen by the 1960’s era cards? Only time will tell.