For those with simply a mere casual interest or for those more heavily invested in the sports card and memorabilia hobby, issues related to the business side of this multi-million-dollar industry often garner headlines from mainstream sources. Recently, several such events have transpired that have caused a wide variety of reactions from hobby rookies and veterans alike and has generated interest outside traditional hobby news properties.
An Admission of Fraud Regarding ‘The Card’
“The Card”—a Near Mint example of a Honus Wagner tobacco-era baseball card. Mastro admitted that he in fact “trimmed” the card prior to it ever being graded
The well-documented story of the Near Mint condition 1909 -11 T206 Honus Wagner tobacco baseball card once owned by hockey Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky had another chapter added to its legacy this past week. Appearing in a Federal courthouse in Chicago, Bill Mastro, the former CEO of MastroNet Auctions—a high-profile and a one-time esteemed sports memorabilia auction house—plead guilty to one count of mail fraud as it related to the illegal practice of shill bidding.
Shill bidding is a process where insiders of the auction house incrementally increase the bid amounts of a legitimate bidder, artificially inflating the price of an item and therefore increasing the revenue percentage earned by the auction house. Additionally, as part of his plea deal with the government, Mastro—who was once referred to as “The King of Memorabilia”—was compelled to admit his part in what will go down in history as one of the greatest scams ever conducted in the hobby.
The condition of this particular pre-war card is like no other in existence, which has very much been at the core of the card’s lore. With brilliant white borders, sharp edges and near perfect corners, its value has increased every time it has sold, either via private party or public auction. The card’s most recent sale in 2007 for $2.8 million sent shockwaves, not only throughout hobby circles, but mainstream media outlets, as well.
Bill Mastro (right) leaves court Oct. 9, 2013 after pleading guilty to one count of mail fraud as it related to the illegal practice of shill bidding in regards to the Near Mint condition 1909 -11 T206 Honus Wagner tobacco baseball card once owned by hockey Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky. (Photo: Chicago Tribune)
Also of note is that the card was one of the very first cards ever to be graded by Professional Sports Authenticators, a division of Collector’s Universe. Some argue it was, in fact, the very first card graded by the company. “Earning” a grade of a Near Mint value of eight on a 10-point scale, “The Card,” as it has become known, was heavily publicized to promote PSA’s new card grading business in the early 1990s.
As it turns out, Mastro’s formal and public admission that he in fact “trimmed” the card prior to it ever being graded came as shock to some and vindication to others who had long suspected or had argued—some, with first-hand knowledge—that such was the case. Trimming a card in attempt to increase its condition by eliminating worn edges and rounded corners is strictly prohibited and severely frowned upon in the high-end stakes of vintage card grading. So much so that PSA used phrasing in some of its early advertising like “… guaranteed not to be trimmed…” to entice collectors to participate in this new practice of card grading as a means of not only preserving, but increasing the value of their trading card investments.
Today, card grading is, in and of itself, a multi-million dollar business. Unfortunately, now that the card in which the entire card grading industry was built upon has been discovered to be a fraud, it brings into question the legitimacy of the very practice to begin with. As of the writing of this article, no statement concerning these recent revelations has been made by PSA or Collector’s Universe.
Panini America takea High-End Trading Cards to a New Level
Panini America—the licensed trading card company of the NBA—will release a new product called Flawless in which each pack will contain a card embedded with a diamond or emerald.
Later this month, Panini America—the licensed trading card company of the NBA—will release a new product called Flawless. Befitting its name, each of the set’s base cards will be embedded with either a genuine diamond or an emerald. Packaged in a sleek metal briefcase, the new product carries a price tag of … are you ready … $1,250.
In addition to the gemstone-clad base cards, each box (briefcase) of cards will contain seven autographs, two jumbo game-worn memorabilia cards and either a diamond- or emerald-embedded base card.
Nearly 10 years ago, then-NBA-licensed trading card manufacturer Upper Deck debuted the hobby’s first $500 per pack product. Since that time, manufacturers have released trading card sets with price tags of six and seven hundred dollars. This new product by Panini raises the bar significantly higher.
To be produced in an extremely limited quantity, the company knows these sets are not for everyone. However, there is a core element of basketball card collectors who specialize in ultra-high-end cards, with one of the biggest markets being overseas in the Pacific Rim, where the NBA’s popularity is almost greater than it is here in the States.
The Panini America Flawless Blake Griffin card featuring a diamond.
The Panini America Flawless Magic Johnson card featuring an emerald.
A close-up of the diamond.
A close-up of the emerald.
Rob Bertrand has been an active collector of sports cards and memorabilia for more than 20 years. His involvement in the hobby community is well documented, having been the content manager for the Card Corner Club website before the company’s merger with CardboardConnection in 2011, where he is now a staff writer and multimedia content producer. Rob is also the co-host of the sports collectibles hobby’s only live and nationally broadcast radio show, Cardboard Connection Radio. He is the author of the highly respected and trafficked blog, Voice of the Collector and you can follow him on Twitter @VOTC. A dealer himself, Rob runs an online business through eBay, and is frequently asked to consign collections.
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