42 – Collecting Jackie Robinson is Collecting an American Legend

A Jackie Robinson-signed baseball. His signature is considered uncommon and is scarce on premium items like baseballs, bats and photographs.

Jack Roosevelt “Jackie” Robinson was more than a baseball player; he was a pioneer, a patriot and quickly became a legend. When he took the field at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947, he changed not only the game of baseball but American history. Breaking Major League Baseball’s self-imposed “color-barrier” led to a re-examination of segregation and the event contributed significantly to the birth of the Civil Rights Movement.

This month, movie-goers will have the opportunity to witness the story of one of America’s greatest heroes in “42.” The racial tension and bigotry that manifested itself across the country as a result of this defiant and brazen act of rebellion against an unjust system are a testimony to how far we have come as a nation and a testimony to the bravery of the man who started a true revolution in America.

Robinson’s on-field exploits were more than worthy for his election into the Baseball Hall of Fame, an honor bestowed on him in 1962 in recognition of his statistical achievements during his 10-year career. A six-time All-Star (1949-1954), Rookie of the Year (1947), National League MVP (1949) and World Series Champion (1955) came as a result of his career statistics including, a .311 lifetime batting average, 734 RBI, 1,518 hits, 137 home runs and 197 stolen bases.

As a result of his accomplishments on and off the field, Robinson is a highly collectible player. At the time of this writing, an eBay search of his name yields almost 11,700 items; ranging from bobble heads to baseball cards, cut signatures to replica jerseys, photos and magazines and everything in between. Because of his popularity, his rookie cards, autographs and game-used memorabilia command top-dollar whenever they appear on the secondary market. Robinson died a relatively young man in 1972, at the age of 53, about 10 years prior to the explosion of the autograph circuit. As a result, his signature is considered uncommon and is scarce on premium items like baseballs, bats and photographs. His signature is most often found on ephemera, like index cards, scorecards and album pages. Robinson wrote with a fluid hand, not rushed or shaky, with a slightly right slant. Any example not displaying these characteristics should be avoided.

Jackie Robinson’s 1949 Leaf rookie card.

Jackie Robinson’s 1949 Bowman rookie card.

Jackie Robinson has two (2) definitive rookie cards, both produced in 1949: one by Leaf designated as card #79; and the other by Bowman, designated as card #50. Both cards are much smaller than today’s modern cards, measuring approximately 2 1/16 inches x 2 ½ inches. The color contrast of the yellow and red backgrounds creates a striking image of Robinson that almost “pops” off each card. Highly desirable in graded condition, even those samples found that grade 6-7/10 typically sell in the $2,000-$2,500 range. Cards in higher condition escalate the card’s value exponentially.

While some purists lament the fact that baseball card manufactures acquire pieces of game-used memorabilia for the sole purpose of cutting them into a gazillion pieces to be embedded into currently produced baseball cards, it does provide the opportunity for every collector to own a small piece of not only baseball history but Americana itself. The card pictured here is an example of a Jackie Robinson game-used bat card produced in 2011.

The fielding glove used by Jackie Robinson during the last three years of his career, 1954-56, will be auctioned by Steiner Sports on May 1, 2013.

Used during the Brooklyn Dodgers’ world Series championship in 1955, estimates on the glove alone are to range from $750,000 to $1 million.

Starting on May 1 of this year, high-end collectors will be able to compete for the right to own two of the most coveted pieces of Jackie Robinson memorabilia ever to see the light of day outside a personal collection or the hallowed halls of Cooperstown. Sports memorabilia dealer Steiner Sports has been consigned to sell the fielding glove used by Jackie Robinson during the last three years of his career, 1954-56. Having been a member of the World Champion Brooklyn Dodgers in 1955, this glove truly defines the term one-of-a-kind. In addition to the glove, Steiner will also be auctioning a game used Robinson bat, circa 1956, certified by PSA/DNA. Early auction estimates on the glove alone are $750,000 to $1 million. Because of the timing of the biographical movie release, current politics, and April 15 being Jackie Robinson Day in Major League Baseball, it’s quite possible that even those lofty numbers may be eclipsed.

A 2001 SP Jackie Robinson Legendary Cuts Autograph card.

A 2011 Topps Jackie Robinson Triple Threads Game Used Bat card.

Few people have the deep pockets necessary to even think about bidding on the aforementioned museum-quality pieces, however, that doesn’t mean that collecting Jackie Robinson memorabilia isn’t an option. Many cards, photos and magazines can be purchased in the $10-$20 range and often less.

The contributions Robinson made to the game of baseball are unequaled and it is certainly a fitting honor, that every April 15, every Major League ballplayer wears a jersey emblazoned with the number 42. In a day and age where it’s hard to find role models and heroes in the ranks of the multi-million-dollar athletes of modern professional sports, the memory of Jackie Robinson is a quiet reminder that one man, can make a difference; that alone, makes him worth collecting.

As an example, this memorable moment of Robinson stealing home during the 1955 World Series can be purchased in a 16-by-20-inch black and white photo, complete with MLB authentication hologram (meaning it is a print from the original negative) for just $20.

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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