Sports Collectibles Set New Records in 2016

The Laws of Baseball, written by Daniel Lucius “Doc” Adams, sold for more than $3.2 million.

The Laws of Baseball, written by Daniel Lucius “Doc” Adams, sold for more than $3.2 million.

While some argue about whether the year 2016 was a net positive or negative, there is no denying that 2016 was a record-setting year for sports collectibles.

Of the 23 categories tracked by Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA/DNA), seven broke records at auction. The realized prices for vintage and even some modern sports collectibles reflect the robust health of the sports collectibles market.

Much like other collectible categories, people with wealth often invest their money in hard assets during times of economic questionability. This fact significantly contributed to the large amounts of money spent on high-end sports collectibles during the 2016 calendar year. Here is a look at the pieces that sold for unprecedented amounts in 2016.

#1 Baseball Documents

The Laws of Baseball (circa 1856-1857): $3,263,246, SCP Auctions, April 2016

Alexander Cartwright is often referred to the “father of modern baseball.” While his early contributions to the game will always be important to baseball history, his title may be in question. In April of last year, an anonymous seller consigned documents to SCP Auctions, referred to as the “laws of baseball” as they lay out the game’s early rules. Written by Daniel Lucius “Doc” Adams, the documents pre-date Cartwright’s version by three years.

SCP Auctions  placed a pre-auction estimate on the documents of $1 million. This would prove to be a handsome return on investment for the owner. A native of Texas, the owner paid $12,000 for the documents in 1999. When the gavel dropped in the early morning hours of Sunday, April 24, 2016, the documents had sold for over $3.2 million.

1909-11 T206 Honus Wagner - PSA 5 EX (MC): $3,120,000, Goldin Auctions, October, 2016

1909-11 T206 Honus Wagner – PSA 5 EX (MC): $3,120,000, Goldin Auctions, October 2016

#2 Baseball Card

1909-11 T206 Honus Wagner – PSA 5 EX (MC): $3,120,000, Goldin Auctions, October 2016

Often referred to as “The Holy Grail” of baseball cards, the 1909-11 T206 Honus Wagner has a very storied history. A copy of the card, once owned by hockey Hall of Fame player, Wayne Gretzky, previously sold at auction for $2.8 million in 2007. That was the amount paid by the current owner of the card, Ken Kendrick. He is the owner and CEO of the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team.

The copy of the card that sold in the fall of 2016 is referred to as “The Jumbo Wagner.” This is due to it being slightly over-sized compared to other T206 cards. The card is graded an EX 5 by grading company PSA. Its notation of “MC” designates that the card is “mis-cut.” Despite this characteristic, “The Jumbo Wagner” is one of the finest graded examples known to exist.

Goldin Auctions president Ken Goldin originally placed a pre-auction estimate on the card of $4.4 million. While the realized price fell well short of that amount, the $3.12 million price tag easily broke the aforementioned-price paid in 2007.

1969 Topps Lew Alcindor RC - PSA Gem Mint 10: $501,900, Heritage Auctions, August, 2016

1969 Topps Lew Alcindor RC – PSA Gem Mint 10: $501,900, Heritage Auctions, August 2016

#3 Basketball Card

1969 Topps Lew Alcindor RC – PSA Gem Mint 10: $501,900, Heritage Auctions, August 2016

The demand for pristine condition copies of Hall of Fame players’ rookie cards has exploded in recent years. Lew Alcindor, who would later change his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, is one of the greatest players the game has ever produced. His list of both NBA and NCAA accomplishments is unparalleled in basketball history.

This is only recognized rookie card of the most prolific offensive player in NBA history. This copy is the highest graded example known to exist. It has no equal, making it truly a one-of-a-kind collectible. Its condition alone contributed to its value when it sold at Heritage Auctions in August of 2016 for over $500,000.

1979 O-Pee-Chee Wayne Gretzky RC - PSA Gem Mint 10: $465,000, Goldin Auctions, August, 2016

1979 O-Pee-Chee Wayne Gretzky RC – PSA Gem Mint 10: $465,000, Goldin Auctions, August, 2016

#4 Hockey Card

1979 O-Pee-Chee Wayne Gretzky RC – PSA Gem Mint 10: $465,000, Goldin Auctions, August 2016

The definitive rookie card for the game’s greatest player, Wayne Gretzky, saw furious bidding last summer. This card is the only copy to ever receive a grade of a PSA 10. It previously sold at auction in 2011 for just more than $94,000. While it fell just short of its pre-auction estimate of $500,000 it is now the standard bearer for the hockey card category.

Upon visual inspection of the card, it’s easy to notice the seemingly rough edge on the card’s right-hand side. This caused some people to question the card’s grade. However, Stephen Laroche, editor of Beckett Hockey, explained this: “While some collectors and casual observers not familiar with the nuances and quirks of the Gretzky rookie card had expressed some concern with what appeared to be a rough edge, it should be noted that this is simply something that is common for O-Pee-Chee cards from this era. The reason why the uneven edges are so common to see? The company would cut the sheets its cards were printed on with wires and the stacked sheets could also shift during the cutting process.”

1958 Topps Jim Brown RC – PSA Mint 9: $358,000, Heritage Auctions, November, 2016

1958 Topps Jim Brown RC – PSA Mint 9: $358,000, Heritage Auctions, November 2016

#5 Football Card (Post-War)

1958 Topps Jim Brown RC – PSA Mint 9: $358,000, Heritage Auctions, November 2016

This is another example of the only recognized rookie card of one of the greatest players of their sport. This 1958 Topps rookie card of Cleveland Browns Hall of Famer, Jim Brown is one of only five copies to receive such a condition grade. No examples exist in a PSA Gem Mint 10 making this card’s recent sale, the most expensive football card in the hobby.

2003 Upper Deck Ultimate Collection, Ultimate Logos, Lebron James 1/1 – PSA Mint 9: $312,000, Goldin Auctions, October, 2016

2003 Upper Deck Ultimate Collection, Ultimate Logos, Lebron James 1/1 – PSA Mint 9: $312,000, Goldin Auctions, October 2016

#6 Modern Era Sports Card (1980-Present)

2003 Upper Deck Ultimate Collection, Ultimate Logos, Lebron James 1/1 – PSA Mint 9: $312,000, Goldin Auctions, October 2016

One of the characteristics of modern trading cards is “manufactured scarcity.” This simply means that some cards are intentionally produced in smaller quantities. The effect of prices on the secondary market simply becomes one of supply versus demand. Some cards, including this rookie year card of LeBron James are the only one of its kind. The card features the NBA Logoman patch and is signed by James. It is serial numbered 1/1 and received a grade of PSA Mint 9.

During his rookie season of 2003-04, LeBron James appeared on more than 500 different cards. Of those, just 71 are autographed and just four of them were limited to a single copy each. This card is considered by many collectors to be the most highly desired. It sold this past fall for an unprecedented $312,000.

1934 Exhibits Four-On-One Signed by Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bill Dickey and Lefty Gomez – PSA/DNA Authenticated: $72,000, Robert Edwards Auction, October, 2016

1934 Exhibits Four-On-One Signed by Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bill Dickey and Lefty Gomez – PSA/DNA Authenticated: $72,000, Robert Edwards Auction, October 2016

#7 Multi-Signed Card

1934 Exhibits Four-On-One Signed by Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bill Dickey and Lefty Gomez – PSA/DNA Authenticated: $72,000, Robert Edwards Auction, October 2016

This vintage baseball card from 1934, pictures four Yankee greats. The card has been signed by Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Bill Dickey and Lefty Gomez. Each signature has been authenticated by industry leading autograph authentication service company, PSA/DNA. It sold auction in October of last year for $72,000, the most ever paid for a multi-signed trading card.

What will 2017 bring? Will we see new records set in additional sports collectible categories? Will some of the items be here reach new highs? Only time will tell.


Rob Bertrand has been an active collector of sports cards and memorabilia for more than 25 years. His involvement in the hobby community is well documented, having been involved with multi-media content development for several sports collectibles websites. Rob is also the co-host of the sports collectibles hobby’s only live streaming and nationally broadcast web show, Go GTS Live – The Hobby’s Web Show. 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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