Wrestling Fans Covet Collectibles of the Squared Circle

Vintage pro-wresting magazines and autographs garner top dollar from collectors, especially from superstars like Andre the Giant and Hulk Hogan.

The combination of athletic prowess, strength, theatrics and showmanship that create the world of professional wrestling has given rise to a host of collectible opportunities through the years. While professional wrestling has existed for decades, its skyrocketing popularity can clearly be traced back to the 1980s with the emergence of such legendary talents as Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant and Randy “Macho Man” Savage.

Since that time, major circuits like the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and, to a lesser extent, IMPACT Wrestling (TNA) have become part of a global phenomenon with tens of millions of fans.

As a result of the sport’s popularity and longevity, fans and collectors have a wealth of collectible options that transcend mere merchandise and event souvenirs.

As is the case with other sports and entertainment collectibles, autographs are at the forefront of items most coveted by fans and collectors of the professional-wrestling genre. Both WWE and TNA have become marketing powerhouse machines when it comes to driving ticket sales for live and pay-per-view events, as well as licensed merchandise.

Believe it or not, trading cards even older than this 1954 Parkhurst card are available for collectors of pro-wrestling memorabilia.

Key to this success is the strategy to make their talent rosters extremely accessible to the public. This has provided fans the opportunity to connect with their heroes on a regular and routine basis. Meet-and-greets, organized signing events, viewing parties and other talent appearances have contributed to a healthy marketplace for wrestling autographs.

Popular items to have signed are official event programs, photographs and promotional posters. The supply of wrestling autographs is plentiful, allowing easy entry into the collectible category for those with even modest means.

Autographs are always a good bet, and both major wrestling federations make sure stars are available at events for signings.

Wrestling companies have their own company-specific halls of fame. The sport also has the unique aspect of having male and female talent on its rosters. These attributes combine to form a wide array of options for autograph collectors.

Vintage-era autographs are particularly collectible, as are those of deceased wrestlers. Unfortunately for many of the sport’s participants, the lifestyle takes a heavy mental and physical toll, often resulting in a life expectancy much shorter than the average person. As a result, much beloved figures who pass away early while still in demand create an atmosphere where an already-volatile market might explode at such announcements.

Like many items originally manufactured and marketed as toys in other sports, wrestling figures have also become quite collectible over the years. Well-established companies like Jakks Pacific and Mattel have been producing such figures for decades.

While it often takes the passage of time for newer figures to appreciate in terms of collectible value, vintage figures from the rise of the sport’s heyday have become quite valuable in recent years.

Spoken of in hushed tones of reverence, the black-card, white T-shirt Hulk Hogan figure is one of the rarest and most-sought collectibles.

In the 1980s, toy and video-game company LJN produced figures for the World Wrestling Federation, the precursor to today’s WWE. The first series was released in 1984, and the line continued until 1989. While loose figures do have some value, it’s miniscule compared to samples that are still new-in-box or mint-on-card.

The LJN figures of those early years were typically played with and are often found with significant paint chipping. The brand’s popularity has grown to such an extent that restoration services specific to LJN figures have popped up recently.

A recent episode of the popular Travel Channel show “Toy Hunter” featured the pursuit, purchase and eventual resale of one of the wrestling’s rarest and most valuable pieces.

In 1989, LJN sold the distribution rights of the line to Canadian firm Grand Toys. The 1989 figures were only available through mail order, and LJN changed the card-stock backing in the packaging from a bright blue to black.

In addition to the newest figures, Grand Toys rereleased some of figures from prior series. One such figure was a variation of a previously released Hulk Hogan figure. The black-card version featured Hogan in a white T-shirt, whereas the original showcased him in a red shirt.

Unlike many sports, pro wrestling crosses genders when it comes to its stars. This 2012 Topps Heritage autograph card for WWE’s Natalya is a great example.

The host of the show, Jordan Hembrough, paid $700 for the figure and resold it for $1,000.

In terms of newer wrestling figures, variants, production runs and limited distribution are all tactics and practices that manufacturers use to add collectability to modern toy lines. Often times, figures are produced in advance of one of the sport’s signature pay-per-view events. Made in a smaller quantity and distributed regionally, these figures can often command hundreds of dollars.

As might be expected, trading cards have also been an integral collectible component of professional wrestling for years. While Hulk Hogan’s “rookie” card isn’t going to bring the kind of dollars that Mickey Mantle’s would, they are still collectible, as are the cards of other WWE superstars.

Currently, the Topps Company holds the license to produce trading cards for the WWE, while Tristar is the exclusive provider of cards for TNA. Unfortunately, most of the first-year cards produced of the sport’s early stars fell victim to overproduction.

Yes, even pro-wrestling trading cards are graded and slabbed. This Hulk Hogan “rookie” card won’t sell like Mickey Mantle’s, but it’s valuable.

However, much like other trading cards, collectors submit cards for grading to third-party services. High-grade copies of these over-produced first-year cards still sell for a premium.

Wrestling cards have evolved in recent years at the same rate as other sports and entertainment trading cards. Today’s products include cards with wrestler autographs and even swatches of material from ring-worn attire. Trading-card companies have even been known to cut-up the actual ring mat from high-profile pay-per-view events and embed sections in trading cards.

Collectors love this degree of connection to their favorite wrestlers, and these types of cards can often sell for a surprising amount of money.

Other collectible items from the world of professional wrestling include vintage magazines, ring-worn attire and even pay-per-view DVDs and videos, particularly if they are signed by key participants. There is no limit to what collectors will choose to focus on and the world of professional wrestling is no exception.

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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