2017 Highlighted by Record Prices for Sports Collectibles

Michael Jordan’s game worn and dual signed Converse shoes from the 1984 Olympics’ gold-medal-winning-game against Spain closed at $190,373, shattering the previous record for game-worn shoes.

Mint condition Mickey Mantle rookie cards, Jackie Robinson memorabilia, rare autographs, high-grade vintage card sets; you name it and it probably sold for a record price this year. As the aging wealthy look to secure their assets in tangible goods, the sports collectibles hobby was the beneficiary. As a result, the hobby experienced the economic manifestation of the old-adage, “a rising tide lifts all boats.” Not only did individual items within their respective category achieve near or record setting prices but several individual auction houses reached records for sales, bids and unique bidders. Among the companies that reached new heights in 2017 were several industry leaders including: Heritage, Goldin, Mile High and Leland’s, just to name a few.

Game-Worn/Used Sports Memorabilia

Shoes, bats and jerseys were among the athlete worn or used items that set records this year.

Michael Jordan’s game worn and dual signed Converse shoes from the 1984 Olympics’ gold-medal-winning-game against Spain closed at $190,373 to shatter the previous auction record of $104,765 for game-worn shoes during SCP Auctions’ 2017 Spring Premier auction.

A 1966-1967 Lew Alcindor (pre-Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) UCLA jersey sold for an industry record of $104,281, surpassing the previous mark paid for a game-worn basketball jersey of $95,600.

M.J. wasn’t the only one to break a hardcourt related auction record. A 1966-1967 Lew Alcindor (pre-Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) UCLA jersey sold for an industry record of $104,281, surpassing the previous mark paid for a game-worn basketball jersey of $95,600. That also belonged to Alcindor for his 1969 Milwaukee Bucks rookie jersey.

While not overall records for professional model game-used bats, the highest amounts ever paid for game lumber from legendary Hall of Famers, Ted Williams and Jimmie Foxx did break individual player records. At Heritage’s famed Platinum Night event, the most money ever paid for a bat from the Splendid Splinter, Ted Williams, sold for $180,000.

Goldin Auctions featured a 1928 Jimmy Foxx, game-used, Hillerich & Bradsby bat graded in a GU10. This incredible piece of baseball history was used by Foxx at the very beginning of his Hall of Fame career and sold for $108,000 – a record for any public Foxx bat sale.

Jackie Robinson’s only known surviving 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers rookie jersey drew a winning bid of $2.05 million.

The world record for a post-war, game-worn jersey was one of several that fell at Heritage Auctions this year. Jackie Robinson’s only known surviving 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers rookie jersey drew a winning bid of $2.05 million. In addition to breaking the post-war record, it was the only non-Ruth jersey in history to break the $2M mark.

Contracts, Awards, Rings, Press Pins

Like we said at the beginning of this article, if you can name it, it probably broke or nearly broke an auction record this year.

Babe Ruth far out-distanced any competition for realized prices in player contracts or championship rings. Leland’s record-setting sales year, was achieved in large part due to the sale of two super-rare Ruth items; the 1919 contract of Ruth’s sale from the Boston Red Sox to the New York Yankees which sold for $2,303,320 and Babe Ruth’s 1927 World Series ring which realized a final price of $2,093,927. Josh Evans, Lelands.com founder and chairman was quoted at the time, saying, “These record-breaking prices show once again that Babe Ruth dominates the baseball auction world the same way he did the game.”

Babe Ruth’s 1927 World Series ring realized a final price of $2,093,927.

The 1886 St. Louis Browns World Championship Award presented to pitcher Dave Foutz set the record for 19th century awards with a winning bid of $132,000. The same Heritage event also saw a record setting price for a highly collectible and coveted World Series press pin. The very first baseball teams to issue press pins in a World Series were the Philadelphia Athletics in 1911. It is one of only four known to exist and is in the best condition compared to any of the other examples. These factors contributed to its record-setting price of $108,000.

Cardboard Treasures

There was no shortage of record-setting prices paid for high-grade and rare vintage baseball cards in 2017.

Mickey Mantle claimed the top two spots in trading cards this year. Heritage’s Platinum Night event saw a realized price of $660,000 for a PSA 8 NM-MT copy of Mantle’s 1952 Topps card. Four years ago, Memory Lane generated mainstream headlines with the sale of a PSA 9 MT, Mickey Mantle 1951 Bowman rookie card. The price set a then record value for the card at $220,150. Earlier this year, Memory Lane once again hosted the sale of the card. It blew away the previous high, selling for $588,000.

Babe Ruth’s 1916 M101-5 Blank Back (Sporting News) rookie card, graded a PSA NM 7 sold for $552,000 to lead Heritage’s Sports Collectibles Auction back in May.

Not to be outdone, Babe Ruth continued to prove he was the king on and off the field as his 1916 M101-5 Blank Back (Sporting News) rookie card, graded a PSA NM 7 sold for $552,000 to lead Heritage’s Sports Collectibles Auction back in May.

In addition, it wasn’t just Jackie Robinson’s rookie jersey that broke records. A SGC 96 Mint condition example of his 1949 Bowman card sold for an amazing price of $109,781. The sale, through Memory Lane, easily obliterated the previous public auction record of $13,145 for the grade which had been realized in 2014.

One of only three 1915 Cracker Jack Ty Cobb #30 cards graded in a PSA Mint 9, known to exist, sold for an astounding $432,000. It overwhelmingly surpassed its pre-auction estimate by more than $100,000 during Heritage’s Premium Sports Card Catalog Auction this past June.

An exceptionally high-grade 1933 DeLong baseball card complete set, was broken up for individual sale through a Mile High Card Company auction earlier this year. Several of the individual cards from the set received intense bidding resulting in all-time price records for several cards including: #7 Lou Gehrig NM/MT ($64,670), #6 Cochrane PSA 8 NM/MT ($13,721), #15 Stephenson PSA 8 NM/MT ($24,691) #19 Hafey PSA 8 NM/MT ($24,331) and #24 Goslin PSA 8 NM/MT ($14,932).

The only surviving box of 1948 Bowman baseball cards, known to exist, was part of an amazing, and well documented, discovery of unopened vintage material earlier this year. The box, missing just a few of the original packs, also sold through the Mile High Card Company for an astonishing $521,180. It is easily the most ever paid for a box, full or otherwise, of unopened sports cards.

What Does the Future Hold

In one significant sale through Steiner Sports, the jersey worn by American League Rookie of the Year, Aaron Judge, in his New York Yankees MLB debut, sold for $160,644.

In a testament to the previous mentioned notion that “a rising tide lifts all boats,” the impact of these monumental records trickled down to some more contemporary material as well. In one significant sale through Steiner Sports, the jersey worn by American League Rookie of the Year, Aaron Judge, in his New York Yankees MLB debut, sold for $160,644. It was the same jersey he was wearing when he smashed a home run in his first MLB at-bat on August 13, 2016. It is believed to be the most ever paid for a jersey of a currently playing player.

If there is a bubble waiting to burst in the sports collectibles market is anybody’s guess. However, industry insiders have been wondering that for a few years now. Despite these concerns, records continue to be set and rebroken and there appears to be no ceiling out of reach for rare, high grade, sports collectibles. Will the trend continue in 2018? 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. Currently the Senior Marketing Manager for Sports & Entertainment at the hobby distributor GTS Distribution, he 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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