Of the nearly 2,800 lots sold during Heritage’s three-day Spring Sports Catalog Auction, which ended early Sunday morning, one ring ruled them all: Boston Red Sox immortal Ted Williams’ Baseball Hall of Fame induction ring gifted to the great upon his entry into Cooperstown on July 25, 1966. The Balfour-made ring still in its original presentation box realized $444,000, more than four times what it brought in 2012 during an auction of Williams’ memorabilia held at Fenway Park.
That ring was among the 20 offerings in the $17,930,942 auction to top the $100,000 mark, thanks to the more than 3,500 bidders worldwide who helped set numerous auction records during the May 11-13, 2023 event.
It was joined by myriad iconic and coveted cards, among them an SGC Near Mint+ 7.5 example of Mickey Mantle’s sought-after 1952 Topps debut that sold for $384,000, a record for the grade. Speaking of: A 1916 M101-5 (Blank Back) Babe Ruth rookie card also set a new record for its grade when an example graded SGC Fair 1.5 realized $276,000.
A rare 1910 D322 Tip-Top Bread Honus Wagner, graded SGC 40 VG 3, shattered its pre-auction estimate to realize $156,000. And a wax box of 1962 Topps Baseball (First Series) cards with 24 unopened packs made its auction debut to realize an unprecedented $288,000, nearly three times its pre-auction estimate.
Williams’ ring wasn’t the sole piece of memorabilia to make headlines during the three-day event: A pair of size-15 Nike Air Zoom Generations worn by LeBron James during his second game in the National Basketball Association realized $222,000. That tops the previous record for a pair of King James’ game-worn sneakers set in 2021 when a pair of his high school game-worn sneakers – a gift from Kobe Bryant – sold for $156,000 at Heritage.
Photo-matching reveals James laced up these new record-setters on Oct. 30, 2003, when the 19-year-old Cleveland Cavalier dropped 21 points against the Phoenix Suns, beginning his two-decade-long march toward the NBA’s all-time career points record once held by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. As the catalog noted of these Nikes, “This is unquestionably one of the most important artifacts of 21st-century sports ever to be placed upon the hobby’s auction block,” and Heritage’s client-collectors responded accordingly.
“The depth and breadth of this auction, combined with the staggering results, provide a clear indicator that the sports collectibles market for quality memorabilia and vintage sports cards remains healthy, vibrant and strong,” says Chris Ivy, Heritage’s Director of Sports Auctions. “It was a thrill to watch as collectors from around the globe competed to find new homes for these incomparable treasures.”
During the three-day event, numerous items toppled expectations, among them cards featuring – and signed by – Jackie Robinson: A PSA-authenticated 1952 Topps Robinson bearing the blue-ballpoint inscription “Best wishes, Jackie Robinson,” which was graded Auto 7 by DNA, sold for $168,000. And a 1954 Topps Robinson graded PSA Mint 9 – the best-known example – realized $87,000.
The only known 1952 Topps Don Johnson rookie card graded PSA Gem Mint 10 broke its pre-auction estimate when it sold for $117,000. It was but one of 73 high-grade 1952 Topps baseball cards in the Spring Sports Catalog Auction pedigreed from The Lionel Carter Collection, so named for the man who famously accumulated only the very best of the very best.
A single unopened pack of 1952 Topps cards, graded GAI Excellent-Mint+ 6.5, doubled its pre-auction estimate to realize $84,000. It once cost but a single nickel.
Stan Musial continued to hit home runs over the weekend when his 1957 game-worn and signed St. Louis Cardinals jersey bested its pre-sale estimate to realize $93,000. The Man wore this road-gray flannel during his final batting championship season – and was ultimately photo-matched to use on June 12, 1957, when Musial took sole ownership of the National League consecutive-games streak at 823, a perfect attendance record dating to Opening Day of the 1952 season.
There were a few basketball slam dunks, too, including a 1969 Topps Basketball High Grade Complete Set of 99 cards, nearly doubling its pre-auction estimate when it realized $174,000. That should come as no surprise: This assortment of immortals – including Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson and a rookie named Lew Alcindor – currently sits at No. 6 on PSA’s list of ranked sets.
A new Michael Jordan card entered the pantheon of most-coveteds during this auction, too, when the lone 1998 Upper Deck Choice Michael Jordan (StarQuest-Gold) graded PSA Gem Mint 10 sold for $93,000. That was more than 11 times its pre-auction estimate. A card worth its weight in gold (foil).
Soccer had a few good kicks, too, thanks to the debut of The Pelé Collection, a centerpiece offering that debuted during the Spring Sports Catalog Auction. The collection features some of his rarest soccer trading cards and memorabilia from Pelé’s collection, all of which he signed just weeks before his death in December. Additional highlights from The Pelé Collection will be featured in upcoming auctions.
The undisputed stand-out from The Pelé Collection was the rare 1958-59 Tupinamba Ltda Quigol product, graded PSA Very Good-Excellent 4 Auto 9, featuring the young King’s million-dollar smile. It realized $34,800, befitting its scarcity and provenance.
Click here for complete results from Heritage’s May 11-13 Spring Sports Catalog Auction.