The strength of the high-end baseball card and memorabilia market shocked collectors at Robert Edward’s record-setting May 2, 2009 auction. The most anticipated baseball card and memorabilia auction in the world always generates great excitement and strong prices. Collectors, dealers, and market watchers look to REA’s annual event as the key barometer of the health of the market and the most important auction event of the year. According to REA president Robert Lifson, “The market was extremely strong as always at REA.” That positive sentiment might be looked at by many as a great understatement. The numbers and the facts speak for themselves: No auction in history has ever generated the dollar volume of this auction for vintage baseball card sales. By virtually every measure, despite economic pressures of the larger economy, the historic spring REA auction was by far the most successful baseball card auction in the history of collecting. The total $10.1 million in sales for the auction set a new world record for a multi-owner all-consignment baseball card and memorabilia auction.
This total also represents a new world record for any multi-consignor auction in which the auction house, auction house executives, and employees are prohibited from bidding in the auction. In fact, the $10.1 million dollar auction total is also a new record dollar volume ever to be hammered down in a single day in the history of sports collecting, surpassing the previous record of $9.07 million set by REA in 2008. No other sports card or memorabilia auction in the history of the field has ever sold anywhere near this dollar volume in a single day. Even the number of catalogs shipped was a record!
The stunning across-the-board record final prices on all nineteenth and early twentieth century baseball cards and memorabilia totaled a staggering $10.1 million dollars across 1551 lots. The average lot sold for $6,545. The T206 Wagner (reserve $50,000) in the lowest possible grade (PSA 1) sold for $399,500, setting a world record for a Wagner (or any card ever) in this condition. This very card last sold at auction elsewhere for $78,000. This T206 Wagner is the very same card that was once owned by actor Charlie Sheen, who allowed the card to be displayed at the All Star Café in New York. In a plot worthy of a TV episode, in 1998 the card was stolen from its display case by workers at the All Star Café, and replaced with a copy! When the theft was discovered, the thieves were soon caught, and the Wagner card was recovered by the FBI. The T206 Wagner is extremely valuable in any condition. The previous world record price for a Wagner in this grade was also set by REA in 2008, when “The Beckett Wagner” sold for $317,250.
The T206 Doyle (reserve $25,000), one of the most important rarities of all vintage cards, cruised to a final record selling price of $329,000, shocking many collectors and surpassing by more than 500% the previous auction sale price of this legendary rarity. The last rare Doyle offered at auction sold for $64,099 in 2003. The T206 Plank in EX-MT condition (reserve $25,000) sold for $188,000, an astounding record price for this grade, and also more than five times the previous auction selling price elsewhere of this very card. The 1886-1890 Old Judge Tobacco Card Collection of 592 cards realized an incredible $211,500, shocking nineteenth-century collectors who expected these to sell at a far more modest level. The 1915 Cracker Jack Poster, which appeared on the REA catalog’s cover, sold for $152,750, setting a record not just for all baseball card-related advertising posters from any era, but also for any 20th Century American product advertising poster of any kind.
Additional extraordinary highlights and six-figure items: A complete set of 1909-1911 T206 White Border tobacco cards, all PSA-graded and averaging between Excellent and Ex-Mt condition (reserve $50,000), sold for $176,250. A complete set of 1952 Topps (reserve $50,000), also all PSA-graded, sold for $105,750. The collection of nine 1953-54 Briggs Meats two-card panels (reserve $5,000), which were issued with hot dogs and saved for decades by an old time Baltimore-area collector, was extremely hotly contested. “There was a lot of debate and even second-guessing of the auction house about whether this group should have been broken up or offered intact as a collection,” according to REA officials. “This was such a special group, we just couldn’t break them up. We thought that advanced collectors would appreciate them more if they were kept intact as a collection. We’ll never see another group like this. They had to stay together.” Advanced collectors agreed. The best group of this important rare regional issue to ever be offered at auction exceeded even the wildest estimates of market watchers, selling for an extraordinary $82,225.
The T206 Plank match to the famous Gretzky-McNall Wagner (reserve $10,000) was a favorite auction lot of many sophisticated collectors. It is one of only a few Planks with a Piedmont back and the only example surviving in a proof-like state. To many, the existence of this card had long been just a rumor. It’s unveiling in this auction was a landmark event to many T206 and hobby scholars. This card was one of the great prizes in The Charlie Conlon Collection, where it quietly resided for the past twenty years. It sold for $111,625.
“We have no control over exactly what comes to the marketplace for auction. Important collections and items usually come to auction due to unique life-changing circumstances,” notes REA president Robert Lifson. “Collectors pass away, people retire, they buy houses, children go to college, sometimes medical bills or even divorce are responsible. All things we have no control over. So we judge ourselves by the things that are in our control, just trying to do a great job in every way possible, from the moment we get an item in to the moment when the consignor is paid. That’s our goal. That’s what we do. Whatever the size of the auction, we know that if we do a great job, everything else will take care of itself. We can’t count on having ten million dollar auctions every year, because the material we sell is rare and special and we have no ability to come up with special material just because we’re having an auction, but for this auction, everything really fell into place. We really had the material this year.” Prices at REA are traditionally always very strong, but there was concern that the larger forces of the economy would impact prices, especially for big-ticket items. “The financial crisis may have actually brought a few things to the marketplace that might have otherwise not been sold at this time. The surprising thing was that everyone was expecting the market to be softer, especially since prices have been lower elsewhere, but the exact opposite happened. Collectors really do come out of the woodwork for our auctions. The results speak for themselves.”
The collection of legendary hobby icon Charlie Conlon all alone realized over $2 Million. The twenty-six original wax cases of 1975 Topps “Minis” from the Conlon estate generated a tremendous amount of excitement among collectors, and great speculation regarding exactly how well so many cases would be received offered all at once. Conlon was famous for cornering the market on unopened 1975 Topps “Mini” cases when they were first issued. “These cards were regionally issued in Michigan, right in Charlie’s neighborhood,” according to REA officials. “When Charlie realized that these cards were not available everywhere, and the fact that he could buy them locally represented a special opportunity, he went around buying all he could find. In time, they began to increase in value. He had been slowly selling them off for the past thirty years. These twenty-six cases were the last he had. They cost Charlie less than $1,000 in 1975. No one knew what would happen with such a large offering of cases. That’s a huge supply. Nothing like this has ever happed before, but the interest was incredible.” Competition was fierce. The twenty-six cases were offered in eight lots and sold for a total of $307,000.
An extraordinary find of unopened 1930s boxes and packs was only half-jokingly promoted by REA as “The Most Incredible Unopened Find in the History of the Universe!” These boxes and packs were saved by a candy and gum distributor as ordering samples, and had remained untouched and perfectly preserved on their product sample shelves for the past 70+ years, until just recently discovered. The family consigning this exciting find hoped that the total sales for the collection would approach $100,000. “Several days before the auction close, this figure had been reached, and they called REA to say they were already thrilled with the results, and that if the bidding went any higher, that would be great, but their expectations had already been exceeded,” REA president Robert Lifson fondly recalls. When the dust settled on the final night of the auction, the total sales for the collection more than tripled to $336,343. “This was a once-in-a-lifetime offering. Collectors wanted to take something home from this find,” adds Lifson. “When something is really special, that’s when only an auction can do justice to material, both for buyers and sellers. This was that type of a collection.”
The auction results at REA are widely recognized as providing the most important and respected snapshot of the vintage baseball card and memorabilia marketplace of the entire year. “We work really hard to make everything perfect and the real collectors and most serious buyers really appreciate what we do. The disclosure policies of the REA auction process, our focus on there being no conflicts of interest, the unparalleled confidence that bidders have in REA, all of these factors naturally contribute to strong results and the market’s confidence in these results,” explains Lifson. “The fact that that REA bidders don’t have to worry about shill bidding, and so many other common fraudulent industry practices, and the fact that we are activists against the fraud, crime, and corruption that plague the field, these are all elements that promote bidder confidence. We try to protect our bidders. Our customers never have to worry about the auction house or its employees bidding against them. And our prices are real. That may sound like an unnecessary statement, but in this field it isn’t. When we say that a Josh Gibson signed postcard sold for a world-record $81,200, or report any other incredible price, or bid level for bidders to contemplate topping during the auction, the results and bid levels are real, and bidders know this. It makes a big difference. The most serious bidders can and do bid at REA with the ultimate confidence in the integrity of the auction process. It shows in the prices.”
The 1914 Baltimore News Babe Ruth rookie card, one of card collecting’s most legendary rarities, sold for $150,800 in poor condition, exactly matching the world record auction price for this iconic card in this condition previously set by REA. The R306 Butter Cream Confectionary of Babe Ruth, another new discovery and only the third example of this extreme rarity known, realized $55,812. The 1915 Cracker Jack of Christy Mathewson, graded MINT 9 by PSA, sold for an exceptionally strong $41,125. Two 1933 Goudey #106 Lajoies were included in the sale, one graded Near Mint, the other VG-EX, selling for $35,250 and $23,500, respectively. The T206 Cobb with the rare Red Hindu advertising back proved once again that all significant rarities associated with the famous T206 White Border set are always of great interest to collectors, especially important back rarities. This was the first Ty Cobb with Red Hindu back example that REA has ever offered. The reserve was $5,000. It did not go unnoticed. The final selling price was $38,187.
More significant auction highlights include: 1952 Topps #311 Mickey Mantle, graded EX-MT+ by PSA, sold for $29,375; 1916 Sporting News card of Babe Ruth in Excellent condition, his first card as a Major Leaguer, sold for $41,125, a record price for this important card in this condition. When just four low-grade 1910-era tobacco cards were found in the attic of a non-collecting family, they were shocked to learn that the T206 Eddie Plank card was one of the great treasures of baseball card collecting. As they noted in their communications with REA, they felt like they hit the lottery with this lucky find, but the incredibly strong auction result made them feel “like they hit the lottery twice!” Though only graded in Poor condition by PSA, because the card had a great story and great eye-appeal, it sold for an extraordinary $38,187, by far a record price for this rare card in this grade. Joe Jackson’s rookie card, issued in 1909 by the American Caramel Company and another one of card collecting’s great classics, was offered in PSA 3.5 VG+ condition and sold for a very impressive $23,500.
A 1911 T205 Gold Border set (reserve $10,000; est. $20,000/$30,000) ranging in grade from Poor to Ex-Mt condition sold for $41,125; a 1912 T207 Brown Background Near-Complete Set (191 of 200 cards) also ranging from Poor to Ex-Mt condition (reserve $10,000; estimate $25,000) realized $44,062; a near set of 1909-1911 E90-1 American Caramel (114 of 120 cards, missing several rarities including Joe Jackson) carried a reserve of $10,000 and realized an extremely impressive $47,000. A small group of six 1910 E93 Standard Caramel cards was submitted for auction ungraded and was so strong in condition that REA decided to send them all to PSA for grading. The cards ranged in grade from Ex-Mt to Near Mint+, which is very strong for caramel cards, and this no doubt played a role in propelling this small collection to their incredible $26,375 final selling price. An uncut sheet of 1933 Goudey Gum Company cards (reserve $10,000) sold for $29,375. A complete set of all six 1911 M110 Sporting Life cabinet cards, offered individually, sold for a total of $58,162.
More modern rarities also brought shocking prices. The 1967 Topps Test Stand-Up Collection of 12 cards (reserve $2,500, estimate $5,000+) was the subject of an all out bidding war among advanced collectors, finally selling for an extraordinary $41,125. The 1968 Topps 3-D PSA-Graded complete set (reserve $5,000, estimate $10,000+) had a card-by-card total SMR value of exactly $16,075. The final selling price: an astounding $41,125.
Record prices were set on countless items, both in cards and memorabilia, and spanning all eras. The 1551 lots, offered on behalf of 208 different consignors, were won by an incredible 630 different bidders, illustrating the power of the marketing and auction process, and the breadth of bidder interest. Successful bidders included some of the nation’s most prestigious museums and corporate institutional collections, as well as representatives from numerous Major League teams. “We set record prices across the board” reports Lifson. “All areas of the auction received a tremendous response and very strong prices. Nineteenth-century baseball items were unbelievable, as always, as were all early baseball cards, advertising and display pieces, graded cards, Babe Ruth items, autographs, memorabilia, non-sport cards and artwork.”
Thousands of bidders from all over the world participated. Exactly 23,369 bids were placed and more than 99% of the lots sold. The average lot sold for a record $6,545, and on average realized more than double the high-end estimate. “Prices were significantly higher than most consignors expected” according to REA president Robert Lifson. “Part of this, of course, is due to having great material, but part of this is also because all of the most serious collectors in the world are comfortable bidding at Robert Edward Auctions. Our Honest-Auto Bid system allows bidders to place limit bids and know that they are the only ones in the world that know their limit. The fact that we are truly an all-consignment auction, maybe the only one in the field, and the fact that we don’t allow auction house executives, employees, or the auction house itself to bid, is also very confidence-inspiring to serious bidders. Compared to some companies, Robert Edward Auctions is a small firm. But that’s actually part of our strength. We pay attention to details. We do everything better. No matter what criteria you have, we believe that we do the best job in the world for buyers and consignors. Our philosophy has always been very simple: If we do a great job, great things will happen. We don’t take any shortcuts in processing collections. Bidders have confidence in our expertise and opinions. We don’t own the material so we naturally have more credibility than dealers or auction houses that are also dealers. Our commitment to research and authentication is universally recognized as unparalleled. Our expertise in general is highly valued by bidders in a way that is very rare for an auction house. There are many collectors that only bid with us. It’s not an accident. We go out of our way to do a better job. It shows in the prices realized.”
The 1932 R300 George C. Miller complete set of 32 cards, all graded by PSA, was another extraordinary auction highlight. In retrospect, this was one of the most exciting auction lots in the history of card collecting. The set carried a reserve of $10,000, and an estimate of $20,000/$30,000+. The total SMR guide value on the set was exactly $38,010. “We knew this was a special set. The George C. Miller set is one of the rarest of all 1930s card issues, and this was clearly one of the best sets in the world. Maybe the very best,” notes REA president Robert Lifson. “This was the kind of set that collectors literally throw the guide books out the window when assessing. With special cards like these, only an auction can really give insight into true market value.” But there’s more to the story of the sale of this set. “The way the REA auction is run and closes ensures that lots go for what they’re really worth, and sell to the person who is really willing to pay the most. That’s what all auctions are supposed to do, but the way some auctions close lots, they often don’t accomplish this. REA always does. This isn’t just market theory. Our results prove it. This can be seen time and time again in REA’s auctions. The R300 set is a prime example. A reasonable person would have thought that the bidding for this set was done at $85,000, which was the high bid at 7:13 AM on the morning of the day of the auction. No bids came in for more than twenty hours following this $85,000 bid, and that impressive level was more than double even the highest guide prices. But the unique REA auction process makes sure that the auction isn’t over until the high bidder on every lot is actually the bidder who is willing to pay the most for that lot, and that every bidder has the opportunity to move their money around from lots they have been out-bid on to other lots they might still have an interest in, without being shut out of the auction. This is great for bidders. This is great for consignors. The auction officially ended at exactly 3:47 AM the morning of May 3rd. In the nineteen minutes between 3:15 AM and 3:34 AM, just before the auction close, the R300 George C. Miller set was bid up from its already impressive hammer price of $85,000 to an even more incredible, simply unbelievable final selling price of $246,750. That’s a big difference. On top of that, in the remaining minutes of the auction that followed, the unsuccessful underbidder went on to move his funds to other lots that he would not have otherwise bid on, moving other expensive lots much higher. The winning George C. Miller set bidder was able to add this set as a key addition to perhaps the most important and advanced collection in private hands. The consignor of this lot naturally made out much better, and the consignors of other lots also benefit. No other auction process could have delivered this result. And these same auction dynamics occur repeatedly at REA with other lots, large and small.”
Additional Auction Highlights:
Nineteenth-century cards and memorabilia were extremely strong, setting record after record, as is always the case at REA. The newly-discovered 1888 Old Judge batting pose of Tyng (res. $1,000) sold for $19,975, by far a record price for a non-Hall of Famer and non-PCL Old Judge card. The 1869 Cincinnati Red Stockings Peck & Snyder advertising trade card (res. $10,000) sold for $47,000. The 1886 N167 Old Judge of Buck Ewing in Good condition (reserve $5,000) sold for $26,437. The 1894 N142 Duke Cabinets of Ed Delahanty and Wilbert Robinson, each graded Good by SGC (and each with a reserve of $2,000) sold for record prices of $15,275 and $11,750, respectivley. The N172 Old Judge Cigarettes card of Jim O’Rourke, a particularly outstanding example graded MINT 9 by PSA, sold for $11,625. The 1887 Kalamazoo Bats tobacco card of Gillespie (reserve $5,000) graded Ex + by SGC realized $19,975.
Complete sets were on fire: The 1956 Topps Complete PSA-Graded NM-MT 8 Set: #17 PSA Set Registry (reserve $10,00; estimate $25,000+) sold for $32,312; The 1957 Topps PSA-Graded Complete Set (407): #9 PSA Set Registry (reserve $15,000; estimate $40,000+) sold for $52,875; 1967 Topps PSA-Graded Complete Set: #8 PSA Set Registry (reserve $15,000; estimate $30,000+) sold for $41,125; the finest 1963 Topps set to ever come to auction was broken up smaller lots so that all the PSA 10s and low-population PSA 9s could be presented in the most ideal manner; the 1963 Topps set (#6 on the PSA Set Registry) realized an incredible total of $77,550. 1968 Topps Complete Set: #6 PSA Registry (reserve $10,000, estimate $20,000+) sold for $29,375. A 1952 Topps set (reserve $5,000; estimate $10,000/$20,000+), graded by PSA and varying in grade Vg to Nr/Mt, sold for an exceptionally strong $47,000.
Memorabilia was also extremely strong: Babe Ruth’s 1932 cap sold for $99,875; Tom Seaver’s 1967 Mets jersey sold for $47,000; Don Drysdale’s 1963 home jersey (reserve $5,000) was perhaps the most shocking of all, selling for an incredible $55,812. Wilcy Moore’s 1927 Yankees uniform sold for $44,062; The Val Picinich Collection, consigned directly by the Picinich family, was highlighted by a 1924 World Tour uniform (reserve $10,000) which sold for $35,250, and a 1921 Washington Senators uniform (reserve $2,000) which sold for $23,500; an extraordinary panoramic photograph of the American Negro Giants including the legendary Rube Foster was offered with a reserve of $5,000 and was hammered down for $22,325. Early World Series press pins, which have long been depressed in price, sold extremely strongly, including a record $8,225 for a 1919 Cincinnati Reds press pin. A 1919 World Series program at Chicago, for Game Three of the infamous “Black Sox” scandal, with a reserve of $2,000 sold for $23,525, another auction record. The 1922 World Series ring had never before sold for more than $15,000. According to REA’s Robert Lifson, “This is a ring that has always been undervalued in our eyes, because this was the first year of the World Series ring. It was nice to finally see the market give this item the respect we always thought it deserved.” The 1922 Giants World Series ring, presented to outfielder Ralph Shinners (reserve $2,500) sold for $58,750, by far setting a new auction record price for this important ring. A small but impressive collection of team-signed balls from the personal collection of a gentleman who was the bat boy for the Chicago Cubs from 1955 through 1958 was consigned to the auction directly by his daughter. The highlight of the collection was a remarkably high-grade 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers World Champions Team-Signed Ball (reserve $800, estimate $1,500/$2,500+). Collectors appreciated the condition, the authenticity (no “clubhouse” signatures), and the special provenance, which all combined to make this ball the single most popular item in the auction in terms of number of bids received, with 48 bids in total fielded by REA over the course of the auction in the battle for this prize. The ball sold for an extraordinary $32,312, setting an all-time auction record for any post-war team-signed ball.
Other sports and Non-Sports:
The auction also included an impressive selection of select items from other sports, Americana, nonsport cards, and original card artwork, all of which sold extremely strong, including: A 1945 Don Hutson Green Bay Packers Game-Used Home Jersey (reserve $10,000), a birthday gift directly from Hutson to legendary NBA trainer Joe Proski when he was a youngster, sold for an impressive $70,500, tying the auction record for a football jersey set by REA in 2008. The 1962-63 Kahns Weiner basketball set of 13 cards (reserve $1,000) sold for an extraordinary $11,162. An extremely rare 1999 Augusta National Golf Club jacket, one of only a few “Masters Jacket” examples ever permitted to leave the grounds of the Augusta National Golf Club and be offered for sale without a legal or title issue, sold for $11,162. The 1933 R136 National Chicle “Sky Birds” Original Wax Box with 92 Unopened Packs (reserve $5,000), an unprecedented offering and one of the many highlights of the 1930s unopened find, sold for $47,000. The extremely strong PSA-graded 1959 Three Stooges set (reserve $2,000; estimate $4,000/$8,000+), with a total SMR value of $11,440, sold for $29,375. The original artwork to card #1 in the 1963 Topps Mars Attacks set (reserve $15,000) sold for an astounding $82,250, setting a record not just for any Mars Attacks original artwork ever sold (the previous record of $38,187 having been set at REA in 2004), but also setting a record for any nonsport gum card artwork ever sold at auction anywhere from any era.
Many other auction records were shattered for pre-1948 baseball cards, nineteenth-century baseball cards and memorabilia, non-sport cards, and Americana. Further information and complete auction results are available online at www.RobertEdwardAuctions.com
Copies of the 672-page full-color premium catalog are also still available free. Go to www.RobertEdwardAuctions.com, click “Free Catalog,” and fill in name and address. Robert Edward Auctions is currently assembling its next sale. For further information contact: Robert Edward Auctions, PO Box 7256, Watchung, NJ or call (908)-226-9900.
Robert Edward Auctions, LLC is a one of the world’s leading specialty auction houses, devoted exclusively to the sale of rare baseball cards, memorabilia, and Americana.