Chronology : 1850-1859 1909 1920 1929 1998
Link to PSA baseball cards database.
1857 The Laws of the Knickerbockers
2016 SOLD for $ 3.26M including premium
The spirit of competition requires fixed rules that will identify champions who will defend their title in the following season. In England, football has a similar story at the same period.
The activist of the standardization of base ball, which will later become the baseball, is the New York Knickerbockers Base Ball Club established in 1845 and named after the uniforms of the firefighters who lent to them their playing field.
The Knickerbockers were not the best in sport but they had the merit of endeavoring to impose their rules. They were also one of the two teams that played the first official match in 1846 and the first base ball club to use a distinctive uniform in 1849.
In 1857 in New York, the first congress of the National Association of Base Ball Players establishes the first regulatory body and freezes the rules that will remain virtually unchanged for ever, ending the initiatives of the Knickerbockers.
A set of three manuscripts that were almost unnoticed in an auction in 1999 gives a new vision on the fundamental and even unique role of the Knickerbockers in defining the final baseball laws.
In 1857 the President of the Knickerbockers is Doc Adams who had been a player in the 1846 pioneering game. The three documents are the first autograph draft written by Adams in 1856 (the last page is missing), an iteration annotated by him before the congress and the final laws submitted to Congress and approved.
These documents are grouped as the lot 1 in the online auction organized by SCP Auctions with bidding close out on April 23. I invite you to watch the video shared by the auction house.
We are record setters here at SCP #Auctions. Remember when we sold The Laws of Baseball for over $3,000,000? We’d love to help you with your #sports #memorabilia in our Summer Premier Auction. Send in your #consignments before it’s too late. pic.twitter.com/jVT7YCG3vh— SCP Auctions (@SCPAuctions) July 7, 2019
1909 Jumbo Wagner
2016 SOLD for $ 3.2M including premium
Jumbo is a wording introduced around 1970 to designate stamps with larger margins than average while maintaining an excellent centering. Its unwanted origin is due to the uncertainty in positioning the perforating wheels. Philatelists love these pieces where the margins provided an additional protection of the image against accident and contamination while also increasing the visual appeal by a nicer framing.
Probably we will never know why a T206 Wagner got a Jumbo feature. The original printed sheet included adjacent images of other players. The perfectly parallel and sharp edges make implausible the hypothesis of a cutting hazard. I guess that a fan of Honus Wagner cut it with the focus to get a better framed image of his champion at the expense of the rest of the sheet. Wagner, unquestionably one of the greatest baseball players of the early twentieth century, will later be one of the first five elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
This card has surfaced in the early 1970s in a collection where it was kept with other T206s by its first owner, reinforcing the hypothesis that its Jumbo cut was contemporary to its printing.
The one and unique Jumbo Wagner is graded EX5 (MC) by PSA. The general condition is excellent (EX) despite some rounding in the corners and a very slight oozing from the image below it at its bottom edge. The image of Honus Wagner remains in mint condition with perfect color (MC).
Prices are now significantly rising for the best American sports cards. The Jumbo Wagner was sold for $ 1.68M including premium by Mastro Auctions on August 1, 2008 and for $ 2.1M including premium by Goldin on 29 March 2013. It is now estimated $ 5M by Goldin in an online sale ending on October 1, lot 1.
In my discussion introducing the Jumbo Wagner in this column before its 2013 sale, I reported that the highest price recorded on a Wagner T206 in a private sale, $ 2.8 million, had been paid in 2007 on a card graded PSA 8 that was later believed to have been rebuilt.
1919 George H Ruth available for Sale
2017 SOLD for $ 2.3M including premium
Until 1918 the Boston Red Sox team dominated the prestigious World Series of Major League Baseball. The 1919 season is bad for the Red Sox and the club owner Harry Frazee decides to change his strategy, preferring to build a consistent team rather than relying on a star player. The larger than life behavior of Babe Ruth and his growing demands of salary do not please Frazee : the player George H. Ruth is now available for sale !
Frazee who is also a theater director is in a urgent need of money. He accepts the proposal of the New York Yankees of a $ 300K mortgage loan hiring his Boston ballpark and sells Ruth to the Yankees for $ 100K.
The contract selling the player is signed with a notary in New York City on December 26, 1919. Cautiously some clauses are added on how both parties shall handle a probable new demand of salary increase by Ruth or a possible deficiency of the player to work for the Yankees.
Three copies of this contract have been established. Frazee's document was sold for $ 1M including premium by Sotheby's on June 10, 2005. The document attributed to Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert is offered as lot 2 in the online sale opened by Lelandswith a closing date on June 30. Here is the link to Lelands.com. The third copy did not resurface.
Babe Ruth signed with the New York Yankees in the following month. The most brilliant part of his exceptional sporting career was beginning.
From a sporting point of view, Frazee's decision is a disaster for the Boston club which disappears until 2004 from the list of the World Series winners. This long period is assimilated with a curse in the legend of baseball under the name of Curse of the Bambino.
1920 The Jersey of the Babe
2012 SOLD 4.4 M$ including premium
The sale by SCP Auctions on May 19, online from California, of a wool jersey of the Babe is indeed a considerable event. Two weeks before the auction ends, this lot has already surpassed Lou Gehrig's jersey sold for $ 717K including premium by Heritage on November 5, 2010.
Moreover this jersey dates from an exceptional period in Ruth's career and is in very good condition. It is marked NEW YORK, which makes sense for this sportsman. However, Ruth had made the success of the Boston Red Sox before being transferred in 1920 to the New York Yankees.
The jersey has retained its original identification with the name of Ruth. A photo of the champion made in March 1920 shows him with a jersey identical as the example to be sold, confirming, if not the year, at least the period when the garment was made by Spalding and worn by Ruth.
Here is the link to the press release shared by AuctionReport.
POST SALE COMMENT
The prices of the rarest pieces have no predictable limit. Babe Ruth's jersey was sold $ 3.7 million before fees, 4.4 million including premium.
The memorabilia from Babe Ruth provided two other notable results: $ 590K including premium for a bat and $ 540K including premium for a cap.
This sale was also very successful for baseball cards from the 1950s in mint condition (PSA10): $ 430K including premium for Roberto Clemente, and $ 360K including premium for Hank Aaron.
For post WWII baseball, let us also mention a jersey worn by Mickey Mantle in 1968, sold $ 370K including premium.
BABE RUTH BIRTHDAY: Today on January 6 1895 the greatest player to play the game of Baseball was born. Here is the best piece of Ruthian memorabilia sold by @SCPAuctions for $4,415,658 World record for a piece of sports memorabilia #Baberuth @baseballhall @Yankees @MLB #MLB pic.twitter.com/Z5BL5bA2DF— SCP Auctions (@SCPAuctions) February 6, 2018
1927 The Ring of the Champion
2017 SOLD for $ 2.1M including premium
This tradition gradually took hold in the 1920s in Major League Baseball for the benefit of the winning team of the World Series. The first rings linked to the MLB were awarded in 1922 to the New York Giants.
In 1923 when the New York Yankees won the World Series the memory offered to them was not a ring but a pocket watch. The watch of Babe Ruth was sold for $ 720K including premium by Heritage on February 22, 2014.
The next victory of the Yankees in the World Series was in 1927. It was also a sporting feat : they had won all four games against the Pittsburgh Pirates. That year as a whole was exceptional for Babe Ruth who scored 60 home runs in this single season, a record in the MLB competitions.
The Yankees have now joined the new tradition. The World Series ring in 14K yellow gold presented to Babe Ruth in 1927 is listed as lot 1 in the online sale organized by Lelands closing on June 30. A slight chip to the diamond is announced. Here is the link to Lelands.com.
The price of a ring at auction depends on the prestige of the sporting achievement that has been rewarded. When the basketball player 'Dr J' Erving sold his collection in November 2011 by SCP Auctions, his 1974 ABA championship ring was sold for $ 460K while the best of his other rings did not reach $ 250K.
1928-1929 A Road Jersey of Babe Ruth
2019 SOLD for $ 5.6M including premium
The players used two jerseys, a home jersey for the games on their field and a road jersey for trips. A jersey could be used throughout one season or more, which further increases their rarity.
Compared to the next period, documents allowing photo-matching are rarer. The experts thus pay the greatest attention to the details of making which allow an identification of the year or a range of years, rather than on the shears in the textile or on misalignments in the inscriptions.
A jersey marked 'New York' used by Babe Ruth was sold for $ 4.4M including premium by SCP on May 19, 2012 after being exhibited for many years at the Babe Ruth Birthplace Museum in Baltimore. This New York Yankees road jersey was dated circa 1920.
A Spalding road jersey of size 46 attributed to Babe Ruth has just surfaced. It will be sold by Hunt Auctions on June 15 at the Yankee Stadium, lot 47. The sale is essentially devoted to a personal collection of Babe Ruth, perhaps to be correlated with the very recent death of his second daughter. Here is the link to this auction.
The 'Yankees' mark on the front side enables to date the garment between 1927 and 1930. A label inside the collar is marked 'Ruth'. A number 3 has been erased at some point while leaving some traces.
The photos of Babe Ruth in 1927 show another placement of the buttons. The photo-matching orients rather towards 1928 or 1929. It is in 1929 that the Yankees began to sew a number on the jerseys to facilitate the identification of the players by the public. Ruth had received the number 3.
UPDATE: Babe Ruth NY Yankees Jersey added to Ruth Collection Live Auction at @yankeestadium. Professional model Yankees Road Jersey Worn by the #Bambino dates to the 1928-30 era with Potential to Set World Record Pricing in Excess of $4,000,000! @NewYorkYankees #SultanofSwat @MLB pic.twitter.com/0dx9NChNR4— Hunt Auctions (@HuntAuctions) April 23, 2019
1937 The Y and the Seam
2019 SOLD for $ 2.6M including premium
The retirement of Babe Ruth in 1935 increases the attention of the supporters to Lou Gehrig. In 1936 Lou even participates in a casting to replace Johnny Weissmuller in the role of Tarzan the Ape Man. On the field, 1936 and 1937 are great years with two consecutive victories of the Yankees in the World Series.
Around that time, players usually wore two home jerseys and two road jerseys per year. After the season it was customary to give the uniforms to a training club for young players where it was modified as needed.
A jersey game used by Lou Gehrig in 1937 and afterwards modified in a farm club was sold for $ 870K including premium by Heritage on August 19, 2017. Its lower grade A6.5 by MEARS was outweighed by a historical appeal : it was matched with the photo used as a model for the Gehrig Monument at the Yankee Stadium Monument Park.
In June 2018 SCP reported that they had achieved the private sale of a road jersey of Lou Gehrig, photo-matched with two games from August 1937. Escaping the nursery clubs, it had been presented to a friend by George Weiss, general manager of the Yankees, and had been kept by the family. The 2018 price has not been disclosed.
The matching had been done by Resolution Photomatching, considering that the alignment to the seam and buttons of the stitched Y beginning the word YORK is different for each jersey.
The same jersey is estimated $ 2M for sale by Heritage in Dallas on August 17, lot 56059. A document demonstrating the photo-matching in the press release prepared in 2018 by Resolution Photomatching is included in the catalog of Heritage and the original provenance is also with George Weiss. It is graded A9 by MEARS and Excellent by SGC, meaning that the only changes from the Spalding model are consistent with the known habits of the player.
1952 Fame for Topps and Mantle
2018 SOLD for $ 2.9M including premium
The New York Yankees' great prospect, highlighted in early 1951 as Joe DiMaggio's designated successor, had finally made a dull season. After being downgraded to the Minor League, he returned to the Major League but suffered a severe injury to his right knee in an action with DiMaggio.
His father who was also his mentor dies on May 7, 1952 at the age of 40 of a blood disease. It was not known at the time that his illness was lead poisoning developed when mining. The young Mickey who is psychologically fragile believes in a hereditary curse. On July 8 Mickey is selected for the All-Star Game as an outfielder but left in reserve.
At the instigation of Sy Berger the bubble gum brand Topps makes a sensational entry into the edition of baseball cards. After a first trial in 1951, Topps launches in 1952 an extensive series with sharp pictures, pretty colors and a pleasantly didactic inscription on the back.
The printing of the 1952 series is made in several batches including the gradual selection of additional players. Mantle's omission in the first 310 players is probably due to his poor start of the season. When he becomes the first of the final 311-407, it is too late. The 1952 season is already well underway and Topps is slowing down the distribution to prepare for 1953 with suitably updated information.
An excellent participation at the beginning of October in the World Series launches the career of Mickey Mantle in a sustainable way. Although 1952 is not his rookie year, the rare Topps 1952-311 will become the most desirable of the modern baseball cards.
At the top of the scale PSA ranked three cards as Gem Mint 10 and six as Mint 9. None has been auctioned for more than a decade. One of the Mint 9 is estimated $ 3.5M by Heritage online from Dallas on April 19 plus extended bidding, lot 80477. With its bright colors and excellent centering this card excites the experts. The reason why it did not obtain the Gem Mint 10 grade is not revealed in the catalog.
Please watch the video shared by Heritage.
1998 Mark McGwire 70th home run ball
1999 SOLD for $ 3.05M including premium by Guernsey's
narrated in 2019 before the sale of a Barry Bonds Homer Ball by Goldin (see below)
The highest number of homers in a single season was 61 by Roger Maris in 1961. Mark McGwire broke this record at 70 homers in 1998 and Barry Bonds at 71 homers in 2001.
The largest number of homers scored in the major leagues during a career was 755 by Hank Aaron in 1976. Barry Bonds equaled and then exceeded this record in August 2007. On September 5, 2007, Bonds scores his 762nd and last major league homer. He is suspected of doping and cannot get a contract for the next year.
The 70th homer ball of 'Big Mac' was sold for $ 3.05M including premium by Guernsey's on January 12, 1999. It was reported post sale by CBS News.
Combined in one auction despite different provenances, the baseballs of Bonds' 755th and 756th homers were sold respectively for $ 187K and $ 750K including premium by SCP on September 15, 2007. The ball from Bonds' 762nd homer was auctioned by SCP on April 12, 2008, possibly unpaid, and sold by Goldin on May 11, 2019 for $ 283K including premium.
These two players were not elected at the Baseball Hall of Fame. In 2010 McGwire confirmed that he had used doping substances for most of his career. Bonds always denied a similar practice.
2009 The Lottery of Baseball
2020 SOLD for $ 3.94M including premium
The cards were randomly distributed by the publisher in the original packaging. Their discovery is a game akin to the lottery. In events announced in advance by specialist companies, a client opens an old box that is still sealed. When one of them gets his hands on a holy grail, the video of the event is a good marketing incentive for the operator.
The most popular cards are those of the rookies. The most promising have the whole range of variants, including the Red Refractor in five copies. At the top of this hierarchy is the 2009 Bowman Chrome Draft Prospect of Mike Trout, who will be the best baseball player of his generation.
On May 22, 2020, Goldin sold for $ 920K including premium the 2009 Red Refractor 5/5 of Mike Trout, graded Gem Mint 9.5 by BGS with an autograph signature graded 10 by Beckett.
Can do better !
The Red Refractor, despite its limited edition, is not the top of the range. Here is the Superfractor. The player's photo is layered with a reflective pattern that provides a glitter. Several Superfractor variants of the same card can coexist but each piece is unique in its variant, and serialized 1/1.
In an online sale closing on August 22, Goldin sells as lot 1 a Superfractor 1/1 of the rookie card of Mike Trout. It is graded Mint 9 by BGS with an autograph signature graded 10 by Beckett. The starting bid was $ 1M.