NEW YORK (AP) — A mint condition Mickey Mantle baseball card sold for $12.6 million Sunday, entering the record books as the highest ever paid for sports memorabilia in a market that has become exponentially more profitable in recent years.
The rare Mantle card eclipsed the record set a few months earlier – $9.3 million for the shirt worn by Diego Maradona when he scored the controversial “Hand of God” goal in the 1986 soccer World Cup.
It easily topped $7.25 million for a century-old Honus Wagner baseball card recently sold at a private sale.
And just last month, the heavyweight boxing belt won by Muhammad Ali during the 1974 Rumble in the Jungle sold for nearly $6.2 million.
All are part of a booming market for sports collectibles.
Prices have risen not only for rarer items, but also for pieces that may have been gathering dust in garages and attics. Many of these items go on consumer auction sites like eBay, while others are put up for bid by auction houses.
Because of its near-perfect condition and its legendary subject, the Mantle card was destined to be a top seller, said Chris Ivy, director of sports auctions at Heritage Auctions, which led the bidding.
Some saw the collections as a hedge against inflation over the past two years, he said, while others revived childhood passions.
Ivy said savvy investors saw inflation coming down — as it has. As a result, sports memorabilia became an alternative to traditional Wall Street or real estate investments — especially among members of Generation X and older millennials.
“There’s only so much Netflix and ‘Tiger King’ people can watch (during the pandemic). So, you know, they were turning to hobbies, and obviously sports picking was a part of that,” Ivy said. who noted an increase in calls among potential sellers.
Add to that interest from wealthy collectors overseas, and you have a confluence of factors that have made sports collectibles particularly attractive, Ivy said.
“We’re starting to see some growth and an increase in prices that led to some media coverage. And I think that’s all built on itself,” he said. “I would say the onset of the pandemic really added fuel to that fire.”
Before the pandemic, the sports memorabilia market was valued at more than $5.4 billion, according to a 2018 Forbes interview with David Yoken, founder of Collectable.com.
By 2021, that market had grown to $26 billion, according to research firm Market Decipher, which predicts the market will grow astronomically to $227 billion within a decade — driven in part by the rise of so-called NFTs, or immutable tokens. which are digital collections with unique fingerprints encoded with data.
Sports cards have been in particular demand as people spend more time at home and an opportunity has arisen to dig through potential treasures of childhood memories, including old comic books and small stacks of Star-Spangled Gum cards. twisted sports.
According to Stephen Fishler, founder of ComicConnect, who has seen the boom — and profitability — of collectibles being traded at auction houses, the lure of cashing in on something that might have been sitting in a childhood basement has been irresistible.
“In short, the world of modern sports cards has been boring,” he said.
The Mantle baseball card dates from 1952 and is widely considered to be one of only a handful of baseball legends in near-perfect condition.
The auction netted a fortune for Anthony Giordano, a New Jersey waste management entrepreneur who bought it for $50,000 at a New York City show in 1991.
The shortstop Mantle was a Triple Crown winner in 1956, a three-time American League MVP and a seven-time World Series champion. The Hall of Famer died in 1995.
“Some people might say it’s just a baseball card. Who cares? It’s just a Picasso. It’s just a Rembrandt for other people. It’s an art thing for some people,” said John Holden, a professor of sports management law at Oklahoma State and amateur sports card collector.
Like pieces of art that have no intrinsic value, he said, when it comes to sports cards, value is in the eye of the beholder — or the potential bidder’s pocketbook.
“Value,” said Holden, “is whatever the market is willing to support.”
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