A 1952 Mickey Mantle rookie baseball card, considered the best known example, sold for $12.6 million over the weekend, making it the most valuable sports memorabilia sold at auction and the last blockbuster sale in the collectibles market.
“This Mantle card crossing that threshold is a great sign for the hobby, but it won’t be the last piece to hit eight figures,” says Chris Ivy, sports auctions manager at Heritage Auctions in Texas.
The sports collectibles market has been on a steady rise for the past few decades, and in the spring of 2020, at the start of the pandemic, it grew exponentially, Ivy says.
One of the reasons sports memorabilia is becoming more popular is that people see these collectibles as an “alternative asset” to hedge against inflation, he says.
This trend is supported by the changing demographics of collectors. The majority of collectors today grew up during the sports boom of the 1990s and are comfortable investing in assets other than stocks and real estate, adds Ivy.
The 1952 Mickey Mantle rookie baseball card was offered for sale by New Jersey collector Anthony Giordano, who acquired it in 1991 for US$50,000, equivalent to US$120,000 today, according to Ivy.
Heritage Auctions worked with Giordano and grading services company, Sportscard Guaranty Corporation, earlier this year to get the card rated and received a “Mint + 9.5” out of 10.
The buyer is a baseball fan from Rye, NY, according to Ivy, who declined to provide more information about the new owner.
When the Mantle card was issued by the Topps collecting company in 1952, it would have been sold in wax-wrapped packaging that cost a penny or a nickel, according to Ivy.
Mantle, the late Hall of Famer who played his entire career with the New York Yankees, holds the record for most home runs by a switch hitter. Its new deal value surpassed the $9.3 million record for a sports collectible set earlier this year at Sotheby’s in London by a jersey worn by soccer star Diego Maradona during the World Cup 1986.
Previously, the most valuable sports card at auction was a Honus Wagner T-206 baseball card, which fetched US$6.6 million through New Jersey-based Robert Edward Auctions in April 2021.
Earlier this month, another Wagner T-206 card changed hands for US$7.25 million in a private deal brokered by New Jersey-based Goldin Auctions.
“The fundamentals of the sports collectibles market remain strong,” says Ivy. “We saw 40 records broken in different categories this weekend.”
Overall, Heritage Auctions’ Saturday-Sunday sale of 1,300 lots, titled “Summer Platinum Night Sports Auction,” fetched $38.2 million, beating its presale high estimate of $35 million.