History’s most successful baseball card sale hits $10M

Honus Wagner hammered down at $282,000


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A rare complete set of 1911 T3 Turkey Red Baseball cards, No. 2 knocked its $50,000 reserve out of the park when it sold for $246,750. Photos courtesy Robert Edward Auctions

WATCHUNG, N.J. – The strength of the high-end baseball card and memorabilia market amazed collectors at Robert Edward’s record-setting May 1, 2010, auction. An astounding 181 lots sold for $10,000 or more. 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. While common sense tells us that our market is not immune to problems in the larger economy, you’d never know it from the results. This was our most successful auction ever. More items sold for over $50,000 than ever before (28 lots), and more items sold for $100,000 or more than ever before (nine lots). It was also the smoothest running auction in all respects, including collecting the money. You’d think that there would be a few delays here and there in collecting money and getting it in the hands of consignors when you’re talking about $10 million. There weren’t. And all consignors were paid in full, 100 cents on the dollar with no adjustments due to nonpaying bidders, and in record time.”

The stunning prices on all 19th and early 20th century baseball cards and memorabilia totaled a staggering $10.12 million dollars across 1,720 lots. The average lot sold for $5,883. The T206 Wagner (reserve $50,000) in the lowest possible grade (PSA 1) sold for $282,000. This card was named “The Connecticut Wagner” because in 1985 it was purchased by the consignor at a card convention in Connecticut for the then-princely sum of $10,000 and its mysterious whereabouts (until unveiled in this auction) have been completely unknown in the organized collecting world for the past 25 years.

The big money, however, was not reserved only for the T206 Wagner, which can always be counted on to sell for well into six figures in any grade. The T3 Turkey Red set (reserve $50,000; estimate $150,000-plus) cruised to a final record selling price of $246,750.

The 1886-1890 Old Judge Tobacco card of Cornelius Doyle, an obscure California League player who is an extreme rarity in the set, realized an incredible $129,250, setting an all-time record price for an Old Judge card. For many, the highlight of the auction was the collection of the legendary Sy Berger, universally recognized as the “Father of the Modern Bubble-Gum Card.” Sy Berger was the face of Topps for over 50 years, and is one of the most important hobby industry pioneers in the history of collecting. The 1953 Topps original artworks from the Berger Collection, highlighted by the Satchel Paige artwork, which realized $58,750, and other various souvenirs sold for a total of over $300,000. As intended, this offering gave collectors on budgets large and small a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have an item that once belonged to this collecting legend and cultural icon.

Additional extraordinary highlights and six-figure items: An uncut sheet of 1933 Goudey bubble gum cards with three Babe Ruths and a Lou Gehrig (reserve $25,000) sold for $117,500. The newly discovered 1889 Goodwin Round Album advertising poster, universally recognized as one of the baseball collecting world’s greatest display pieces, is one of only four examples known. The poster was consigned by a noncollecting family who saved it because they appreciated the graphics but had no idea of its great value. With a reserve of $25,000, it soared to a stunning final selling price of $105,750. An exceptional 1916 Babe Ruth Sporting News baseball card, the first card ever issued of Ruth as a Major Leaguer, in Near Mint condition, sold for record $82,250.

An 1910 Old Mill Tobacco card of Joe Jackson (reserve $25,000), featuring the future Black Sox star when he was in the minor leagues long before being banned from baseball, realized an impressive $111,625. The 1903 World Series program, of special note both for its great rarity and for being from the very first game of the very first World Series (reserve $25,000) realized $94,000.

The bat Babe Ruth used to hit his 702nd homerun sold for a very healthy $111,625, setting a record for a Babe Ruth bat from the 1935 era due to its exceptional provenance and special historical significance. The famous T206 Ty Cobb with Ty Cobb Tobacco advertisement on the back card (reserve $10,000), which has always been revered as one of the key rarities of vintage card collecting, also far exceeded expectations, shattering the $100,000 mark for the first time ever at REA and selling for $111,625.

An extraordinary high-grade complete set of 1912 T207 Brown Background tobacco cards, all PSA graded, was broken down into 29 separate lots, and sold for a staggering total of $205,625. “The Merkle Ball” was another very special memorabilia auction highlight and a great privilege to offer for REA. This was the ball that cost the Giants the pennant in 1908! If only Fred Merkle had touched second base, everything would have been different … Unfortunately, he didn’t. The ball held by Chicago second baseman Johnny Evers when he touched second base, forcing Merkle out and changing the course of the 1908 pennant race for the New York Giants, changed hands in the May 2010 REA auction for record $76,375. In its last public appearance in 1993, “The Merkle Ball” was purchased at auction by actor Charlie Sheen at auction for $30,250.

Additional Highlights:

The T206 Eddie Plank, one of card collecting’s most legendary rarities, in Very Good condition (reserve $10,000) sold for $58,750. A lower grade T206 Plank example, in Good condition, but extremely attractive for the grade, sold for an almost as strong $49,937. The W600 Sporting News cabinet cards of Christy Mathewson (reserve $5,000) and Ty Cobb (reserve $1,500), each set records for these important rarities, selling for $35,250 and $38,188 respectively. The highest graded T206 Walter Johnson (reserve $10,000), graded Mint 9 by PSA, was hammered down for an extraordinary $55,813, also by far a record price in any grade for this classic 1910 era card. Nineteenth century cards were very strong, as always at REA. Two sizable collections of 1886-1890 Old Judges (each comprised of over 300 cards) sold for $82,250 and $94,000 respectively, while high-grade Hall of Famers such as Ed Delahanty ($16,450) and Kid Nichols ($15,275) sold for record prices individually.

A 1911 D304 Brunners Bread card of Ty Cobb, graded Near Mint to Mint by PSA sold for an exceptionally strong $94,000. An example of the famous 1933 Goudey #106 Lajoie, perhaps the most popular card of the 1930s, was also included in the sale. Always extremely valuable in any grade, this very attractive Ex-Mt example was from the Charlie Conlon Collection, and sold for $26,438.

Memorabilia was also extremely strong: Babe Ruth’s 1917-1920 era bat (once owned by Barry Halper) sold for $64,625; Ty Cobb’s bat dating from 1922-1924 realized $55,813; Lou Gehrig’s signed New York Yankees contract from 1938, his last full season (res. $5,000), set a record for the highest price ever realized for a player’s contract at REA, selling for $70,500. Al Kaline’s 1954 Tigers jersey was consigned by a former ballplayer who had a “cup of coffee” in the Tigers farm system in the 1950s. He was given then-recycled jersey to wear in spring training in 1956, and saved it as a souvenir of his playing days for over 50 years. The jersey sold for $21,115.

The Fred Tenney Collection, consigned directly by the Tenney family, was highlighted by a 1908 New York Giants uniform (reserve $5,000) which sold for $29,375. 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 $35,250. A rarely seen 1905 World Series program, another recently discovered gem, sold for $16,450. The 1922 Giants World Series ring of Hall of Famer Ross Youngs, of all the more special note being the first year players were issued World Series rings, sold for $58,750.

Autographs were particularly strong. This auction featured one of the most impressive personally collected single-owner signature collections ever offered by REA. Assembled by one of the pioneers of baseball autograph collecting and almost all obtained in person or through the mails in the 1950s and 1960s, the collection was broken down into 32 lots, and sold for a total of $110,625.

Prices on rare single-signed baseballs (such as Harry Hooper; reserve $1,000; sold for $8,812) and signed photos (1928 Ruth-Gehrig photo; reserve $5,000; sold for $17,625) were also extremely strong. The 1943 autograph book assembled as a youngster by famous baseball author Donald Honig featuring the signatures of many Negro League stars including Josh Gibson, one of the rarest and most important of all Hall of Famer signatures, was recognized as extraordinary by many advanced collectors. But no one could have predicted the incredible battle for this HOF signature treasure. Opening with a reserve of just $1,000, the dust did not settle until the final price reached $32,312.

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 1969-70 Gordie Howe Detroit Red Wings photo-matched jersey (reserve $10,000) realized $58,750. The 1968 Topps Test Basketball Complete PSA-Graded Set of 22 cards (reserve $5,000) sold for an extraordinary $29,375.

An exceptionally high-grade 1949 Leaf Football complete set of 49 cards was hammered down at $23,500. The 1940 R145 Gum, Inc. Superman Complete Set (#2 PSA Registry) realized $32,312. The 1955 Topps “Rails and Sails” unopened wax box sold for a record $6,462.

The original artwork to card #51 “Crushing The Martians” in the 1963 Topps Mars Attacks set, a popular card with strong graphics including Martians (reserve of $5,000) sold for $26,437.

President Barack Obama’s car was by far the most unusual of the few Americana lots offered. The 2000 Jeep Grand Cherokee was consigned by an Illinois woman who bought the car used in 2004. It just happened to be the future President’s car. The minimum bid was The Kelly Blue Book value of $3,500. When the dust settled, the car sold for $26,437! The auctioning of the car has provided the consignor with $20,250, far exceeding expectations and more than enough to make a significant contribution toward the purchase of her next vehicle, while at the same time raising $6,137 for CARE.

Many other auction records were shattered for pre-1948 baseball cards, 19th-century baseball cards and memorabilia, non-sport cards, and Americana.

Further information and complete auction results are available online at www.RobertEdwardAuctions.com. ?

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More Images:

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This 1875 Hartford Blues carte de visite bought by the consignor for just $200 on eBay, sold for $17,625.
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This 1889 N172 Old Judge Cornelius Doyle card set an all-time record for an Old Judge baseball card sold anywhere when it hammered for $129,250.
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This complete set of 48 Superman bubble gum cards from 1940 sold for a stunning $32,312.
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Bidders had no qualms about the conservative $50,000 reserve on this 1909 T206 Honus Wagner card sold. The final price settled at $282,000.
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This 1910 T210 Old Mill Joe Jackson (which sold at auction for $10,925 in 1999) soared to $111,625.

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