A mint condition Mickey Mantle baseball card sold for $12.6 million on Sunday, entering the record books as the most ever paid for sports memorabilia in a market that has become exponentially more lucrative in recent years. last years.
The rare Mantle card eclipsed the record posted a few months ago: $9.3 million for thewhen he scored the controversial “Hand of God” goal at the 1986 World Cup.
It easily topped $7.25 million for a century-old Honus Wagner baseball card recently sold in a private sale.
And just last month, the heavyweight boxing belt claimed by Muhammad Ali during the 1974 “Rumble in the Jungle” sold for nearly $6.2 million.
They are all part of a booming market for sports collectibles.
Prices have increased not only for the rarest items, but also for pieces that might have been collecting dust in garages and attics. Many of those items find their way onto consumer auction sites like eBay, while others are being put up for auction at auction houses.
Because of its near mint condition and legendary theme, the Mantle card was destined to be a top seller, said Chris Ivy, director of sports auctions for Heritage Auctions, which led the bidding.
Some viewed collectibles as a hedge against inflation in the past two years, he said, while others rekindled childhood passions.
Ivy said smart investors saw inflation coming, as it has. As a result, sports memorabilia has become an alternative to traditional Wall Street or real estate investments, particularly among members of Generation X and older millennials.
“There’s a limit to Netflix and ‘Tiger King’ that people could watch (during the pandemic). So, you know, they were going back to their hobbies, and clearly sports collecting was part of that,” said Ivy, who noted a upturn. in calls between potential sellers.
Add to that interest from wealthy overseas collectors and you have a confluence of factors that make sports collectibles especially attractive, Ivy said.
“We started to see some growth and an increase in prices that led to some media coverage. And I think it all built on itself,” he said. “I would say that the beginning of the pandemic really added gasoline to that fire.”
Before the pandemic, the sports memorabilia market was estimated at more than $5.4 billion, according to a 2018 Forbes interview with David Yoken, the 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, in part fueled by the rise of so-called NFTs, or non-fungible tokens. which are digital collectibles with unique data encrypted fingerprints.
Sports cards have been in particular demand as people spent more time at home and the opportunity arose to rummage through potential treasure troves of childhood memories, including old comic books and small stacks of gumball cards featuring prominent sports stars. .
That lure of making money off of something that might be in your childhood basement has been irresistible, according to Stephen Fishler, founder of ComicConnect, who has watched the growing rise — and profitability — of collectibles being traded in homes. of auctions.
“Simply put, the world of modern sports cards has gone crazy,” he said.
The Mantle baseball card dates to 1952 and is widely considered to be one of the few baseball legends in near mint condition.
The auction made a big profit for Anthony Giordano, a New Jersey waste management businessman who bought it for $50,000 at a New York City fair in 1991.
“As soon as it hit 10 million, I just gave up. I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore,” Giordano, 75, said Sunday morning. His children monitored the auction for him. “They stayed up and called me this morning bright and early to tell me that he got to where he got to.”
The card was one of dozens of sports collectibles up for auction. In all, the items fetched about $28 million, according to Derek Grady, executive vice president of sports auctions for Heritage Auctions.
“Sports collectibles are finally getting their fair share of investment,” Grady said. “Top sporting goods are now beginning to rival works of art, rare coins and rare artifacts as a great investment vehicle.”
The switch-hitting Mantle was a Triple Crown winner in 1956, a three-time American League MVP and a seven-time World Series champion. Hall of Famers 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 to other people. It’s a work of art to some people,” said John Holden, a law professor at sports management at Oklahoma State University. and amateur collector of sports cards.
Like works of art that have no intrinsic value, he said, when it comes to sports cards, the value is in the eye of the beholder, or in the pocket of the prospective bidder.
“Value,” Holden said, “is whatever the market is willing to bear.”