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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Sports memorabilia collectors now have good time buying, tough time selling

EDITOR’S NOTE: Bill Wagner, better known as Babe Waxpak on these pages is retiring at the end of December. His Dec. 29 column will be his last.

Robert Edwards Auctions sold a baseball signed by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig for a record price of $98,600 in 2006. ...

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Bill Wagner, better known as Babe Waxpak on these pages is retiring at the end of December. His Dec. 29 column will be his last.

Robert Edwards Auctions sold a baseball signed by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig for a record price of $98,600 in 2006.

When the owner decided to liquidate most of his collection including the Ruth-Gehrig ball earlier this year, he was just hoping to break even – maybe make a little.

“The auction result demolished the world record for a Ruth-Gehrig signed ball and sold for $343,650,” said Robert Lifson, president of www.Robert

The Internet has had a profound impact on sales of sport memorabilia, but in the end, it all comes down to supply and demand.

The consensus among a number of industry leaders is that high-end vintage material seems to be holding its own. However, mid- to low-end items, printed materials such as programs and yearbooks and many of the more modern items have taken a hit.

Bobby Mintz, vice president of operations for Houston-based www.Tristar, said, “The internet has made more items available to more people, so the overall prices have come down some on certain items, yet (for) hot players and markets the opposite has happened, because more people have access to the items, just driving the prices up.”

Mike Gutierrez, consignment director for Heritage Auctions ( and Antiques Roadshow evaluator, agreed.

“With all the convention show material, private signings and companies that sell retail memorabilia, the market is saturated,” Gutierrez said. “Middle to lower end material
has nowhere to go but down. To make matters worse, old baseball introductory pieces like signed newspaper photos, signed 3x5 cards and off-condition signed material is virtually no longer collected.”

“No longer collected” translates into a loss of value for those who paid a premium for those items a decade or two ago.

“The internet, in particular eBay, has brought so many items to the surface that some things that were deemed as rare or scarce, turned out not to be. The internet has saturated the current modern living players market and killed it. Anything with new players that you bought loses well up to 50 percent when you buy it – just like a car,” Gutierrez said.

On the flip side Mike Heffner, president of auction house in New York, and Lifson, said the selling price for many vintage baseball items continues to climb.

“The type of memorabilia that we deal in has gone up since 1993. Only the newer, over-produced stuff has declined, and the material associated with steroid users,” Heffner said.

“Twenty years ago, a mint Babe Ruth signed baseball was worth $50,000; now it is worth $150,000. A Lou Gehrig game worn jersey was worth $150,000; now it is worth $1,000,000,” Heffner said.

While top vintage material is doing well, the value for signed baseballs
for average teams has dropped, especially those in less than stellar condition.

When it comes to magazines, programs and yearbooks, Phil Regli, owner of P&R Publications, who is a respected dealer.

“My general assessment is that … most publications have dropped about 50 percent from their peak value … and the quality items still hold their own or have gone up in value.”

Regli also spotted a different reason why cyber age has affected printed material.

“More importantly related to the paper portion of the collectible is the fact that information can be found on the Internet rather than books, programs and magazines,” Regli said. “This trend has already been in effect and what we see today is a leveling off of (value for) lower end publications (i.e. $5 - $10) which is the hassle factor price for anyone to bother selling or dealing with. 

“Items that go for $25 – $400 tend to be in the ‘collectible stage’ and the material that goes for over $500 tends to be in the investment stage.”

Mike Breeden a former longtime autograph columnist for Sports Collectors Digest and Tuff Stuff, noted an other product the Internet age.

“One thing that the Internet and eBay in particular did was to turn
every single collector from a buyer into a potential seller,” Breeden said. “As a result, items that you used to have to look high and low for are everywhere. In one sense, it’s good for collectors to have choices. On the other hand, adding a huge influx of items to the market will negatively affect values.”

He also sees a downturn in the collecting hobby overall.

“I think the economy has a great deal to do with it, but there’s also an aging collecting population. Today’s kids could seemingly care less about collecting anything. They’re way too into their gadgets and games.”