Baseball Cards Are No Longer Child’s Play

Baseball Cards Are No Longer Child’s Play

Auction of rare vintage baseball cards could rack up millions.

Baseball cards in their protective Lucite holders are part of a $20 million sports auction.
Baseball cards in their protective Lucite holders are part of a $20 million sports auction.

Serious baseball card investors in Atlanta are looking forward this month to one of the most valuable collections to be auctioned off in recent years.

Thomas Newman, a Jewish physician from Florida who died of COVID, built his collection of over 1,000 rare vintage baseball cards and other sports memorabilia beginning in the 1980’s, and he worked on it consistently over the next 40 years. The online public auction runs from June 21 to July 10. It comes at a time when such items are selling at historically high levels.

Like Dr. Newman, many of those businessmen who are active in the business of buying and selling high-priced sports collectibles are also Jewish.

JP Cohen is president of Memory Lane Inc, the auction house that is handling the Newman sale. It estimates the value of the historic collection at more than $20 million. The firm is an important player in a market that’s a far cry from the days when young boys would pay a quarter to buy a card or two for the bubble gum that was packed with the cheaply printed cardboard cards. Today some of those the cards that 50 or 60 years ago didn’t end up between the spokes of bicycles wheels are high priced and climbing rapidly.

Rob Gough holds the baseball card he bought for a record breaking $5.2 million.

Some of the one-of-a-kind cards and sports memorabilia date back to the 1880s, according to Memory Lane’s website.

“One of the 1933 Babe Ruth cards … in this collection is the finest known of its kind and we expect it to break the record of $5.2 million for any sports card,” Cohen said. “Prices for rare, historic items have exploded in the collectibles market.”

The opening bid for the Babe Ruth card is $500,000 and Cohen expects the auction to be fierce.

That record for a single card was set just this year by New York actor and entrepreneur Rob Gough, who has quickly gone through over $10 million to amass a string of high-priced rarities. They included the $5.2 million he paid for a rare 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle card in nearly perfect condition.

But records are being set for cards for much more recent stars. A one-of-a-kind baseball card from 2009 of Mike Trout, who is still playing for the Los Angeles Angels, sold for $3.9 million last August, a big premium for a card that was valued at $400,000 in 2018. In vintage cards, a 1909 Honus Wagner card sold for $3.7 million last year.

The same high valuations have been achieved by cards from other sports as well. In the past few months a Patrick Mahomes Kansas City Chiefs card went for $861,000, one for basketball legend Michael Jordan brought $738,000 and another basketball card for the Golden State Warrior’s Stephen Curry was auctioned for $984,000.

But most astonishing is the record for a basketball card of Luka Doncic, a 22-year-old player from Slovenia who is with the Dallas Mavericks. A card from his rookie season in 2018 sold for $4.6 million.

Goldin Auctions, which facilitated the sale of many of these high-priced cards, announced that it was diversifying into the investment market.

Thomas Newman built his collection valued at over $20 million over 40 years.

The auction house announced that it had raised a capital fund of $40 million to buy high-grade sports collectibles. A proposal for a new reality show based on Goldin’s sports memorabilia business is also said to be in development by the producers of the big Las Vegas-based cable hit, “Pawn Stars.”

For those whose pockets are not so deep, Ezra Levine, CEO of Collectable, offers fractional ownership for investors who wish to participate in the market for the pricey cards.

Industry observers say they cannot remember anything like the present buying frenzy at the high end of the market.

That was the impression, too, of J.T Smith, who has been a sports collectibles retailer in Cobb County for over 20 years. We were just getting into our conversation when it was cut short by the press of business in his East Lake Shopping Center location in Marietta.

Buyers at the auction of the Newman collection will have much to choose from. There are highly desirable examples of cards by such baseball greats as Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, and Ty Cobb, and a card from Babe Ruth’s first season as a major league player in 1916.

Dr. Newman was a passionate and prolific buyer. In preparing for the auction this month, the auction house filled an 18-foot U-Haul trailer with his collection.

Unfortunately he won’t have the satisfaction of watching his valuable collection go under the auction hammer. Dr. Newman died in February at the age of 72 from complications resulting from a COVID infection.

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