Baseball Cards Sale Evokes Love of National Pastime

Baseball Cards Sale Evokes Love of National Pastime

Record-breaking sale of baseball memorabilia brings in $21.5 million.

Dr. Thomas Newman and the $4.2 million baseball card.
Dr. Thomas Newman and the $4.2 million baseball card.

One of the nation’s most extensive collections of historic baseball cards has sold at auction for $21.5 million.

The sale of the collection, which was advertised as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to acquire some of the rarest baseball collectibles, belonged to Dr. Thomas Newman, a Jewish neurologist who started collecting over 30 years ago. He died earlier this year. The collection set record prices for cards from what collectors call the sports “golden era” from 1930 to 1960.

A 387-page catalog of the sale lists hundreds of rarities that go back to 1887 and the beginnings of professional baseball in America. The descriptions of exceptional cards featuring such legends as Cy Young, Christy Mathewson and Ty Cobb read like a history of baseball in the early 20th century.

This Mickey Mantle card from his first season in 1952 sold for $2.12 million.

But the star of the nearly three-week online auction that ended July 10 was a mint condition 1933 Babe Ruth card issued by the Goudey Gum Company in Cambridge, Mass. The small cardboard rectangle of Ruth swinging a bat against a bright yellow background went for $4.2 million, a record.

The success of the auction and the intense interest it generated did not surprise JL Cohen, whose company Memory Lane Incorporated has scheduled three large-scale auctions this year.

“This last year and a half, in general, has been phenomenal for the industry. The market is exploding. And because of all the publicity this last year and a half and of course, with the Dr. Newman collection, I feel that there’ll be a lot more interest. It’s been pretty amazing.”

Cohen, who grew up in a family of Jewish baseball fans in Brooklyn, has been selling sports memorabilia for over 20 years. Many of his best customers have also been Jews.

“There’s definitely a lot of Jewish people that collect sports cards and memorabilia. I’ll tell you that I have a lot of clients. In fact, that would be if I was doing a checklist of the demographic of the collector that would stand out. Jews who are between 30 to 60 years old like to collect.”

Among his best friends is Marshall Fogel, whose collection of thousands of items of cards and memorabilia is said to rank just behind the one at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Marshall Fogel has one of the largest baseball memorabilia collections in the country

Visitors to this year’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game saw an exhibit of some of his prize possessions, like the uniform Joe DiMaggio wore when he hit his last home run in a World Series game in 1952 or the bat Lou Gehrig used against the Philadelphia Athletics in 1932, when he hit four home runs during his first four at bats, a record that still stands. Fogel keeps his three Mickey Mantle cards, worth an estimated $10 million in a bank vault.

At 80, Fogel, a lawyer, considered collecting another way to feel like he was in the major leagues, even thought he might not ever get to play there.

“I always had a dream that I would play for the Yankees, but I never was a good ballplayer. My parents who were immigrants from Eastern Europe discouraged me from playing sports and emphasized education. And then as I grew up, I realized that I kind of did play baseball, but not like the level I wanted to. So the baseball cards and memorabilia were a way I felt I could be in the game.”

For Fogel, who grew up in an observant Orthodox home where tefillin were worn every day and Hebrew school was mandatory, baseball was a way of being more like his gentile friends in the neighborhood.

“Baseball is the American pastime. You know, that’s not an exaggeration. It is our game. And it was kind of like Jews were wanting to fit in. We wanted to be just like everyone else. And baseball was one of the ways that they said to America, ‘You know, we’re part of this country. We are Americans, too.’”

Today that dream that some Jews may have had about fitting in is bringing unexpected financial rewards. Among the sales at Dr. Newman’s Memory Lane auction were several cards that were bought for over $1 million each.

A black and white image of Babe Ruth issued by the Sporting News in his rookie season of 1916 went for $1.45 million. A black and white card of the New York Yankees’ Lou Gehrig as a rookie in 1925 sold for $1.032 million. A rare card issued by Topps, which packaged the card with a stick of bubble gum during Mickey Mantle’s first season with the Yankees, was purchased for $2.12 million.

Even though prices are high and Dr. Newman’s collection was exceptional, it’s doubtful that he would have parted with it if he were still alive, his widow Nancy told the auction company.

“No one enjoyed collecting more than Tom. He jokingly called his cards his ‘paper babies,’ and spent almost every day attending to his collection in one way or another. It gave him such pleasure.

read more: