Right now I am monitoring the bidding on a big-time national auction that includes hundreds of fascinating items that connect to earlier days of baseball and demonstrate how the combination of baseball passion, deep pockets, and being smitten by nostalgia can produce staggering prices for rare items.
Above all other sports baseball has revered and respected its past and maintained a sturdy link to it. Those of us of a certain age were raised on collecting baseball cards (when they were 5 cents a pack, if that doesn’t date me). As kids we were only interested in the here-and-now players. The hot card was the star player on your home team, but not Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb or Bob Feller. There were no cards of those bygone-era players for us to latch onto anyway.
Some of us are pack rats and I am one of those guys. So I still have a lot of stuff from the 1960s. Don’t really know how much it’s worth and don’t really care because it’s not going anyplace. (Given the drop-off in the hobby card market over recent years I’m sure it is all worth less than I thought it would be).
For years I never gave a bit of thought to what baseball cards may have been issued before the 1950s, or the dawn of the Topps trading card era. Over time I learned there had been many sets that included cards of long-dead Hall of Famers. But due to the constraints of bank account I have never been what would be called a big-league collector. Got to make the house payment before buying that original 1909 Honus Wagner card.
Nothing has changed except my curiosity, so I am not a bidder for the Honus Wagner card now being sold in the auction I am following. Although prices seem to have declined for what has always been described as the most desirable of all baseball cards, the current bid riding on Honus’ forehead is $310,000. For me watching bid numbers rise like those on a pinball machine is sport of its own. I am like the guy in the grandstand who bought a $15 ticket to witness millionaires playing the game.
In the interests of honesty, there are dozens and dozens of items that opened with a minimum bid of $200 or $300, so there are possibilities for the average Joe to play as sort of a utility infielder. But clearly the big ticket items drive the game, just as the clean-up hitter does on the field. So for your viewing amusement, here are some other things going once, going twice, gone…
Much lesser known than the Wagner card from the same 1909-11 tobacco card set is an error card of Joe (Who’s he?) Doyle that is holding steady with a bid of $210,000. The catalogue description indicates this card is rarer than the Wagner. We also have the Sporting News Babe Ruth rookie card at $95,000, a high-demand Eddie Plank card at $60,000, a tobacco tin with Ty Cobb art work at $70,000, and a 1933 Goudey release of Nap Lajoie at $70,000. OK, you can breathe again.
There are hundreds of baseball items being auctioned off, a lot of them individual or sets of baseball cards, yes, but also autographed bats, old World Series programs, signed player contracts, and especially balls signed by Hall of Famers. There are also many, many items representing other sports, from autographed 3×5 cards of football players, complete old basketball sets, and rare hockey cards.
Trying to be a smart shopper (if only a window shopper) I decided to comparison shop and searched the Internet for comparable items. There are a number of Babe Ruth autographed balls in the auction, in greatly varying condition. There is a pristine example of a Ruth autographed ball, so shiny new looking it could have been in deep freeze for decades. When I last checked the price it hit $5,000. But when I found a similar top-condition Ruth signed ball on the Internet it listed for a staggering $30,000. Whoa, baby.
A few other items checked similarly, meaning maybe some expensive things were comparative bargains. There is a section in the auction of presidential signed paperwork. Kind of startling to think you can buy George Washington’s autograph, Teddy Roosevelt’s, James Monroe’s, or Abraham Lincoln’s like a bubblegum card. I watched an intriguing Lincoln signed and framed piece rise to $2,500. Then I checked out Abe autographs on line. The first item that I came across (which I figured would be housed in the Smithsonian) was the paper where Lincoln declared war for the start of the Civil War. Now that’s a piece of history. The minimum bid? $1,000,000. A million bucks. Take that, Babe Ruth.
Of course, as in some of the other items in the sports auction–you just try to find another one.
To me some things just don’t figure. While that Wagner card is at 310,000, there is a Wagner-signed baseball (looking pretty readable to me) that’s only bid up to $1,300. I read somewhere that something like 30–plus Wagner cards are out there. I’ve never seen a Wagner-signed ball before.
One more thing to remember–with around 10 days left in the auction–the prices can only go up.