Those of you who regularly read this column know that I am a tremendous sports fan. My family legacy connects with professional baseball as my father played for both the New York Yankee and Philadelphia Phillies organizations as a left-handed pitcher in the 1940s. My Dad struck out Mickey Mantle in the minors (Mickey was a mere teenager at the time) and exchanged pitching tips with Satchel Paige. I grew up learning sports history and I enjoy evaluating sports memorabilia now at my appraisal shows and on Discovery channel’s Auction Kings. While I tour the country appraising America’s antiques and providing tips on how to sell them at auctions and in other venues, I take in a lot of sporting events.
A few weeks ago, sports memorabilia made the news in a big way. While Babe Ruth broke many longstanding records during his illustrious career on the baseball diamond, a piece of Ruth memorabilia broke a record at auction. At Leland’s auction house, a rare piece of memorabilia that once belonged to the Sultan of Swat sold for $4.4 million. The item was the earliest jersey worn by Babe Ruth, circa 1920. The road jersey dated back to the first season that Ruth played for the New York Yankees after coming to the team from the Red Sox. The auction record made Ruth’s jersey the most expensive piece of sports memorabilia in history. At my shows across the country, I have appraised several Babe Ruth signed baseballs worth thousands of dollars and more.
There are many opinions about where the jersey should have ended up like the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY or the New York Yankees new museum. But, auctions are about objects going to the highest bidder and in this case, a collecting firm bought the jersey. The jersey had been on display at the Babe Ruth birthplace before it was offered for sale. When I’m appraising objects for people and they ask me how to best sell, I advise them that displaying your piece to the public is a key factor when selling at auctions. If you can display your collectible before offering it up for sale, you expose it to more buyers and attract interest. That helps you get top dollar. It is a good rule of thumb for all collectibles.
Knowing when and how to market your sports collectibles is vital when it comes time to sell. For instance, just days before the sale of the Babe Ruth jersey, an item that once belonged to another sports icon caused a stir. Football great, Lawrence Taylor’s Super Bowl ring was offered for auction under some interesting circumstances and sold, after much press exposure, for $230,000. When I first heard about the auction offering, I posted another important selling point for sports collectibles on my facebook fan page (www.facebook.com/doctorlori). You should always sell a sports collectible during the season that your sport is played. The Super Bowl ring was offered for sale in May when the best time to offer it up for sale would have been February—about a week before the Super Bowl.
There is a great amount of sports memorabilia that is not authentic, so watch out for fakes. Also, some pieces are authentic but they are one of many pieces that were signed by a famous athlete. For instance, Pete Rose (a youngster brought this autographed poster, pictured here, to one of my shows in Virginia), Mickey Mantle, and Muhammad Ali signed a good many objects relating to their respective sports. Recently on Auction Kings, a pair of Ali gloves was marketed at auction with the understanding that “The Greatest” had signed numerous pairs of boxing gloves. Thus, the gloves are authentic but there are so many available in the marketplace, that they are not worth excessive amounts of money.
One last tip, document when and how you obtained a particular piece of sports memorabilia. If you can put yourself at the game or with a famous player, your piece of sports memorabilia will bring big bucks at auction.
Ph.D. antiques appraiser, author, and award-winning TV personality, Dr. Lori presents antique appraisal events nationwide. Dr. Lori is the expert appraiser on Discovery channel’s Auction Kings. Visit www.DrLoriV.com, www.Facebook.com/DoctorLori or call (888) 431-1010.