The hobby of sports collectibles has evolved and changed over time. After the roaring 1980s came the Junk Wax Era, and in the years since the hobby just keeps evolving. There are many predictions that could be pondered after news of a near-perfect 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle card fetching $12.6 million after the buyer’s premium.
Collectors Dashboard has prided itself on viewing high-end collectibles as an alternative asset class for some time. That doesn’t mean that every pack of trading cards is just like a stock or a bond, but high-end cards with prices up in the tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of dollars are now competing for the same dollars that could otherwise (and more easily) be invested into stocks and bonds. The same is true for high-end collectibles like art, fine watches, fine wine, historic items and so on.
Now it’s time to see what the downrange fallout after a $12.6 million sports card means for the market of sports cards. The first assumption is that the baseline of interest in the hobby remains strong. The second assumption is that the economy holds up within reason (no global financial crisis). The third assumption is that global stability doesn’t go from challenged to much worse.
The image below was provided by Heritage Auctions.
So, what are some of the base assumptions? Let’s give this a try. They are just predictions, so if you run out and throw all of your financial eggs into sports collectibles and also into other high-end collectibles then that is on you. Some expanded commentary has been added for clarification.
Here are ten predictions of what will happen in the sports collectibles industry now that the $10 million level has been passed for a sports card. These are not in any specific order nor are they ranked by importance.
1) More $1 million card sales will be seen of players who have not had cards sell for $1 million. Maybe even like this Hank Aaron analysis!
2) Vintage cards will continue to outshine modern cards, with multiple “grail cards” that have been hiding collections coming to the market for the first time in years or decades. This will not likely be limited to just great baseball items either.
3) Another $10 million sale is probably not that far away, most likely one of the best graded T206 Honus Wagner cards or even “the other 52 Topps Mantle” that was on display. Or could it be the perfect Hank Aaron rookie or a 1-of-1 LeBron James, Michael Jordan, of Kobe Bryant. This Wagner card was quite close!
4) One of the major auction houses will curb or tier their 20% premiums down after a certain price structure. This is becoming a more openly discussed hurdle in the hobby community for auctions as prices go higher and higher. In stock market terms, should a broker make more money than their investors taking the risk?
5) Investors will look for more opportunities to own grails via fractional ownership, funds, pools, individuals — and this will increase the realized importance of insurance, vaulting and so on.
6) The Mickey Mantle “Premium” will continue over other players in the 1950s, but other cards of Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Ted Williams, Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente will set some new auction price records.
7) Scarce vintage errors or rare variations will begin to see more premiums over their regular or more known cards. This means autographed rookies, print errors, variations, lesser known issues and so on.
8) A rank and file will filter out some of the grading errors or “juiced up” graded cards, with the collecting community having a larger say over what “the finest known example” really is. What happens when the community votes that a 9.5 grade looks better than a 10? What happens if the community says some other key cards are trimmed?
9) The ultra-rare memorabilia like uniforms, bats, gloves of key players and events will get even more interest from the collecting (and investing) community. And what about the ultra-rare pre-rookie cards and items from when baseball and other sports greats were just getting started?
10) Some of the key Junk Wax Era cards (and early 1980s) and grail cards of other sports will also see higher prices for their best graded examples.
Some of these predictions may seem obvious. Some may seem like pipe dreams or fiction. They are just my own predictions, and you probably heard a warning or two that predictions are not guarantees. There are no guarantees in stocks and bonds, so there definitely are no guarantees when it comes to sports cards and other high-end collectibles.
And remember, there will be a day that you can remember there were still other Honus Wagner tobacco cards under $100,000 even when the T206 Wagners were all over $1 million. Also, here were the 15 trends we observed for what lies ahead after the 2022 National Sports Collectors Convention.