Why Wilt Chamberlain Rookies Are In Such High Demand

Collecting vintage basketball cards from before 1970 is not as easy as it is to collect vintage baseball or football cards. There just are not that many different sets that were made from the 1940s through the end of the 1960s. Topps, Bowman and Fleer made very few basketball sets. It’s hard to imagine considering that modern basketball cards are now given almost as much attention as baseball cards. Collectors and investors alike have limited options when it comes to buying basketball greats like Wilt Chamberlain. Having deep pockets will help, but the options are limited.

Wilt Chamberlain cards are actually not scarce by definition and when compared to other pre-1970 basketball cards. That said, Chamberlain is a player where the demand for his cards is more than the supply. This is particularly the case for his “true rookie card” in the 1961 Fleer set.

What makes the 1961 Fleet set interesting outside of it being the only issue for years is that there are two variations for a “Rookie Wilt Chamberlain” card that can be purchased. Both of the cards sell at high prices even in the lower-grade conditions.

Collectors Dashboard evaluates collectibles as an alternative asset class. It is undeniable that collectors now routinely have to fight against investors for the exact same asset in auctions. The key difference is that collectors may covet these cards and investors just want to make a profit as if it was a stock. Sports card investors just need to understand that there are big risks. Stocks and bonds offer no guarantees against losses, and that is definitely true of collectibles as well.

This statement may be controversial for the modern era basketball fans, but Wilt Chamberlain was far more dominant in the 1960s than the modern era players. That includes Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James — and includes the top new wave of stars who have played for the last 5 years or less. His points per game will show that, and his 7-feet and 1-inch height some 50 years to 60 years ago was just not the norm.

The 1961-62 Fleer entire basketball set was just 66 cards in total. The earliest price guides show just how elusive the cards are. After the 1961-62 Fleer set, the next Wilt Chamberlain cards from traditional card companies wasn’t until the 1969-70 Topps and 1970-71 Topps cards. Even then, those cards were over-sized at almost 5-inches tall.

One aspect of vintage card collecting that hard for many modern era collectors to grasp is just how underappreciated basketball was when it came to vintage sports collectibles. To prove the point, before 1970 only a handful of basketball sets were made. The 1961 Fleer card of Wilt Chamberlain is (actually “are”) his only card(s) and the next card in line was not until the larger format 1969 Topps set with 1,811 PSA examples of the sets 50,409 total population of graded cards form that set.

PSA’s total population report counts 35,525 graded cards from the whole set as of July 2021. At the same time, the total set’s graded population by SGC is just 6245 cards. The one bit of good news here is that the set has two appearances of Chamberlain with a portrait (#8) and an In-Action (#47). The high-grade-seeking investors who want PSA, SGC, and Beckett grades at 8 or higher have very few examples to compete for.

Of the 1,289 PSA graded cards of #8 Wilt without qualifiers, only 31 are at a pure PSA 9 and only 3 are at the perfect PSA 10 grade. PSA’s count of pure grades for the #47 In Action show 780 examples without the qualifiers. Of those, only 30 are PSA 9 and just 2 are PSA 10. The PSA 8 category has more cards to choose from. Card #8 has 180 PSA 8 examples without the 14 “+” and 121 “Q” qualifiers. The In Action card (#47) has 142 cards without the “+” and “Q” qualifiers.

SGC’s total population report of graded #8 cards is 348 with the largest concentration at SGC 5 (46 cards in total). The “In Action” card #47 has 188 total grades from SGC, and the highest concentration there is 30 graded examples at SGC 5.

The Fleer rookie Chamberlain card commands high prices despite a fairly high population. Even PSA 4 graded cards sold for $11,000 in March of 2021, but the most recent sales from May to July were under $6,000. Where the cards start to become even more off-the-chart is at the PSA 8 level, with two June 2021 sales at $53,103 (6/20/2021) and $45,076.80 (6/11/2021). Here were the three peak-price sales from earlier in 2021 for the PSA 8 auctions:

  • 4/6/2021 for $57,600.00 via Goldin Auctions
  • 3/31/2021 for $144,544.00 via eBay/PWCC
  • 3/20/2021 for $76,977.60 via Memory Lane, Inc.

And for the rare PSA 9 grades, there was a sale of $150,000 in December 2020, preceded by a $85,100 price in September 2020 and a mere $33,600.00 in May 2020. The shares sire Collectable offered out a PSA 9 to shareholders for $200,000 and it exited the card for a $350,000 price. There have been only two PSA 9 sales seen so far in 2021 without qualifiers:

  • 4/26/2021 for $377,323.00 via eBay
  • 4/26/2021 for $461,250.00 via Goldin Auctions

Wilt Chamberlain is credited for the only 100-points scored by a single player in any regulation NBA game. And to prove just how dominant Wilt “The Stilt” was on the court, and why he is considered the most dominant player of the era, the Basketball Reference website shows Wilt as #1 in the category of highest points in a game. It also Lists Chamberlain with the highest points per game in 15 of the top 25 spots including ties with himself or other players.

If this price seems high for the prized PSA 9 rookie cards, Collectable recently sold off a Chamberlain game worn uniform from his 1959-60 Philadelphia Warriors rookie home team. SCP Auctions said that it had ranked as the finest basketball uniform in the world and also as one of the finest uniforms from any sport. That uniform had sold privately for $700,000 in the summer of 2019. Collectable sold that uniform off at $1.275 million to 1,036 shareholders.

And for ultimate vintage basketball card collectors and investors, there is the difficult 1957 Topps Bill Russell rookie and the difficult 1948 Bowman George Mikan rookie that can both cost more than a house.

Categories: Basketball, Sports

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