The strength of the high-end baseball card and memorabilia market shocked collectors at Robert Edward's record-setting May 2, 2009 auction. The most anticipated baseball card and memorabilia auction in the world always generates great excitement and strong prices. Collectors, dealers, and market watchers look to REA's annual event as the key barometer of the health of the market and the most important auction event of the year.
According to REA president Robert Lifson, "The market was extremely strong as always at REA. " That positive sentiment might be looked at by many as a great understatement. The numbers and the facts speak for themselves: No auction in history has ever generated the dollar volume of this auction for vintage baseball card sales. By virtually every measure, despite economic pressures of the larger economy, the historic spring REA auction was by far the most successful baseball card auction in the history of collecting. The vintage card market is alive and well.
The total $10.1 million in sales for the auction set a new world record for a multi-owner all-consignment baseball card and memorabilia auction. This total also represents a new world record for any multi-consignor auction in which the auction house, auction house executives, and employees are prohibited from bidding in the auction. In fact, the $10.1 million dollar auction total is also a new record dollar volume ever to be hammered down in a single day in the history of sports collecting, surpassing the previous record of $9.07 million set by REA in 2008. No other sports card or memorabilia auction in the history of the field has ever sold anywhere near this dollar volume in a single day. Even the number of catalogs shipped was a record.
The stunning across-the-board record final prices on all nineteenth and early twentieth century baseball cards and memorabilia totaled a staggering $10.1 million dollars across 1551 lots. The average lot sold for $6,545. The T206 Wagner (reserve $50,000) in the lowest possible grade (PSA 1) sold for $399,500, setting a world record for a Wagner (or any card ever) in this condition. This very card last sold at auction elsewhere for $78,000. This T206 Wagner is the very same card that was once owned by actor Charlie Sheen, who allowed the card to be displayed at the All Star Café in New York. In a plot worthy of a TV episode, in 1998 the card was stolen from its display case by workers at the All Star Café, and replaced with a copy! When the theft was discovered, the thieves were soon caught, and the Wagner card was recovered by the FBI. The T206 Wagner is extremely valuable in any condition. The previous world record price for a Wagner in this grade was also set by REA in 2008, when "The Beckett Wagner" sold for $317,250.
The T206 Doyle (reserve $25,000), one of the most important rarities of all vintage cards, cruised to a final record selling price of $329,000, shocking many collectors and surpassing by more than 500% the previous auction sale price of this legendary rarity. The last rare Doyle offered at auction sold for $64,099 in 2003. The T206 Plank in EX-MT condition (reserve $25,000) sold for $188,000, an astounding record price for this grade, and also more than five times the previous auction selling price elsewhere of this very card.
The 1886-1890 Old Judge Tobacco Card Collection of 592 cards realized an incredible $211,500, shocking nineteenth-century collectors who expected these to sell at a far more modest level. The 1915 Cracker Jack Poster, which appeared on the REA catalog\'s cover, sold for $152,750, setting a record not just for all baseball card-related advertising posters from any era, but also for any 20th Century American product advertising poster of any kind.
Additional Extraordinary Highlights and Six-Figure Items: A complete set of 1909-1911 T206 White Border tobacco cards, all PSA-graded and averaging between Excellent and Ex-Mt condition (reserve $50,000), sold for $176,250. A complete set of 1952 Topps (reserve $50,000), also all PSA-graded, sold for $105,750. The collection of nine 1953-54 Briggs Meats two-card panels (reserve $5,000), which were issued with hot dogs and saved for decades by an old time Baltimore-area collector, was extremely hotly contested.
"There was a lot of debate and even second-guessing of the auction house about whether this group should have been broken up or offered intact as a collection," according to REA officials. "This was such a special group, we just couldn't break them up. We thought that advanced collectors would appreciate them more if they were kept intact as a collection. We'll never see another group like this. They had to stay together." Advanced collectors agreed. The best group of this important rare regional issue to ever be offered at auction exceeded even the wildest estimates of market watchers, selling for an extraordinary $82,225.
The T206 Plank match to the famous Gretzky-McNall Wagner (reserve $10,000) was a favorite auction lot of many sophisticated collectors. It is one of only a few Planks with a Piedmont back and the only example surviving in a proof-like state. To many, the existence of this card had long been just a rumor. It\'s unveiling in this auction was a landmark event to many T206 and hobby scholars. This card was one of the great prizes in The Charlie Conlon Collection, where it quietly resided for the past twenty years. It sold for $111,625.
"We have no control over exactly what comes to the marketplace for auction. Important collections and items usually come to auction due to unique life-changing circumstances," notes REA president Robert Lifson. Collectors pass away, people retire, they buy houses, children go to college, sometimes medical bills or even divorce are responsible. All things we have no control over. So we judge ourselves by the things that are in our control, just trying to do a great job in every way possible, from the moment we get an item in to the moment when the consignor is paid. That's our goal. That's what we do. Whatever the size of the auction, we know that if we do a great job, everything else will take care of itself. We can''t count on having ten million dollar auctions every year, because the material we sell is rare and special and we have no ability to come up with special material just because we're having an auction, but for this auction, everything really fell into place. We really had the material this year."
Prices at REA are traditionally always very strong, but there was concern that the larger forces of the economy would impact prices, especially for big-ticket items.
"The financial crisis may have actually brought a few things to the marketplace that might have otherwise not been sold at this time. The surprising thing was that everyone was expecting the market to be softer, especially since prices have been lower elsewhere, but the exact opposite happened. Collectors really do come out of the woodwork for our auctions. The results speak for themselves."
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