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2017 was the year that was in online auction sales

Sports Collectors Digest contributing writer Larry Canale takes a look back at the 2017 online auctions sales that helped shape the sports card and memorabilia hobby.

By Larry Canale

With 2017 officially in the rear-view mirror, let’s take a look at the year’s biggest stories in online auctions, as reported in this space. We’ll start with the obvious—a Top 10 list for all of 2017 (keep in mind that our focus excludes major auction houses).

1. $235,202: 1951 Bowman Willie Mays (PSA 9)

2. $175,100: 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle (PSA 7.5)

3. $100,099: 1956 Topps Roberto Clemente (PSA 10)

4. $88,988: 1980-81 Topps Larry Bird/Magic Johnson/Julius Erving (PSA 10)

5. $81,111: 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle (SGC 84)

6. $79,100: 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle (SGC 84)

7. $75,100: 1980 Topps Larry Bird/Magic Johnson/Julius Erving (PSA 10)

8. $68,988: 1980-81 Larry Bird/Magic Johnson/Julius Erving (PSA 10)

9. $67, 956: 1952 Topps Eddie Mathews (PSA 8)

10. $65,500: 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle (PSA 5)

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It’s no shock to see a 1951 Bowman card atop the year-spanning list at $235,202; the surprise is that it’s the Say Hey Kid, Willie Mays. His rookie card placed well above the classic Mickey Mantle card from the set. Condition is the key, as always: How many 1951 cards, period, do we see in 9-grade condition, never mind a Mays example?

Underneath the 1951 Mays is a 1952 Topps Mantle graded at 7.5. It brought $175,100.

Keep in mind that this classic card in 9 condition can soar to exorbitant levels; the hobby’s high-water mark for such a specimen is $2.5 million. And a 1952 Mantle with a PSA 8.5 grade exceeded $1 million in 2016.

Speaking of condition, how about a 1956 Roberto Clemente with a Gem-Mint PSA 10 grade? Its $100,099 price from 2017—third-highest on our list—almost seems like a bargain.

The other surprise might be the presence of three examples of a card that’s been gaining steam in recent years: the tri-section 1980-81 Topps issue of NBA legends Dr. J, Larry Legend, and Magic. The card featured Bird and Johnson making their first appearance in a major card set, providing extra marquee value.


Let’s take you beyond that estimable group for a peek at the next 10. Conveniently, there were exactly 10 other items that drew auction prices of at least $50,000 on eBay.

11. $62,955: 1951 Bowman Mickey Mantle (PSA 7)

12. $60,000: 1997-98 Upper Deck Michael Jordan Game Jersey auto, All-Star patch card, #7/23 (ungraded)

13. $58,100: 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle (PSA 6)

14. $55,400: 1969-70 Topps Lew Alcindor (PSA 9)

15. $55,045: 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth (PSA 8)

16. $52,500: 1915 Babe Ruth Type 1 photograph, Boston Red Sox pitching staff (PSA, LOA)

17. $52,351: 1936 World Wide Gum Joe DiMaggio (PSA 7)

18. $50,000: 1932 U.S. Caramel Babe Ruth (PSA 8)

19. $50,000: 2000 Leaf Limited Edition Tom Brady (PSA 10)

20. $50,000: 2007 Upper Deck Exquisite Collection Kevin Durant auto patch, #65 of 99 (BGS 9, auto 10)

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Among the treasures here is that historic 1915 photograph of Babe Ruth, an item we discussed in “Online Auctioneer” last time out. In case you missed it: The print’s status as a Type 1 photograph (a first-generation picture developed from the original negative during the period) helped push it to its $52,500 price. So too did the subject. At the time the photo was snapped, Babe was a young hurler in his first full season with the Boston Red Sox. Accompanying him were four other members of the BoSox pitching staff: Rube Foster, Carl Mays, Ernie Shore and Dutch Leonard.


Two years ago in “Online Auctioneer,” we took a summary approach in rounding up the top sales of 2015. Of the 25 installments of OA that year, we saw a 1952 Mantle rank in the top spot 11 times. Mantle’s ’52 Topps wasn’t quite as dominant in 2017, but it still landed in our No. 1 spot seven times out of 26 installments. Mantle’s 1951 Bowman, meanwhile, reached No. 1 in two installments, while his 1953 landed there once.

The only other cards to reach No. 1 more than once during 2017 were the 1980-81 Topps Bird/Magic/Erving Topps card (three times) and Michael Jordan’s 1986-87 Fleer card (twice).


So which 10 athletes appeared most frequently on our Top 10 charts during 2017? If you had to guess names, we’re confident you’d come up with each of the following pretty quickly. Keep in mind that the total universe for this exercise is 260 (26 installments of OA times 10 items listed in each).

1. Mickey Mantle: 67 times. Among those appearances, 35 of them were Mantle’s 1952 Topps card and another 16 were his 1951 and 10 were his 1953 Topps card.

2. Michael Jordan: 47 times, with 30 of them devoted to his 1986-87 Fleer rookie.

3. Tom Brady: 14 times, eight of which were his 2000 Upper Deck SP Authentic.

4. LeBron James: 10 times, half of which were his 2003-04 Topps Chrome rookie.

T5. Babe Ruth: 6 times.

T5. Nolan Ryan: 6 times.

T7. Hank Aaron: 5 times.

T7. Willie Mays: 5 times.

T7. Roberto Clemente: 5 times.

T7. Rickey Henderson: 5 times.

Is there a “collecting season”—one time of the year where we spend bigger bucks?

Judging by our charts over the course of 2017, yes. Adding up each set of Top 10-list items, we see that the totals were highest during Sports Collectors Digest issues produced in late March ($608,879), late August ($396,483), and mid-July ($383,467). So, anecdotally speaking (but certainly matching our enduring interest in the National Pastime), the big collecting “season” mirrors the baseball season.

The lowest Top 10 totals were generally in December and January—we’re too busy buying gifts for others!


In late December, we saw an incredible listing turn up—a pair of golf shoes worn by Jack Nicklaus at the 1986 Masters. The white shoes, still with golf spikes on the bottom, sold for $12,000. Each shoe bears a large and bold autograph by the legendary golfer. PSA/DNA certified the sigs as authentic. u

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