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Heritage Auctions sets all-time sports auction record with $22 million in sales

Longtime legends and rising stars, from Babe Ruth to Michael Jordan to Patrick Mahomes, helped cap off a banner year

DALLAS – Heritage Auctions’ four-day Fall Sports Collectibles event was a record-breaker full of record-makers.

The auction, held at HA.com Dec. 10-13, realized more than $22 million in sales, making it the largest sports auction ever held.

“The prices were extremely strong across the board, as the auction surpassed our preliminary auction estimates by more than 35 percent,” said Chris Ivy, Heritage’s Director of Sports Auctions. “This auction was a game-changer for sports collectibles, and it is clear that collectors and investors alike view cards and memorabilia as an alternative asset class with plenty of room left to grow.”

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From the December auction, not only did the Canadian card featuring a fresh-faced Wayne Gretzky in his first season as an Edmonton Oiler become the first hockey card to sell for more than $1 million, but more than two dozen lots hit and well surpassed six figures. Among them: a 1997 Michael Jordan card that sold for $915,000; Babe Ruth’s 1933 New York Yankees contract, which realized $300,000; and a sweater Bobby Orr wore during the Boston Bruins’ Stanley Cup-winning season of 1971-72, which sold for $147,118.

For this event, there was no such thing an item too small, whether it was a 2016 Patrick Mahomes rookie card (the only known Panini Select '17 NFL Draft XRC Gold Prizm Redemption graded PSA Gem Mint 10, which was estimated at $12,000 and sold for $192,000) or a game photo of Michael Jordan taken for a Wisconsin newspaper in December 1986 (it opened at $300 and realized more than $2,000).

“I am extremely proud of our entire Heritage Sports team,” says Ivy. “But more than anything, I’m thrilled for our consignors who helped us to break this longstanding industry record.”

The first day of the event began with the headline-making, record-breaking sale of Gretzky’s 1979 O-Pee-Chee debut – one of only two graded Gem Mint 10 by Professional Sports Authenticator. Early Friday morning, the card consigned by Dallas-based entrepreneur Patrick Bet-David realized $1.29 million – almost three times the previous record of $465,000 set four years ago, when there was but one PSA Gem Mint 10 known to exist.

Bet-David’s gem-mint-condition American version of Gretzky's NHL debut card set its own record Friday morning when a 1979 Topps Gretzky graded PSA Gem Mint 10 — like its Canadian counterpart, one of only two to receive the perfect score — realized $720,000. Its previous sale record was $201,000.

“If you’re a serious investor, you may want to consider investing a small portion of your portfolio in cards,” Bet-David tweeted Friday, noting he’s been a card-collector since 1990. “I made (a) 233 percent return in 17 months.”

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The event’s second-place finisher likely would have been a champion in any other auction, as the green-shaded 1997 Michael Jordan Metal Universe Precious Metal Gems realized $915,000 – almost twice its pre-auction estimate of $500,000. It’s a scarce card – there were only 10 printed. That is more than twice the price of the Jordan world-record rookie card, his 1986 Fleer graded SGC Pristine 10, which Heritage sold in August for $420,000.

Jordan wasn’t the only basketball superstar near the top in the auction, as two LeBron James cards sold for more than $200,000. King James’ 2003 Bowman Chrome Rookies & Stars LeBron Gold Refractor, graded PSA Gem Mint 10 and numbered 50/50, sold in this event for $288,000. Another less rare rookie card – the autographed 2003-04 SP Authentic graded BGS Pristine 10 and numbered 336/500 – fetched $204,000.

Heritage also realized the highest price ever paid for a Kobe Bryant rookie card when his 1996 Topps Chrome Refractor, graded PSA Gem Mint 10, realized $138,000.

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No sport was sidelined in this sale. Pele’s 1958 Alifabolaget rookie card, from Sweden and graded PSA NM-MT+ 8.5, was estimated to sell for $50,000. Instead, the soccer legend’s debut realized $132,000.

Only a decade ago, baseball cards would have been the top-sellers in any sports auction, with football close behind. How times, and the hobby, have changed in such a remarkably short time. Still, slugging stars and heroic hurlers also outperformed their estimates in this auction – some, exponentially.

A 1916 M101-4 Sporting News Babe Ruth rookie card, found in a plastic baggie by a Miami artist, was part of a newly discovered, new-to-market collection. The Ruth card alone was estimated to sell for $200,000. Instead, it nearly doubled that estimate when it sold for $360,000. Seventy-two years after his death, Ruth remains The Sultan of Swat.

But the Yankees legend wasn’t the lone home-run hitter.

A 1973 Topps No. 615 featuring Philadelphia Phillies' rising star Mike Schmidt and Los Angeles Dodgers future great Ron Cey was estimated to sell for $40,000. But the PSA Gem Mint 10 offering – one of only six known – realized $174,000, a record price for a card every card-collecting kid once had to own. A 1975 Topps George Brett graded PSA Gem Mint 10 realized $117,000, only four years after one sold for $38,240. And a 1971 Topps Hank Aaron card graded PSA Gem Mint 10 sold for $60,000 – six times its pre-auction estimate.

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The Dec. 10-13 Fall Sports Collectibles auction also featured as a centerpiece the Midwest Masterpiece Collection, which represents one of the hobby's finest personal assemblies of high-grade rookies and other notable trading cards, with a distinct focus on the greatest figures of 20th Century sports. This remarkable assemblage is the labor of love of Wisconsin resident Chris Ladd, who entered the hobby four decades ago.

Ladd’s collection, which included the 2003 LeBron James Bowman Chrome Rookies & Stars and the 2016 Patrick Mahomes Panini rookie card, was estimated at $2.82 million. Offered as the second session on Dec. 11, the Midwest Masterpiece Collection realized more than $4.3 million.

“The Midwest Masterpiece Collection’s extraordinary success is a testament to Chris’ vision for his collection, which consisted of highly desirable high-grade, low population, rookie cards of both vintage and modern stars,” Ivy says.

A complete list of results from the Fall Sports Collectibles event is available here.

“The record-setting results of this auction are a confluence of numerous factors aligning to create these amazing results, which has made 2020 a banner year for the entire sports collectibles industry,” Ivy says. “And Heritage Auctions is proud to be at the forefront as an industry leader.”