NEW YORK (AP) – A mint condition Mickey Mantle baseball card sold for USD12.6 million last Sunday, blasting into the record books as the most ever paid for sports memorabilia in a market that has grown exponentially more lucrative in recent years.
The rare Mantle card eclipsed the record just posted a few months ago – USD9.3 million for the jersey worn by Diego Maradona when he scored the contentious “Hand of God” goal in football’s 1986 World Cup.
It easily surpassed the USD7.25 million for a century-old Honus Wagner baseball card recently sold in a private sale.
And just last month, the heavyweight boxing belt reclaimed by Muhammad Ali during 1974’s ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ sold for nearly USD6.2 million.
All are part of a booming market for sports collectibles.
Prices have risen not just for the rarest items, but also for pieces that might have been collecting dust in garages and attics. Many of those items make it onto consumer auction sites like eBay, while others are put up for bidding by auction houses.
Because of its near-perfect condition and its legendary subject, the Mantle card was destined to be a top seller, said Chris Ivy, the director of sports auctions at Heritage Auctions, which ran the bidding.
Some saw collectibles as a hedge against inflation over the past couple years, he said, while others rekindled childhood passions.
Ivy said savvy investors saw inflation coming down the road – as it has. As a result, sports memorabilia became an alternative to traditional Wall Street investments or real estate – particularly among members of Generation X and older millennials.
“There’s only so much Netflix and Tiger King people could watch (during the pandemic). So, you know, they were getting back into hobbies, and clearly sports collecting was a part of that,” said Ivy, who noted an uptick in calls among potential sellers.
Add to that interest from wealthy overseas collectors and you have a confluence of factors that made sports collectibles especially attractive, Ivy said.
“We’ve kind of started seeing some growth and some rise in the prices that led to some media coverage. And I think it all just kind of built upon itself,” he said. “I would say the beginning of the pandemic really added gasoline to that fire.”