Whether it’s Hank Aaron’s glowing orange ’54 Topps, Michael Jordan’s patriotic ‘86 Fleer or Wayne Gretzky’s often ill-centered 1979-80 OPC card, collectors have always had a fondness for debut appearances. But the market for rookie cards, specifically high-grade Hall of Famers, has never been better, regardless of sport. Over the past year, Mile High Card Company has procured some of the most elusive GEM MINT specimens in the hobby and posted record-shattering results, doubling and tripling the previous highest sale price in many instances. But it’s not just the truly elite examples that have taken off…
1980 Topps Rickey Henderson RC tops $30,000
It was literally moments after MHCC’s 2015 Spring Elite Extra Innings Auction ended that message boards began to light up about the sale price of a 1980 Topps Rickey Henderson rookie card. At $30,325, it nearly tripled the record price of the last example to come to auction. But that was in 2012, when Joe Montana’s GEM MINT 1981 Topps rookie card was selling for around $4,500; five have sold in the last four months for an average of over $14,000. Jerry Rice’s GEM MINT RC? A record-setting price of just over $4,000 in 2012 will set you back well over $11,000 today with one recently selling for over $14,000. And it’s not just GEM MINT specimens that are fetching amazing prices. Roberto Clemente’s 1955 Topps rookie card has jumped from $6,000 to over $25,000 in PSA 8. Even a ’73 Topps Mike Schmidt rookie card has doubled in price from $1,500 to $3,000 for a PSA 9 in just the past year. And then there’s the ’52 Topps Mantle, not actually a rookie card but easily his most desirable. A strong PSA 8 would have cost you around $75,000 three years ago but that’s only good enough to get you turned down for a PSA 7 today. MHCC just sold a PSA 8 privately for $325,000 and a 1955 Topps Clemente PSA 9 for $200,000. Where does it end … does it?
So what’s going on here?
Simple economics I suppose; just a matter of supply and demand. With published population reports, along with a perception that grading companies have become far more stringent than in years past, collectors are not only armed with the knowledge of which particular issues are more scarce in various grades but that few, if any, future submissions will achieve such lofty results. It’s been 35 years since Henderson’s rookie card was released and only 13 exist at the grade of PSA 10. The question isn’t when, but if, there’s going to be a 14. And when will one of those 13 be offered for sale again? That collector who paid a “crazy” price today might be raking in six figures a few years from now.
The next explosion in the sports card world!
Ha! If I knew that, I’d be sipping margaritas on a private island instead of typing away at a keyboard. We’ve seen T206s, Goudeys, caramel cards and many other issues rocket to record prices in the past. Sometimes they maintain the momentum and continue to rise, sometimes the popularity is fleeting and the waters recede. I’ve always maintained that high-grade Diamond Stars cards are undervalued (and if that becomes a thing I’m taking full credit for it), but if scarce and even not so scarce high-grade rookie cards are going crazy, I’d be taking a look at some select second-year cards. Many of those have even smaller population numbers than their corresponding RC’s and can be had at a fraction of the price. Michael Jordan’s GEM MINT 1986 Fleer RC (pop. 209) sells for close to $15,000 today, but his tougher ‘87 Fleer second-year card (pop. 116) is under $2,000. Sure, it’s not nearly as popular a card … right now. But that’s what would make it the NEXT big thing. What do you think?