There was a time when you could buy a package of baseball cards complete with a stale piece of bubble gum (much to your dentist’s delight) for a nickel … OK, maybe a quarter.
You’d flip them with friends, maybe trade them, maybe attach them to the spokes of a wheel on your bike to make a cool sound. Then, one day in a frenzy of housecleaning, your mother tossed them out in the trash.
That’s too bad because today, those same cards are very valuable as evidenced by the early bidding going on for this weekend’s Heritage Auctions fall sports event.
Consider the numbers days before the Thursday through Saturday auction gets underway. A Mickey Mantle Bowman rookie card was listed at $230,000. And a fistful of his contemporaries were also at six figures led by a Sandy Koufax Topps rookie card from 1955 at $210,000. Two Jackie Robinson versions are next with the 1949 Bowman at $190,000 and the 1948-49 Leaf at $175,000. They are followed by a 1952 Topps Willie Mays card at $160,000.
The prices reflect a boom in what once was a kids’ hobby that now is all grown up. Chris Ivy, director of sports for Heritage Auctions, calls it a confluence of events coming together.
“A lot of people are looking to invest across the board and they see Wall Street and real estate maxed out,’’ he said. “It’s also a generational thing. Baseball is a generational sport. These are some of the greatest players of all time. People remember them.’’
Baseball cards have been around since the early days of the 20th century when tobacco and candy companies distributed them. They later evolved to chewing gum sponsors. “There is historical popularity about baseball,’’ Ivy said.
The fall auction has plenty more than cards. Ivy said there is considerable interest in an Al Kaline collection that includes the Detroit Tigers’ Hall of Famer’s high school yearbooks and trophies. Also in the auction are items like the Yankee Stadium pitching rubber that President George W. Bush used for his World Series first pitch following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and a bevy of autographed balls by presidents and Hall of Famers.
Heritage expects the prices to double during open bidding from the current $12 million for the auction’s 4,200 lots which includes an impressive array of memorabilia.
“Eighty percent of our bids come in the auction’s final hours,’’ Ivy said. `”Imagine holding a bat that Babe Ruth once held or Ted Williams used.’’
A word of caution about those cards, though. Bubble gum is not included.