Over the past year, a hot topic has consistently been the nature or state of the game used memorabilia market. I have never been a dealer, but have been in tune with prices since they effect what I purchase for own collection. Since I began my association with MEARS, I find myself getting asked more and more frequently questions related to pricing and investing. I thought it might be worthwhile for me to share how I look at things from a market stand point. I mention it in this manner so you realize I am talking about purchases I would consider making based on a planned future return as opposed to something I would want solely for my collection. This is an important distinction to make and realize on an individual level, because I know I have paid well above market price for items I really wanted.
Suffice it to say, by and large, the game used memorabilia market is softer as a rule than it has been in years past. Yes I realize certain items continue to do well, but this article is more about looking at trends and factors that I consider relevant to the topic. It’s also the time to begin thinking about how to be best positioned when the market begins the next upswing. When the market begins to turn around, I think collectors are going to remember what happed to the value of the items of the more modern player whose personal and professional legacy is still in play. These collectors may be both jaded about the more modern player, but certainly more savvy about what they buy and why. I think this is going to lead to a focus and greater demand for what I refer to as the secure yet obtainable.
Secure refers to those players who have achieved a high level of achievement and their personal and professional lives are as solid and locked down as their numbers. Think in terms of players whose careers ended before the early to mid 1980s.
Obtainable refers to items or collections not restricted by exorbitant cost and extreme scarcity. Of course price is a relative term, but few can afford a collection of bats and uniforms of all the members of Baseball’s Hall of Fame. Even if price was not an issue, the number of these complete collections would be limited by product availability.
When looking to buy, just as with any other commodity, you are looking at separate but related factors:
1. The Overall Product Rating.
2. Pricing at the Time of Purchase.
I think of this in terms of a four star rating system, awarding a one star for each of these four criteria.
1. Desirability of the Player. This equates to Hall of Fame or part of a team or event that others desire.
2. Players career is closed out. (As mentioned as secure above).
3. Time frame of the item. As a general rule, value for items seems to follow where the item comes from in a players career; Early, Mid, or Late. Of course there are exceptions for single seasons or events, but the purpose of this is to help illustrate a profile. The earlier in a players career the better.
4. The quality of the item. I know there are many who hate grading and the grading concept. It does serve a purpose as related to determining value. I will however concede grades are relative and are only as valuable as they are accurate and defendable. An inflated formal grade of 9 or 10 has little value because what you are counting on is that the person who will buy the item later on sees the same level of overall quality that you did when you bought the item. I place items in three levels on a scale of 1-10:
1-4: Low Grade
5-6: Mid Grade
7-10: High Grade
Any grade that is worth having, especially the high grades, needs to be solid and objective.
Notice I have not mentioned scarcity or availability. I have been wrestling with a metric for this, buy alas I am forced to rely on the words of Chief Justice Potter Stewart who said of pornography, “I’ll know it when I see it.” I can say that things like the MEARS bat and jersey census are helpful indicators.
For me, a Four Star Item would be one from a Hall of Famer (1) from the pre 1980s(2); the item is from early in their career (3) and comes with high a grade (4) or based on the information presented and known about the item, is at least a solid candidate for one. This is the general profile I have suggested collectors to consider when they ask me for advice on investment quality purchases.
Pricing at the Time of Purchase:
We are in a “Buyers Market” right now for everything from real-estate to sports memorabilia. There are great and solid buys to be had right now if you are not cash strapped. To make wise purchases you have to have some profile of what to look for (which I have offered for consideration) and a sense for where the market is for those items. Current price is only relative to were it has been and is likely to go again when the market rebounds.
For this article, I looked at some of items offered by Robert Edwards Auctions (REA). I chose REA as opposed to MEARS because MEARS as auction house does not yet have the data to support the trends I am looking for. I also picked REA because I trust their data and they offer an annual auction that takes place about the same time every year. Consistency in data is critical to the study of anything. I don’t have the time to go through all items over a period from 2005-2009 so I picked a couple of market mainstays, bat’s of Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. Both Mays and Aaron fit my profile for factors #1 and #2 within my profile. The charts I have enclosed are designed to show a few things, but what they have in common is why I think both Mays and Aaron items are good buys right now.
CHART I: Chart I shows a couple of Mid Grade (6) mid to late 1960s Mays bats and what the current market for them appears to be, around $2400.00. These bats are from two different auction houses and graded by two different services. I point this out as offering source and evaluation source can at times affect an items price realized. In this case, it appears not to have much or any influence.
CHART II: Chart II shows mid to high grade May’s bats from mid to the front end of late in his career.
These two charts indicate to me to Mays items remain available below where they can and should be expected to return to. Mays would be a strong buy if I was in a buying position based on potential upside.
CHART III: Chart III shows a couple of recent Hank Aaron bats. Even though the period of 1973-1975 was an important one for Aaron, condition (Grade) and time frame of the offering leave a significant gap in the value between the two bats. Decide for yourself if any effect was garnered or lost based on offering source/evaluation source.
CHART IV: Chart IV shows some Aaron bats over time.
These two charts indicate to me that Aaron items have held value, and in some cases may have in fact gained value when seen through the filter of an overall market down turn. Consider that the most recent offering out performed an autographed 1962 All Star Game bat offered two years ago. The 1962 ASG bat price may have been affected by the fact that Aaron did not play in the game, but then you have to balance that against the fact that it is a signed All Star Game bat with points for use. Aaron would also be a strong buy because of the demonstrated ability to maintain value even in a down market.
In comparing these two players, both are strong buys, but from a dispassionate investment standpoint, which would represent the better buy based on a market upswing? In this case I would say Mays as his items as a function of current pricing are more affordable now and even with your future profit, are likely to be more affordable to more collectors in the future.
If I were really looking to do some investment buying with respect to baseball memorabilia, I would be looking for bats and jerseys from members of the 500 Home Run Club or 3000 Hit Club who played the bulk of the careers in the 1950’s through the 1970s. I would then do some market analysis based on where those prices are at right now and where I think they might go.
Recently, two restored Mickey Mantel jerseys brought $180K+ (1952 home) and $216K (1958 road). I don’t know who bought those or for what reason (Mantle collector, Yankees collector, Hall of Fame Collector, 500 Home Run collector), but I think it does bode well for the players and profile I have established. If you use Mantle as the pinnacle for this player demographic, which I would, evaluate for yourself the collectability of those other players within the same or similar demographic, considering Mantle as 5. Assign the player a value of:
4/5th the value of similar Mantle item
3/5th the value of similar Mantle item
2/5th the value of similar Mantle item
1/5th the value of similar Mantle item
(Similar refers to item, condition, and period-Early, Mid, or Late)
Then using the Mantle value and your assessment of relative player value, look for product that you feel is undervalued considering your analysis. This is also why I picked Aaron and Mays as their careers all began in the early 1950s.
Of course this won’t work for all cases because some players were early in their careers as Mantle’s was coming to a close. My point being there should be some basis for looking at items and thinking about where you think they will go and why.
I also have offered this information as I am seeing some collectors either just entering the market at a fairly high level or looking to go back in time and up in value for the items they collect. As you talk with dealers or other collectors about current market and future market value, my hope is that all of this will at least give you point of departure. Of course I realize that all of this goes out the window if your purchase decisions are governed by a personal or emotional drive for a player or item. Still, I’d like to think that there is something in here that just about anyone can use.
As always, collect what you enjoy and enjoy what you collect.
MEARS Auth, LLC
For questions or comments on this article, please feel to drop me a line at DaveGrob1@aol.com