The lingering question from last week's marathon auction at Sotheby's in New York is whether the baseball memorabilia market has topped out or whether this is just one in a series of steps that has risen prices to unbelievable levels.
The much-ballyhooed sale of Barry Halper's collection lasted seven days, drew national publicity and a tidy $21.8 million. If the pricetag alone wasn't staggering enough, all 2,481 items in the collection were sold to an assortment of buyers that included Hollywood star Billy Crystal. Even more impressive was the fact the pre-sale estimates by Sotheby's, which usually slide toward the conservative side, were doubled by the sale of items.
Some experts believe this was an anomaly -- the size and historic nature of the Halper collection was a once in a decade type of thing. Others aren't so sure.
Some of the items in Halper's collection figured to drew big attention -- particularly those dating back to more than 30 years ago and those surrounding Babe Ruth. Halper, a part owner of the New York Yankees, had made it clear how pleased he was the sale went well, adding some of the collection will still go on to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
But some of the sale items reached almost laughable proportions according to New York television stations that covered the week-long story. Most of the humor was pointed toward the $7,475 a Pennsylvania woman paid for Ty Cobb's dentures. Originally, the presale estimate was between $300 and $500, steep enough considering the difficulty in authenticating and even reselling the items. But Karen Shemonsky, 52, of Clarks Summit fell under the spell of this week-long love affair between collectors and unusual items (she also reportedly told her husband she wouldn't bid over $2,500)..
“My sister goes on cruises, I'd rather have this in my hand," said Shemonsky, whose father was a dentist.
The highest price Cobb item was $325,500 paid by Upper Deck for a 1928 Cobb jersey from the Philadelphia A's -- considered a rare find considering Cobb spent nearly his entire career with the Detroit Tigers. Most of the Cobb items in the Halper collection came from long-time biographer Al Stump, who has been widely recognized as the foremost authority on Cobb and Cobb-related items.
Clearly, however, the focus was on Halper's collection involving the Yankees. Joe Dimaggio's autograph on Marilyn Monroe's photo of the cover of Playboy Magazine drew front page treatment in USA Today. The autograph was sold for $40,250 -- again following the lead of the presale conservative estimate that forecast the item would go for half of that amount. Crystal, also a life-long Yankee fan who has dabbed in memorabilia collecting over the years, whipped out his checkbook and paid $239,000 for a glove Mickey Mantle wore in 1960 and a signed photo of Mantle in a different glove.
"Can I jump from here," Crystal yelled from a skybox overlooking the auction. Crystal can only hope the glove does better in coming months than most of his movies have done at the box office in recent years.
While the Yankee memorabilia drew the most interest, the crosstown rival New York Mets also shared part of the spotlight. A set of 1969 Topps baseball cards considered in near mint condition sold for $2,070 while a commemorative bat from that season brought $920. Both were again about double what collectors had estimated the items to be worth.
The inflated receipts from the auction could be good news for sellers as part of the continuing trend of higher prices for baseball collectibles. However, the Wall Street Journal reported that could be a bad sign for buyers who will pay more for material as dealers hike prices in the wake of the sale.
"I've been holding a 1961 Yankee team photo," Scott Goodman, owner of Sports World in Staten Island, N.Y., told the Journal. "I had it at $6,000, now I will price it at $8,500."
Just think how much more he could ask if he had some of the dentures from some of the players on that great 1961 Yankee club.