Cleveland Rocks at the National Sports Convention

By Joe Orlando

I t was just recently when I was boarding a plane for Cleveland, site of the 2001 National Sports Convention, and I was trying to speculate how the strong the market would be. The wonderful part about attending the show is that you can witness sales first hand and many of the top dealers in the country are in attendance. Let's take a look at the some of the different areas of the hobby and how the market is shaping up.

Vintage PSA cards

Over the past few months, I have heard that many collectors feel that the market is down for vintage PSA cards. Now, while it is true that some collectors are hesitating on high-dollar purchases, I couldn't disagree more. The market isn't really down; it's just that the market is changing. In other words, maybe high-dollar items appear "soft" but the money is still being spent, it is just being spent in other areas right now.

Hank Aaron

High-end baseball cards from the 1970's are very strong right now, especially those from the 1971 Topps set. Those pesky black borders wreak havoc on the corners and edges, making true high-end copies very tough to find. In fact, a mid-1970's rookie card graded in Gem Mint 10, sold for approximately $20,000 at the show! It sounds crazy but it's true, we will bring you the details very soon. In the meantime, try to guess which card was sold.

Other areas that were very hot in the vintage area were PSA Near Mint 7's of key cards and pre-war issues. Collectors are starting to realize more and more that the price gap between NM-MT 8's and Near Mint 7's is just too large in some cases. Remember that a near mint card is truly a very nice, attractive example. Most PSA 7's would easily be sold as NM-MT or better in ungraded form. With some PSA 7 keys merely valued at 20%-30% of their NM-MT counterparts, the value becomes clear. I would look for more significant price movement in this area over the next few months.

Tris Speaker

Football seems to be making a slow comeback. One PSA dealer told me at the show that he sold more high-grade vintage football cards than all of the other sports combined. Many of the early football issues are considered amongst the most visually appealing issues ever manufactured and, while baseball cards have surged forward at a record pace, football has been left behind. It will be interesting to see how football performs as the football season approaches, keep an eye on these gems.

Finally, here is a quick breakdown of how the market shaped up at the 2001 event.

1) Pre-War - PSA 8's are solid with low population cards bringing major premiums right now. PSA 7's are starting to really gain in popularity, these are very nice cards people! Low-to-mid grade keys have been very solid over the last year and that continues to be true today, these cards can be purchased at a fraction of the elusive high-end gems. PSA 9's and 10's are so rare that it is hard to say where that market is right now but, due to an uncertain economy, collectors seem to be afraid to write the big check.

Ty Cobb

2) Post-War up to 1980 - PSA 8's are as hot as they have ever been, don't be fooled by the somewhat "soft" high-dollar 9 and 10 market. At auction and at retail, I am seeing a closing of the gap between top notch PSA 8's and 9's. The 9's will always bring a lot more but the question becomes, "How much more?" When a 1955 Topps Sandy Koufax PSA 8 is only valued at roughly 10% of a PSA 9, collectors start to take notice.

Just when I say that the PSA 9 and 10 high-dollar market may be somewhat "soft," a few huge prices were realized recently. A 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle PSA Gem Mint 10 just sold for $275,000! Another big PSA 10, a 1959 Topps Willie Mays, sold for $35,000. How about a 1964 Topps Stand-Up Aaron at $12,500? These cards are still moving, they are just not moving quite as fast as they were one year ago and, in many cases, the prices are still rising.

Steve Carlton

The cards that have probably seen the most growth are high-end examples that fall into a more affordable range. For example, a collector might be a little hesitant on a card that reaches $25,000 plus but many collectors are as aggressive as ever on cards that might fall into the $5,000 range and below. In other words, there seems to be a substantial collector base for PSA 9 examples of players like Killebrew, Mathews and Gibson at this point. Collectors are paying substantial premiums for cards that fall into this range because they are more affordable, there seems to be very little hesitation in this area.

As mentioned above, 1970's material is moving fast and furious, especially early 70's examples in ultra high-grade. It will be very interesting to see where this sector of the market ends up in a few months. Will the surge stay strong? With affordability more important than ever, the 70's cards might hold strong for a while.

Bobby Layne

3) Modern PSA cards in general - Modern cards, graded or ungraded, are the most volatile cards of the entire group. That being said, the PSA modern card market is reflective of the modern market in general but the price levels are much, much different. I witnessed awesome levels on Barry Bonds cards at the beginning of the show and then, as he cooled down a bit at the plate, so did his cards.

One PSA 10 Topps Tiffany Bonds sold for $4,000. In ungraded form, you could only get a fraction of that. Tiger Woods cards, especially the new Upper Deck issues, were probably the most frequently submitted cards at the show. I am very curious to see, once enough PSA graded cards have hit the market, where the price levels settle in.

Game-used equipment

Ripken bat

Bats and jerseys are very, very strong right now. Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken sales have actually increased since both have announced their intention of retiring at the end of the year. Bonds bats are bringing $2,000-$3,000 right now at retail levels and, on the other hand, Big Mac is a little "soft" right now due to his struggles with injury. I did witness the sale of a 1962 Mickey Mantle H&B All-Star bat with very nice use at $30,000.

Ripken bat

In fact, one dealer brought about 20 vintage game-used bats to the show and he sold over half of them in the first 3 hours of Dealer Day! The public had their choices cut in half before security even opened the doors! In addition, another game-used dealer had one client purchase nearly 15 jerseys in one swoop on the first day of public admission. Quality game-used material is very strong right now.

Autographs (vintage and modern)

Never before have I seen so many collectors interested in having their items authenticated. As a result of this increasing interest, the public is being offered more authenticated material, the buyers are more willing to spend because of the added level of security and the items, on the whole, have become very liquid. The one thing I have noticed over the last few months is that autographs are clearly bringing higher prices at auction than they do at retail. In other areas, like cards and game-used bats, that is not always the case.

McGwire ball

One example would be the prices realized for Mark McGwire signed baseballs. Three have sold at auction between $2,200-$3,500 in the last month yet some people flinch at a $1,500 retail price tag for the same quality. For those of you considering the purchase of an autograph, especially high-end, I would suggest being more aggressive on direct purchases because you will most likely pay more at auction.

Overall, the 2001 event provided great insight into the state of the market and how the hobby is evolving.


Joe Orlando has been an advanced collector of sportscards and memorabilia for over 25 years. Orlando attended Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California where he studied communications and was the starting catcher for the baseball team. After a brief stint in the minor leagues, Orlando obtained a Juris Doctor from Whittier Law School in Southern California in the spring of 1999. During the last fourteen years, Orlando has authored several collecting guides and dozens of articles for Collectors Universe, Inc. Orlando has also authored two books for Collectors Universe. Orlando's first book, The Top 200 Sportscards in the Hobby, was released in the summer of 2002. His second book, Collecting Sports Legends, was released in the summer of 2008. Orlando has appeared on several radio and television programs as a hobby expert including ESPN's award-winning program Outside the Lines and HBO's Real Sports, as the featured guest. Currently, Orlando is the President of PSA and PSA/DNA, the largest trading card and sports memorabilia authentication services in the hobby. He is also Editor of the company's nationally distributed Sports Market Report, which under Orlando's direction has developed into a leading resource in the market. Orlando also contributed the foreword and last chapter to The T206 Collection: The Players and Their Stories, a 2010 release, and to The Cracker Jack Collection: Baseball's Prized Players, a 2013 release.