A 1948-49 Bowman George Mikan rookie basketball card sold for $218,550 early Sunday morning in the Hidden Treasures Auction conducted by Memory Lane Incorporated. It is the highest price ever recorded for the public sale of a single basketball card.
Graded a perfect "10" by Professional Sports Authenticator (PSA), the card is the only gem mint graded Mikan rookie card in existence. Just four others have attained a '9' or 'mint' grade. The card generated 57 bids before being won by SCP Auctions of Laguna Niguel, CA which was bidding on behalf of one of its clients. Bidding closed at $186,000. The final realized price of $218,550 includes a 17.5% buyer's premium added to each winning bid in the auction.
Auction bidding began in late November and closed with a flurry of activity late Saturday night with the Mikan card eventually topping the reserve price after midnight Eastern time.
The Mikan rookie card sold by Memory Lane featured razor sharp corners with excellent centering and no real defects of any kind, a rarity in an era when printing was far less sophisticated. It once resided in the collection of former Major League pitcher Tom Candiotti.
The 1948-49 set was Bowman's first and only entry in the basketball trading card arena, although the company did produce baseball and football sets from the late '40s through 1955. The card was printed in the more scarce second series, adding to its desirability and rarity. The '48 basketball set was the first Bowman sports card set produced in color and represents the last mainstream basketball card set until Topps produced its first set in 1957.
Considered the 'holy grail' of basketball cards, the 1948-49 Bowman Mikan rookie represents the dawn of the game's first real superstar. Mikan's size was unusual for his day and his skill helped him become a marketable, dominant player who would lead the Minneapolis Lakers to prominence. He was a three-time league champion who earned election to the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1959. Years later, he was named to the NBA's list of the 50 greatest players of all-time.
"The opportunity to sell this card was really exciting," said Memory Lane's J.P. Cohen. "Just to see it and understand the history of what it represents is something to remember. Then to have some passionate, loyal and very determined bidders try so hard to land it in the auction was great. I know the winning bidder is thrilled."
In all, the Memory Lane Hidden Treasures Auction generated $1.8 million in sales and featured a number of rare pieces representing sports and non-sports collectibles.
A trio of mid-1950s baseball card boxes-still unopened after more than 50 years-also generated tremendous interest among the thousands of sports collectors who participated. The winners will now have to decide whether to keep them in their current state or break open the packs and hope to score some high-grade superstars or rookie cards. A 1955 Topps box of 24 packs led the way, closing with a realized price of $44,317. Sandy Koufax, Harmon Killebrew and Al Kaline rookie cards could be inside. 1954 and 1955 Bowman boxes sold for $34,917 each.
The ultimate "to rip or not to rip" question will confront the buyer of a 1952 Topps baseball unopened nickel pack. Rare by any measure, the pack offered in the Hidden Treasures sale was from t he 5th and 6th series. That means it's possible a Mantle card lies inside-undisturbed since it was placed there some 57 years ago. The pack brought $15,406.95 more than it cost at the store back then.
19th century baseball collectors had the opportunity to bid on a group of 1887 Old Judge "spotted tie series" cards. This ultra rare collection included 15 of the 16 known cards and sold for $40,792. An 1895 Mayo's card of pitcher Kid Nichols tallied $7377 in a PSA 5 holder.
Memory Lane also offered a selection of high-grade cancelled checks bearing the signatures of some of baseball's greatest names including a PSA/DNA-graded "10" Christy Mathewson, accompanied by a note from the late pitcher's wife. It sold for $25,517, while a 1917 Honus Wagner check brought $5937.
Autographed items did not stop with the checks, however. An incredible 1949 Bowman baseball set, with an eye-popping 214 cards autographed including several Hall of Famers, brought $14,624. An addendum to Thurman Munson's 1968 minor league contract, signed by the late catcher, drew a lot of attention. The one-of-a-kind item sold for $2235. A sketch signed by all four members of Notre Dame's famous pre-War backfield known as The Four Horsemen, tallied $2493. An index card signed by Hall of Fame pitcher Walter Johnson (graded 9 by PSA/DNA), went for $1475.
Vintage baseball cards are always the base of Memory Lane's catalog auctions and once again bidders found some high-grade gems. This time, the two most important cards in the 1951 Bowman series were offered. A PSA 7-graded 1951 Bowman Mickey Mantle rookie card rocketed to $11,860, cementing Mantle cards as a "can't miss opportunity" for collectors or investors. Two '51 Bowman Willie Mays rookies were offered. A PSA 8 copy brought a very impressive $13,342 winning bid while a 7.5 sold for $7902. A 1952 Bowman Mays graded '8' sold for $5533.
The 100th anniversary year of the T206 set saw MLI bring out some beauties from this iconic issue. A T206 Cy Young "bare hand showing" variation, graded PSA 8, brought $15,256 while an Old Mill John McGraw "portrait with cap" sold for $7365.
The 1950s continue to be among the most popular eras for fans and collectors. A PSA 9 1955 Topps Hank Aaron is heading for a new home at a price of $5541. The horizontal design represents Aaron's second big league card. A 1959 Topps Ernie Banks All-Star card from the high number series, graded '9', landed at $4054 and a 1952 Topps Pee Wee Reese (7.5), sold for $3686.
Rare cards, however, don't always have to carry famous names. Witness some highlights from a razor-sharp collection of 1959 Topps that nestled into the Hidden Treasures Auction. An Al Smith, graded PSA 10, generated 27 bids and sold for $4097 while a Pitcher's Beware in PSA 9 went for $457. A 1952 Topps Don Mueller (red back) brought $4507 and a 1965 Topps George Altman (PSA 10) sold for $2306.
Hockey card collectors are among the most dedicated and passionate in the hobby, so when a truly rare high-grade card comes on the market, they will chase it aggressively. Proof of that came with the sale of a 1971-72 OPC Guy LaFleur rookie card. Graded a perfect PSA 10, the card climbed to $12,336 before the winning bidder was able to nail it down.
Other sports also showed strong numbers including a 1965 Joe Namath rookie card in high grade that sold for $2235, a 1961-62 Fleer basketball Paul Arizin in Action ($1617-PSA 9) and a 1997 SPX Michael Jordan promo autographed card (95/100), graded '10' that brought $2947.
Non-sport card collectors gravitated toward a 1938 Horrors of War #76, graded PSA 9. The winning bid on this classic card was $2544 while a 1959 Fleer Three Stooges #71 in the same condition, went for $2710.
Even Beatles fans had something to twist and shout about. In 1964, when Ringo Starr was battling tonsillitis, the group hired drummer Jimmy Nicol to fill in during a concert tour. Nicol's signature joined John, Paul and George on a 5x7 sized autograph page that was offered in the auction. The rare piece went for $3016.
The auction concluded another tremendously successful year for Memory Lane's catalog sales, but the company is already anticipating its next landmark event, The Big Game Auction. This special, football-only sale will begin next month and close the day before the Super Bowl. Consignments of high quality and rare football cards and memorabilia are now being accepted.
Contact Memory Lane at 877.606.LANE (5263) or visit their website www.memorylaneinc.com.