Denver-based auction firm, Small Traditions LLC, successfully concluded its 11th consecutive Monthly Masterpieces Plus auction late Saturday night from the 38th Annual National Sports Collectors Convention in Chicago, and the results were big. "Our favorite motto is 'Small Traditions, Big Results,'" said company founder, Dave Thorn, a former teacher and research writer for catalog auction companies like Mile High and Goodwin and Co. "We say it often, usually to motivate us through the long days and nights that go into preparing each of our auctions, but it's encouraging to see so many of our realized prices standing behind those words."
After concluding the company's largest-ever auction in June, consisting of nearly 1,200 lots and 10,000 bids, and then preparing free consignor graded card submissions for last week's National in Chicago and also next week's East Coast National in New York, the company faced a serious challenge in pulling off its Monthly Masterpieces Plus #11. Thorn admitted that he had reservations about conducting the auction from Chicago on the last night of The National, the country's largest and most attended sports collectibles show. However, the gamble appears to have paid off. The hobby's newest and fastest growing auction company realized exceptionally strong results for the popular products around which it appears to have generated a niche, including graded rookie cards, autographs, oddball items, and, most notably, Derek Jeter cards.
A 2002 Bowman Chrome Joe Mauer Gold Refractor Autograph Rookie Card sold for $1,367, and a 1967 Dexter Press Roberto Clemente PSA 9 card sold for $1,242. A 1990 Leaf Frank Thomas Rookie Card and a 1991 Bowman Chipper Jones Rookie Card, both graded for their respective consignors at no cost, each sold for $846, strong prices for items from the so-called junk era of the early 1990s. But that's nothing new for Small Traditions, one of the hobby's leading sellers of ultra high-grade cards from the modern period, that is, the 1980s through today. A quick search of the company's Results for these years from its first eleven auctions displays extraordinary price tags, and yet Small Traditions continues to also realize premium prices for high-grade cards from the 50s and 60s, such as these 1951 Topps Team Cards and 1955 Topps PSA Mint 9s from its recent auction.
The most impressive sales, however, came from the Derek Jeter market. Despite the Yankee Captain's inactivity this season, demand for Derek's collectibles has remained strong, a good indicator that demand will be even stronger when the 39 year old returns to play. According to Thorn, "Jeter has entered that rarefied air of sport nobility, with other world famous players like Michael Jordan and Mickey Mantle and Babe Ruth, in which demand for his collectibles will always be strong, always rising. Even if Jeter never played another game," continued Thorn, "he'll be remembered as one of the most accomplished and beloved players, ever, and those heavily invested in his collectibles should expect serious spikes in demand when Jeter retires and then again when he enters the Hall of Fame. But for now, I think most fans are hoping Jeter can teach himself to stop playing like a 20-year old and tough out another 3 or 4 years of play, taking aim at becoming baseball's third-ever player to join the 4,000 hit club, behind Ty Cobb and Pete Rose."
While a 1996 Select Certified Blue Parallel Pop 2 PSA 10 RC brought in $1,655 in Thorn's most recent auction, and a handful of other rookie cards topped $1,000 in bids, what was most surprising about many of the Jeter sales from Small Traditions Monthly Masterpieces Plus #11 auction was that some of the strongest prices came from non-rookie card material. Among many other record prices, a 1997 Topps Gallery Peter Max Autograph Insert Pop 1 PSA 10 sold for $3,554, a 1997 Pinnacle Certified Mirror Gold PSA 9 sold for $1,504, a 1999 Skybox Molten Metal Titanium Fusion Pop 2 PSA 10 earned $1,242, and a 1999 Fleer Brilliants Gold Pop 1 PSA 10 brought $1,129. Thorn attributes much of his company's success in the Jeter market to the strong core of Jeter collectors in his rapidly growing customer base and to the work he puts into JeterCards.com, but the math behind the big sales is pretty basic as well. The latter three cards listed above, for example, were produced in extremely limited print runs of just 40, 30, 50, and 99 total copies made, respectively, and Michael Jordan cards from some of the same brands and low-numbered insert sets from the late 1990s have been consistently selling for $5,000 to even $10,000 for years.
"I've been encouraging my Jeter customers to learn more about the late 1990s insert market because, just like the Jordan market, I think that's where we'll see the strongest numbers in the future." According to Thorn, there are only so many Jeter rookie cards-about 330 different ones, to be more specific-and late 90s insert cards number in the 1,000s and encompass the Yankees so-called dynasty years of 1996 to 2000, and they're also some of the rarest and prettiest cards ever made. "It's the perfect storm," says Thorn. "Younger collectors might not think anything special of cards numbered to 50 or 100, since you can pull one from just about every single wax pack these days, but it was a different story in the 1990s, when the manufacturers first developed the concept.
The problem is," continued Thorn, "this is also the period when baseball cards, a very simple collectible until that time, became incredibly confusing, with multiple parallels and various tiers of print runs, some as low as 20, 10, 5, even 1." Thorn insists that for all the quality cards from the late 1990s in the market, there are 1,000 times more junk cards that scrupulous dealers will try to push on uninformed customers. "It happens every day on eBay," he says. "Just because a card is a Pop 3 PSA 10, for now, doesn't mean it is necessarily rare. More likely, the card is just so common and insignificant that no one has graded very many. So some sellers will try to charge $300 for a card like this, when any Joe could easily buy 30 raw copies and grade 20 of them Gem Mint, all for the same price."
As such, Thorn stresses caution and knowledge when shopping for late 1990s Jeter cards, and he encourages collectors to learn as much as possible before clicking the Buy-It-Now button on eBay. "I hate to see collectors I know paying absurd prices for common cards when they can purchase a PSA 10 card numbered to 100 in our no reserve auctions for the same price. In his final remarks, Thorn concluded that "the Jeter market is a true community. Most of the bigger Jeter collectors and dealers know each other, and most are very friendly and happy to share the information they've collected over the years. For most collectors, in fact, figuring out that information has been just as fun and challenging as collecting the actual cards. Got a question? All you have to do is ask. Start by contacting advanced collectors on the PSA Set Registry, try the Collectors Universe and Freedom Cardboard forums, or call or write Small Traditions. You'll be glad you did."
An alternative to eBay and to other high-priced auction services, Small Traditions conducts monthly internet auctions with $1 starting bids, no reserves, and free shipping on single graded card lots, whether you win one or 101 of them. Small Traditions also offers a 0% sellers fee for consignors plus free grading with PSA for cards valued over $100, and it is the only auction company in the hobby to offer both free selling and free grading services. Call 303.832.1975 or write email@example.com to learn more and to see if your cards qualify. Currently, the company is aggressively seeking rare vintage and modern single graded card consignments for its August 31, September 28, and October (Nov. 2) auctions.