There’s no doubt about it; 2020 will always be remembered for the catastrophic COVID-19 global pandemic. But when it comes to the sports collectibles arena, last year will be recalled for the unprecedented card prices realized at auctions and through private transactions. With the vast majority of collectors confined at home and choosing to revisit their personal collections, the hobby received an unexpected shot in the arm with record-setting sales achieved almost every month. Topping the list of eye-popping sales was a familiar card featuring none other than the great Honus Wagner.
The famous 1909-11 T206 example showcasing the iconic Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop once again made news by setting a new industry benchmark for the coveted card. In October, Mile High Card Company brokered a Wagner sale, one graded in PSA Very Good 3 condition, for $3.25 million. Sixty days later, the exact same card sold privately through Heritage Auctions for $3.7 million. Let’s just say the hobby year ended on a high note.
But it wasn’t just “The Flying Dutchman” who recorded jaw-dropping figures. In fact, the four remaining sports cards featured in this entry sold for a combined $3,331,600.
Next up on our list of notable sports cards sold in 2020 is the O-Pee-Chee rookie card of “The Great One,” Wayne Gretzky. The four-time Stanley Cup Champion earned each of his titles with the Edmonton Oilers and that’s the uniform he’s sporting on his 1979-80 OPC #18 issue, which sold for a record $1.29 million via Heritage Auctions in December. The card, graded PSA GEM-MT 10, is now the highest-selling hockey card on the planet. But wait, there’s a second Gem-Mint 10 O-Pee-Chee Gretzky rookie found in PSA’s Population Report, so who knows what the future holds for the card? Only time will tell.
An extremely rare card highlighting “His Airness,” Michael Jordan, also qualified for this entry with an amazing $915,000 sale. In December, Goldin Auctions put up for bid one of the limited (1 of 10) 1997 Metal Universe Precious Metal Gems #223 (Green) cards, a rare offering that nearly doubled its pre-auction estimate. What’s more, the card was only authenticated and not graded by PSA. The auction price realized for the limited PMG (Green) example turned out to be more than four times the amount of the highest price ($211,560) ever paid at auction for Jordan’s coveted 1986 Fleer #57 rookie card in PSA GEM-MT 10 condition. Can you say, “Hoops Holy Grail?”
Two other cards that made the grade were a 1-of-1 2004 Topps Chrome #23 Super Refractor of LeBron “King James” himself, graded PSA GEM-MT 10, that fetched $720,000 through Heritage, and a very special autographed 1933 Goudey Babe Ruth #181 that fetched $436,600 at Wheatland Auction Services. The LeBron Super Refractor sale took place in December at Heritage and shined yet another spotlight on the incredible pull that true rarities bring to the hobby. The 17-year-old card is one-of-a-kind, so it will always be in a class (and PSA Population Report) all its own.
The signed Ruth Goudey card that sold in October was part of the well-publicized, feel-good “Uncle Jimmy Collection” story that surfaced last year when the seven nieces and nephews of the late James Micioni, a former school custodian and factory worker from New Jersey, found that their beloved uncle had left his enormous baseball card collection to them in his will. Amongst the thousands of vintage baseball cards were hundreds of 1933 and ’34 Goudey issues signed by a slew of Hall of Famers including the great Bambino, Babe Ruth. In fact, Uncle Jimmy had managed to secure five baseball cards signed by Ruth, many of them through the mail, and none prettier than the example shown here. It was graded in PSA Very Good-Excellent 4 condition, but the signature from the Sultan of Swat himself earned a PSA 8 autograph grade. Like Ruth himself, the jaw-dropping sale of the card made more headlines.