If there was any doubt that sports collectibles are big, it should be laid to rest on March 22 and 23, when Sotheby's holds its first sale devoted to sports memorabilia.
The auction house's New York office will be selling a collection, dominated by baseball cards, assembled over the past five years by California sporting goods dealer James C. Copeland. The collection, which comprises more than 800 lots, is expected to bring $5 million to $7 million.
The size of the collection offered is boggling, as is the quality. Most baseball cards are in mint or near-mint condition, even those from the 19th century. Remember that near-mint is the standard for cards from the 1950s and 1960s, and mint is considered rare from that era.
The centerpiece of the sale is a T-206 Honus Wagner card, circ1910. Fewer than 40 of these cards have been discovered, and only two are known to have an advertisement for Piedmont cigarettes on the back; the rest have ads for Sweet Caporal cigarettes. The Copeland card has a Piedmont back and is rated mint. According to the auction catalog, it "is in the finest condition of all known 'Wagner' cards." The estimated sale value is $125,000 to $150,000.
Wagner tobacco cards are rare because the Pittsburgh Pirates Hall of Fame shortstop was a passionate non-smoker and objected to his being associated with tobacco products. He requested that the cards be withdrawn from cigarette packs, and most were.
There's also a 1952 Mickey Mantle card, one of the most popular -- and pricey -- modern-era cards. This mint-condition card is from Alan "Mr. Mint" Rosen's find of uncirculated 1952 Topps cards and is, according to the catalog, "the best of the Mantle cards from this discovery and is considered to be the finest copy known to exist." It is expected to be sold for $12,000 to $15,000. A complete set of 1952 Topps cards, 407 cards in near-mint to mint condition, will be offered and is expected to bring $40,000 to $60,000.
Among the vintage cards offered are: a T3 Turkey Red Ty Cobb in mint condition (this one first came to notice at the Second
National Convention of sports memorabilia in Detroit more than 10 years ago), expected to bring $9,000 to $12,000; a collection of 604 different Old Judge Cigarette cards, including a set of 13 of the first Old Judge cards from 1887, rated overall excellent or better and expected to sell for $150,000 to $200,000; and some of the only known copies of N690 Kalamazoo Bats New York players cards from 1886-87.
Press pins have been popular collectibles, and this auction includes a complete set of World Series press pins of 1911-88, including the seven ribbon pins from 1917 and 1919 with the ribbons intact. This collection is described as "the finest collection of World Series press pins," with most pins in mint condition. The lot is estimated to realize $250,000 to $300,000.
Of interest to Baltimore fans are three Baltimore News schedules for the Federal League Baltimore Terrapins; each shows a different player, an ad for the News on the back and the 1914 schedule. There are also pins celebrating the 1894 and 1896 champion Baltimore Orioles and a studio cabinet of Orioles manager John McGraw taken in the early 1890s by the Baltimore studio of Bachrach & Bros.
Babe Ruth is the subject of a number of sale items (in addition to New York Yankees team photos and baseball-card sets). Among the more unusual (condition and estimated sale price in parentheses) are: a 1933 Feen-A-Mint Babe Ruth mask (mint, $600 to $800); a 1930s pin collection (excellent to mint, $1,200 to $1,600); a Sept. 30, 1934 Washington Senators program from Ruth's last game as a Yankee and a "Babe Ruth Testimonial" insert with a message from President Franklin D. Roosevelt (program near-mint, insert excellent to mint, $1,500 to $2,000); a wristwatch, circa 1950, in a plastic baseball container (mint, $600 to $800); a 1914 Providence team photo (near mint, $4,000 to $6,000); 1939 Hall of Fame autographed ball (excellent, $10,000 to $15,000); and a 1914 Baltimore News International League Orioles schedule with Ruth the illustrated player (excellent, $10,000 to $15,000).
For those who can only dream of owning such expensive items, the catalog is available for $35 postpaid from Sotheby's, 1334 York Ave., New York, N.Y. 10021, (212) 606-7000.
Horse Star Cards Inc. has signed an agreement with the Jockeys' Guild Inc. to produce and market a 220-card set of trading cards. The cards will depict famous jockeys, horses and races and will be sold in packs of 12 or by the set. The set commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Jockeys' Guild, and the guild's share of income from the set will benefit its fund for permanently disabled members. Individual members have agreed to forgo any royalties. Look for them in card shops and at race tracks in April.