The term "sports
memorabilia" typically refers to an item signed by an athlete or other
sports-related figure, a game-used item, a memento from a sporting event, or another piece of historical significance tied to sports.
Types of items:
autographs appear most often on photos, balls, jerseys, bats, helmets, and
other equipment.In the past, when there
was less emphasis on the value of autographs and more emphasis just on
obtaining a player's signature, collectors would also commonly have athletes
sign index cards, government postcards, or other such items.The term "cut signature" refers to a signature that has been literally "cut" away
from a check, card, letter or notebook on which it was originally signed.
Jerseys, bats, helmets, and
other equipment are typically the game-used items most sought after by
What makes an item
desirable and/or highly valued?
goes without saying that an autograph or other memorabilia piece from a Hall of
Famer, superstar, or significant team will tend to be more desirable than a
comparable item from a less prominent player or team.
from this, desirability and valuation depend on authenticity, condition, and scarcity.
discuss sports memorabilia authenticity in depth in a separate article entitled "A Discussion of Authenticity."In
short, though, collectors place a higher value on items that fit one of the
following three criteria:
by the player or team directly or by a company contracting with the player or
team to distribute autographs and/or game-used memorabilia. (For vintage items, this is rarely the case
because of the early stage of the sports memorabilia hobby at that time.Occasionally, a vintage item may be
accompanied by a letter of provenance from a player, relative, or estate.)
by PSA/DNA Authentication Services or James Spence Authentication for
autographs, or MEARS (Memorabilia Evaluation and Research Services) for
game-used uniforms and equipment.
for by a dealer or collector with relevant expertise and guaranteed to pass the
review of the aforementioned short list of authenticators.
depends on the type of item in question.For an autographed item, collectors prefer the signature to be nice and
bold with no skips, smudges, or contrast issues with the background.A baseball should be nice and white with bold
stampings and no blemishes or other flaws.Photos, programs, tickets, and other flat items should be free of
creases.Vintage items were usually not
preserved as carefully as modern items and tend to show more wear, so condition
tends to be evaluated somewhat in line with the time period of the item.
an item's desirability and value depend on its scarcity.This is a key driver of the higher value of
vintage items relative to most modern items.Before the sports collectibles industry really began to develop from the
1970s onward, collectors rarely sought to acquire items for future monetary
gain.Children and other autograph
seekers would attempt to get as many signatures as possible on a typically
inexpensive autograph medium to avoid having to buy another one.As a result, there are far more autograph
books and multi-signed baseballs pre-1970 than there are single-signed
baseballs.The single-signed pieces tend
to be items like index cards, government postcards, and cut signatures.Today, on the other hand, there might be
fewer superstars regularly signing autographs at the ballpark, but even many
children now come prepared to snag their signatures on official Major League
baseballs and 8" x 10" photos.Perhaps
more significantly, memorabilia companies have contracted with players to make
nearly every conceivable autographed or game-used item available in pristine
condition and in fairly high quantities.Some items do not come cheaply, but their continuing availability will
prevent them from reaching the investment potential of many vintage items.Of course, there are some exceptions such as
autographs with rare inscriptions and game-used items from specific milestones,
but the general rule remains true.
final note on value: Whether you are a collector or investor, these are fun
purchases to make!When comparing a
sports memorabilia purchase to another investment alternative, keep in mind
that a stock certificate just does not display as well as a Mickey Mantle
autographed jersey.And while building
your collection, try to buy what you like.There is plenty of investment potential in
sports memorabilia, but simply getting a thrill from the items you have accumulated
is also quite nice.