Buyers Guide to Sports Memorabilia

August 2022 was marked with a historical sale for Sports Memorabilia. First collector card with Mickey Mantle from 1952 sold for $12,6 million becoming the most expensive one ever sold. The growing market of Sports Memorabilia brings billions today. Maybe it's time to dust off your old card collection and see what is really worth?

Sports Memorabilia

Hall of fame memorabilia (detail). Image: John Seb Barber / License: CC BY 2.0

What is sports memorabilia?

Sports memorabilia can be defined as any object that is closely related to and gains its value from its relationship to the sports industry and its players. This category of collectibles includes a wide range of objects, the most popular being sporting equipment used and/or signed by athletes (such as balls, bats, and gloves), trading cards, photos, autographs and sports clothes. Basically, sports memorabilia is anything that bears the memory of teams or individual athletes, as well as specific events.

The sports memorabilia market

Although sporting mementos, autographs and trading cards were already popular in the early 1900s, it is only in the late 20th century that the market for sports memorabilia really started to develop. Since then, it has grown steadily and was estimated at roughly $26 billion in 2021. Nowadays, sports memorabilia sells all around the world, especially in emerging markets, and are subject to specialised sales, some even breaking new records. From Babe Ruth’s 1920 Jersey to Muhammad Ali’s boxing gloves, special and rare pieces are now regularly valued and sold for above $1 million. In August 2022 a mint-condition Mickey Mantle baseball card sold for record breaking $12.6 million at auction holding the title of te most expensive card in the booming sports memorabilia market. Top earning items tend to be objects that represent or are closely tied to success, such as medals or trophies or as Mickey Mantle example- collectable cards. Do you collect sport memorabilia? Get it valued here!

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First collector card with Mickey Mantle, the world's most expensive ever.

First collector card with Mickey Mantle, the world's most expensive ever. This was sold for $12,6 in 2022. Photo: Barnebys price bank

How is sports memorabilia appraised?

There are several aspects experts must take into account in order to appraise sports memorabilia. These include the subject matter, athlete or team tied to the piece, the edition number and most importantly, the significance of the memorabilia in history of the game or sport. In addition, the type of object also influences the value, as a trading card will not be worth the same amount as a helmet, and a game helmet will be worth even more than one never worn on the field.

As with other types of collectibles, the rarer the piece, the higher its value. It should be noted that for famous sportsmen, the popularity and often, posthumous value, of memorabilia tends to increase. This is explained by the fact that many people seek to own objects to remember and honour iconic figures. For instance, since the passing of renowned boxer Muhammad Ali, the market has been experiencing a craze for collectibles related to him.

Related: Learn more about Muhammad Ali - a Renaissance man of the 20th Century

 A pair of Muhammad Ali's boxing gloves, on display at the National Museum of American History, Washington, DC.

A pair of Muhammad Ali's boxing gloves, on display at the National Museum of American History, Washington, DC. Image: Mark Pellegrini / License: CC BY-SA 2.5

What you should know about buying sports memorabilia

To help you make an informed decision when buying sports memorabilia, here are our top tips:

Buying as an investment

Like any other memorabilia, sports memorabilia is often purchased for sentimental reasons, but that does not mean it cannot also be seen as an investment. If you are hoping the piece will be a wise investment, it is crucial for you to do your research. Research other items that have sold that relate to the athlete or team to understand the market demand for the piece. Ask questions, such as does the team or athlete have a large following, or did they contribute something to their field that will make sure they are remembered? This would help assess, to a certain extent, whether your investment could be profitable in the future or not.  

Authenticity issues

Be smart when buying sports memorabilia: a large market often means the counterfeit market is of considerable size too. To avoid frauds, go to reputable places to acquire your sports memorabilia. These include well-renowned shows, sports commissions, dealers and auction houses. You should also buy only authenticated memorabilia in order to prevent being the victim of scams. However, keep in mind that a certificate does not always guarantee that a sports memorabilia will be of good quality or legitimate. Certificates can also be faked. Consequently, we recommend you assess the legitimacy of the company who provided it.
It is common for legitimate institutions selling sports memorabilia to take pictures of the athlete signing the item as proof. Ask to see the pictures.

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