By Larry Canale
A 1954 Hank Aaron rookie card recenlty sold for $18,000. It was in stellar condition, having been graded PSA 8. While 18 grand is a big number, it’s actually a bargain of sorts. Just one year ago in this space, we reported on another Aaron rookie—also a PSA 8—that sold for $30,040. A month after that, in December 2016, we reported on still another PSA 8 Aaron rookie that went for $27,655. And in the months that followed, we tracked Aaron rookies in top condition—all PSA 8s—sell for progressively lower prices: $23,809, $22,100 and $16,511.
Why the slump in Aaron rooks? We’re trying to figure out what the great slugger has done over the past year to reduce his appeal to collectors; let us know if you can think of anything.
Seriously, Aaron has always been among the classiest men in baseball, and nothing that subsequent muscle-bound sluggers did has tarnished his stellar career: Between 1954 and 1976, Aaron hit 755 homers, drove in 2,297 runs, scored 2,174 runs, and batted .305.
The take-away here is: If you’re a Hank Aaron fan, it might be a good time to look closely at auction offerings. You may spot some bargains, and not just at the five-figure level.
Here are some Aaron favorites that have recently sold at softer prices:
• A 1956 Topps Aaron with a Near-Mint PSA 9 grade sold for $10,999. A horizontal design, it features a close-up head shot of Aaron as he was about to embark on his third season, a campaign in which his .328 average would lead the National League.
• A 1960 Topps Aaron graded PSA 9.5 fetched $5,028. Another horizontal design, this one features a dominant head shot along with a smaller side-panel black-and-white photo with Aaron in a bat-on-shoulders pose. Aaron was about to embark on a season in which his 126 RBI would lead the NL.
• A 1971 Topps Aaron card graded an almost-impossible PSA 9—you know those black borders—got away for $3,607. Aaron, at age 37, would hit 47 HRs during the 1971 campaign and suddenly start getting taken seriously as a contender to Babe Ruth’s lifetime home run record of 714.
We’ve said it in this space before: Keep your eye on auction houses that don’t specialize in sports memorabilia but that sometimes come up with rare sports treasures. We’re reminded of that collecting advice by the sale of a signed Babe Ruth vending photograph card offered by Swann Auction Galleries, a New York-based house. Swann marketed its listings via its own website (www.swanngalleries.com) but also made them available via eBay. The Ruth rarity was among the listings, and it drew 25 bids that pushed the price to $15,000.
The photograph, measuring 5 ¼ by 3 ¼ inches, features Ruth in an outfielder pose, hands on knees, eyes staring off to his right. The autograph is a gem: a big, bold sig penned in an appealing blue ink.
The same sale featured several other Ruth-signed items that all came from the stash of one collector—a descendant of a New York-based dentist named Edward Charles Tillman (1890-1956). Among Dr. Tillman’s patients was the Bambino himself. Within the dentist’s stash were five signed Ruth postcards, each one featuring the same pose: Ruth, without his cap on, in a swing follow-through. The autographs and postcards were ungraded but have been well-preserved. They sold for prices between $3,500 and $6,500.
You’ve gotta love Kevin Durant’s Rookie Exquisite Collection card, a 2007-08 Upper Deck issue. The card features a photograph of a scrawny-looking, baby-faced Durant almost shyly holding up a basketball while looking into the camera.
At the time, Durant was a highly prized 19-year-old rookie playing for the Seattle SuperSonics. Now, 10 years later, he’s an established hoops stud with an NBA championship under his belt, having played a major role in the Golden State Warriors’ 2016-17 title run. With his career averages of 27.2 points and 7.2 rebounds per game, Durant is on a fast track to the Hall of Fame.
A BGS 8.5-graded specimen of Durant’s 2007-08 Rookie Exquisite card—one in an edition of 99—sold on eBay in November for a hefty $15,000. Last month, however, a better-condition version of the card, a BGS 9, sold for a far heftier $50,000.
SEALED HOOP CHROME
A sealed case of 2003-04 Topps Chrome basketball cards sold in November for $17,000 on 35 bids. The big attraction, of course, is the chance to pull a LeBron James rookie-year uncirculated X-Fractor. The case includes 10 boxes, each one bearing 24 packs. An uncirculated X-Fractor comes in each box, so the buyer got a total of 10. Who knows how much a 1-of-1 James X-Fractor would sell for? Thousands, for sure.