Collectors are rising up in their pursuit of Aaron Judge collectibles

By Larry Canale

Aaron Judge, the latest Yankee superstar, continues to have his way with American League pitching. The phenom, through June 27, already has put up numbers that would be impressive for an entire season: 26 homers, 68 runs, 60 RBI, six steals, and a .333 average. The 6-foot-8, 282-pound “behemoth”—a perfect one-word description used by author and Rochester (N.Y.) Business Journal columnist Scott Pitoniak—has sparked a buying frenzy.

On eBay, more than 40,000 Judge items have changed hands via auction as well as Buy It Now activity since the start of the current baseball season. And there are 10,000 more Judge items currently listed, all waiting to be gobbled up by an inspired collecting audience.

Among the sold items:
• A 2013 Bowman Chrome Blue Refractors graded BGS 10 (with a 10 for the sig) fetched $10,999 on June 15.
• Three days later, an Orange Refractor for the same card (graded BGS 9.5/10) went for $10,700.
• A few days after that, a Purple Refractor (also graded 9.5/10) sold for $8,975 on 45 bids.

Meanwhile, unopened boxes of 2013 Bowman Chrome Baseball are selling for $300 to $350. That price range will make them a worthy bargain if an inked Judge card awaits within.

And Aaron Judge-signed baseballs? They’re drawing $175 to $400 (and sometimes more), if authenticated by a reputable source. As always, look out for fakes. Ask questions of the seller, and study legitimate examples that have been authenticated.

HONUS WAGNER CLASSIC

An exceptionally rare pocket schedule card issued by the Pittsburg Leader newspaper in 1904 sold for $50,000 on eBay in June. The big draw? A photograph of Honus Wagner—dubbed on the front of the card as “King of Ball Players.” The Wagner portrait is centered among a host of promotional lines, including “Always buy the Pittsburg Leader.” (That odd spelling of Pittsburgh, by the way, was correct at the time; the city dropped the “h” from 1891 through 1911 before restoring it to its current spelling.)

The reverse of the Wagner card features a complete 1904 schedule of the Pirates’ home games. The schedule is set up in a grid format, with the opponents (Philadelphia, Brooklyn, New York, Boston, Cincinnati, St. Louis, and Chicago) listed vertically with game dates squeezed into subsequent columns. Underneath the schedule is one more sell line: “Complements of the Pittsburg Leader/The best base ball newspaper.” (As we know, baseball was often spelled as two words during its early era.)

The card, printed on celluloid, measures 3 3/8 by 1 ¾ inches. It’s a collectible on the rise; at Robert Edward Auctions in 2007, a top-condition example (graded SGC 60) sold for $7,050. In 2012, a poor-condition (badly creased) example went for $2,370 at REA.

The primo specimen that brought $50,000 on eBay was graded SGC 84/Near-Mint.

THE LEGENDARY JOHNNY U

A new football season is right around the corner, as we’re reminded via the sale of a 1962 Johnny Unitas Topps card for $18,299. The card had drawn an 8.5 grade from PSA.

In 1962, Topps’ football card design was as cool as it got. Featured prominently inside the card’s black borders was a dominant color portrait photo; in this case, it’s Johnny U. in a classic-looking QB pose, football cradled between his hands as he looks downfield. Accompanying that image is a black-and-white action shot; in this case, it’s a shot-from-above photo of Unitas in mid-passing form, a football having just left his right hand. Underneath that photo is a colorful text block bearing the player’s name.

Unitas, still one of the few who can legitimately be called the greatest QB of all time, played for 17 seasons and threw for 290 touchdowns and 40,239 yards—both records at the time of his retirement.

BRADY AGAIN

Then, of course, there’s current Super Bowl champion Tom Brady. The Patriots’ QB has been a hot collecting subject even during the off-season. In fact, just outside our Top 10 this time out is a Brady 2000 Playoff Contenders autographed rookie card that sold for $19,300 on 47 bids. The card was graded PSA 9/Mint.

CURRY FAVORED

In the afterglow of the Golden State Warriors’ NBA championship, a bidder spent $20,600 on a 2009/10 National Treasures autographed patch card of Stephen Curry. The sale didn’t come without pressure: A total of 96 bids pushed the card—graded BGS 9.5—to its lofty price. Several weeks prior, similar-condition examples of the card sold for lower prices: $8,888 and $9,688.  

“AIR” AUTO

We all know Michael Jordan’s holy-grail cards—his 1986-87 Fleer and 1984-85 Star cards, which regularly top $20,000 if in Mint condition, but how about his 1997-98 Upper Deck SP Authentic Sign of the Times card?

This bold and colorful card features Jordan’s autograph inked in an oval-shaped area underneath a tack-sharp photograph of the longtime Chicago Bulls star. When it turns up at auction, it draws competitive bidding, which is why we saw a high-quality example sell for $18,200 on 43 bids in late June. The card had been graded 8.5 by BGS, with a perfect 10 for the sig.

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