There’s no question that Dr. James Naismith, the father of basketball, still has a full-court press on the collecting hobby. After looking at the final results, one could say Heritage Auction Galleries scored a slam dunk with its live auction, which ended Dec. 8, and its Internet auction, which closed on Dec. 15.
Heritage officials said the Naismith auctions set the mark for the highest total ever realized for a single non-baseball sporting figure. The total sales of both auctions combined was $720,967.
“It was interesting because some of the items we thought were going to do well and be the bread-and-butter of the sale – like the autographed items and the letters – didn’t get as much as we thought they would, but some other items that we thought were interesting but we weren’t sure if they were going to get that much interest, like the manuscripts, blew our estimates out of the water,” Heritage director of sports auctions Chris Ivy said.
One of those items was the Naismith-handwritten manuscript that detailed the first basketball game, which sold for $71,700 in the live auction. Also, Naismith documents regarding the birth of basketball went for $53,775.
“This was an interesting sale because it focused on one figure who actually never played the sport,” Ivy said. “He invented it, so it was an odd sports auction that was really deep in one figure that frankly a lot of people are not familiar with outside of real hobby enthusiasts. We did a really good job of getting the news out there to different news organizations. There were people who participated in the auctions from all over the world. You can see that in some of the prices realized. We had two lots that related to basketball in China and those two lots alone brought in $10,000. I think our estimates were at $1,000 for them combined.”
Meanwhile, the Internet auction was topped by a 1930s Naismith full draft typed manuscript with handwritten notes. The completed draft of a 72-chapter book sold for $38,838.
“A lot of people were interested in the 72-chapter book manuscript,” Ivy said. “That one saw a lot of spirited bidding late into the night. A lot of people knew they weren’t going to be able to get that piece that was all encompassing, but what was neat about the manuscripts that were sold individually is those were precursors to what he put into the full manuscript. Those had his personal notes, his edits and handwritten notes that he added to alter them for the final version. Those got a lot of interest on their own merit. Collectors could be more specific about which writings interested them the most.”
Also breaking the $20,000-barrier in the Internet auction was a 1930s Naismith-typed manuscript with handwritten notes regarding the evolution of basketball, which sold for $22,705.
Other top-selling items included:
? 1936 Naismith passport with multiple signatures, $20,315
? Photograph of Springfield basketball court, $19,120
? Circa 1920 Naismith photographic portrait, $17,925
? 1939 Naismith signed “basketball” card, $17,925
? 1930s Naismith typed 15-page manuscript with handwritten notes regarding the birth of basketball, $15,535
? Circa 1900 whistle owned and used by Naismith, $13,145
Another interesting item in the live auction was the 1891 Naismith-signed football cabinet photograph that sold for $5,975.
“It sold for what we had it at,” Ivy said. “I wouldn’t have been surprised to see it go a little bit higher, because the autograph on the reverse of the card was a 10. It was a beautiful autograph on the back. He signed it and dated it ‘1891.’ He’s not remembered for football, but I thought it was an interesting tidbit for Naismith historians because he invented the football helmet.”
Ivy said it was a pleasure to work with the Naismith family on the auction.
“They’ve been great throughout the process,” he said. “They contacted me in April and said they found some stuff down in the basement and they wanted to know if it had any value. That was the first time I spoke with them and we worked together over the next several months to get the collection together and bring it to auction. They enjoyed the process and we enjoyed working with them.”