Next week (Wednesday) marks the 10th anniversary of one of the greatest events in hobby history: the September 1999 sale of the Barry Halper Collection by Sotheby’s in New York City.
While it’s fun to ponder what 10 years of inflation would do to the final sales total of roughly $22 million for the seven-day extravaganza, it’s even more instructive to ponder the impact of the historic sale with the benefit of a decade’s hindsight.
Probably nothing approached its importance in propelling the memorabilia end of the hobby further into the big time. Our hobby had been moving toward high-end equipment, autographs and memorabilia for several years by 1999, but the Halper sale took it – forgive me for this usage – to a whole new level.
The amount of mainstream media coverage in the months leading up to the Halper sale was nothing short of staggering. After the first day’s sessions on Sept. 23, David Letterman took note of the festivities by announcing that he was wearing Babe Ruth’s underwear during his monologue. Under the circumstances, that kind of odd occurrence would have technically been quite possible: a pair of Ruthian underpants sold the next day for $1,840, making it a veritable bargain in the giddy atmosphere in Sotheby’s elegant auction setting.
As you might expect, being able to be on hand for a good chunk of the week-long proceedings was one of the high points of my time at ; one of the others was a visit to Halper’s home three years earlier to view his famed collection in its natural habitat.
Given the extraordinary nature of all that took place, I’ll need a couple of days of blogging to offer a suitable reminiscence. I’ll offer this recollection from Day Two as a warmup: From his luxury box high above the auction floor, Halper remarked about the sale of his 1927 Lou Gehrig jersey for $305,000, bought by Mastro Auctions’ Dave Bushing on behalf of a client, Upper Deck.
“I hope they don’t cut it up,” the icon remarked, “because I had heard those rumors.” Halper, though clearly prescient in anticipating the card companies’ willingness to eventually undertake such wrenching endeavors, didn’t have to worry about this particular jersey. Upper Deck officials quickly made it clear that the artifact would be kept intact.
I’ll resume these musings on the morrow.