Babe Ruth rookie cards sell for a record $ 2.46 million

CASTLE PINES VILLAGE – Brian Drent was 15 years old when he set up a table at a small baseball card show in his hometown of Grand Haven, Mich. He earned $ 140 in debit cards.

At the next show, he got $ 160. He was hooked.

When Drent attended Grand Valley State in Allendale, Mich., Where he was the shooting guard on the basketball team, he made money on the side by running and sharing cards. And when he started making some real money, he both impressed and confused his girlfriend, who later became his wife.

“We were just starting to date, and Michelle asked me, ‘Is it legal at all?’ Because I wanted to buy something for X and sell it for Y. ” said Drent. “She was a little surprised. But she’s definitely happy now.”

After college, Michelle, a native of Colorado, wanted to return to her home state, so the young couple moved to the Denver area in 1993. At age 29, Drent quit his job as a copier salesman and jumped into the sports memorabilia industry. time. Now, as a 53-year-old, he is riding on a financial tsunami in the card industry that has peaked during the pandemic.

His Mile High Card Company, founded by Drent in 1996, sold an almost pristine B16 Ruth rookie card from 1916 on Thursday through an online auction for $ 2.46 million. There were 43 bids, and although Drent had hoped the card would bring in $ 3 million plus, sales still set a record for a Ruth rookie card.

“I really can not tell you more than to say that the new owner is a longtime hobbyist,” Drent said, adding that Mile High’s quarterly auction sold $ 5.7 million of memorabilia.

“It’s always a rush to sell such a card,” Drent said. “I still remember when I first grabbed a Topps 1952 Mickey Mantle rookie card. It was a rush. But I do not hold on to cards. They are always, always, always for sale.”

And there have been a lot of sales.

“The recovery picked up speed during the pandemic because people were protected in their homes and they were thinking, ‘What can I do?'” Said Howard Epstein, a 64-year-old Charlotte-based wealth management consultant who has been an avid cardholder. collects since 1967. “So these people went into their ceilings or their basement and decided to take their old cards out and it all took off from there. The card industry has really been getting steam for more than 10 years, but now it’s snowballing in earnest. ”

Drent’s company is considered one of the country’s leading buyers, promoters, sellers and shippers of high quality vintage sports cards. By 2020, the MHCC sold sports cards and other memorabilia worth more than $ 21 million, Drent said.

Mile High Card Company President Brian ...

Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

Mile High Card Company President Brian Drent is holding a 1929-30 Babe Ruth game-used bat at his office in Castle Rock on Wednesday, November 3, 2021.

He sees himself as a seller, not a collector, even though he owns “a good amount” of memorabilia. Think of the MHCC as an auction house, just like Sotheby’s.

Through buyer’s premiums and upfront shipping fees, MHCC gives a commission of 20-30% on the items it auctiones. But on advanced goods, such as the Ruth card, negotiations for a smaller commission are common.

“The business has turned into its own beast,” said Drent from his company’s headquarters, located in a mall just down the road from the prestigious Castle Pines Golf Club.

The walls are adorned with sports treasures: autographed, game-worn jerseys by Sandy Koufax, Stan Musial, Kobe Bryant and Joe Montana and a rare, autographed photo of Cy Young. Hidden inside a safe is a game-used, Ruth bat from 1929 worth $ 400,000- $ 500,000. A game-worn Tom Brady jersey can also be found in the safe. Drent predicts that it will one day bring in more than $ 200,000.

“Collecting cards and memorabilia is really not just a hobby anymore,” Drent said. “It’s a complete, absolute industry. It’s blasted beyond anyone’s imagination.”


But it’s not just Babyboomer nostalgia that is fueling the boom.

“The younger generation, the ones with money, like alternative investments,” said Rich Mueller, editor of Sports collectors daily, a site that tracks the industry. “They want to invest in something that they can buy and see. If they invest in a current player’s card, they can see what’s happening and in a way treat it like a stock. “

In August 2020, a rare Mike Trout 2009 rookie card sold for $ 3.93 million. In February, a uniquely signed rookie card by Dallas Mavericks superstar Luka Doncic went for a whopping $ 4.6 million. In April, a 2003 LeBron James rookie card sold for $ 5.2 million.

Epstein has long been optimistic about sports memorabilia as an investment.

“After the recession of 2008, the market for sports memorabilia has exploded,” he wrote in a recent “white paper” encourages investors and financial advisers to take a closer look. “Like the art market, the market for sports memorabilia is considered and accepted as an attractive alternative investment.”

Another reason for the current boom is the built-in scarcity of modern sports cards. It is a concept born of experience from the industry’s past boom and bust.

When the sports card boom first hit in the 1990s, highlighted by interest in a T206 Honus Wagner card, fans who had thrown out sports cards that they collected as children began to realize that they might have thrown something of value away. The next rare find was searched.

Card companies responded by flooding the market with millions of cards, only to dilute interest and make most cards almost worthless. For example, Ken Griffey Jr.’s 1989 Upper Deck rookie card, once the hottest card in the hobby, was reduced to just another card. Upper Deck is estimated to have produced more than 2 million Griffey cards.

Today, scarcity, and thus value, is built into the card industry.

The most valuable modern cards are produced in small batches – like fine wines – and often come with a sample of authenticated uniform fabric. A player’s authenticated signature is also stamped on the card.

For example, in 2003, Upper Deck produced a unique rookie card by NBA superstar LeBron James under their Ultimate Collection imprint. The card – purchased in 2016 by a 42-year-old investment manager in California for $ 312,000 – contained the NBA logo from James’ jersey, and James signed the card under a picture of him in his red Cleveland Cavalier jersey. It says “1 of 1” on the map. It’s the only card of its kind.

The card is now worth at least 10 times what it sold for, according to the New York Times.

Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

Sports card at Mile High Card Company in Castle Rock on Wednesday, November 3, 2021.


Social media has also kept sports cards in the spotlight, with a mode called “box breaks” that lights the way. A live box break is essentially when a group of people buy a box of sports cards and then split the cards. The seller, called a breaker, opens the cards during a live, online video session, and buyers look and hope to get a rare and valuable card that can be in the box.

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