Sports Memorabilia Auctioneers Struggle to Find Quality Items to Sell

Sports Memorabilia Auctioneers Struggle to Find Quality Items to Sell

Common sense would suggest that the market for top dollar sports memorabilia would suffer during a recession that's been deeper and longer than any in decades. One would expect that supply would swamp demand, with plenty of people anxious to dump collectibles for whatever they can get and very few buyers to even out the equation.

As it turns out, that conventional wisdom has had the opposite effect, at least at the high end of the collecting spectrum. Because people are afraid to sell into the recession for fear there is no demand, auction houses are actually having trouble finding as many quality pieces to offer as they'd like.

Michael Heffner, the president of Leland's Auction House, has experienced this phenomenon firsthand.

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"It's been difficult to find material, it's not hard to sell material," Heffner said to the Associated Press. "There are a lot of people getting into collecting, and people are afraid they won't get top dollar if they sell now."

Leland's has still been able to get some pretty impressive memorabilia consigned to its auctions. Its most recent sports sale, which ended December 4, was headlined by items like a handwritten letter from Cassius Clay, a Babe Ruth game-used bat and cap and the trophy won by Dust Commander in the 1970 Kentucky Derby.

And there are collectors out there with enough disposable income, even in these uncertain times, to put in some serious bids. The Derby trophy fetched $65,725, while the letter from the man who would become Muhammad Ali closed at just under $25,000.

The Bambino's equipment had interested bidders, but neither item sold after they failed to meet their reserve prices. Both the cap and bat were expected to go for six-digit sums.

A rosier economic picture would obviously benefit both buyers and sellers. Still, Heffner feels that the current conditions prove that while nothing is guaranteed to increase in value, truly desirable sports memorabilia is a fairly safe bet not to plummet either.

"The performance of a lot of this stuff, if you're buying the right stuff, and you're buying from high-end dealers and auction houses, you're not going to lose your money," he said.

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Nick has been collecting sports cards and memorabilia, especially football, basketball, boxing and MMA, for over 25 years. He's been writing about the hobby for a while too, most recently for When cards and collectibles give him writer's block, Nick spends time editing and writing for, contributing to SLAM! Wrestling and reviewing music for He lives outside of Hershey, PA (a.k.a. Chocolatetown, USA) with his wife Diane, daughter Beth and son J.T.

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