One of the most common questions we get as dealers is “How much is this worth?” In an always changing industry of buying, selling, trading, and consignment determining the value of basic sports memorabilia can be a tricky matter. In this post we’re going to outline the major things that determine value of autographed memorabilia and the tips we use to help us determine what something is worth.
Let’s preface this entire guide with one quick concept:
An item is ultimately worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it.
No one really has a true feel for how much an item is worth until they have a buyer willing to pay a certain amount for it. No matter what we tell you about value or what any experts tell you, ultimately until you have a buyer it’s worth nothing. Now with that out of the way let’s discuss how to determine the value of collectibles and look at the major factors that impact autograph and memorabilia value.
What determines value?
When it comes to collectibles and memorabilia there are three major things that determine value: Rarity, Desirability, and Condition.
Rarity – This is a pretty obvious one, the more rare a collectible is the more it can be worth. But just because something is rare does not make it valuable. A piece of toilet paper autographed by Albert Pujols while rare and probably one of a kind is not going to be worth anything.
Desirability – An item is going to draw it’s value on supply and demand. The more in demand a collectible is (the more desired it is), the more it will be worth. This can be seen most often after historic events in sports. David Freese autographed items went from $20 to $200 after his historic 2011 World Series Game 6 performance. His value went up 10+ times not because of rarity but simply because of the desirability and demand in the market for Freese collectibles.
Condition – Rarity and Desirability often set the base for the value of a collectible and then it all comes down to condition. The condition and quality of the item, the signature, authentication, and various other factors go into the overall condition of the item. Baseball cards and autographs are often even sent to companies like PSA/DNA for grading where they put a “score” value on the overall condition of the item or signature.
How can you use these factors to determine value?
The rarity and desirability can often be determined fairly easy for an item without even seeing the item. A little bit of internet research using google and eBay can often tell you how much demand and scarcity exists for an item. For example a Stan Musial autographed baseball’s base value can be determined pretty quickly. Google will tell you he’s a Hall-of-Famer, has signed quite a bit in his life, has a lot of memorabilia out there for sale for $50-300. So it’s pretty easy to tell a basic ball signed by him while not rare is fairly in demand (we can tell this by the prices, if there was no demand for Musial items they’d be $20, not $150).
How to use eBay to determine value.
There are a variety of things to determine when using eBay to determine value. At first glance a search for Stan Musial autographed baseball will result in a lot of results with very high prices. We typically talk to collectors who see a few items listed on eBay for $250 and assume their collectible is worth that. Just because an item is listed at $250 does not mean they are selling at $250. Changing your results to show completed listings will show you what recent items have sold for (if any have sold). So while you may see listings for Musial balls at $250, looking at completed listings you will find them selling actively for about $80-100. The second thing to note is that this is not a true retail value. eBay value is typically about 70-80% of what we would call true retail value. This is because the eBay market is often flooded with undervalued items sold by private sellers not businesses, many of which are acquired in person at no cost. Using that info we can estimate a fair retail value for a Musial ball would be in the $100-125 range right now. (Some of you are now scratching your heads thinking “Why would anyone pay $125 for a Musial ball when you can get one on eBay for $80?”, we’ll discuss that in a future post, but just be cautious when considering eBay for you purchases).
Consider recent signings.
It’s also important consider recent autograph signings. Players who have done recent signings can help you determine the going rate for their “signature” on it’s own independent of the item itself.
Now lets talk condition.
So now that we’ve determined $100-125 to be the base value of a Stan Musial autographed ball the question is whether or not a specific ball is worth that value. There are many factors in the condition of a specific item that can sway the price down or even up from that base value.
Item Type – What item is signed is a big factor in value. Photos and Balls often set the base value, autographed cards are typically worth a little less, while jerseys and bats are worth more. This is often due to the increased cost of the item itself. A $200 jersey that’s been signed is obviously worth more than a $15 baseball. In the example of our Musial ball the type of ball can come into play. A vintage ball from the 60s-70s will draw more value than a modern Rawlings baseball. Also, a knock-off cheap ball not made of quality leather will be worth less (A quick tip: cheap quality balls often are clearly not real leather and have a plastic feel or have “china” stamped on the them, these balls have very little value). Special edition balls such as a Hall-of-Fame, World Series, or All-Star baseball also have additional value as they cost more and are more sought after by collectors.
Item Condition – The condition of the item also comes into play. A scratch, bend, or tear on an item can heavily decrease value. When it comes to baseballs the leather (especially if not kept under UV protection) can yellow or develop splotches often called “toning”. A toned ball is not worth nearly as much as a good condition ball. Keep in mind vintage balls from the 60s and before will have a yellowish patina from years of the leather naturally aging. A patina on vintage balls can be sought after as it proves the ball is from the correct era and has naturally aged.
Signature – The signature is the next thing to analyze in determining value. The first factor to consider of the signature is where it’s at on the item. A baseball signed on the sweet spot is worth more than one signed on the side. Photo’s and other items should be signed in spots where they are most visible and will display well. Next the signature color can matter, a baseball signed in Blue is worth more than a ball signed in Black, photos and other items are typically signed in blue, black, or silver depending on what color best fits the color of the item itself. The signature strength is also important, an item with a dark signature will be worth more than a light or faded signature. Also any smears, smudges, or stray pen marks can greatly reduce the value.
Signature Variations – One final note on signatures themselves is that more modern athletes have variations of their signature. Most players have full “sit-down” signatures they give at paid signings and faster, shorter “in-person” signature they give when signing at the ballpark or hotel.
Authentication – Finally authentication can play a roll in value. Obviously a fake signature is worth nothing, and items that are not authenticated by a reputable dealer are more of a risk for the buyer. Item’s with authentication from PSA/DNA or JSA are the most trusted and valued. We often talk to people who want to sell us memorabilia and they will say “Oh yeah it’s authenticated, I have paperwork on all of it.” Then when we ask to see the authentication we find a paper certificate from “Billy Bob’s Card Shop” in 1982 “promising” us the item is real. Well it turns out forgers and clueless dealers have printers too and they can print COAs like everyone else. In 90% of these cases these companies are even out of business or their phone numbers are disconnected. These authentication papers are useless and add no value, for trusted authentication an item needs to have a COA and preferably a hologram from PSA/DNA, JSA or the athletes own authentication hologram. The good news is that an item with JSA or PSA has a definite advantage in value. Dealers and consumers trust these companies enough to put more value on their authenticated items.
Overall you can use the rarity, desirability, and condition to determine the value of your collectibles. The economy also plays a roll in value as supply and demand shifts, the current economy has the prices of most memorabilia down (which makes it a great time to buy). Also, keep in mind that retail value is often higher than private party value (what another collector is going to offer you for it) and that’s usually higher than what a dealer will offer to buy your memorabilia for. Someone who is looking to buy your items from you won’t be paying retail because they could just get it from a trusted retail for the same price. If you can’t find a buyer or don’t want to deal with trying to find a buyer consider selling your items to a dealer or memorabilia company. They have the customer base to sell your item and so will be much more interested in buying it off you, but keep in mind they are going to offer you anywhere from a half to a third of what they think they can sell it for, because it’s called capitalism for a reason and they have to make a profit.
The most common value related issue we see with collectors (especially collectors that don’t follow the market closely) is that they think their items are worth three times more than they are. It can be discouraging to find out that your collection is worth $10,000 rather than the $30,000 you think it’s worth, but keep the concepts of rarity, desirability, and condition in mind and you can create a highly valued collection that will gain value over time.