Hobby Musings: Robinson contract could be benchmark item – While impressive sports memorabilia items come up for auction all the time, it’s not often that one can capture an audience outside of its collector base. To be able to have that item that transcends sport itself and makes even the most casual observer take notice, that’s rare indeed. It’s also something that every shop and auction house hopes to have for the attention it can bring.
I was fortunate enough to hold such an item a few years ago when I had one of Jesse Owens’ 1936 Olympic medals come in. I’ve seen a lot of impressive sports memorabilia while covering the hobby, but this is the one that still tops the list for me. Looking more like an over-sized gold coin with nothing particularly special about it, the sheer magnitude of what it was hit me in the moment. Not just what it represented for its athletic achievement, but what it meant for history as a whole. That item ended up going for well over $1 million at auction, and I have found myself regretting that I didn’t at least get a picture with it.
Goldin Auctions has such an item up for sale later this year. An auction house that is no stranger to big-ticket items, Goldin will be auctioning off Jackie Robinson’s 1947 Dodgers contract. The company will also have Robinson’s 1945 Montreal Royals contract available, but it’s the Dodgers pact that’s likely to generate the most interest. What they will go for is anyone’s guess, but the two have been appraised at $36 million by rare document expert Seth Kaller.
To talk further about the contract, I had the chance to catch up with PSA’s Joe Orlando. The well-known authentication company is one of a few companies that has verified the contracts’ authenticity.
Hobby Musings: Robinson contract could be benchmark item – Authenticating History
KS: What was your first reaction when this came to you?
JO: A few members of our staff were already aware of its existence prior to the contract coming to market, but it was great news nonetheless. When you have the privilege of working at a company like PSA, there aren’t too many items that can really stop you in your tracks since you get to see the best of the best on a daily basis. Obviously, this was one of those rare occasions. It is always exciting to see historic items become available and this is as historic as it gets.
KS: How did you verify its authenticity?
JO: Our technical role in the authentication process is to evaluate the signatures on the document, but it is also helpful to be very familiar with the medium itself. Player contracts are among the most desirable and important autographed collectibles in the hobby. Fortunately, there are plenty of relevant exemplars in the marketplace, from before, during and the period of, the Robinson contract. The autographs are very important, but this is a case where the importance of the document itself and what it represents far outweighs the signatures by themselves. It’s a classic case of the collectible being greater than the sum of its parts.
KS: You’ve had the chance to see many impressive items over the years. Where does this rank among them?
JO: I get to see so many incredible relics that it really can be hard to rank them. In this case, I almost think it’s unfair to compare this piece to any of the items we have certified before it because of what it means to people…beyond the game of baseball. When you talk to hobbyists, one of the most overused terms is that an item “transcends” sports. There are certainly items that do, but I am not sure if I can think of another piece that embodies that more than this contract. Putting sheer monetary value aside, it is certainly one of the most iconic items that could exist.
KS: Putting your prediction hat on, what do you think it will go for auction?
JO: Quite frankly, I do think it is somewhat futile to attempt a price prediction on a piece of this magnitude. Yes, I know it sounds like a cliché, but premium items like this are worth as much as someone is willing to pay for them. It’s that simple. What I can tell you is that I would be absolutely stunned if this contract did not break the all-time price record for a sports item. To take it a step further, it certainly has a very good chance to become the first eight-figure item ever sold in this hobby and it wouldn’t shock me if the final price was well into that range.
KS: What kinds of ramifications do you think an item like this will have on the sports memorabilia market, especially when it comes to auctions?
JO: When an item comes to market that contains the qualities that this Robinson contract does, it generates the kind of mass appeal that can extend well beyond the hardcore collector community. That is a great thing. It helps expose our industry to new potential collectors and showcases the kind of material that is available to the consumer. There are still plenty of people out there who do not know how much our hobby has to offer. These folks are stunned when they are made aware of the kinds of collectibles that can be purchased, ones that are not part of a museum or stadium display. A lot of incredible pieces reside in private hands, just like in other collectible worlds, such as fine art. This sale will also produce a lot of media attention and for positive reasons. That is a positive for our hobby.
KS: Focusing more on Robinson, what impact do you think this auction will have on his memorabilia market?
JO: The market for Robinson items was already strong to begin with and it has been getting stronger over the past several years. High-end Robinson cards, autographs, jerseys, bats and more have been increasing in value in a pretty consistent manner in recent times. There is no doubt that events like the release of the movie 42 in 2013 and having Jackie Robinson Day on every April 15th in Major League Baseball are reminders of his impact on the game and society. Even though Robinson’s legacy is more than cemented, I do expect this sale to energize the already strong market for Robinson collectibles. The market tends to react positively to major sales like this. I can remember what happened when the Mark McGwire record-setting home run ball from 1998 sold for $3,000,000 and how that impacted the market for his collectibles. Now whether it made complete sense or not is another story and it’s one we can debate for hours. The circumstances are clearly different here, but big numbers create excitement. As the saying goes, the rising tide lifts all boats.
I also had the chance to catch up with Goldin Auctions founder Ken Goldin for his take on the historical piece his auction house will be offering.
Hobby Musings: Robinson contract could be benchmark item – Securing History
KS: So how did the Jackie Robinson contract come to your auction house for consignment?
KG: Obviously there are just a few auction houses capable of handling such an important document so we were honored to be selected. Our strong customer base, relationships in the sports and civil rights worlds and relationship with the Jackie Robinson Foundation — as their official auction house — made us uniquely qualified to handle such a unique situation.
KS: What was your reaction when you first got it in?
KG: When we sold the Jumbo Wagner for $3.12 million we thought we had reached the pinnacle of the industry. But the significance of this document from both the baseball and civil rights perspective makes it especially unique.
KS: You’ve had a lot of impressive memorabilia come up for auction over the years. How do you rank this piece to the rest of it?
KG: That’s kind of like asking me which one of my kids I like the best. But as I indicated, this document is uniquely special and I can’t think of another item that could top it.
KS: Do you think there’s any piece of sports memorabilia theoretically out there that could top this?
KG: Not when you combine its importance as both a civil rights artifact and sports memorabilia.
KS: What are you expecting it to go for?
KG: That’s certainly the million dollar question — or $20 million question in this case. Our consignor has certain expectations when it comes to the sale price, but what’s just as important to all of the parties involved is what the buyer has planned after buying it. That’s why we are encouraging corporations, philanthropists and museums to get in touch with us before November 16th. If we can find a buyer who makes the right offer and guarantees that the documents will be shared with the public, we are open to a private sale.
KS: If someone wants to bid, how would they go about doing so and when does the auction conclude?
KG: Collectors interested in bidding on the Robinson contracts must register in advance to be approved for bidding. Registration is available at www.GoldinAuctions.com or by calling 856-767-8550.
Hobby Musings: Robinson contract could be benchmark item
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