Dear Mr. Berko: An old neighbor began collecting baseball memorabilia in the early 1990s and died last year at 83. My husband and I enjoyed his baseball “trophy room,” where he kept his substantial collection of autographed baseballs, autographed bats, baseball cards, signed and famed photographs of old baseball players (Bob Feller, Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, Satchel Paige, Warren Spahn, etc.), every World Series ticket stub from 1971 to 2002, a first base bag from every major league team, original hats, jerseys, gloves and more. He was very proud of this collection, seemed to know everything about the sport and enjoyed telling us baseball stories that he often repeated.
And because my husband and I are die-hard baseball fans, we could listen to his stories over and over again. His son came down from Boston to settle the estate and offered to sell us his father's collection. He said it was valued at $90,000 and that we should make an offer if we wanted it. We would like to buy this collection if we could get it at a good price (someone suggested $45,000 cash, which should be the wholesale price), because we believe it could grow in value and because we are avid fans of the Cleveland Indians, whom we believe have the finest of all the baseball stadiums in the country. We never had enough money to seriously invest in baseball memorabilia, but we do own a few pieces. But now because Jack (my husband) finally got some big money by selling two old “muscle cars” and an old Mercedes convertible, each of which he completely refurbished, we have the money. What do you think?
BR in Columbus, Ohio
Anyhow, a very wise man once advised Giorgio Armani: “Stick to your knitting,” and that was the best piece of advice he ever received. So perhaps Jack should stick to his knitting and forget about buying that collection of baseball memorabilia. Though I know nothing about baseball memorabilia, it's quite possible that some of those items, or many, could be fakes. You may be surprised to learn that interest in autographed sports memorabilia has declined significantly over the past decade and prices have been falling steadily. Baseball cards that once sold for $200 or $600 in the 1990s now bring a pittance of their previous prices. And autographed photos of famous players sometimes go begging for a bid. Though I know someone who owned a baseball autographed by Satchel Page that recently sold for $9,500, the buyer was a member of the Cleveland Indians Organization for whom it may have been purchased. Lots of old sports memorabilia seems to have lost its cachet and collectors who would swim in hot lava to buy such incunabula have cooled their heels. One reason is the recession has crimped the purses of many collectors whose active interest supported the values of midpriced collectibles. The other reason is the “fake market.” It seems that there are more fake baseball cards, autographed photos, autographed balls, and bats out there than the real thing. Today's technology can make a 3-karat diamond, a Rolex Presidential or a designer dress that looks square as the real thing. That same technology reproduces a Ty Cobb or Nap Lajoie baseball card that appears as authentic as the real McCoy, so you must also be a forensic anthropologist to divine the real thing. Most investors wouldn't purchase an Old Masters painting unless it's authenticated, nor should you consider the neighbor's collection unless it's also authenticated. If your neighbor's son wishes to sell his father's collection, he should call an authentication company to value those pieces.