What to Know to Get Top Dollar for Your Sports Memorabilia

Signed sports memorabilia sits on display at a store.
Signed sports memorabilia is on display at the Kennedy Brothers Auction Services on May 26, 2020. Multiple factors go into deciding if a sports memorabilia is valuable. For example, an autographed item that is personalized will fetch less money than an autograph without the recipient's name. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

It’s a good time to figure out what that Pete Rose baseball card or Shaquille O’Neal-autographed T-shirt is worth.

The demand for sports memorabilia is up while collectors and fans have more time to search the Internet and aren’t spending their money on games, concerts or restaurants. 

“The whole world is looking for everything on their computer because they are all at home,” said Blake Kennedy, co-owner of Kennedy Brothers Auctions in St. Petersburg, Fla. 

“There’s been some significant price appreciation to sports memorabilia in general the last couple months since COVID-19 hit,” said Michael Osacky, a Chicago-based certified sports appraiser. “Now, really is a good time to go digging in your attic or garage.” 

Here’s what’s involved in a sports memorabilia appraisal.

How to Find Out What Your Memorabilia is Worth

Osacky normally charges on a per-item basis to appraise sports memorabilia including Bobbleheads, autographed photos and World Series rings worth $15,000 to six figures. But he waives his fee if the item is found to be worth less than his fee.

“Part of me being a certified appraiser is I have ethics and morals,” he said. “Usually when people email or text me photos, I can take a look and tell within seconds if it’s worth $1 or $10.”

If an item has an autograph, it will bring more money if it’s authenticated. There are three leading companies in the United States that authenticate autographs: 

  • PSA, Professional Sports Authenticator, based in Newport Beach, Calif., and has a New Jersey location. 
  • Beckett Authentication Services, based in Dallas. 
  • James Spence Authentication, based in Parsippany, N.J.  

In most cases, authenticators require the autographed item be mailed in for a review. The fees start around $20 and go up to the hundreds depending on the item or number of items. Their websites offer an idea of the pricing and shipping requirements. 

Two men pose for a portrait by sports memorabilia.
Blake Kennedy, left, and his twin brother Brett co-own Kennedy Brothers Auction Services in St. Petersburg, Fla. They sell collectibles including sports memorabilia. One piece of advice from them: get your sports memorabilia authenticated to bring in the most money for it. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

While Osacky is not an authenticator, he will evaluate an autograph and can usually tell from a photo if a signature is fake or worth getting authenticated by an expert. 

Items don’t have to be officially appraised or authenticated to be auctioned as “as is” pieces, Kennedy said. But if it is a true autograph from a top-notch player, it will bring more if it’s authenticated.  

Here’s a particularly timely tip: If you have anything related to Michael Jordan, then it’s doubly a good time to sell because of the recent ESPN documentary “The Last Dance.”

“What we’re seeing in the past 10 weeks, is that the prices have really increased substantially for anything with Michael Jordan,” Osacky said. 

What Else Affects an Item’s Value?

Kennedy and Osacky shared these other factors that influence how much a piece of memorabilia is worth.

How old is it? 

Items from before the 1970s tend to be worth more because after that era, much sports memorabilia was mass produced, and automated autographs came into play. 

Are there red flags for mass production?

“Anything that has the words ‘limited edition or commemorative’ are going to have no value really,” Osacky said. 

Did a player own it?

A World Series ring worn by a player will bring more than one worn by team owners or staff. 

A personalized signed magazine from Michael Jordan.
Freelance writer Katherine Snow Smith had her University of North Carolina 1982 basketball program appraised. The program was signed by Michael Jordan, James Worthy, Sam Perkins and Coach Dean Smith wishing her a happy 13th birthday. The program was appraised for $200 because it was personalized to her. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

How successful was the player?

Items owned or autographed by a member of a sport’s hall of fame or championship team bring in more than items associated with an athlete who doesn’t have such accolades.

How closely is the piece connected to the player?

“A photograph signed by Cal Ripken Jr. isn’t worth near as much as a game jersey worn by him,” Kennedy said. Another example, an autographed bat a player used regularly is worth more than a practice ball he touched once.

What about items bought at charity fundraisers?

First, consider if it has a certificate that came with it. If so, Google the name of the person who signed it and see if they are an authenticator in good standing. 

Signed with a Sharpie? 

Sharpies didn’t exist when Joe DiMaggio was signing balls. Felt pens didn’t come out until the 1960s.

Is the signature personalized

If William Perry offered his best wishes to Joe or Kelly, then the autograph isn’t worth nearly as much as one without the recipient’s name.

FROM THE MAKE MONEY FORUM

Case Study: My UNC Treasures from the Jordan Era

I asked to Osacky appraise an autographed program from the University North Carolina basketball team to illustrate the financial effect of these factors. My program was signed in January 1982, the year the team went on to win the NCAA championship with freshman Michael Jordan’s shot at the buzzer. 

It was on my 13th birthday and Jordan, James Worthy, Sam Perkins, Matt Doherty and Coach Dean Smith all signed wishing me Happy Birthday. I later took out the page with Jordan’s signature and framed it. The signature has faded over time because it was exposed to so much light. 

Because it’s signed by the coach and four of the five starters who won the NCAA championship, the program is worth more than the average top-20 team. But the personalization takes points off as well as the fact that the page with Michael Jordan has been removed. 

Osacky appraised the game program for $200. But if it wasn’t personalized and was still intact with the Jordan autograph it would be worth $2,000. The signed Jordan page is appraised at $1,000 to $1,500. If it were not personalized or faded it would be valued at $2,500, he said. 

Once you get an item appraised and/or authenticated, there are several options for selling it including eBay, online sports memorabilia auctions and general online auctions. 

“Go to eBay if you want to get rid of it right then and there,” Kennedy advised. “If it’s a really good piece, put it on an online auction that specializes in sports memorabilia.”

Numerous companies online take consignments for upcoming auctions. Like anything, check reviews. 

Auction companies in your own city or town can provide local references, and you can deliver the items in person. More and more are companies doing online auctions, especially during social distancing, so collectors anywhere in the world can bid on your item. 

Serious buyers have set up electronic alerts so they get notices when items they want are going up for bid.  

“It’s all about the marketing and the keywords,” Kennedy said. “If the auctioneer is marketing the items well, collectors will find them and bid no matter where they are.”

Katherine Snow Smith is a freelance editor and writer in St. Petersburg, Fla. and author of the upcoming book, Rules for the Southern Rulebreaker, Missteps and Lessons Learned.