Sports memorabilia is one of the most prevalent forms of collecting in the world. The question is, where did it all start? It is said that sports memorabilia collecting dates back to the late-1800's and into the early-1900's when baseball - now America's pastime - was the prevalent sport in the States. At the same time, tobacco and big business were booming and were advertising powerhouses. Determined to attract all Americans, companies, especially big tobacco leaders, would place sports photo cards in their products' packets. This became an instant hit, and the public began to keep these cards. This was was the beginning of the sports collectibles industry - photo cards in tobacco product packets.
Once these photo cards became a hit, the Goodwin Company of New York began producing the world's first numbered baseball trading cards - instantly forming the first collectible line of sports product - where collectors would focus on completing sets. Check out the "Old Judge" Goodwin & Co trading card above. After baseball, hockey cards in the United States and Canada became an instant hit.
With baseballs costing $3 (a considerable amount at the time), collectibles were primarily focused on the trading card industry.
Once the 1920s came around, and the "dead ball era" of MLB was over, baseballs entered the collectibles industry. Hitting statistics rose and there was a larger supply for the market of game-used baseballs, in return reducing the price for the items.
At this time, stars like Babe Ruth, were crowded by fans before and after games by fans wishing to get the autograph of their idol. In 2014, Babe Ruth's jersey from the late 1920s sold for a record $5.64 million, the largest jersey sale on record.
After World War II, fans had more money to spend on collectibles - such as bats, gloves, balls, hats, jerseys and more - skyrocketing the demand for the items, forcing-mass production.
Not until the latter half of the 20th century did teams start selling their own jerseys to fans, a popular trend among sports fans across the country. However, distinguished fans needed to separate themselves from others. This is where game-used memorabilia came into focus.
Still today, game-used collectibles return the highest prices at auction.
Today, according to an article on Forbes stating research from the founder/CEO of Collectable.com David Yoken, the sports memorabilia industry is valued at over $5.5 Billion. This takes into account total gross merchandise volume (GMV), independent auction houses, online retail venues and other sources. It is believed that baseball collectibles, alone, make up over half of that evaluation. Quite significant growth from the early 1900s when trading cards were advertised with just tobacco!
We hope you enjoyed this brief history lesson on the sports memorabilia industry!