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Press Release - January 15, 2021

The Time is Now: Heritage Auctions Holds Its First Modern Sports Cards Event at Just the Right Moment

Beloved legends, active all-stars and rising rookies fill the catalog in a sale meant for everyone


Michael Jordan 1997-1998 Metal Universe card Heritage Auctions
DALLAS, Texas (Jan. 15, 2021) — Not so long ago, sports-card collecting to most meant only century-old Honus Wagners and baby-faced Mickey Mantles selling for breathtaking prices to stockpilers of baseball royalty and antiquity. Except to the kids cracking wax and chewing gum, it was a hobby built upon ancient history, relatively speaking, an exclusive chase for the finest versions of the oldest cards bearing the biggest names.

Then came 2020. Countless times during an unexpected and decidedly unprecedented year, newer cards featuring present-day icons, active all-stars and even unproven recruits realized fortunes previously unseen in the card-collecting hobby.

Gem-mint offerings of Michael Jordan's 1986 Fleer rookie card broke its world record several times in 2020, culminating in a $420,000 sale last summer. A 1997 Jordan realized even more in December, nearly shattering the million-dollar mark, with a 2004 LeBron James nipping at His Airness' Nikes. Wayne Gretzky's 1979 Canadian debut became the first hockey card to surpass $1 million. And it's common now for the likes of Mike Trout and Giannis Antetokounmpo to show up on most-expensive-ever lists.

Only 30 years ago the sports-card industry was believed dead, a victim of glut and greed as more and more manufacturers flooded the hobby with product. Yet throughout the year past, hundreds of articles, columns and essays were penned about the spike in sports-card values as writers contemplated the resurgence of a hobby left for dead in the late 1980s and early '90s. Adam Graham of The Detroit News in August offered this brief summation of the myriad contributing factors: "nostalgia, financial prospects, promising young stars, a lack of competition for consumers' entertainment dollars and disposable income during COVID-19."

For the first time in its history as the largest sports auction house in the world, Dallas-based Heritage Auctions will hold a Modern Sports Card Catalog event, which goes into extended bidding Feb. 4. Of the more than 450 lots offered, a sealed wax pack of 1979 O-Pee-Chee hockey cards — containing, just maybe, one of those Gretzky rookies — is the oldest in the sale.

"While our hobby has primarily focused on vintage treasures, 2020 ushered in the modern era with a vengeance, and this auction intends to service and enhance that soaring demand," says Chris Ivy, Heritage's Director of Sports Auctions. "We are now seeing modern-era cards regularly command six- and seven-figure price tags, and a new generation of deeply engaged collectors serves as a harbinger of a bright future for this hobby for decades to come."

Included in this event are numerous Jordans, among them a 1986 Fleer Michael Jordan PSA Gem Mint 10 — for which bidding already surpasses what would have been a record-smashing number in early 2020 — and one of 23 Upper Deck cards from 1997 featuring a piece of game-worn jersey also signed by His Airness. Such rarities abound throughout the auction, which includes, too, a 1997 Metal Universe Red Precious Metal Gems Jordan graded BGS NM-MT 8 and numbered 52/100.

Think of this as a sale of golden tickets, among them the 2002 SP "Course of a Champion" Tiger Woods Autograph Complete Blue Set (18) and Near Complete Green Set (15/18), each card signed and exceptionally rare. And it comes to market at precisely the right moment.

Just as ESPN's The Last Dance redirected the spotlight back to Jordan in the absence of sports last spring, HBO's new Tiger documentary refocuses our attention back to Woods' earliest, brightest and occasionally very worst moments. With eyes on Tiger, as though anyone ever looked away for long, his card market has begun to show signs of exploding, and these early autographed cards will be among the diamonds in the crown of any major Tiger collector.

There are countless invaluable icons included in this Modern Sports Card event, many appearing on signed and singular offerings printed in miniscule quantities – the LeBrons, the Kobes, the Trouts, the Jeters. And some cards contain multiple legends, like, say, a 2006 SP Signature card with relic jerseys signed by Jordan, James, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, a PSA Mint 9 numbered 5/5 – a winning lottery ticket once pulled from a pack.

There are dozens and dozens of PSA Gem Mint contained within this sale; no doubt this event could shake up the PSA Registry Set rankings as elite specimens trade hands. But one of the joys of the modern-card hobby, too, is finding college comers on their way to becoming somebodies or younglings already carving out legends in the grass.

Like, say, a 2017 Panini Prizm Patrick Mahomes II (Red Power) graded PSA Gem Mint 10 and numbered 37/49. Or a 2019 National Treasures Zion Williamson (Emerald-Jersey Autograph) graded BGS Mint 9 and numbered 3/5. Or a 2018 Panini Flawless Juan Soto Rookie Dual Patch Autograph Emerald graded Gem Mint 9.5, Auto 10, and numbered 3/5.

This Modern Cards Catalog event presents a wide-open field for all interested players, from the investor banking on a rookie or the novice collector curious about the fuss over cards. And among the Hall of Famers, rising legends and surefire superstars are the future could-be's and should-be's – like, say Justin Fields, the Ohio State Buckeyes quarterback who, in 2017, graced a Leaf Perfect Game National Showcase baseball card along with a Nike patch and his autograph. There is only one card like it.

Of course no modern card auction would be complete without a healthy helping of unopened material. You'll find plenty here, including the fabled 1986 Fleer Basketball wax box (featuring, perhaps, that coveted Jordan) and the elusive 1999 Wizards of the Coast Pokémon Unlimited Edition Base Set Booster Box that seems to set a new record every time it appears. But here's something else seldom surfaces: a 1999 Wizards of the Coast Pokémon Unlimited Base Set Uncut Proof Sheet with 110 Cards — easier to display, perhaps, than a shrink-wrapped box.

All told there are more than 450 lots in this special event, which goes into extended bidding at 10 p.m. Feb. 4. To participate, bidders must place their initial bids before extended bidding begins.

Heritage Auctions is the largest fine art and collectibles auction house founded in the United States, and the world's largest collectibles auctioneer. Heritage maintains offices in New York, Dallas, Beverly Hills, San Francisco, Chicago, Palm Beach, London, Paris, Geneva, Amsterdam and Hong Kong.

Heritage also enjoys the highest Online traffic and dollar volume of any auction house on earth (source: SimilarWeb and Hiscox Report). The Internet's most popular auction-house website,, has more than 1,250,000 registered bidder-members and searchable free archives of five million past auction records with prices realized, descriptions and enlargeable photos. Reproduction rights routinely granted to media for photo credit.

Robert Wilonsky, Director, Corporate Communications

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