31 October 2014

Quirks of the modern "certified" autograph


     Autographs are a funny thing in the modern hobby.  There are various schools of thought regarding them, how to collect them, how to buy and sell them.  Some fans are all about the chase, picking up as many "In-Person" (IP) and "Through-The-Mail" (TTM) autos as they can get, while not really caring too much about actually buying an autograph second-hand.  Then there are those who won't touch an autograph unless it came in a pack as part of an official product issued by a fully (or partially) licensed card company.

    These different perspectives make for some interesting dynamics in the pricing of autographs of the non-prospect and less than Hall of Fame caliber players.  Many collectors consider an auto of John Tudor or Paul Assenmacher to be filler, and complain loudly when pulling one of these instead of a Derek Jeter or Albert Pujols or [insert overpriced, hot prospect of the week].  Other collectors get excited about those infrequent autographs of Bill Madlock or Carlos Baerga in something like Topps' Fan Favorites sets.  But in the U.S. market, rarely does that more obscure player's signature command much, if any, premium even when they do turn up.  There are numerous Bill Madlock autos, both certified and not, that failed to clear the $5 mark recently on eBay, and that is including shipping and handling.


    Throw in the Japanese market, and suddenly the whole market is turned on its head.  In 2013, BBM issued two sets dedicated to foreign (basically any non-Japanese) players to appear in Japan over the past 35 years or so.  In some cases, these resulted in the only pack-issued, certified autographed cards for some of these players.  Many of these players were so completely off the radar of the U.S. card manufactures that they would likely never even get an honorable mention to be included in a Fan Favorites type set.  These are players whose non-certified (IP or TTM) autographs regularly fail to get even a minimum bid on eBay.

    Yet have that player sign a limited quantity of cards in a set in Japan, and in some cases, you get what you see at the top of the page.  That is a screen capture from a completed Yahoo! Auction from Japan of Hensley Meulens' only certified auto.  The card was limited to only 48 copies.  That card sold for 10,500 yen, which at the time of the auction was about $100 U.S. dollars.  A cool Benjamin.  For an autograph of Sir Hensley "Bam-Bam" Meulens.


     A month earlier, the Bill Madlock from the same set, limited to 39 copies, sold for 12,650 yen or about $120 U.S.  Those two mark the high end of the spectrum, but other players hit similarly surprising numbers; Roy White ($30), Ralph Bryant ($52), Benny Agbayani ($30), Gene Bacque ($85), Darryl Spencer ($40), Don Buford ($25), Jim Paciorek ($50).  Even the likes of Mike Easler, Juan Eichelberger, Lee Stevens and Willie Fraser clear $10-$15.  Even Tuffy Rhodes autos still clear $25-$40 in Japan and he's got dozens of certified issues there.

    My apologies to anyone who has read this far expecting a payoff.  There's not really a moral to this story, so much as a pile of frustration for someone who collects lesser known players who happened to spend time in Japan.  Out of a print run of 48 cards from a set issued in another country, of which there are still plenty of unopened boxes on the market, it is unlikely I will ever be able to track down that Meulens card at anything like a price I'd actually be willing to pay.  I love this hobby, but sometimes it drives me crazy!

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