Do you enjoy collecting football memorabilia? It does not carry quite as high a price tag as baseball memorabilia, but it is still easy to empty the bank account if you are a collector.
Football cards have sold at auction for as high as $240,000 for a 1935 National Chicle card of former Chicago Bears great Bronko Nagurski, while another of his cards went for $350,000 in a private transaction. Another Bear, quarterback Sid Luckman, is depicted on a card valued at more than $70,000 if of sufficient quality. Johnny Unitas' famous home white number 19 jersey from the Baltimore Colts (pictured below) recently sold for $118,230, topping the list of highest-priced jerseys sold at auction.
Autographed footballs and helmets can go into the tens of thousands of dollars, and not just for the oldest memorabilia, either. The helmet that Auburn University kick returner Chris Davis wore in the 2013 Iron Bowl sold for $47,190, the most paid for a college football helmet at auction. Considering his famous "Kick Six" run ended the championship hopes of rival Alabama, we are pretty sure it was not an Alabama fan that bought it.
You are not likely to find bargains of that nature at the average garage sale, but it is certainly possible to find football-collecting gems that will fit into your collection and are priced far below their value. Here are a few hints to help you find those gems and steer clear of potential money-wasters.
- Take Your Smartphone – You never know what you will run across, and eBay and other online references are invaluable for checking the value of an item. Just because something is old does not mean it is valuable — it also depends on the scarcity and the market demand for that particular item.
- Check Price Guides – If you know in advance that the sale has cards or other memorabilia, do your homework. There are many price guides and auction sites available online to give you a good idea of prices that are based on condition. Have the sites referenced in your smartphone so you can call them up on the spot.
- Evaluate Condition Honestly – Garage sale football cards should be inspected carefully, unless they are graded and in sealed cases (and even then an once-over is not a bad idea). Look for sharp corners, good centering, and a lack of scratches or creases. Watch for cards that are slightly smaller (trimmed to sharpen the corners).
Ask to examine cards that are in unsealed holders. Cards that are placed in holders can look great but the reflections can hide creases in the surface of the card.
Other paper-based memorabilia like programs and ticket stubs are also condition-sensitive. Memorabilia like helmets and jerseys are less prone to environmental conditions (especially if game-worn) and more dependent on the quality of the autograph.
- Be Wary of Autographs – It is pretty rare that anybody selling autographed football memorabilia would do it at a garage sale. There are so many outlets online, from eBay to sites that specialize in sports memorabilia auctions, that an underpriced autograph or autographed helmet/jersey in a garage sale is likely to be something that either cannot be authenticated, or that is an outright fake.
Examples of typical signatures for many famous athletes are available online. That will help you detect obvious fakes, but for anything priced higher, you may need to dig deeper into why such a valuable artifact is in a garage sale and not at an auction house.
- Watch Out For Reproductions – Periodically high-end cards are reproduced as part of an insert campaign into new packs of cards, and "throwback" helmets and jerseys are also out there. There is usually some sort of subtle (if not overt) mark labeling it as a reproduction. Be suspicious of anything in a garage sale that looks in far better condition than it should be for its age.
- Look for Alternate Memorabilia – It is not just all about cards and autographed footballs, jerseys, or helmets. Old programs, promotional pins, signs, and even publications can bring in a decent return on investment. Items like this are not reproduced or faked as often.
Armed with these tips, you are ready to rummage through the garages of America looking for football gold. Good luck, and start early! Garage sales can have early bargain hunters lined up in a three-point stance outside the garage waiting for the opening, especially when sports memorabilia is involved. Take a few blockers with you if necessary.
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Johnny Unitas photo by Malcolm W.Emmons (The Sporting News archives) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons