If you were to look at the sports memorabilia market, you would see that it is booming. People fall over one another to own a piece of sporting history. A jersey worn by Michael Jordan. A retro ticket from a big game owned by a spectator. Something signed by a top star. They’re all sought-after items, and often times, they come with a large price tag as well.
Then again, considering they have been in action at some of the biggest events, it’s no surprise. The question is, which of the sporting memorabilia available is the most expensive?
Here, we will have a look at some of the priciest sports memorabilia in the world. People will go all out when they want to get their hands on something like this. Thus, expect some hefty figures for these pieces of sporting history.
Diego Maradona’s Argentina Shirt + Football from 1986 World Cup Quarter-Final
In the football world, many people know of Diego Maradona. The Argentinian player achieved many accolades during his career. For this, he was the first player to set the world record transfer fee on two separate occasions. Transferring to Barcelona in 1982, he brought in a fee of £5 million. Then, two years later, he secured a fee of £6.9 million upon moving to Napoli.
It is at the second club that he had much of his remembered success. Yet it is also when playing for his home country that Maradona made waves. With the national team, he earned 91 caps and scored 34 goals.
In 1986, the World Cup took place in Mexico. It was in this tournament that Argentina would go on to win, beating out West Germany in the final. Throughout the competition, Maradona was a force of power. He played every minute of every Argentinian game, scored five goals and made five assists.
A match against England at the Azteca Stadium in Mexico City occurred on June 22. In that match, Maradona scored two of the football world’s most remembered goals. At 51 minutes, he scored what has become known as “The Hand of God” goal. He scored it with his hand, which is illegal, but referees did not have a clear view. Thus, Argentina took the 1-0 lead. Four minutes later, Maradona came back once more, dribbling past five England players. The ball once again found the back of the net, and it achieved the title of “Goal of the Century”.
You may be wondering what this all has to do with sports memorabilia. Well, the Argentinian shirt that Maradona wore in that game came up for auction in May 2022. Once the sale was over, someone had paid £7.1 million for it. Former Nottingham Forest defender Steve Hodge put the shirt up for sale at first. He had swapped jerseys with Maradona at the end of the quarter-final match in ’86. For the past 20 years, it had resided in Manchester’s National Football Museum. The sale took place at a Sotheby’s auction.
It is also the case that the ball which scored “The Hand of God” goal will go up for sale. On November 16, Graham Budd Auctions will present the ball as one of the lots. It is currently owned by former referee Ali Bin Nasser (who missed the hand ball in ’86). Predictions suggest that it will fetch between £2.5 million and £3 million at auction.
Original Copy of 1892 Olympics Manifesto
Charles Pierre de Frédy, Baron de Coubertin, was a French educator and historian. He was also the founder of the International Olympic Committee and served as its second president. Known as the father of the modern Olympic Games, he even promoted it in French schools. In 1892, Coubertin made a speech which revealed his intentions for the modern Olympics. This was also written down in a manifesto and has remained in good condition since that time.
The 14-page document sold for a massive £7 million at a Sotheby’s auction in December 2019. At the time, this was a world record for the sale of a piece of sporting memorabilia. The speech written on the pages was first given in front of a large crowd at the Sorbonne. This occurred as a celebration of the 5th anniversary of the French Athletics Association. It was only two years later that Coubertin founded the IOC. The modern Olympic Games then launched in Athens in 1896.
T206 Honus Wagner Baseball Card
Baseball is one of those games that has a bigger association with the USA than anywhere else. Yet various sports stars have risen to fame through playing it on a professional level. Honus Wagner is one such player. He played 21 seasons in Major League Baseball from 1897 to 1917. Throughout that, he played primarily for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Wagner, also known as “the Flying Dutchman”, won his eighth batting title in 1911. That remains a National League record to this day. He was also inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936 as one of its first five members.
In August of 2021, a Honus Wagner baseball card sold for £5.4 million. This broke the previous record for the highest-selling sports card in history. The T206 depicts Wagner himself, designed and issued by the American Tobacco Company. It fetched such a high price because Wagner refused production of his baseball card to continue. Either he didn’t want his children to buy cigarette packs for his card or he wanted compensation for it. Production ended of the T206 Wagner card, with only 50 to 200 cards ever distributed. This pales in comparison to the hundreds of thousands issued for other players. The first issue of the card sold for $50 in 1933. Even then, it was the most expensive baseball card in the world.
A 1928-30 Jersey Worn by Babe Ruth
We’re returning to the world of baseball once more. Another well-known player in Babe Ruth is up next on the list. The legendary player had one of his jerseys up for auction in New York in 2019. Ruth wore that shirt for three seasons between 1928 and 1930. During that timeframe, he would go on to become one of the greatest baseball players. Throughout his career, which lasted 22 years, he obtained seven World Series titles.
That jersey fetched $5.6 million (£4.4 million) at auction. Even before this jersey sold, Ruth held the record for most expensive memorabilia. Another of his jerseys from 1920 had sold for $4.4 million. Like Wagner, Babe Ruth became one of the first five people inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame in ’36.
Topps Baseball Card of Mickey Mantle
Once again, we’re in the realm of baseball. This time for a Topps baseball card of Mickey Mantle from 1952. In January of 2021, this trading card sold for £4.2 million. It did hold the record for the most expensive sports card of all time. That is, until the T206 Honus Wagner card sold later on in the same year. Mantle had the nickname of “the Commerce Comet”. He played his entire MLB career for the New York Yankees between 1951 and 1968. Regarded by many as one of the best players and sluggers, he entered the Hall of Fame in 1974.
Mantle would go on to become a Triple Crown winner in 1956. He was also a three-time American League MVP and seven-time World Series champion. He possesses the second higher career OPS+ among centre fielders, behind Mike Trout. Even though his private life was fraught with tragedy, his legacy lives on. That much is clear from the sale of the Topps sports card.
LeBron James Rookie Card Sale
Despite the fact that LeBron James had a vast injury stretch, he managed to achieve many things. His accolades would be too long to list here. Yet it is back to the early days of his career that we go with this piece of sports memorabilia. Between 2003 and 2010, he played for the Cleveland Cavaliers. A rookie sports card of him from 2003-2004 sole in April of 2021. It fetched a price of £4.2 million, coming from the Upper Deck Exquisite collection. Only 23 copies of the card exist in the world, reflecting the number on his NBA jersey.
The auction saw his card sold to a private bidder. The card, featuring a perfect 10 signature, claimed position as most expensive basketball card. The sale of it tied the all-time record for any card with the Mickey Mantle card. Of course, both were outdone by the Wagner card noted earlier. “Exquisite was a revolutionary product when it came out in 2003”, said Jesse Craig, the PWCC director of business development. “It was the most expensive retail product that had ever been released, at $500 a box…”.
The Rules of Basketball & Baseball
James Naismith was a Canadian-American physical educator, physician and sports coach. He is best-known for inventing the game of basketball. Following a move to the United States of America, he wrote the original basketball rule book. He also founded the University of Kansas basketball program. Also, he lived to see basketball adopted as an Olympic demonstration sport in 1904. It would go on to become an official event at the Summer Olympics in 1936 in Berlin.
The basketball rulebook from Naismith incorporates 13 rules. It serves as one of the most important manuscripts in sports history. Dating back to 1891, it came up for auction in 2010. Written in Naismith’s handwriting, David and Suzanne Booth were the buyers. The document sold for £3.5 million. All proceeds went to the Naismith Basketball Foundation. Booth is an alumnus of the Kansas University basketball program. The couple said that basketball fan Josh Swade inspired them to buy the document. He had been lobbying for the rules to come back to Kansas.
It’s not only basketball manuscripts that have sold for big prices. Daniel Lucius Adams wrote the rulebook for baseball, serving as a key founder of the sport. Adams was a baseball player himself, being a member of the New York Knickerbockers. Researchers have called him the creator of the shortstop position. This, he used as a way of fielding short throws from outfielders. He also manufactured baseballs and oversaw bat production.
In 1858, the National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP) formed. Adams led the rules and regulations committee, ruling that the bases should be 90 feet apart. He also supported the elimination of the “bound rule”. He wrote the official document outlining the laws of the sport. This sold for £2.6 million at an auction in 2016. Titled “Laws of Base Ball”, Adams penned the rules as president of the Knicks in 1857. Once the NABBP was set up, 14 New York-based teams utilised the rules within.
Adams remained an avid follower of baseball throughout his retirement. He played in an exhibition as late as 1875. Other stories exist claiming that he played for recreation in the proceeding decade. He stated that he never expected to see the game expand in such a universal way, later in life.