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Sports Memorabilia

Read about sports memorabilia and learn how to be a collector.

Sports memorabilia include equipment, uniforms and photos. [©Jupiter Images, 2010]
©Jupiter Images, 2010
Sports memorabilia include equipment, uniforms and photos.

For collectors who wish to possess a little bit of history or those who just have a passion for athletics, sports memorabilia collecting is the perfect hobby. As a spare-time hobby or as an investment strategy, collecting sports memorabilia can be both profitable and enjoyable. There is, however, some degree of risk. Fraud is a concern when dealing in sports memorabilia, as the industry can involve large amounts of money. For autograph collectors, the best way to ensure signed sports memorabilia is authentic is for the collectors to obtain the signatures themselves.

The distinguishing characteristic between sports memorabilia and sports collectibles is an authenticated athlete's signature. According to SportsMemorabilia.com, sports-related items and equipment that contain an authentic and certified athlete's signature is memorabilia, but replicas and items without a signature or with an unauthenticated signature are classified as collectibles.

Increasing Sports Memorabilia Value

Collectors sometimes discover their passion as children through baseball card collecting or saving items with logos of their favorite sports teams. Many of these pieces, if saved and kept in pristine condition, can increase in value exponentially. One such example is a baseball card dating back almost one century. According to PBS, in 2000 a 1909 Honus Wagner baseball card sold for $1.2 million.

To maintain the value of sports memorabilia, items should be placed in sealed plastic containers, away from sunlight, at room temperature and away from moisture and other environmental dangers. For items that have considerable monetary value, collectors should consider amending their homeowner's insurance policies to include the memorabilia.

Another way that the value of sports memorabilia can increase depends on the athlete to whom the item is related. If the memorabilia belonged to a player who has retired, the value will be more secure. This is due to the player's status no longer changing, since he or she is no longer playing. There are active players in each sport whose signatures are worth a great deal, but their values may fluctuate significantly over the years. Team and player popularity can also drive up the price. Players who are in the media for outstanding accomplishments can increase demand for any sort of collectible.

Selling Sports Memorabilia

Today's sports memorabilia industry can be overwhelming for a collector who is just starting out. Collectors can look to the Internet to research memorabilia, to see what's available and to find recent pricing guidelines. Publications such as Sports Collectors Digest and Tuff Stuff can offer market values and other pieces of information that might be helpful when selling sports memorabilia.

Whether a collector decides to sell to other collectors or to a dealer is a big decision and each has pros and cons. It takes time and effort for collectors to sell to other collectors via a bidding Web site, but this offers collectors more control over such things as pricing and timing. Certain sports memorabilia pricing magazines, such as the ones listed above, feature trading forums in which collectors can trade with other collectors. Selling through a dealer may allow for quick cash, but collectors might not get their money's worth since a percentage would be commissioned to the dealer.

Sports Memorabilia Concerns

Buying sports memorabilia can be risky, especially if the buyer and seller are not familiar with each other. In 2000, the FBI formed a special task force called Operation Bullpen to investigate fraudulent memorabilia signatures. As a result of the investigation, according to the FBI, most industry insiders believe that more than half of all sports- and celebrity-signed pieces of memorabilia sold are forgeries. With the autographed memorabilia market at close to $1 billion per year, the forged items comprise $500 million. With so much money at stake, sports memorabilia collectors need to be cautious.

Certain online dealers may claim to be reputable sellers, but if the sellers cannot show proof of authenticity of high-priced pieces of sports merchandise, collectors should walk away. Something that collectors should be wary of is forged signatures on autographed merchandise. If the collectors plan to pay a lot of money for investment purposes, the item should come with a certificate of authenticity (COA). The COA should also come from a well-known company that deals with sports memorabilia, such as Upper Deck, Steiner Sports or Highland Mint. Having a computer-generated, holographic COA that comes from a reputable company can provide more reassurance than a hand-written authentication sent by someone through the mail.

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