Action speaks louder than words...

....and Action Comics #1 made quite a clamor.

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Welcome to the new-look Alts & Ends, your lively guide to collectible market happenings. In this edition, we examine the takeaways from a record-setting week in comic books and tee off on a massive moment in golf collecting.

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Photo: Heritage, Graphic: Altan Insights

Leaping Record Prices in a Single Bound

For seven years, the comic book auction record survived untested. A copy of Action Comics #1, graded CGC 8.5, sat atop its $3.2 million throne from August 2014 until April 2021. Since then, the record has been broken three times in rapid succession. But only last week was the former $3.2 million record price left in a distant rear view.

The new champ? It’s Action Comics #1, graded CGC 8.5. While the subject isn’t particularly original, the price breaks entirely new ground: $6,000,000.

The result, achieved by Heritage, surpasses the prior auction record - the $3,600,000 paid for Amazing Fantasy #15 in September 2021 - by a substantial margin. It also eclipses the private record of $5,300,000, set by a CGC 8.0 Superman #1 in April of 2022. Just as some insist Mickey Mantle’s 1952 Topps card belongs atop the sports card record boards, it feels the comic book throne is built to suit Action Comics #1.

The rapid ascent of record prices matches the trajectory in other categories, sports cards and memorabilia among them. The blue-chip grails are irreplaceable, and opportunities to acquire them are rare; the market responds to those opportunities accordingly. But this is a new phenomenon, not one we should take for granted.

Again, consider that the peak of the comic book market was effectively flat for seven years. In the three years that followed, the record price increased at an annual rate of 36%. But from the 2014 record through last week, the annual growth was a much more pedestrian 7%.

We are in an environment where demand for top assets - Superman among them - is supercharged.

Thanks to the landmark result, last week’s event grossed over $28 million, making it the largest Comic & Comic Art sale in Heritage history. It wasn’t just Action Comics #1, though. In total, seven lots sold for more than $500,000, while 33 sold for six figures. Last year’s April event managed only $17 million in sales, four lots above $500,000, and 15 six-figure results.

Along the way, bidders notched a number of new records. Among them:

  • Action Comics #1 (CGC Apparent 8.0) - $576,000. A record for any restored book.

  • Daredevil #1 (CGC 9.8) - $360,000. A record for the book.

  • Sensation Comics #1 (CGC 9.6) - $420,000. A record for the book.

Though the headline figures paint a picture (or a splash page) of a roaring market, a look beneath the surface suggests that not much has changed in the market over the last year. Rather, this is a case of incredible consignment. The median prices realized across eras are fairly consistent with last year’s event, and the median and 75th percentile prices realized for Golden Age books this year were actually weaker than in April 2023.

While many books set records, many others found themselves on shakier footing than twelve months ago. For instance:

  • The Incredible Hulk #181 (CGC 9.8)

    • April 2023: $78,000

    • April 2024: $72,000.

  • Fantastic Four #48 (CGC 9.8)

    • April 2023: $81,000.

    • April 2024: $63,000.

  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 (CGC 9.6)

    • April 2023: $54,000

    • April 2024: $37,200.

  • Tales of Suspense #39 (CGC 8.0)

    • April 2023: $38,400

    • April 2024: $32,400

We mention these results not to discount the significant and positive activity at the top of the auction, but instead to issue a reminder that the high-end of an auction may not represent a broad market. That rings especially true when consignment is strong, though the strength of consignment at the top may have detracted from bidding on the titles listed above and others that continue to struggle. Still, the point remains: last week’s event doesn’t represent a total about-face towards instant, all-encompassing prosperity. It is, however, a positive signal about the appetite for high-end comics.

One final note: the demand for comic art remains robust. Heritage sold over $10 million in comic art last week versus just under $6 million the year prior, and the average price of those lots was up a massive 60%. 13 of the six-figure results were comic art, led by the $552,000 paid for the original art of Tony Stark using the Iron Man suit for the very first time. The dichotomy in performance between original art and books that frequently hit the auction block is laid bare, a trend reemphasized consistently over the last 18-24 months.

Though the highest end of the market and the market at large are different things, it’s not uncommon for prices to fill the void left between prior levels and the new heights established by record-setters. Will the market rise to those new heights under the cover of Superman’s cape?

A Week Unlike Any Other

Allow us to set the stage... 

You can smell the blooming azaleas, see the crisp, vivid green fairways, hear the overused but unmistakable piping of songbird calls. For the full experience, we recommend that you read this entire segment in the hushed, soothing voice of Jim Nantz. 

Now that you’ve reached a state of tranquility, having been transported to the sun-soaked greens of Augusta National Golf Course, let us begin.

We won’t bury the lead: This might be the greatest week for golf collecting, ever.

It’s Masters Week... Golden Age is selling the grail of modern golf art... The Golf Auction is selling the grail of golf tickets... and millions of dollars worth of golf memorabilia will sell in a 24-hour period.

Did we mention it’s Masters Week?

There’s an expectation that multiple golf collectible records will fall over the next few days, with at least one already having done so.

We’re still four nights away from the closing of The Masters Week Auction hosted by Golden Age, yet the record for Andy Warhol’s 1977 portrait of Jack Nicklaus has already been established.

Through Wednesday morning, 34 bids have been placed on the original painting with the price sitting at $479,860. The previous auction record for Warhol’s Nicklaus came by way of Christie’s in 2021 when the New York office sold a similar yellow-green edition for $450,000.

Despite its cultural importance, the ‘Athletes’ series has trailed behind the rest the broader Warhol market. If his values continue to appreciate at their current rate, opportunities to purchase an original for six or seven figures are dwindling, a factor that could be influencing the swell of early bidding activity. Anytime there’s a Warhol on the block, it’s almost certain to attract attention from international buyers and gallerists, two groups that are rumored to have their eye on this edition of Jack Nicklaus, and with good reason.

Good luck finding an original Warhol with a similar level of provenance.

The painting is making its auction debut after residing within the hallowed halls of the World Gold Hall of Fame. Before its tenure in St. Augustine, the PGA of America World Golf Hall of Fame displayed the work, which was acquired directly from Richard Weisman, the man who commissioned the series. 

The Warhol will carry the most media coverage, but it’s not the only noteworthy golf collectible set to sell this week at Golden Age.

For example, there’s a set of 1900 Cope’s Golfers cards, often compared in both historical significance and rarity to the 1909-11 T206 baseball printing. Of course, it wouldn’t be a major golf auction without an appearance from Tiger Woods. It might not be Sunday red, but Golden Age has the purple-striped Nike polo worn by Tiger during the 3rd round of the 2010 Masters, the first major Tiger played in after the infamous car accident that would unravel a web of controversy. 

Speaking of The Masters, The Golf Auction has the badge that started it all. When the tournament made its debut in 1934, no one could’ve anticipated the impact this tournament would have on the game of golf. The Golf Auction is presenting an incredible specimen from that inaugural outing with a ticket signed by the 1934 champion Horton Smith, as well as the golf legend who laid the foundation for the tournament, Bobby Jones.

The current record for any ticket/badge across all sports is a 1934 Masters series badge, which was sold privately via Ryan Carey of Golden Age for $600,000 in 2022. That ticket carried 17 signatures and had previously sold for $50,000, representing the significant surge in valuations realized by this piece of history. The badge at The Golf Auction has reached $90,000 through 10 bids and should close well within six-figures by the time the event ends on Sunday, just a few hours after the 2024 Masters champion receives his green jacket.

To our community of golf collectors, we’re certain that you all recognize just how special this week will be. The greatest grails of golf, selling while the greatest stars of today battle on the greens of Augusta National.

Savor that pimento cheese and maybe place a few bids on that golf collectible you’ve had your eyes on. Much like the rarity of this week's eclipse, it might be a long time before we witness another week packed with as much golf lore as this one.

Breaking News!!

This morning, eBay and Collectors announced that they have reached an agreement on a series of transactions:

  • Collectors is selling Goldin to eBay

  • eBay is selling eBay Vault to Collectors

  • The two companies are forming a partnership that will extend grading services to eBay customers through a “simple and streamlined process” and allow PSA customers to list and sell trading cards on eBay upon grading.

Rapid reaction: The agreement allows Collectors to refocus on its core grading services, while simultaneously bringing those services much closer to eBay and its massive audience of customers. The partnership should ultimately remove friction from the process of selling recently graded cards or getting recently purchased raw cards graded, creating mutually beneficial opportunity for both businesses. In pursuing closer ties, both companies create a stronger competitive position against potential threat from Fanatics; the multi-pronged deal makes considerable sense absent that threat, but makes even more in light of it.

Goldin is on the move again, as has been rumored for months. Through the deal, Goldin gains access to a larger audience of customers and consignors, while eBay brings a high-end, premium collectibles auction business into the fold. To date, the high-end of the market has not found a consistent home on eBay, but the Goldin acquisition could bring its roster of deeper-pocketed bidders and consignors downstream to eBay with greater frequency.

Finally, vault businesses seemed destined for consolidation given the plethora of entrants at the height of the market. Keeping cards in an ecosystem is still immensely valuable to graders and marketplaces alike, and though eBay will no longer operate its own, it retains access through the partnership.

In short: a synergistic alliance that should create a better customer experience for both companies if executed properly, while also allowing each to focus on its core competencies. Or, allow us to summarize in meme format.

Results Round-Up

  • The “Last Dance” Michael Jordan uniform, offered at Iconic with a number of LOAs but no photomatch, reached a final price of $84,935.

  • Sotheby’s sold Yoshitomo Nara’s I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight for 95,959,000 HKD, or about $12.3 million - good enough to crack his top ten all-time auction sales.

  • Also at Sotheby’s Hong Kong, a Patek Philippe Ref 2499 Second Series sold for 8,128,000 HKD, or just over $1 million. That’s up from the roughly $670k paid in Geneva for the same watch in late 2006.

  • Heritage sold a Type 1 example of Mickey Mantle’s 1951 roster photo, also the photo used for his Bowman card, for $843,750, a record for an unsigned Type 1 sports photograph.

In the last few years, the collectible market record books have been rewritten and then rewritten again as bidders pushed the highest prices even higher. The action has been so fast paced that it's difficult to keep track of the prevailing top results. So, we took it upon ourselves to compile the industry's first comprehensive record board, featuring the record prices paid for just about every collectible asset or memorabilia category you can think of.

In total, it amounts to $2.2 billion in prices across 100 different records.

Check out the Altan Insights Collectibles Record Board. We’ll be updating it and adding to it regularly - in fact, since we launched it last week, we’ve already updated it with two new records. So, add it to your bookmarks for quick access whenever you need it, because things are moving faster than ever!

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Sometimes, rarity presents itself in unusual ways, but when collectors know how to spot true rarity, the results can be spectacular. For instance, Amazing Spider-Man #1 isn’t an incredibly rare book - CGC is nearing 5,000 graded copies. Sure, you could target the highest grades, but even an 8.5 has 75 copies in the census.

There’s another attribute that conveys rarity though: the U.K. price.

Those books, printed at the same time but for consumption in the U.K. are far rarer than their American counterparts. In fact, an 8.5 is the highest grade, only 1 book has achieved it, and there are only 105 total copies in the census. This book was purchased back in August of 2016 for $16,730. It sold again at Heritage last week for five times the price, achieving an $84,000 result.

Gross of fees, that’s 23% in annualized appreciation. Not bloody bad, mates. We’ll raise a pint to that.

Photo: Sotheby’s

4/10 - Sotheby’s Los Angeles Lakers | Capsule Collection

Featured: Kobe Bryant 2009 NBA Finals Game 1 Jersey

With an irrevocable bid at $1,400,000, Kobe’s ‘09 Finals Game 1 jersey will become the first million-dollar jersey of 2024. Kobe put up 40 points, 8 rebounds, and 8 assists in a win over the Magic, en route to what would ultimately be his first Finals MVP. The jersey from a Game 3 loss sold for $915,000 at Goldin in March. Will this one attract bidding beyond the IB?

Photo: Sotheby’s

4/12 - Sotheby’s The Thrilla in Manilla

The trunks worn by one of the greatest sportsmen in history in one of the greatest matches in history come to the block at Sotheby’s after a rotation through several private collections. Photomatched by Meigray, Resolution, and Sports Investors, and with provenance to Drew “Bundini” Brown’s estate, the authentication is top tier. They’re estimated to sell for between $4,000,000 and $6,000,000, and 5 bids have already stated their claim to push the running tally to $3,800,000 before fees.

Photo: Golden Age

4/13 - Golden Age Masters Week Auction

There’s not much left to say that hasn’t been said above. The most intriguing question in golf this weekend might not be who ends up in Butler Cabin with Jim Nantz, but instead who wins this original Warhol painting of Jack Nicklaus and for what price? One of the most important pieces of sports art ever, sold on golf’s most important weekend.

Also on the slate:

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