Happy Birthday Mr. President

For the low price of $195,000, you could've had a burial crypt near Marilyn Monroe's.

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Welcome to the new-look Alts & Ends, your lively guide to collectible market happenings. In this edition, we examine the lingering relevance of Marilyn Monroe’s memorabilia and an explosion in card grading in March.

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Photo: Julien’s

Burning Bright or Burning Out?

How can you tell if someone is a cultural icon? Here’s a surefire litmus test: will people buy weird stuff of theirs more than 70 years after their death?

In Marilyn Monroe’s case, the answer is an emphatic yes.

Last week, as part of its Icons event, Julien’s sold more than $1.5 million in Monroe memorabilia across 143 lots. The sale more broadly featured items from the Playboy archives and Hugh Hefner, but as she often did, Monroe played the starring role. While there were plenty of “normal” items, two of the stranger lots were among the highest sales.

The burial crypt located one row and a handful of slots to the left of her final resting place sold for $195,000, shy of the $200,000 low estimate but by no means shy of the threshold for a weird amount of money to spend on a burial crypt. Not to be outdone, her old grave marker (it had to be replaced because it was touched so frequently) sold for $88,900 after 37 bids, narrowly outperforming the $3,000 high estimate.

The crypt was reportedly purchased by tech investor Anthony Jabin, who said, “I’ve always dreamt of being next to Marilyn Monroe for the rest of my life.” The statement echoes the sentiments of Hefner years earlier, who once stated, “Spending eternity next to Marilyn is too sweet to pass up.” Kinda weird, guys, but alas, that’s the power of a cultural icon. Even when it’s been the better part of a century since they walked the earth, people still crave association with them.

Monroe’s place in the cultural conversation has been preserved, both through the “icons” of today and through the relics that survived her. The 2022 Met Gala theme was “In America: An Anthology of Fashion.” To Kim Kardashian, nothing was more American than Marilyn Monroe, and no fashion more emblematic than the dress she wore to serenade JFK. That dress sold at Julien’s in 2016 for $4.8 million, and Ripley’s Believe it Or Not agreed to lend it to Kardashian for a brief walk on the red carpet. While many were horrified to see her wear it, those photos - shared with her hundreds of millions of Instagram followers - were a reinforcement and reminder of Marilyn Monroe’s cultural relevance.

If that wasn’t enough of a reminder, perhaps a $195 million painting would be? Warhol’s Shot Sage Blue Marilyn, depicting his favorite subject, sold for that sum at Christie’s in 2022 - it’s the highest sum paid for an artwork in the last several years. Warhol’s lengthy catalog of Marilyn works further immortalized the actress, embedding her iconic image, frozen in time, in the public consciousness.

While time continues to pass and American generations age, collecting interest in Marilyn Monroe hasn’t deteriorated to the extent one might expect, a reality further demonstrated by the results at Julien’s last week. However, the market is offering mixed signals about the appreciation of these items. We identified 14 lots sold at Julien’s that had sold at auction previously. On average, they appreciated at an annualized rate of 10% from their last sale, a very healthy clip, but one that narrows to 7% when you exclude the hefty Julien’s buyer’s premium, which can rise as high as 30%.

Ten of those lots last sold at Julien’s in 2016, a moment of lulled collecting pursuits relative to today - on average, those lots appreciated at a rate of 12.5% annually. The four other lots sold before the turn of the millennium at Christie’s and appreciated at a much more modest average annual rate of 4%. While there has been a broad uptick in collectibles and memorabilia bidding appetite since 2016, the longer-term results suggest that Monroe-specific demand may be moderating outside of the top items. In this case, the top item, Monroe’s Pucci dress, sold for $325,000, a 10% annualized improvement on its 1999 sale for $29,900.

Recently, fashion from Princess Diana has generated more enviable appreciation, as bidders (Kardashian among them) look to a more contemporary icon. Just as Post-War and Contemporary Art rose to prominence and significant rates of appreciation, relegating older eras to more muted performance, so too will new icons rise to grasp the collecting spotlight from the icons of yore. But it’ll be a fair few decades before any of them can lay claim to a more expensive burial crypt adjacency.

And that, of course, is the true mark of an icon.

Graphic: Altan Insights

March (Grading) Madness

Author’s Note: Before we dive into recent grading trends, we need to cite and shout-out our friends at GemRate who make this type of analysis possible.

1.22 million in January

1.24 million in February.

1.34 million in March.

That equates to 3.8 million graded items. Not a bad quarter to start the new year at Collectors.

For comparison, PSA graded 3.2 million items in the first three months of 2023. They’re not the only ones experiencing a surge in activity as the card market has shown no signs of a slowdown, at least as it pertains to grading submissions.   

In January 2023, SGC graded 81,000 cards while CGC, which incorporates the now-merged CSG and CGC, graded 132,000. In January 2024, SGC nearly doubled their output with 157,000 graded items while CGC graded 184,000 cards and collectibles.

While sports cards are behind the increase at SGC, its trading card games that are pushing PSA to never-before-seen levels. Prior to 2023, PSA had never graded more than 410,000 TCG cards in a single month. Last year, PSA graded at least 420,000 TCG cards in 9 of the 12 months and hasn’t graded less than 500,000 in a month since July. Their January 2024 total of 531,000 represented a 50% YoY increase, while CGC saw their TCG numbers jump by nearly 70%.

For those who want a sign that the hobby is active and growing, the continued climb of grading provides that. For those who are worried about price appreciation and an oversaturated market, this reality provides that too.

Although the volume might be lacking, when it comes to gem rates, Pikachu is pulling Zion Williamson Panini Prizm numbers. 

Actually, it’s worse. The percentage of recently released Pikachu cards that are shipping out of PSA as gems is significantly higher than the rate that buried the Zion market.

At this precise moment, and yes, the number will probably change by the time you read this because people are still submitting Zion base rookie cards, there have been 42,234 that have been graded by PSA. Out of that total, 22,980 or 54%, are now secured in a PSA 10 slab.

The closest TCG comparison is the 2022 Pokemon Japanese SV Promo Pikachu, which is now the most graded Pikachu card in existence and the third most graded Pokémon card of all-time. There have been 41,473 Scarlet & Violet parallels graded by PSA and 36,433 are gems.

Yes, 88% of the 40,000+ population has received a 10.

At this point, the cards are littering both eBay and Mercari, and it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where there’s any positive price momentum for the set. For those who are looking for the true grail, there are two, representing 0.005% of the population, that have received a PSA 1…. happy hunting!

The trend doesn’t look much better for the most-graded 2023 Pokémon release either. To date, PSA has graded 262,919 cards from the set, and 80% have received a 10. With nearly 17,400 cards graded, the Art Rare Pikachu sits at 84% for its gem rate while the base card has a rate of 81%.

So again, the increase in grading is undoubtably impressive and a positive signal for the longevity of the sports and trading card industry, but what will the influx of gem mint grades mean for prices? The junk wax era was a problem that set the sports card industry back for years as prices plummeted and, in most cases, never regained their footing. The nine most-graded cards in history all came from packs printed between 1989-2000, with the most graded, the Upper Deck Star Rookie Ken Griffey Jr., carrying a population of 107,987. How many of those are in a PSA 10 slab? Less than 4,300, or just barely 4% of the total population.

More grading is great, but will more gems spell doom for modern cards?

Results Round-Up

  • Goldin sold a uniform matched to 46 (!) games from Ronald Acuna Jr.’s MVP season for $245,220. Acuna was wearing the uniform when he stole his 70th base.

  • A few weeks ago, we detailed LeRoy Neiman’s prolific work in sports art, but we didn’t note the frequent use of his works in Playboy. As part of that same Julien’s event, 43 Neiman works from the Playboy archives combined to sell for $889k.

  • Heritage notched five six-figure sales in its US Coins Signature Auction, led by the 1921 Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle, which sold for $144,000.

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 today. We’ll be updating it and adding to it regularly, so add it to your bookmarks for quick access whenever you need it.

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Photo: Goldin

Misguided headlines controversially swirled, but the result was massive nonetheless. No, the ring was not Kobe Bryant’s personal 2000 NBA Championship ring. No, the ring was not the subject of a lawsuit between Kobe and his parents. And no, Joe Bryant was not the consignor.

The Bryants - Pamela and Joe - consigned their rings (gifted from their son) to Goldin back in 2013. At the time, Joe’s sold for $173,102. Seven years later, in 2020, it sold again - at a loss - for $158,400. That winning bidder brought it back to the block at Goldin last weekend, and the press took significant notice, whether they understood the item or not. This time, it sold for a staggering $927,200, increasing in value by 485% or 61% annually, gross of buyer’s premium and fees.

Since the initial 2013 sale, the appreciation has been slightly more muted at 435% in total and 17% annualized, highlighting the sharp rise in memorabilia interest over the last four years versus the prior seven.

4/4 - 4/7 - Heritage Comics & Comic Art Signature Auction

Featured: Action Comics #1 Kansas City Pedigree (CGC 8.5)

With the final bidding flourishes still to come, this book is already set to become the most expensive comic book ever sold at auction and possibly the most expensive ever, period. Only two unrestored copies have achieved a higher grade, making this copy of Superman’s first appearance one of the all-time comic book grails. Bidding currently stands at $5.1 million with BP. The Mile High Pedigree Superman #1 sold privately in January of 2022 for $5.3 million.

Photo: Iconic

4/6 - Iconic Auctions April 2024 Autographs & Memorabilia Auctions

We bet you didn’t expect to see a full uniform from the Last Dance season coming to Iconic Auctions this week. The question is: can the old guard of authentication sufficiently convince bidders of its game use during that pivotal year? There is no photomatch here, just a veritable pile of LOAs - one from the Chicago Bulls, one from MEARS, one from Sports Investors Authentication, and then one from Beckett for the signature. But why isn’t there a photomatch, and how did it end up at Iconic rather than a sports-focused house? What will it cost bidders to take a chance in hopes of securing a photomatch and significantly elevating the value?

Also on the slate:

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