Cowan's Corner

Cover All the Bases When Collecting Baseball Memorabilia

By Wes Cowan

As America's favorite pastime, baseball is a diverse and rich field for collectables. It offers choices for both collectors with little money and those with deep pockets, coupled with a wide assortment of merchandise. The ubiquitous baseball card is one of the most common and inexpensive collectibles and an easy way to enter the market, although rare baseball cards can bring a hefty price. Today, you can buy last year's entire set of 1,000 major league cards for under $40, while a Peter Rose rookie card will cost $600 to $800, and a single card from the late 1950s or early '60s is often over $1,000. An old tobacco trading card of Honus Wagner, one of baseball's greatest shortstops, has brought as much as $1,265,000.

While baseball cards are the most commonly collected category of baseball collectable, many other items are actively sought, such as autographed balls, with single player signed balls at the top of the scale and team or partial team balls lower in price. Game-used equipment, such as bats, gloves and uniforms, are also in high demand, and the more famous the player, the higher the price. Firsts in baseball are also quite important in the collectable field, as well as the record books. For example, items related to Jackie Robinson, the first African-American Major League Baseball player, or Cincinnati's Marge Schott, one of the first women to own a major league team, will likely bring a premium.

Photography is another area that baseball collectors specialize in with many variations. For example, there are those who look for early- to late-19th century photographs, such as this large tintype of four circa 1880 baseball players that sold in 2005 for $950, or a large Daguerreotype of the Brooklyn Excelsiors, possibly the earliest photograph of baseball, valued at around $10,000. But 20th century photographs are much more sought after, with major players like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrigg, Satchel Paige or Dizzy Dean in high demand, especially if they are autographed.

Other categories of baseball collectibles include: game tickets, World Series programs and ephemera, advertising items featuring ball players, tobacco silks, Bobbleheads and other figurines, trophies and rings and more.

Cincinnati is an especially rich area to find items relating to baseball, given it is the home of the first professional team in America and has had a professional team since the 1860s. The Cincinnati Reds have played in nine and won five World Series, including baseball's only fixed series against the 1919 Black Sox.

About the Author: Wes Cowan is founder and owner of Cowan's Auctions, Inc. in Cincinnati, Ohio. An internationally recognized expert in historic Americana, Wes stars in the PBS television series History Detectives and is a featured appraiser on Antiques Roadshow. He can be reached via email at Article research by Ted Sunderhaus..


A large Daguerreotype of the Brooklyn Excelsiors, possibly the earliest photograph of a baseball team, valued at around $10,000.

Large tintype of four ca. 1880 baseball players that sold in 2005 for $950.



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