Interview with Leland’s Acquisition Director, Jordan Gilroy,
Conducted by Collectable’s Senior Editor, David Seideman.
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At the National Sports Collectors Convention in July, I asked 11 industry heavyweights to give me three investment tips. Either they fell in the ultra modern card and memorabilia or vintage camp. Only one bridged the two: acquisitions director Jordan Gilroy at the oldest sports auction house. The 28-year-old whiz kid has had the benefit of working under the tutelage of two of industry’s biggest pioneers, Leland’s president Mike Heffner and the company’s late, legendary founder, Josh Evans. For the past six years, Gilroy has been a familiar and friendly fixture at the nation’s major shows.
David: As a young industry heavyweight, I see you do both vintage and modern. Does that make sense for collectors looking for their material to appreciate?
Jordan: It’s a matter of giving the buyers what they want. The vintage materials are players set in stone like Ruth, Mantle, and Gehrig. Their values can’t depreciate based on how their games go. For guys playing today like Luka or Zion, who knows if they get a DWI or break an ankle? The vintage stuff is much more secure and has steadier growth. Vintage is a safe call.
David: What’s the hottest modern?
Jordan: Whenever a new season comes up, the stars go up. In football collectors are now looking for Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, and Russell Wilson. In basketball the hottest are Luka, LeBron, Zion, and Trae Young. Rookie autographs. Rookie patches. High-grade rookies, particularly PSA 10s. They are all hot.
David: What’s your best acquisition?
Jordan: Other than Michael Jordan’s underwear….
David: Wait. Stop there. Say what?
It came from the family of that security guard in “The Last Dance.” The guy with curly white hair. That was pretty interesting. (Jordan’s last name was on the waist band. In Lelands’ September, 2021 auction, it fetched $3,341.)
David: Okay, go on please.
Jordan: In April, we sold a Tom Brady 2000 Playoff Contenders Championship Rookie Ticket for $2.53 million. In June, another went for $3.1 million.
David: And what about vintage?
Jordan: A week or so ago, a Mel Ott game worn jersey from the early 1930s came in. The jersey is probably worth a half million dollars. But it’s nearly impossible to say.
Then there was one of the last bats Lou Gehrig ever used. Someone reached out to us via our website. We went to their place in New York and sent it to PSA. John Taube (see Investing in Game Used Bats, Gloves, and Caps) gave it a perfect PSA/DNA 10. In 2017, the bat sold for $393,000. Now it would go for close to a million dollars.
David: What are astute people collecting these days?
Jordan: High-end game used memorabilia, especially photo matched. Iconic cards like the ’52 Mantle Topps. The 2003-04 autographed Upper Deck Exquisite LeBron James Rookie Patch. [In April, a BGS 9 sold for a record $5.2 million). I mean the trend setters who will never go down in value. And as I said, people are putting a lot into the young guys.
David: What kind of game used memorabilia is hot?
Jordan: Jerseys and bats. You may have seen Christie’s auction on October 7, 2021. A Ruth bat he notched for eight homers went for over a million dollars. A lot of memorabilia sales are private compared to public. Huge sales are going down we don’t know about. And people are holding on to higher stuff. This is an older demographic. Those in their 20s, 30s, 40s are looking for flashier stuff.
The best of the best is where it’s at. Single signed baseballs in high grade. Six figures easy for balls signed by Ruth with signatures that grade at least an eight, you’re looking at $100,000. The most secure things are the best of the best. As I said, that Ott jersey will go from $400,000 to $500,000. People with that kind of money could afford $750,000 to $1 million. I don’t think anyone is wiping out their entire bank account. It could actually go for a million because it’s not going to show up again. It will go into a private collection and not see the light of day.
David: With jerseys and bats so dramatically increasing in value for top tier legends, I wonder if caps will have their day. Besides gloves and jerseys, John Taube authenticates them for PSA/DNA, as I wrote for Collectable.Your boss, Mike Heffner, is an expert in caps. and has a huge, valuable collection.
Jordan: A few have crossed our desks, but not often. As game-used collectors are priced out of jerseys and bats, they will look for affordable alternatives. But even a Mickey Mantle game used cap from later in his career costs $25,000. As you go earlier to his rookie year or to 1961, you’re looking at $100,000. Crazy! But his best bats go from $250,000 to $500,000. Even Willie Mays caps from later in his career go from $5,000 to $10,000.
David: What’s moving markets today?
Jordan: Rarity! Ruth and Mantle. Now that PSA released a pop report on game used bats that market will only grow bigger. Look at Gehrig and Ruth. When it comes to PSA/DNA 10 bats, there are 10 Gehrigs and 38 Ruths in that grade. Each one could be worth more than a million dollars. Those ten people with Gehrigs are not going to sell them often. If I were to buy, I would have to pay a premium.
Current players are defined by their performance. If Luka scores 40 points a game, great. If he scores a ten points a game, people might get wary.
David: What makes something rare and collectible?
Jordan: People love to brag. If there’s 100 something. you’re one of 100 people. If it is two or one, people will know you for that. David Seideman has the only PSA 10. It makes people celebrities. Bragging rights for 100; not so much. Also if there are 100 PSA 9 signed baseballs, there are opportunities for people to unload them at lower values. When it’s easy to obtain, you don’t have that sense of urgency. If you have that one. you’re holding on for dear life. You might wait a year or two or five for it to come up.
David: What do you look for?
Jordan: I look for things that don’t pop up in auctions. When people see things that won’t pop up in five years. There’s no comparison. When you have impossible stuff, name the price. Buyers pay the best possible price. If you buy, look for low pop, high grade rookies. Again, the best of the best.
David: Some experts think it’s best to hold on to quality material for three to five years rather than quickly flip it.
Jordan: When it comes to memorabilia, long term makes it more valuable. A few Ruth jerseys have popped up in the last decade. That’s incredible. A Ruth jersey could be $10 million one day, assuming it’s a Yankees jersey and not Braves or Dodgers. People are paying insane numbers.
If you have a Ruth jersey or a Wagner T206, people are going to pay whatever they want. You never lose money buying one. You’d sell if you need the money for something like, maybe, you want to start a company.
With all these modern cards selling on a monthly basis, it’s different. Back in the day, there was one big item between auction houses every few months. Now there are multiple auctions multiple times per year. I mentioned the Brady rookies for $2.5 million and $3.12 million. We also had a Brady rookie for $850,000. If you don’t have a headliner, the auction suffers.
We have been in this uptick and are grateful for a market that’s pretty stable. We were expecting a dip and it happened over the summer. It has come back in the fall. It’s pretty cool to see where it is now. We’re trying to take advantage of it.
But if the economy ever crashes, that will have an effect. LeBron could score 50 points, and it wouldn’t matter. During the Great Recession, collectors had no choice but to sell something.
David: How do you spot fraud?
Jordan: Luckily, people don’t do it as much as they used to. Now they are getting arrested and going to jail. We had Josh and Mike, two of the most knowledgeable people in the hobby. They could start an authentication company for certain things. You can show them anything game used and, working side by side with them, they would know the model number and weight.
They taught me a lot to spot warning signs. Sometimes people write or send an email, saying, “I have a Mickey Mantle bat. Here’s one photo.” They don’t send a photo of the center barrel. I ask them about its source: “I got it from grandpa.”
Whenever someone is really, really pushy that is not a good sign, either. If they’re really confident, that’s a red flag. They show an autograph like a Babe Ruth baseball to PSA and JSA and say, “I don’t believe them. I had a forensics expert.” It’s definitely a fake.
David: At the National in July I asked you to offer three items worth investing in. You said a Michael Jordan game-used jersey, the Mahomes rookie card auto patch, and the ’52 Mantle Topps. Have you changed your opinion?
Jordan: I’d like to add a LeBron photomatched jersey. They were going around $100,000 through NBA auctions. Now they are $100,000 to 150,000. It’s LeBron! If Jordan is $300,000 to $500,000 for an iconic game like a playoff or triple double. LeBron could be in a similar range as Jordan in the near future.
Photo matching is a lot easier. There are a lot of photos on Getty. Since the 1990s, if a player has one MLB at bat, there’s a Getty Image. Further and further back, photo matches become harder and more significant.
David: Finally, what does the future hold for vintage versus modern?
Jordan: I wonder. You ask the younger collectors about Joe Thinker and Christy Mathewson and they say, “Who are you talking about?”