INTERVIEW WITH TONY GIESE, LONGTIME CONSIGNMENT DIRECTOR FOR HERITAGE AUCTIONS,
Conducted by Collectable’s Senior Editor, David Seideman.
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Will Rogers famously said that he never met a man he didn’t like. Heritage consignment director Tony Giese personifies Rogers’ sentiments, and everybody in the sports industry likes him, too. “He’s like your kid brother,” says Joe Phillips, Heritage’s game glove authenticator. All you need to know is that he umpires youth baseball for fun.
Between his perpetual smile and friendly advice, Giese finds it easy winning over the wariest consignors. The 45-year-old has worked in the industry since 2005, including the past nine years for Heritage, the long standing auction house. With shows and travel resuming lately, Giese has hit the road again; traveling from Toronto to Philadelphia. In Pittsburgh, he secured for consignment Honus Wagner’s Hall of Fame watch. On top of that, he wrangled a gem mint Fleer Michael Jordan rookie.
Over the years for Heritage, Giese has overseen the sale of the Willie McCovey and Al Kaline collections, featuring game-used bats, jerseys, and trophies. He coordinated with a junk collector who ferried home on his bicycle the archives of Joe Carr, the first NFL commissioner, which had been unceremoniously dumped on a curb. “Getting to do what you love to do is not even work,” Giese says.
David: What’s the hottest material today?
Tony: I am more of a memorabilia guy. A lot of the money made in cards has now spilled over into memorabilia. I like it so much because a lot of it was actually used in games.
Two things stand out.
First, game used bats. There’s been a very big spike. Collectors are going to population on PSA’s web page. A lot of the guys want PSA/DNA 9s and 10s (on a scale of one to 10 like cards.)
Bats have so much personality. They’re what creates the action and hits home runs. There are ball marks from the ball’s stitches. There’s checking on the wood. Players have certain characteristics. Albert Pujols hits in the same spot every single time. You’ve got pine tar. Think George Brett’s pine tar, of course. Ken Griffey had zig-zagging tape. Ichiro stored his bats in storage cases. Roberto Clemente had his flared knob.
The market is really starting to go up. I remember Willie Mays going for $8,00 to $10,000. Now it’s $30,000 for a decent one from his New York and San Francisco Giants days. In our November auction, a Mays bat performed really well. It was 1965-1968 and wasn’t anything that special, A game used 9. The pre-sale estimate was $15,000, It sold for $43,200. Clemente used to be $10,000. In the same auction as the Mays, a game used 9 went for $28,000. Clemente’s “Momen” (his nickname) from his early years should be selling for much more. (A 1958 8.5 sold for $20,400 in 2020).
You’re starting to see guys like Frank Robinson and Hank Aaron move higher, too.
Cards are easier for investors than bats. Here’s a 9. A bat may be cracked or untracked. There are many variables. Memorabilia is a little harder to store. An investor may want to put money in hot current guys like Zion was.
The second hot item is Type 1 (first generation) photos.
They are really starting to make a move. Ten years ago, Type 1s were very common because newspapers were digitizing. When they did that, all the hard copies were made available. Now they’ve dried up and there hasn’t been a ton of material released.
When PSA/DNA started slabbing, it was absolute garbage and didn’t present well. Now they have these beautiful slabs with heavy plastic.
The prices are astounding. The news photo used to create Jackie Robinson’s 1948 Leaf rookie card had a pre-sale estimate of $80,000 to $100,000 and sold for $360,000 last February. It’s one of only two that have surfaced. The Barney Stein photo used for Robinson’s 1950 Bowman card was $3,000 for the longest time. Now it’s $8,400.
You’re starting to see a lot of value with basketball photos like Alan Iverson’s. Jordan stuff is going crazy. And you’re starting to see soccer grow, too.
David: You’ve cited the 1911 Shoeless Joe Jackson signed photo, PSA/DNA 9, as you’re all-time favorite Heritage item. ($179,250 in 2015). Why?
Tony: It’s a one of one, the only known signed photo from one of the most iconic and most mythic players in history.
David: What about Mickey Mantle photos since his cards are out of sight? I scored a Type 1 1960s batting pose for $100 at last year’s National.
Tony: Good buy. Type 1 Mantle photos go for $400-$500. World Series and those with historical significance go for much more. Robinsons and Clementes are already at a different level. Those from their early careers are best. With Robinson, anything when he played for the Montreal Royals in 1946 is special. In November we had one go for $31,200. That had been a $4,000 photo.
David: What about the more routine 1950s photos of Robinson turning a double play selling on eBay?
Tony: About $400-$500. My Vince Lombardi photos (150-200) in my own collection have been costing me a lot more lately. (The legendary Packers football coach.)
David: Speaking of which, tell us about your personal collection. I know, being from where in Wisconsin, you’re a big Packers and Bucks guy.
Tony: As a longtime collector of Packers game-worn and Bucks game-worn jerseys and memorabilia, I have an extensive Bucks collection and am actively adding to it.
David: You’re bursting to tell me about a third item: tickets.
Tony: Tickets! Here’s the reason they are so hot. Because PSA grades them. People in the card business are noticing. Most fans threw them away. Or they got put in scrapbooks. Gretzky’s debut ticket was $10,000. Now it’s six figures. People didn’t realize. Or take Michael Jordan’s professional debut ticket from a pre-season game in Peoria. Our pre-sale auction estimate was $2,000. We sold it for $34,800. Who would have thought to save that? Tiger Woods tickets are generating historic numbers.
David: About 20 years ago I biked to a Salvation Army tag sale in Brooklyn and picked up a nice 1951 Mickey Mantle debut ticket for $15. I flipped in a Lelands auction for $2,100, so I was pretty satisfied. That’s where the price pretty much remained for years. Last summer, Lelands sold a PSA 3 for $101,000. Oops.
Tony: Classic Auctions just sold one for $141,000.
Tony: Another auction house was recently sorting through a box of about 200 random consigned ticket stubs, including many from early 1951 at Yankee Stadium and the worker found the Mantle debut ticket stub. I just loved the story.
So many of these tickets are so iconic. And there’s not a huge population. Wilt Chamberlain’s 100 point game in 1962 is a good example. (Only four exist.) Last May we sold one for $44,400.
Ruth tickets are good (like his “Called Shot” from the 1932 World Series when he allegedly pointed to the bleachers before hitting a home run.) ).Mantle. Gretzky. Jordan. Top of the line players. They transcend generations. Again, there’s not a huge population. They don’t print tickets anymore. And they’re difficult to grade.
Look for benchmarks like Mantle’s debut or Ernie Banks’ 500th home run. Clemente’s 3,000th hit (his last) is a good one. It was the last game of the season and not well attended (13,117 attendance) and the Steelers were playing in town. (In 2016 Heritage sold the only known full ticket for $10,157.) That could go for $100,000. I have been seeing this a lot with tickets. Nothing surprises me.
David: Game worn-jerseys seem like bats. In 2017, Heritage sold a 1954 Mickey Mantle game worn Yankees jersey for $432,000. In November, a signed Mantle jersey from the same year commanded $615,000. In February, 2020, a 1997-98 Michael Jordan game worn and signed Chicago Bulls jersey, including a team letter and photo match, went for $102,000 in a Heritage auction. Eight months later, another Jordan jersey changed hands for $480,000. Admittedly, it was earlier, 1986-1987, and photo matched to five games, including a 56 point one. But that’s still a huge jump in a short time.
Tony: You are seeing the same thing with tickets as with uniforms and I don’t just mean legends, but cult heroes. In November, a 1995 Shannon Sharpe game worn Denver Broncos jersey with a pre-sale estimate of $4,000 sold for $23,000. (The tight end is a Hall of Fame and three-time Super Bowl Champ.) A 1987-89 Bernie Kosar game worn and signed Cleveland Browns Jersey went for $2,800. In 2020, there was a jersey worn by Cubs first baseman Mark Grace for $3,500. He was a good player and there are not a lot of uniforms. Jim Edmonds is another example. (The centerfielder’s 2008 Cubs jersey fetched $1,050 in November.)
Then you have style jerseys. In the November auction, an ordinary 1969 Seattle Pilots spring training jersey without the team’s usual flourishes like the “scrambled eggs” sold for $22,200. (The Pilots only lasted one season.)
There are warm up jackets with funky styles like green collars and pockets and yellow backgrounds. Some of the ABA (the colorful, defunct 1967-1976 NBA rival league) has real style. You put it on mannequins and it brings real attention.
David: Tell me about the terrific story about the guy walking around the National Sports Collectors Convention in a valuable game jersey.
Tony: He was walking by our booth in Atlantic City wearing a Dolphins jersey made of the nice Durene/Cotton blend. It had no name on the back. I ended up peeling it off him and it sold for $4,000. It was a highly significant 1969-70 Larry Little jersey. (Larry Little was a Hall of Fame offensive guard for the Dolphins dynasty.) The auction write-up says, “The story is too good to pass up. Consignment director Tony Giese quickly spotted it and the rest is history.”
David: What are astute people collecting these days?
Tony: The legends. Mount Rushmore iconic guys. Tom Brady. Your Gretzkys and Jordans. Trout and Jeter. Ruth, always, no matter what. Ruth moves the radar. Gehrig, Cobb, Christy Mathewson. Walter Johnson. We just sold a 1924 Johnson single signed 1924 World Series game used baseball attributed to championship walk-off hit. ($180,000).
All those guys. They are generational. Dave Bancroft (an early 1900s Hall of Fame member) not as much. Top tier guys will always be remembered. What I tell people is that they have already made their legacy. Some of the newer players still have time to screw up. You have to be careful. Look at Zion Williamson and his body structure. He’s young. (Last February, Heritage sold his mint 2019 National Treasures for $348,000).
Then there’s Stephen Strausberg who was huge at first but got injured a lot. People are paying big money for Fernando Tatis. If you don’t win, it’s a problem. And it’s so hard to stay good for so long. Pitching is so advanced. They are all throwing 100 mph.
I would invest in Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, and Tom Seaver. They are the standard for pitching. You’re not going to see 250 to 300 game winners, either.
Frank Robinson is so undervalued. He wasn’t the nicest guy, but was such an icon. He was the first African American manager. He gets overlooked. Aaron was overlooked. His stuff is now worth more. We are seeing Mays and him going up. Eddie Mathews’ game used bats go for a couple of grand. He hit over 500 homers. As people are buying up Aaron and Mays. I would say second tier guys will rise as well.
The ’52 Topps Mantle has never been going down. A PSA 1 recently sold for $33,000. That’s poor condition! That’s crazy in a good way. You’re starting to see the ’51 Bowman rise. That’s his true rookie, of course.
Jackie. Everything, particularly his autographs and Type 1 photos. The ’48 Leaf rookie is hot. Him and Clemente. We’re talking on a par with Ruth and Mantle. He was more than sports. In the grand scheme he was Americana. What he did for baseball. There’s Jackie Robinson Day every year. Everyone wears 42. Even a signed cut has gone from $400 to $500 to $1,200.
David: You mention the’48 Leaf Robinson. That card is on fire.
Tony: The ’48 Leaf Robinson is definitely iconic and is gaining momentum every day. It’s like the’52 Mantle. Even in low grades they do extremely well. It’s that portrait. They are gorgeous cards. The color is beautiful. Those cards have so many pitfalls. The centering. corners, and printing. There are many things that are going to downgrade them. Robinson just continues to go up and is not going down.
David: How is memorabilia such as tickets and autographs doing compared to cards?
Tony: As cards are going up, so is memorabilia. A lot of investors are looking to get into it. They’re not sure about the stock market. Sports are fun. Memorabilia is something you can show off. In November we had Kobie Bryant game worn and sign Lakers rookie sneakers go for multiple times what we estimated. ($192,000). It’s been a long time coming.
David: What’s moving markets?
Tony: Really. Right now, it’s been the tickets. We are just getting numbers that we couldn’t have even thought of. The market is insane. It almost defies logic.
We just had an autographed gem mint Tom Brady first-career touchdown ticket sell for $144,000. It was his Foxboro debut and not even his first game. It was a full, scanned ticket. They didn’t rip it off. It had a barcode. A signed PSA 9 goes for $51,600.
Over Thanksgiving, I drove from the airport to the Detroit area picking up an unopened boxed collection of wax packs probably worth between $30,000 to $40,000 and ’52 Topps Mantle and ’51 Mantle Bowman. A consignor had two of the Brady tickets. I didn’t even know he had them until I was in his basement. Those two tickets sure made my drive a lot easier.
David: Two years ago, I paid $400 in an auction for a ticket from the 1976 Dodgers game in which outfielder Rick Monday saved an American flag from being burned on the outfield grass by two fans. A month later, another house sold the ticket from the adjoining seat for $1,200. I’ll hang on to mine.
Tony: Great ticket. People still talk about that. Get it graded with “flag burning” on the label. That’s a really important game like the Billy Goat game. (During Game 4 of the 1945 World Series, a tavern owners the Billy Goat Tavern owner’s pet goat was ordered removed from the park. He cast a curse on the team which didn’t win another championship until 2016. A full raw ticket recently sold for the very low price of $350 on eBay BIN.)
David: How do you spot fraud?
Tony: I’m not PSA/DNA. But with autographs I see so many of them. I can pretty much tell. With uniforms, there’s almost a look and feel. I was in Chicago looking at a Bill Laimbeer jersey. (The Detroit Pistons’ center was a two-time champion in 1989 and 1990.) He was a cult hero. It was a jersey worn in the 1980s that had turned a bluish color from being laundered continuously. He wore it for two or three months. I said to the owner, ‘That is exactly Bill Laimbeer.’
David: It sounds similar to uniform numbers bleeding and fading on bat knobs, baseball gloves, and caps.
David: What are three items you recommend?
1) Tiger Woods. He’s not gonna come back. Or going to beat Jack’s record of majors. But he took that sport to a whole different new level. When his son Charlie becomes a big deal it will only boost Tiger. He’s doing well across the board. There’s been a great amount of movement of tickets. Some are obscure, oddball ones. He has a beautiful autograph controlled through Upper Deck. Type 1 photos are doing well as are photo-matched items.
2) Anything Tom Brady, especially early in his career. How much more can his stuff go up 20 years down the road? We’re not going to see another guy win his Super Bowls and show that kind of dominance. He controls how much of his autograph is out there. Now he is so expensive. It’s very, very wise of him. You hear a lot about his limited Playoff Contender card. ($3.1 million). If I am investing, I go for his game worn jerseys. They go for $80,000 to $100,000. There are not a lot of Bradys out there, either. (For the record, that’s a lot less than Mantle and Jordan.)
3) Soccer. The world’s sport. We’re seeing a lot of movement. Last May we sold a PSA 8.5 Pele rookie card for $372,000. In 2020 an 8.5 went for $132,000. (In November, Goldin Auctions said it brokered a $900,000 private sale of a PSA 9, the most ever paid for a soccer card of any kind.)
David: What’s the hobby’s future?
Tony: The future is really, really bright; far better than it was five years ago. During the pandemic things went crazy. You’re seeing younger people getting involved. Every time I am at a show, I see kids. You want them to be interested. I have seen kids come up to our booths and say, “there’s Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb. Cool!” Every time I see that it warms my heart.You can tell that the kids know who these legends are. Jordan, too!