Thursday, January 29, 2009

Mickey Mantle for bibliophiles

Last weekend, TRISTAR Productions in Houston hosted a sports memorabilia show downtown. Monday's Houston Chronicle reported that the current recession seemed to be on hiatus for attendees at the show. Sales were very good with purchases trending away from trading cards and more toward autographs and other memorabilia. Many athletes (retired and current) were there with pen in hand ready to sign. For a fee, of course.

I wondered how Mickey Mantle fared in this memorabilia bubble. I have in my collection the very first Mickey Mantle book: The Mickey Mantle Story, by Mickey Mantle (with a whole lot of help, I'm sure, from Ben Epstein), Henry Holt & Company, [1953]1955, second printing. It's a great book for baseball fans, especially Mantle fans, of whom there are untold thousands.

This book is rare enough in its early printings and with the dust jacket, but what sets my copy apart from the rest is the fact that Mickey Mantle held it in his hands and signed his name to it for some lucky fan long ago. The look of the ink indicates this was an early signature. That's value added for this copy because Mantle went crazy with the autographs late in his life when the sports memorabilia industry seemed at its peak. Earlier signatures are not as easily found.

I can find only two other signed copies, which are valiantly trying to keep the sports memorabilia bubble propped up with extraordinarily high prices. Here's a signed copy for $3,500 and here's one even higher for $6,900.

Autographs on baseballs, photos and other objects don't approach these numbers. So, is the fact that this signature is in a collectible book behind the high expectations for the signature's value? Perhaps the symbiotic relationship between book and sports memorabilia is more attractive to the bibliophile than to the baseball collector.

I paid x amount for my signed book (second printing) without a jacket, and then a bit less for an unsigned first edition with a jacket. The price difference between the two was surprisingly little. I married the first state jacket to the second printing signed book. The result would be the earliest signed printing, with jacket, on the market--if my copy were for sale, that is. And if I were to list it for sale, could I reason that my copy, in comparable condition to the two above and in an earlier printing, be worth more than $6,900?

Only the market could answer that question, but I would doubt it. I don't know that $2,000 or even $1,500 would find a buyer. Of course, I would aim a lot higher. But even with the optimistic numbers at the show in Houston last weekend, in spite of the current economy, I don't think the Mick could knock one out of the park for my book.

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