In an industry obsessed with statistics, hammer prices, provenance, and condition reports it’s easy to overlook actual artistry that goes into creating memorabilia we pine so badly for. Think for a moment about the craftsmanship that goes into carving a Louisville Slugger, the countless samples that are designed, sewn, and discarded before the perfect jersey is created, and the years of training needed to create the lifelike portraits that adorn some of the most sought after baseball cards in the market today.
While many of these highly talented men and women will never receive the recognition they deserve, there is a small group among them that, through their exceptional work, has managed to wrestle some of the spotlight away from the athletes and onto their art. They are the painters like that of the one behind such sports inspired feats as 1952 Topps baseball set (Maurice Blumenfeld) and the illustrators who invited us into the incredible Marvel Universe (Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby). Employed to document the achievements of superstars, and tell the stories of super humans, their contributions were never intended to be the primary focus - but years after their original publication the collecting public has finally turned its attention to the beauty and value of these small masterpieces.
It’s hard to say exactly when collecting original art of this kind began but some would argue it was just about 25 years ago when Topps opened their archives and auctioned off a number of pieces through Guernsey’s in New York. On that August day in 1989, the original painting used to produce Mickey Mantle’s 1953 Topps card sold for an astounding $112,000, by far the highlight of the sale but by no means the only painting to draw feverish bidding. Similar images of Willie Mays, Roy Campanella, Bob Feller, Whitey Ford, and Jackie Robinson that appeared on 1953 Topps baseball cards also set records, many of which still stand today due to the fact that those particular paintings have never again been offered for public sale. One could only imagine what that portrait of Mantle would sell for now; $250,000? $500,000? More? Given the outrageous demand and six-figure final prices realized for high grade Mickey Mantle cards, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility.
These numbers aren’t exclusive to the sports market either. Heritage Auctions sold Steve Ditko’s original artwork for Spider-Man #10 (1964) for $161,000 in 2002. An impressive figure for certain, but while the complete 22-page lot was an early issue in one of Marvel’s most popular storylines, it’s value pales in comparison to say, original work related to Spidey’s first appearance or his battle with more well established villains. Meaning this sum is just the tip of the iceberg!
And it’s not just the big names and most recognizable characters. This run on original sports and comic art has raised interest in all corners of the niche. Just recently a Bowman “Wild Man” artwork sold for an eye-popping $4,740. A pair of 1938 Gum, Inc. “Horrors of War” artworks realized $4,147. Six original “Mars Attacks” artworks, each offered individually at Robert Edward Auctions, tallied a combined $46,511. A collection of nineteen 1950 Topps “Freedom’s War” original paintings sold for $9,480. Ten different 1962 Topps “Civil War News” original artworks, sold for a collective $22,929, while ten different 1965 Topps “Battle” original artworks realized a combined $15,997!
While the investment opportunity alone would be enough to convince most get involved in this growing area of the hobby, there is another angle that I personally find to be both interesting and encouraging (especially to those, who like myself, can’t afford to get in at the $100K+ entry point). Original artwork, unlike the vintage comic books and sports cards in which they appear, have not been as aggressively hunted or been as thoroughly cataloged and registered. For decades, before the Guernsey’s sale caught national attention, a significant portion of the work that sports and non-sports card artists such as Norman Saunders and Bob Powell, and illustrators such as Ditko, Kirby, and Steranko, was kept by the artists to do with as they pleased. Or it was kept on file inside these offices mostly unguarded, and available to any employee brazen enough to take a few “souvenirs” with them as passed through. So there is a ton of incredible original art & related material just floating out there to be found!
One of my most memorable meetings happened two years ago when I received a call from retired animator who had worked for Disney for nearly thirty years. Over that time he had been a major contributor to some of their most well known features and amassed a tremendous collection of illustrations, paintings, cels, equipment, and more. It was certainly impressive, but over the few hours I spent with him he remarked repeatedly that “This is nothing. If you only knew what I gave away”. After about the fourth time he said it, I had to ask what exactly happened to “the great stuff”, as he put it. Turns out that this unassuming, very kind, older gentleman had quite a past when it came to the ladies. I won’t go into all of the details (of which there were many) but he went on to tell me that the morning after he would allow his previous night’s conquest to take a piece of artwork with them when they left in the morning as some kind of souvenir or in some cases a parting gift. I was floored! If his claims and estimations on how much of the “stuff” he gave away was anywhere near accurate, then I was dealing with the Wilt Chamberlain of Disney World!
Joking aside, my point is that highly desirable original art is out there and available for those willing to look for it, and if you’ve already been fortunate enough to come across some, then Just Collect wants to hear from you. Our team of experts are paying cash for any and all quality sports, comic, Disney & related original artwork from the obvious to the obscure. So talk to friends and family who may have worked in the field as artists, check attics, estate sales, and even in the walls! Just keep your eyes peeled and leave no stone unturned! You can reach us at 732-828-2261 Monday-Friday, from 8AM - 6PM. You can also send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.