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The Complete Guide to Collecting Vintage Sports Memorabilia

Updated: Apr 15

Whether you know it or not, that old box of signed baseball cards from your youth could be a vintage gold mine. Sports memorabilia is one of the most popular collected items by fans worldwide. There's always a market for vintage sports collectibles in the antique business.

Find out what makes a signed jersey valuable, why rookie cards are so rare, and much more with our expertise. If you're interested in beginning your collection or selling your prized sports collectibles to other fanatics, read on for our complete guide to collecting sports memorabilia.

What is Sports Memorabilia?

Sports memorabilia is a term covering all sports-related merchandise, such as signed baseball cards, autographed jerseys, photographs, rookie cards, baseball bats, and more. Collectors don't just accept any item; they try to focus their efforts on particular teams, athletes, or types of memorabilia. For some lifelong sports fans, owning a piece of the team, player, or specific game, can be a huge thrill. Not only does this bring them closer to someone they admire or idolize, but it can also make them feel like part of history.

Define Vintage Sports Memorabilia

New York Rangers hockey clock and trophies

There are modern sports memorabilia, like the jerseys and footballs at the stadium when you go to a game, and then there are vintage sports collectibles. Those vintage baseball cards and signed footballs are typically valued more than the modern-day, mass-made pieces. Determining what items are vintage comes down to the year they were produced.

There are mixed opinions on how old a baseball card must be to be called vintage. Some say sports collectibles are only vintage if they are produced before 1980. Others claim that footballs and jerseys from the ‘60s and ‘70s don't deserve to be categorized as vintage and say it's before the ‘60s. Others say only baseball cards before World War II are vintage.

The definition of "vintage" is a personal choice for buyers and sellers of the vintage sports memorabilia community. However, when you begin buying, stay away from anything in the last 20 years, as they don't have value quite yet.

Where to Find Sports Memorabilia

If you're interested in starting your own sports collectibles journey, you'll have to learn the best places to hunt them down! Lucky for you, we're often surprised by vintage items found in our homes, so you may have footballs and baseball cards lying around. Sports memorabilia is all around us, from inside our own homes to stores around the globe.

Baseball memorabilia

Start your search and connect to the community through online forums and sports blogs dedicated to buying and selling signed baseball cards, autographed jerseys, and more. You can ask questions of other passionate members, do your digging, and start your collection from the comfort of your home.

In your free time, shop vintage, go through relative's attics, and visit antique malls (like ours!) to track down valuable items. Someone could be sitting on a priceless sports collectible and not even know! If you take the time to learn the signs of a valuable item, you can snag it to add to your collection!

Why Collecting Sports Memorabilia Is Important

In the age of digital media, collecting physical media is important. So, whether you're a lifelong fan of a team or interested in the world of antiquing, collecting and selling sports memorabilia is a meaningful hobby. Not only will you have a chance to express your love for the sports, teams, and athletes, but you'll find a whole new community waiting to welcome you.

All too often, people see vintage pieces as junk, whether that's antique furniture, clothing, or NFL-signed jerseys. What they're not seeing is how they connect an entire group of people and can hold sentimental meaning to the owner. Taking the time to collect and care about anything is beautiful. Baseball cards aren't just something collecting dust in your garage—they're prized possessions, have value, and can be passed down from generation to generation. Collecting sports memorabilia is a way of life.

How Do You Know If Your Sports Memorabilia is Valuable?

Sports memorabilia jersey

Unfortunately, not all sports memorabilia are valuable. In certain eras, items like baseball bats and NFL-signed jerseys were overproduced, making them worth next-to-nothing in the resell market. So, refrain from buying any old baseball card or football you see and save money for the sports collectibles that have real value.

Experts are looking for certain qualities when determining value. Not only do the items have to be well-kept, whether in card cases or frames, but they have to have meant something to the game's history. No one will want a card of the unmemorable linebacker from 1990—vintage sports memorabilia are all about rarity and use.

Luckily for you, some experts put together sports memorabilia price guides every couple of years to keep the community updated on what's valuable and what’s not. While the ones from 10-15 years ago could be a helpful tool for identifying potentially valuable signed jerseys and rookie cards, it's important to keep an updated one to get a general idea of the value of your sports collectibles.

Examples of Valuable Sports Memorabilia:

  • Footballs and baseball bats used by important players

  • Baseball cards manufactured before 1969

  • Autographed jerseys and signed baseballs

  • Game-winning baseball bats and footballs

  • Rare baseball cards and jersey designs

5 Most Popular Vintage Sports Collectibles

Are you ready to go out into the world and hunt down NFL-signed jerseys and autographed baseball bats? Start your search with these five popular vintage sports collectibles:

  1. Baseball cards

  2. Baseball bats

  3. Footballs

  4. Jerseys

  5. Rookie cards

1. Search for Vintage Baseball Cards

Vintage baseball cards at antique mall

Baseball cards are some of the most popular sports collectibles out there, and whether you've been collecting since you were a child or just started, they are an accessible vintage item to search for. Kids would open a pack and trade them with each other, building their collection of their favorite players and teams. But soon, collections started gaining value, and people would buy and sell individual baseball cards as their hobby.

Baseball cards have been around since as early as 1865 and tend to feature an image of a certain player or team on the front along with their biographical information and stats on the back. When collecting baseball cards, it's important to understand all the different eras of cards to determine whether the one you’ve got your eye on is worth purchasing and getting appraised. You can often find these discarded at thrift stores, or you can scour online pages like eBay for valuable cards to buy and sell for yourself!

2. Collect Vintage Baseball Bats

Vintage baseball bats are considered valuable when they've been used to win a game or were the bat of a top baseball player. Baseball bats are the tools that help players become legends in their field, and owning a piece of that history is exciting!

When you come across a baseball bat sitting around a flea market or online, don't skip it! Instead, use auction prices and a bat value price guide to determine if a baseball bat is valuable before adding it to your collection.

7 Questions that Determine The Value of Baseball Bats

Understanding these seven questions will help you figure out a baseball bat's value in your search:

Vintage baseballs and softballs
  1. Is it a signed baseball bat?

  2. Is the wood cracked?

  3. Does the bat have any missing pieces?

  4. How often was the bat used?

  5. Was it ever used or was it kept in the locker room?

  6. What manufacturer made it?

  7. Is it a rare baseball bat?

3. Find Vintage Footballs

Fans of the sport love collecting footballs used to score the winning touchdown or handled by famous players. If you can secure different footballs used during the “Big Game” of a certain year or get an autographed football, you've unlocked a whole new sports memorabilia collection. Die-hard football fans are always searching for sports collectibles online, so you can find a community to buy and sell easily. Once you have your collection, you can attend antique mall events and bargain with other football fans.

4. Look for Vintage Jerseys

Sports jerseys are valuable in sports collectibles because they are extremely personal to a player and represent their popularity and team. Many people wear jerseys with their favorite player's name and number on them, but those who collect rare or vintage jerseys will pay a pretty penny and keep them framed for tip-top condition.

Avid collectors of baseball or NFL-signed jerseys take great pride and searching for authentic jerseys used during games, but unfortunately, it's hard to determine if a jersey is authentic. Whether you're buying for yourself or looking to create a stock to sell, purchasing from a reputable source is your best way to build a jersey collection. If you come across one in real life, look at the size, any alterations, and consistency of the letters and designs patched on. With a little research, you can determine if a jersey is worth bringing to an authenticator.

5. Discover Rookie Cards

Vintage baseball memorabilia, bobbleheads and cards

Rookie cards are the first issued card made for a player, long before they become famous, and are highly sought after in the sports memorabilia world. Collecting rookie cards is a great place to start if you're looking for a low-risk, high-reward. For example, if you had bought Michael Jordan's rookie card way back when he was a random basketball player, it would be extremely valuable now that he's famous! Rookie cards are an exciting facet of the sports collectible world.

If you come across what you think could be a rookie card at a vintage store or online, you can check if it has an "RC Shield" or has "rookie" printed on the front. Since the manufacturers didn't know this player would be famous one day, they didn't produce many of them. If you do find one of these rare and valuable cards, make sure to grab it!

Are Signed Sports Collectibles More Valuable?

It's always a debate whether your sports memorabilia are more valuable if they are signed or in mint condition. Signatures on items like rookie cards can add value at times and give a personal connection to the player. Still, some collectors consider signatures on sports collectibles as "graffiti" and will only accept unsigned cards. Signed or unsigned is a personal preference—but whatever you choose, there will be a side of the community and clients that agree with you.

Autographed baseball bats and signed jerseys are always more valuable if a player rarely agrees to give autographs. If only one or two items with that signature are on the market, they will be incredibly sought after! No one wants a dime-a-dozen autograph when they could have a rare one, so consider that and don't fall for the first autographed sports collectible you come across.

Patriots football decoration for man cave

Get Your Sports Memorabilia Authenticated

Having your sports memorabilia appraised and authenticated is a key step for any type of vintage item and is necessary for both buying and reselling your pieces. No one in the vintage sports collectible community will buy something without it being professionally graded and certified. To determine if your autographed baseball cards and NFL-signed jerseys are legit, you'll need to get a Certificate of Authenticity from an authentication company, guaranteeing the item is real. Explore trusted online sources like PSA and MEARS that give the seal of approval to autographed footballs and signed jerseys.

After your sports collectibles are authenticated, you can submit the item for an appraisal and discover the real value of your item! After all that work, taking the time to authenticate and appraise your piece is the final step to adding those signed footballs and baseball bats to your collection.

Interested in Selling Your Sports Collectibles?

If you are interested in selling these sports collectibles, you can easily start a booth at America's Antique Mall with our current vendors! Selling face-to-face will help you grow your clientele and community, and you'll be able to peddle for profit. You will also have access to our online vendor's site to reach collectors all over the country! Your options are endless if you sell with us at our Highland, IN, or Melbourne, FL, locations.

The community of vintage sports memorabilia collectors is never-ending, so why not join in on the fun? Explore different sports items, find your niche, and hunt for priceless pieces to add to your collection today.

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