« Back to consignor stories

Professional Partnerships: How REA and High-End Dealers Work Together To Maximize Value

PJ Kinsella in Consignor Stories

Mar 28 — 6 mins read

by David Seideman

*Scroll down for details on the in-person pop-up event that REA and Just Collect will be hosting April 13 & 14 in Millburn, NJ*

One of the most enduring things about card collecting is its longevity and the opportunity to pass cards from generation to generation. But even the most seasoned collectors and traders don’t get an opportunity to handle some of the hobby’s rarest pieces. Whether it be cards from the 1914 Baltimore News set, W600 Cabinets, E107 Breisch-Williams, or even noteworthy cards in the famed 1952 Topps Baseball set, hobby enthusiasts will always strive to add at least one rare piece to their collection. 

Leighton Sheldon, however, had a date with destiny that only a miniscule number of collectors can say they’ve experienced.

Sheldon, President of Just Collect, is a seasoned pro, having spent $20 million on sports cards over the past decade. He has received national press for his major finds such as the “Boston Fairy Godmother Find” where a hat box left in a closet was filled with valuable T206s, including multiple Ty Cobbs, Christy Mathewsons, Cy Youngs, Walter Johnsons, and an Eddie Plank — one of the scarcest and most  valuable cards in the set behind the Honus Wagner. 

A snapshot of the Boston Fairy Godmother find

A snapshot of the Boston Fairy Godmother find

But in the spring of 2018, a gentleman from southern New Jersey paid a visit to Sheldon’s northern New Jersey office and caused his eyes to bug out. 

This encounter took place a few months after the world famous “Lucky 7 Find” of seven T206 Ty Cobb cards with Ty Cobb backs that a family in a rural southern town discovered in a brown paper bag while cleaning their great-grandfather's house. The family sold them for nearly $3 million.

Being a regular sports card and memorabilia expert appearing on the History Channel’s “American Pickers,” Sheldon has seen virtually everything. The South Jersey visitor shared with Sheldon a collection of baseball cards from the early 1900s that was passed down from his great uncle to his father, and then to him. To his amazement, the visitor had one of the extremely rare T206 Cobbs in his collection. There are only about 20 in existence, making it more than three times rarer than the Wagner. 

“It's not everyday that someone shows up with a baseball card that's more rare than a T206 Wagner and could be worth more than a Lamborghini,” Sheldon said.

The man had done enough research to know he was sitting on a gold mine, and he quickly realized he wanted to sell. “There are 16 types of backs you can have on a T206 card. But finding a Ty Cobb card with the Ty Cobb back is like winning the lottery,” said Sheldon.

T206 Ty Cobb with a Ty Cobb back

T206 Ty Cobb with a Ty Cobb back

The size, coloring, and even the smell convinced Sheldon it was the real deal, but before making a deal, he wanted PSA to authenticate and grade the card. Leighton and the card jumped on the next plane to California, where PSA is headquartered. He was able to get the card graded in just a few hours because of its value and significance. After his short wait, PSA returned its findings: the card was real and it graded PSA 1.

While at first glance the modest grade might not sound all that impressive, cards of this caliber and rarity still fetch high prices at auction in any condition. After showing the owner six-figure sales of PSA 1 examples of the card, Sheldon offered to sell it on consignment or buy it outright. His client accepted the second option. Sheldon was so excited that he took the card to the National Sports Collectors Convention to display it in his booth. “We’re going to hold onto it for a while to decide on the best route to sell the card,” he wrote on his blog at the time. “We have a lot of different options available — both public and private —so we're going to take the time to get this right.”

As part of his card breaking platform Vintage Breaks, Sheldon has handled numerous relics. He recently celebrated a vintage 1955 Bowman cello pack break that yielded a beautiful Mickey Mantle, which ended up grading a MINT 9 by PSA. A spot in this break cost the participant $500, but that Mantle eventually sold for $375,483 at auction.

With his experience in the hobby, Sheldon could have sold the T206 Cobb himself, but he knew that the optimal route for getting top dollar was an auction house where all interested collectors would see the card and have a chance to make a play. “The auction houses present all the material well and make it easy for the bidders. You rely on them for their expertise and exposure.”

While Sheldon works with many of the top auction houses, for the past decade he has gravitated towards REA for anything Babe Ruth and pre-war. The comprehensive analysis REA provides on items and its unparalleled knowledge about the history of each item is a key component in its eventual success at auction. Leighton has consigned 1933 Babe Ruth Goudeys, T206s withs rare backs like a Frank Baker Lenox, batches of strip cards, and complete sets from the 1950s. These are all items where REA’s bidder base, expertise, and ability to maximize value made it worthwhile for Sheldon to enlist some assistance.

Seven years ago, he even sold through REA what may be the only known PSA/DNA Type 1 photograph of Wilt Chamberlain scoring his 100th point. He bought it 20 years ago on the floor of the National. It realized $9,000 at a time when few original photographs sold for amounts like that as that segment of the hobby had not yet taken off like it has lately.

“REA has all the bidders, including high-end clientele, and they host three big catalog auctions per year along with seven encore auctions that occur almost monthly,” he says. “And some auction houses pay faster than others. REA pays quickly.”

Photo of Wilt Chamberlain scoring his 100th point in 1962 which was consigned by Sheldon with REA in 2016

Photo of Wilt Chamberlain scoring his 100th point in 1962 which was consigned by Sheldon with REA in 2016

Sheldon was elated when the T206 Ty Cobb with Ty Cobb back sold for $108,000 and his check arrived shortly after the auction closed. He knew that the presentation on a full page in REA’s catalog, with large, crystal-clear photographs, along with the vivid 300-word write up had served to excite collectors and draw bids. 

One of Sheldon’s words of advice for high-end items is to work closely with the auction house to ensure all the right marks are hit. That might include asking for prominent real estate in the catalog if the item is significantly valuable or rare. In his opinion, the presentation adds cachet to a piece and helps it stick out to potential buyers. Sheldon is aware of some well-heeled buyers who may only see the catalog and hire others to bid for them on the Internet. He also recommends that consignors offer up any information that is special or unique to their item to ensure that it appears in the catalog description. 

“Whatever you do, be sure to do your research,” Sheldon adds. “Just because an item is put in a catalog, doesn’t mean that REA has some magic potion, whether it’s high-end or low-end. Where people get themselves into trouble is putting a PSA 3 T206 Chief Bender worth $850 in an auction and expecting $1,250.” 

He cautioned to set realistic expectations when it comes to selling price so as to not be disappointed or surprised at the end of the auction. 

As someone who has participated in countless auctions as both a buyer and seller, Sheldon knows the beauty of auctions is that consignments generally achieve fair market value, and sometimes with scarcer items, they can vastly exceed expectations. If the adrenaline rush of finding a rarity is like winning the lottery, so too is watching the price climb in the final minutes of frenzied bidding on an auction’s closing night. And shortly thereafter, you have the satisfaction of finalizing the conversion of your item into funds deposited in your bank account.

REA and Just Collect will be hosting an in-person exhibit on Thursday, April 13 and Friday, April 14 at the Just Collect store in Millburn, NJ, that offers a first-hand look at featured items in REA’s Spring Catalog Auction. Attendees will have the opportunity to place bids, take photos and collaborate with dozens of other hobby enthusiasts all within the confines of Just Collect’s high-end vintage collectibles shop (296 Millburn Ave, Ste 102, Millburn, NJ).

From Robert Clemente’s 1955 Topps Rookie in a PSA 9 (last one sold for $1.05 million!) and Jim Brown’s 1958 Topps Rookie in an SGC 8.5 to Bill Russell’s 1957 Topps Rookie in a PSA 7.5 and the highest-ever graded 1949 Bowman Jackie Robinson (PSA 9), this collaborative event will offer a first-hand look at some of the rarest sports memorabilia items available today. No entry fee and no registration necessary.

More like this: