Demand for fine art at sky-high prices may grab lots of attention, but Dallas-based Heritage Auctions has proved collectibles are also highly coveted by those with cash to spend.
Heritage sold a total US$1.45 billion across 40 categories this year, a record that just tops the more than US$1.4 billion sold in 2021.
This year’s total would have been even higher had it included the results of a single high-profile auction—the June sale of Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov’s Nobel Peace Prize. In a dramatic one-lot sale that opened with a bid of US$787,500, the medal sold for US$103.5 million. All of the proceeds went to UNICEF to support its humanitarian response to the war in Ukraine, and Heritage waived its commission fees.
The auction house has long been known for its coin and currency sales—which are still crucial to its business—but CEO and co-founder Steve Ivy said in a news release on Wednesday that its “expeditious evolution into the world’s leading collectibles auctioneer is something we do not take for granted.”
According to the release, US$1.07 billion of Heritage’s sales were at auctions, while the rest were conducted through private transactions. Although based in Dallas, it has offices throughout the U.S. and Europe, as well as Hong Kong.
Heritage’s biggest headline of the year was the Aug. 28 sale of a 1952 Mickey Mantle baseball card for US$12.6 million—a result Heritage said “redefined a hobby and an industry.” It is the highest price realized for any sports collectible, Heritage said.
At the same auction, a Babe Ruth-signed bat dated from 1918 to 1922 sold for US$1.68 million, resulting in what the auction house describes as the “most valuable game-used bat” sold at an auction. A month earlier Jim Irsay, owner of the Indianapolis Colts, bought Muhammad Ali’s World Boxing Council heavyweight championship belt, which Ali received for his victory over George Foreman in 1974, for US$6.18 million.
In all, Heritage’s sales of sports memorabilia totaled US$157 million.
While dramatic, the sports category was surpassed by US$310 million in sales of U.S. coins, a 21% gain from a year earlier. The total included the August sale from the Bob R. Simpson Collection of a 1927-D Double Eagle US$20 gold coin for US$4.44 million. The coin was graded MS66 by the Professional Coin Grading Services, meaning it was never in circulation.
At the end of September, an 1821 Half Eagle from the Harry W. Bass, Jr. Core Collection sold for US$4.62 million. Half Eagles, mostly gold with a US$5 face value, were minted largely from 1795 to 1921.
Jewelry is another category that experienced a big jump in sales for Heritage this year, rising 22% to US$27.38 million. The star lot was a 1.21-carat “fancy orangy” red diamond that sold for US$1.755 million, nearly 12 times a presale estimate.
Comics and comic art sales at Heritage rose 7% this year to US$195 million. The results included an April auction that alone realized US$27.7 million. In January, Heritage sold page 25 from Marvel Super-heroes Secret Wars No. 8, published in 1984, for US$3.36 million. The comic tells the story of how Spider-Man got his black costume.
Heritage also sold US$36 million in historical items, a 124% leap from a year earlier, including a record US$591,000 paid for a rocking chair that had been commissioned by President John F. Kennedy.
It also sold US$21 million in entertainment and music collectibles, up 10%, and achieved a record US$12,300 for the sale of a 1973 bottle of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars S.L.V Cabernet Sauvignon, more than three times the amount ever paid for the top red wine lauded in the 1976 Judgment of Paris.