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First Issues of Sports Illustrated Still Valuable

Bill Wagner - Babe Waxpak by Bill Wagner, "Babe Waxpak"
June 26, 2005

Dear Babe: I saved 122 copies of my boyhood collection of Sports Illustrated - 1954-59 - all in good shape. Included are the first two issues with the baseball cards intact and the original mailing envelope the first issue came in.
Pete Sanderson, Seal Beach, Calif.

You picked the right issues of Sports Illustrated to save. While the Internet has really put a dent in values of many magazines, these older copies of S.I. are still valuable. The first two issues had pages with copies of Topps baseball cards on them. The first had a variety of stars, while the second issue had just Yankees. Demand for the second issue has increased in recent years for a couple of reasons - most notably the "finds" of first issues in Time magazine warehouses. The company has sold or offered as premiums these first issues on a number of occasions, which has had a major effect on value. I'd say top value for the Aug. 16, 1954, first issue is $250. The second magazine, unissued copies of which have yet to be found in any warehouses, is worth $200-$300 thanks in part to the never-issued 1954 Topps Mickey Mantle card. He was under contract to Bowman that year, but the magazine insert has a pseudo '54 Topps Mantle. Of course, in addition to the big-ticket covers, you have all those other magazines.

"The covers in the $20-$40 range add up pretty quickly in those years. I'd say $1,800-$2,000 is more reasonable," said Mike Breeden, a Tuff Stuff columnist. Breeden keeps up on Sports Illustrated values because of his interest and expertise on copies autographed by the stars featured on the covers.

Dear Babe: I have Topps card No. 194 with Mickey Mantle (American League) on the top and Don Newcombe (National League) on the bottom. On the back it says "Most Valuable Players - 1956."
Bill Mendell, Los Angeles

You've got a 1975 Topps MVP card. Most valuable players from both leagues from 1951 through 1974 were paired on card Nos. 189-212. Topps reproduced the players' cards from their MVP years. That's true for everyone except Maury Wills, who was the National League MVP in 1962. Back then, he was not under contract to Topps and didn't have a 1962 card. His first Topps card appeared in 1967. Most of the MVP cards have minimal value except for the three with Mantle. He was the American League MVP in 1955 (with Newcombe in the N.L. on card 194), 1956 (with Henry Aaron on card 195) and 1962 (with Wills on card No. 200). Beckett's Almanac of Baseball Cards and The Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards from the editors of Sports Collectors Digest lists the cards at $10-$12 (Beckett) and $5-$7 (Standard Catalog). Topps also produced a set of mini-sized cards in 1975. I'd say your Mantle card is probably worth double the book values if it's a mini.

Dear Babe: I have a modern era baseball signed by Hank Aaron and Al Downing. It's an official National League Rawlings ball.
Gary Waterfield, Atlanta

By modern-era baseball, I assume you mean one signed long after April 8, 1974 - the night Downing put Aaron in the record books by giving up home run No. 715. Neither league used Rawlings baseballs until 1977, when it became the official ball for all of major league baseball. Prior to that, the National League had used Spalding baseballs as far back as the 1800s. Aaron is the not the easiest signature to get, said Mike Gutierrez, owner of MGAuction.net in Arizona. He valued the ball at $100-$150.

Dear Babe: In 1948, I played American Legion baseball here in Thomaston, Ga., and we were runners up in the state. We were given a baseball signed by Babe Ruth. It is smaller than a regular ball. Under his signature it stays "Ford Motor Co. Consultant." It is in excellent condition and I have been told it is worth between $10,000 and $50,000.
Bentley Adams, Thomaston, Ga.

There were hundreds, if not thousands, of these promotion baseballs given to American Legion players around the country. I have had several questions about them over the years. It's true that a single-signed Ruth baseball could be worth as much as $50,000, but that's for a bold Ruth signature on a pristine vintage official baseball. Unfortunately, while Ruth's signature on one of these special smaller baseballs might be worth $7,500-$10,000, that's probably not the case for you or other former legion players. The vast majority of these baseballs have either stamped signatures or were ghost signed for Ruth. Ruth was dying of cancer in 1948, so it's doubtful he signed many baseballs and most certainly wouldn't have been able to sign hundreds for this American Legion promotion.

About the author
Bill Wagner is a veteran journalist with 37 years in the newspaper business as well as being a former Army combat correspondent in Vietnam. He developed the Babe Waxpak sports card column in the 1980s and took over authorship in 1993, expanding into sports memorabilia and autographs as well as answering questions on cards.

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