When considering sports collectibles, the first things that often come to mind are jerseys, cards, and autographed balls, but there is another niche category… Sports Illustrated magazines. The next time you go hunting for comic books in a garage sale and see a stack of magazines nearby, be sure to keep a lookout for some of these issues.
SPORTS ILLUSTRATED #1 (1954)
Like many comic book runs, at the top of the Sports Illustrated market is the first issue of the magazine. It was first published in late 1954, with a cover featuring Milwaukee Braves’ Eddie Mathews at bat and New York Giant’s Wes Westrum behind home plate.
Although sales data for Sports Illustrated #1 isn’t widely available, the latest sales in 2021 appear to place CGC 9.8s in the $4,000-5,000 level. Just under that, sales prices for CGC 9.6s drop off quite a bit to around the $1,000 level. If you are well-seasoned at picking out 9.8 raws, those sales prices might be worth the effort; especially with raw copies on eBay currently selling in the $100-200 range with only a few that come with a certificate of authenticity that jumps up to $300.
The cover printing and colors certainly pose a challenge to finding a high-grade raw. If you do go on the hunt for this premiere issue there are a few important things to keep an eye out for. Inside, there should be three page foldout of Topps baseball cards and a mail-in subscription card. Also, beware of reprints. That’s right. Popular comic books get reprints, and so do magazines. Bonus points if it’s in the original mailing envelope; although that won’t factor as much when getting the magazine slabbed.
Michael Jordan has graced so many of the magazine’s covers that he holds the record for any individual athlete. Of these, the two that stand out the most in the market are the Nov 1983 and Dec 1984 issues. The 1983 one is the first time ever that Jordan was on the cover, and it was also during his time with the North Carolina Tar Heels. The 1984 one is his first one as a Chicago Bull.
The 1983 issue has a noticeably higher sales volume than the 1984 issue. In terms of market value, the 1983 does consistently get higher sales prices. The keyword is consistency because the only high-graded sale of the 1984 issue (a CGC 7.0 slab) in early 2021 did sell in a similar range to CGC 7.0s of the 1983 issue. The sales were around a $3,000 level. They were best offers, so the exact final price is a bit of a mystery. Despite this, again, 1983 has much more market activity; especially with slabs at the higher end of the CGC grading range.
With the 1983 issue, we do observe that newsstand editions of the magazine do sell for higher prices. Expectedly so, because the subscription address/mailing label is quite the eyesore.
One of the most popular Sports Illustrated issues this side of the millennium is easily the Feb 2002 issue with the “chosen one,” Lebron James, on the cover. If it were a comic book, perhaps it can be called a Modern Age issue? The latest CGC 9.8 went for $2,200; it was a subscription edition, but didn’t have an address/mailing label in the white box on the cover. This type of occurrence doesn’t appear to be too uncommon. Either way, the newsstand copies command a higher premium than the empty subscription editions at similar CGC grades. But for quick reference, two CGC 9.6 newsstands recently sold with best offers accepted on original $1,500 listings. It is still a bigger drop-off in value for the CGC grade than the newsstand/empty subscription.
Another group of valuable Sports Illustrated issues in the market are those with “The Natural” Tom Brady. Specifically, his first cover appearance in April 2002 and a championship edition for the New England Patriots published Feb 2004. Most recently, a CGC 9.8 of the 2004 issue sold for $1500. Also in the four figures, a CGC 9.6 newsstand of the 2003 accepted a best offer on a $1,300 listing. In the same month, a CGC 9.8 subscription (empty white box) did go for $1,000.
Overall, most of the Tom Brady SI activity is centered on the Patriots-portion of his career. This makes one wonder if some of the SI covers with Tom Brady in a Tampa Bay Buccaneers might be a good spec. Maybe not in the four-figure levels of the 2002/2004 issues, but perhaps in the low threes.
RECENT INDIVIDUAL SALES OF NOTE
- Secretariat – A CGC 9.4 of the June 1973 issue, which features the first Triple Crown winner sold for $3,120.
- Mickey Mantle – A CGC 7.5 of the June 1956 issue sold for an undisclosed best offer, but the original listing was set at $4,495.
- Mike Tyson – A CGC 9.0 yellow label/Signature Series of the Jan 1986 issue. The signature was that of the kid dynamite himself. Like the Mickey Mantle sale above, this one also had a best offer accepted on the original $3,000 listing. The more surprising thing isn’t the price tag, but the yellow label. One can only image how hard that was to get.
“Singing a song, playing sports – anything that entertains, that takes people away from their own problems, is good.” – Stan Lee
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