Establishing a Collectible Pedigree

As a long time collector of various forms of collectible Americana from Comics, to trading cards, and later in life coins and toys, I was always intrigued by the level of achievements some collectors would reach in their collecting pursuits. 

These purists and pioneers would spend a lifetime pursuing the ultimate and most complete collection of what they held dear and near to them.  One interesting Hollywood character that I think would best describe the spirit of this type of pursuit was Harrison Ford in the role of Indiana Jones.

2008 Topps Indiana Jones Heritage Parallel Card Set (limited Edition #  of 500)

In this classic trading card image from the “2008 Topps Indiana Jones Heritage Parallel Card Set (limited Edition #  of 500) we see Indy venturing in the jungles of South America in search for a golden statue which in this card scene he tries to remove by swapping with a sack of sand from a bobbytrapped pedestal. The rest is cinematic magic and the start of a series of action films that would secure Harrison Ford and his character Indiana Jones in the halls of Hollywood stardom.

The title of this card, “A Game of Chance”, would seem appropriate as well for such collectors who spare nothing in their pursuit for the best and rarest finds.  Whether the sacrifice entails time, money or great effort on their part they spare nothing to achieve these lofty heights. As such these great sacrifices and gains have been afforded a pedigree designation in various collecting pursuits.  Some of these endeavors are both well documented and in many cases as it relates to modern finds highly sought after.  I thought we might take an interesting journey through time to review just a few of these amazing finds.

Comics

When it comes to rarity one collection  that come to mind but is not by any means of the imagine the only one, is the “Edgar Church Collection” or the “Mile High Collection” one of the most famous and valuable comic book collections known and greatly sought after in the world of comic collecting. 

The Edgar Church find was the 1st original owner collection to ever be called a pedigree.  Though this incredible find wasn’t the oldest, it remains the most popular famous Pedigree in the hobby today and is the reason collectors started to call certain collections Pedigrees.

1940 All American Comics #16

The Comic Certified Guaranty Company (CGC) currently recognizes 59 Pedigree collections, so any any of these books in a CGC holder with that distinction is a great plus for collectors of Comicbooks!  One modern day celebrity & collector of comics that endeavored to collect some of the most famous golden age comics that comes to mind is Hollywood actor Nicholas Cage.  

Nicolas Cage’s comic book collection was renowned as one of the most impressive celebrity-owned collections of comic books in recent times. In 2002 the actor sold his collection at a Heritage Auction Galleries sale. Amongst the collection were:

  • A 1940 Detective #38 comic that featured the debut Batman’s sidekick Robin, The Boy Wonder, which sold for $120,750.
  • A 1940 All-Star Comic #3 introducing the Justice Society of America which sold for $126,500. It was the first comic book to introduce a super hero team, which included the Green Lantern, Hawkman, the Flash, Hourman, Dr. Fate, the Spectre, the Sandman, and the Atom.

The collection made a total of $1.6 million.

One of the most famous books purchased by Cage at the time was an astonishing original mint copy of Action Comics #1 the introduction and 1st appearance of the Man of Steel Superman.

This same book was stolen from his home In 2000 only to later surface again in a storage locker in the San Fernando Valley region.

After careful review it was determined it was his copy of the famous book.  The story goes that he had purchased the book in preparation for the role of the man of steel himself as part of a film Tim Burton had planned that never ended up being made and had been scratched.  The book at the time was valued at 1 million dollars.   He would ultimately end up selling his books after the robbery to avoid  any further issues like this potentially happening again.  A 9.0 graded copy of the comic, believed to be the same copy, purchased by Cage was said to have sold at auction by ComicConnect in November 2011 for a World Record price of $2.16 million.  CGC opted to label many of Nicholas’s books with a Pedigree designation to distinguish the incredible accomplishment and effort he had applied to collect the ultimate comic book collection.

1938 Action Comics #1

Coins

Pedigrees are not exclusive to Comic books however as a similar distinction can be seen in other collectibles as in the world of “Numismatics” or simply put, the art of coin collecting. Famous grading companies such as PCGS & NGC have noted special Pedigree assignments to rare collections and incredible finds..  

These companies help to establish Pedigrees to indicate a coin’s past or present ownership.  This can play an important part in determining a coins authenticity, especially in the case of a coin that may have been part of a famous collection or find such as in the case of the famous “Saddle Ridge Hoard” a treasure trove of 1,427 gold coins unearthed in the Gold Country of the Sierra Nevada, California in 2013.

1889-S PCGS MS 63+ Saddle Ridge Hoard $20 Gold Coin

The face value of these coins unearthed totaled at the time was $27,980.00 dollars but was assessed to be with $10 million dollars in total!   It contained $27,460.00 dollars in twenty-dollar coins, $500.00 in ten-dollar coins, & $20.00 dollars in $5.00 dollar coins all dating from 1847 to 1894.  The collection is the largest known discovery of buried gold coins that has ever been recovered in the United States.

1857-S PCGS MS64 S.S. Central America
20C Narrow Serif Gold Coin

Another famous coin discovery which has its own Pedigree distinction is the Legendary San Jose Galleon discovery.   The example shown above graded by PCGS was part of what salvagers found when they discovered a 300 year old ship at the bottom of the Caribbean near the coast of Colombia several years back.  As the story goes, on August 20, 1857, several hundred passengers boarded the S.S. Sonora, of the Pacific Mail Steamship Line, had left San Francisco headed south toward Panama City.  Abroad was over 1.6 million in Gold thousands of freshly minted 1857-S Double Eagle, some earlier $20.00 coins as well, ingots and gold in other forms.

During the journey the S.S. Central America entered a storm that intensified reaching Gale Force conditions.  As conditions worsened the screaming winds tattered the sails and rigging, while passengers huddled below the desk not realizing they were in the middle of a raging hurricane.  While they were able to pass the worst of the storm the commander, Captain Hiram Burt realized the ship was beyond repair and taking water so he ordered the  crew to help the women and children to prepare boarding lifeboats.  

As they labored to save those on board, a tremendous wave would hit the S.S. Central America with hundreds of men still huddled at the front of the ship and the Captain Herndon, on the starboard.  The ship slipped under the waves and the captain and all remaining still on board went down with the ship where it would rest in darkness 8,000 feet below the surface about 160 miles off shore of Charleston, South Carolina where it would remain for nearly 130 years.

These two examples help to share the incredible journey and historical significance that collectibles can bring to bear to the marketplace.  It provides a glimpse to the past and the period in which it was created.  It can also help us share in the story of that item by playing a role as its custodian for the period of time that we get to hold, own and preserve its historical legacy.  This is true in all sectors of the collecting experience and is not limited to just coins and comics.  

Disneyana

There are many pioneers that never imagined their names would be associated with the words “Pedigree” or “finest known” example(s).  The next example relates to a segment of collectibility fondly known by many collectors of this genera as “Disneyana”.  

Disneyana is a term for a wide variety of collectible toys, books, animation cels, theme-park souvenirs, ephemera and other items produced by The Walt Disney Company. Examples range from products featuring virtually every Disney character—such as Mickey Mouse, Tinker Bell and others—to vintage stock certificates and company checks bearing the signature of Walt Disney. The Art Corner was a retail store that operated at Disneyland from 1955 until 1966 which sold souvenirs and Disneyana items. The Walt Disney Company subsequently opened “Disneyana Shops” on Main Street, U.S.A. at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. High end collectible paintings, prints and figurines can now be found at The Disney Gallery and “Art of Disney Parks” stores. The ranks of Disneyana enthusiasts grew exponentially throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Today collectors can find Disneyana items for sale through a variety of online auction sites, at regional and international comic shows and other collector events. The “Official Disneyana Convention” and Disney D23 Expo are examples of events produced by the Disney Company that prominently feature collectible items. The company produces many other specialty themed events at their parks and resorts that cater to Disneyana collectors.

As such owning such items is highly prized by collectors and fans alike.  One of the most famous collections of this type of memorabilia is known as Birnkrant Collection.

Mel Birnkrant Mickey Mouse Collection

In the 1950s, Birnkrant began collecting toys of primarily pre-World War II comics characters, beginning with a Mickey Mouse bank he found at a flea market in Paris, France. From that point he began to amass a collection of toys. He is drawn to the forms of the characters rather than their stories or personalities: “Mickey Mouse only interests me as three circles he would say.. 

Mel Birnkrant Mickey Mouse Rare Finds

Something you can draw with a quarter and two dimes. I can’t stand his little voice. Most Mickey Mouse collectors love goddamn Mickey Mouse. I love three circles and the fact that it looks alive.”  In the early 1960s, Birnkrant and his wife Eunice ran a small business in Manhattan called “Boutique Fantastique”, handcrafting what Birnkrant describes as “‘Authentic Reproductions’ of antique toys and music boxes that never existed in the first place” and The New York Times described as “antiques that never were”.

Ideas for the designs, which included zoetropes, came from a variety of sources including Épinal prints, Victorian toy theaters and dancing automatons.  Birnkrant started making moving toys after a visit to the Cooper Union Museum resulted in him being given permission to repair an old toy that no longer worked.  From 1964 to 1986, Birnkrant designed toys for the Colorforms company.   Birnkrant’s knowledge and the extensiveness of his collection has gained the appreciation of dealers and collectors, including that of fellow Mickey Mouse collector, artist Maurice Sendak.   His collection was featured in the 2004 short film Mouse Heaven directed by Kenneth Anger.

So as we can see here a lifetime of collecting pursuit created a Pedigree of not just rare finds but a wealth of knowledge and accolades by fans of Mr Birnkrant that he never imagined when he first started. The collection associated with Mr Birnkrant would be considered one of the finest based on size and scope on our favorite mouse Mickey.

The last segment of my article centers around one of my favorite pastimes “Card Collecting”.  So while many of the examples provided in the article can show the depths and significance of some of the finest collections both unearthed and acquired over time this does not curtail the modern day collector from achieving such lofty goals with a little bit of luck, perseverance and good old fashion hard work.

Trading Cards

Before I get into the specifics of just how you can achieve this goal in your own collecting pursuits I wanted to bring some attention to another noted individual in the genere  of card collecting that deserves a quick mention in this article.  This person like Mr. Birnkrant made his life’s pursuit of locating and finding the best of the best  trading cards in the marketplace. His name was Alan Rosen also known as  Mr. Mint.

Before there were auction houses, Rosen would travel the country during the 1980s and ’90s with an attaché case stuffed with $100 bills, ready to make a deal for high-end vintage cards or entire collections. He took out full-page advertising in collectibles trade magazines and billed himself as “The world’s largest buyer of baseball cards and sports cards.”  

He looked under every proverbial rock to unearth such key sport card finds as the famous 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle Rookie card #311 that he discovered via a negotiation with a private collector from Quincy, MA who also had a huge collection of other rare Topps  cards from that period back in 2016 and ultimately sold at auction for $525,800.00 dollars!

1952 Topps Mickey Mantle Baseball Card #311 Graded PSA 8.5 Nrmt-Mt+

These types of finds would of course fall under our discussion of Pedigree or  the best of the best.  One such famous find that PSA even distinguished in their grading labels was of course the “Black Swamp” find.   According to a Mile High Card Company posting on the find In July of 2012, one of the greatest finds of early 20th century caramel cards was discovered in Defiance, Ohio, a town that was coined “The Black Swamp” by General “Mad” Anthony Wayne in 1794. This Black Swamp find consisted entirely of cards from the 1910 E98 Set of 30 series, a handsome collection that features different background color variations of each card, with 17 of the presented 30 subjects in the Hall of Fame. The find yielded almost 700 cards, virtually all of them in NM or better condition with four examples, including one of Honus Wagner, achieving a mark of PSA 10 GEM MINT. 

It is believed that the issue was sold by traveling salesman to candy manufacturers and other retailers to include with their products. It appears that one salesman did make his way to the family-owned meat market or perhaps to the local Defiance Candy Company; however, the cards never realized their ultimate destiny as customer premiums. The collection yields twenty-one sets of twenty-four players with red backgrounds, and ten duplicates in green or orange, with a scattering of extras. The condition is stunningly pristine throughout, quite literally untouched for a full century of seclusion prior to the discovery. Consider that the previous population was headed by a PSA NM 7 Cobb and an EX 5 Wagner. This collection adds sixteen Mint 9 Cobb representations to the population, and an unheard-of Gem Mint 10 Wagner.   “This historic find is right up there with Al Rosen’s famous 1952 Topps discovery as one of the hobby’s greatest,” 

So the question I propose to you today is could you as a regular collector attain a Pedigree status relating to the items you own in your own collection today?  The answer I honestly believe is yes!   While it might not equate to some of the examples illustrated above, you could obtain a level of expertise and achievement that could merit you a distinction similar to a pedigree of sorts.

MacMillian defines Pedigree as all the past experiences or achievements of someone or something, especially when this shows that they are good or successful.  From a collecting standpoint, it would mean your hard work and achievement at working towards a goal and being able to achieve it over time and with dedication and hard work. So from this definition, yes, reaching a level of Pedigree or distinction would definitely be possible.

Distinction thru the form of a National Collecting Program

As it relates to many of our collecting pursuits, grading services can provide a Pedigree of sorts in establishing your collection as the benchmark for the best, most thorough and highest graded collection out there on the public stage.

This can help to bring a spotlight on your hard work, efforts and accomplishments and help change a private collection into a potentially rare commodity by bringing well deserved exposure and allowing it to be compared  against those of your fellow peers through membership in the PSA Registry Program which by the way is free. There is a stipulation however that the cards would need to be graded in order to participate.

Why Grade?

Preservation

While the bulk of collectors choose to grade their collectibles in the hope that they will maximize the collections potential worth, there are other inherent reasons to have something graded, namely for preservation purposes.  Many of the collectible momentos we keep have sentimental value that goes beyond an item’s intrinsic value. Whether it’s a ticket stub to a game that you and your dad went to when you were a kid, a card your best friend game you growing up as a birthday gift, or something that was left to you from a family member, age and time will eventually affect and damage those cherished heirlooms and keepsakes.  By grading them you will ensure they will stay in the original state via a sonically sealed holders that will allow you to then safely display your precious momentos.

Benchmark to Compare your rarity against another

Numerical designations matter, and let’s face it, it’s the new norm for collectors looking to get the highest dollar amount for their rare collectibles. There are grading services for most items these days and as such it’s important to pick the industry leader in each category to help legitimize your collectible and increase its potential worth.  Grading and the population reports afforded by grading companies help to compare your collectible(s) in contrast to a similar finds that might exist based on the grade assigned to the item normally based on a 10 point scale of 1 Poor to 10 being Gem Mint.  Most grading companies have transitioned to half grades so you could be given a grade for example of 7.5 or 8.5 as an example as well.

Census Reports

Most reputable grading services will publish their Census reports online to help collectors see how many cards have been graded for each set or series and the condition grade that was assigned to each. These reports can prove invaluable when researching a cards population size and grade assignment.   

 In the case of trading cards, population reports can also help to distinguish unique variants that might exist for a particular card such as version type: Bronze, Silver, Gold, Refractor, and Autographed examples to name a few.  It should be notes variants aren’t  as much of an issue for cards pre 90’s as back then collectors normally only had to search for a single card of the athlete especially as it related to their rookie card as in the example of the famous 1986 Fleer Basketball Michael Jordan Rookie Card #57..

With the advent of multiple trading card companies now, that is no longer the case and as such multiple rookie cards can exist of a modern day player so prices will vary greatly depending on the card, its grade and overall rarity.  Confusing? Yes it can be. Try looking up Lebron’s rookie card and you will likely see over 100 cards that many will define as RC’s. This is another reason why aligning yourself with a grading company and using their tools at your disposal is of great value and importance as you look to build your collection.

Print Run

While print runs are not provided by grading companies on individual cards or series, it is important to mention this criteria in the overall discussion of scarcity.  I say this because there are two types of scarcity.  One is what occurs over time as age and the elements play their role in reducing availability.  The other is a modern day scarcity as a result of card company’s creation of limited print run of cards. 

While vintage finds had the leverage of time to help create scarcity, new sports cards do not have to wait for father time to create scarcity in the marketplace.  They simply can opt to print less of a card thus automatically creating scarcity and demand for a specific card or series.  

 This is done via the creation of limited produced or parallel version cards.  Some cards issued by Card manufacturers can be as low as a 1/1 only one of that print variation and as such can be highly desirable.  Other more mainstream production runs while larger in scope of 10, 25, 50, 100, 250, 500 and so on, can prove to have value because the item produced is autographed or has embedded in it a patch of the athletes game worn uniform (called a relic card), as in the example of this 2010 Upper Deck  World of Sports All Sports Apparel Auto Relic card #AS-AW PSA 9 Abby Wambach Soccer Card with a production run of  just 5.

So when you add scarcity and grading together you truly could have a modern day true rarity that collectors would be willing to pay great sums for.  

Authenticity 

Why most cards offered online and at auction sites are for the most part authentic there is a growing market of questionable cards & autographs that have plagued the industry.  Grading your card ensures that your card is the real McCoy.  Some of the most sought after cards like the 1986 Fleer Michael Jordan RC have been reproduced and past off as real genuine cards in the past to the dismay, shock and regret of unsuspecting collectors.  Mind you these are more than not sold raw (ungraded), but it should cause you to chose wisely and with education as to these potential traps that await unsuspecting collectors. Grading your high end valuable cards ensures that no surprises will appear when and if you decide to sell your rare treasure(s).

Modern Day Pedigree – The Registry Program

You don’t have to spend millions to create your own Pedigree in the hobby today.  There are many opportunities to take whatever your niche is and turn it into the best of the best for that collecting genera.   So whether your a Michael Jordan or a Lebron hardcore fan, or a Superman buff, or an expert on everything Garbage Pail Kids, you can compose a collection like no other on the PSA, SGC or Beckett Registries.

These Registry programs are great venues for creating recognition & exposure on your trading card collection.   On the Comic front CGC is the leader in that marketplace.  On the toy front AFA is a great resource for grading action figures though they do not currently have a registry program that I’m aware of based on what I can see on their website.

PSA Registry Program – A cut above the rest

First this isn’t a plug, I don’t get paid for this mention but rather as a collector, just like you of trading cards, I’ve used them over the years for my grading needs.  When I heard about the PSA Registry program I have to admit, at first glance I was like most people a little apprehensive as I assumed this would be sets like the 1952 Topps Baseball set with the previously mentioned Mantle rookie or some other series that was out of my budgetary league.

After careful review I was shocked to find it was simply a collector venue for fans to both share what they own and (in a friendly way) compete to see who had the best collection in any of a  multitude of sets and subject matters.  Being free to join didn’t hurt either.  The registry program  even includes Game and Event Sponsored Tickets in the Registry Program as well.

The PSA Set Registry now hosts nearly 150,000 sets. In addition to the major sports’ categories like baseball, basketball, football and hockey, it offers categories in miscellaneous sports and non-sports as well.  As such, it truly is home to the world’s finest trading card and ticket collections.  The PSA Set Registry gives collectors the opportunity to safely show off their PSA-graded items in a secure online environment and compare their collections to some of the greatest ever assembled. You can start with just one card or ticket and build your set over time or add an entire collection. You can post images of your items, view those of other collectors in your area of interest and go from there!

Plus, members of the Set Registry have access to the Collectors.com Shop Button, an incredible search tool that makes finding cards easier than ever. The Shop Button saves you time by bringing card listings to you, all within an organized and filterable interface. This means you can search every conceivable venue for the card you need – before someone else finds it – in just a few clicks.

Player Sets

One of the aspects that really appealed to me was the Player Set Forum of the Registry program.  I was never a big fan of collecting complete sets but can appreciate those that do.   For me it was just more economical to focus on stars I really enjoy collecting.

One of the first Players sets I joined at the time was the Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay) Master Registry Set.  Back then when I joined the player set for this great sportsman was only around 35 cards, now it’s ballooned to over 450 cards!  This was due to collectors actively participating in helping to improve the collection by both searching for, documenting and ultimately bringing these new finds to the marketplace in partnership with PSA.  So collectors have a say and voice in what’s in the registry player sets.   That’s pretty awesome, you can actually speak to the staff over the phone and play a role in the process.

Fun on a shoe String

So you don’t have to be rich or well versed to start a registry set you simply submit the cards either of a specific set or a list of cards of a specific Player/star and PSA will work with you to create it if it’s not already currently existing on the site

It’s that simple and then the real fun begins.  You see the initial challenge is learning all about the subject matter you’ve chosen to collect.  Once your initial list is created, you’re on your way.  The topical interests  are as varied as the imagination can think it up.

There are of course the main Sports Sets associated with:

  • Baseball
  • Basketball
  • Football
  • Hockey
  • Misc Sports like Tennis, Nascar, Boxing & Olympics
  • Wax Packs
  • Tickets
  • Non-Sports Cards (Marvel, DC, Star Trek, Star Wars, and so much more)

Then there are player sets both for Sports and for Non-Sports.  So you could join or build a registry Card Set (if the player doesn’t exist already) for such stars as Derek Jeter, Michael Jordan, Lebron James, Serena Williams, Simone Biles, Rafael Nadal, Wayne Gretsky, if you can imagine it you can join and or create it and be the first to lead the way.

On the Non-sport front you can choose to aim for the best 1966 Topps Lost in Space Trading Gum Series or the 1940’s Gum Superman Series, or even the 1981 Topps Raiders of the Lost Ark set as well to name a few.  With over 170,000 Sport Sets & 17,200 Non-sport set topics to choose from I’m sure there is a set waiting for you to claim the best of the best collections with your name on it.

This is how you can create your own pedigree of the best of the best for the genre you want to collect. Obviously the bigger and better known the set the more demand there will be for collectors to purchase key graded cards from these sets and themes.  This is where a lot of the competition stems as it relates to online venues like Ebay and online auctions at times.  Collectors trying to improve their collections as they work hard to reach that lofty pinnacle in their collecting endeavors.  If selling is your goal, then achieving that level of perfection and distinction could help propel your set to the big stage via many of the major auction houses that routinely turn to PSA for opportunities to help collectors bring their finds to the marketplace. 

Like Mr Rosen said, there is a time when you’ll want to sell your collection, so bringing attention and exposure to what you have can prove to help you when the time comes that you need to liquidate your collection.  

Annual Awards and acknowledgements

Each year if warranted, the number one sets in the various categories receive an engraved plaque and a Gold Award icon by his or her set listing in the registry program to highlight your sets achievement as Best of the Best. Recognition is also given to collectors that achieve the following achievements in their categories:

  2021 “Best of the Registry” Winners

In addition, the collector with the finest current set that is at least 95% complete in the vintage set categories (pre-1970), 100% complete in the modern set categories (1970-present), or in the case of player and mega sets, have 1,000 or more cards registered in one set, will receive a “Best of the Registry” icon by his or her set listing in the registry. (Certificates will be gladly printed and mailed at the winner’s request.)

 HOF  PSA Set Registry Hall of Fame

To recognize those All-Time Finest sets we will be inducting a number of all-time great sets into the PSA Set Registry Hall of Fame every year. Hall of Fame collections and the contest winners will be selected based on a vote of sportscard experts.

  10 Year Anniversary

Special tribute is paid to any collector whose set has won an award for being ranked number one 10 years in a row.

This is the Pedigree achievement that is possible via the PSA Registry Program.  Are you up for the challenge and work that it takes to reach this lofty goal?  Well there’s a good chance you are!

This is Tomorrow’s Gems, signing out.

Happy Collecting!

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