August 6th, 2015 – Auction Open Aug. 19th to 29th
Denver, CO – If you think that sports memorabilia and collectibles are hot commodities right now, then you’ve probably forgotten all about the 1990s, and who could blame you? It was in the 90s that personal computers and email became part of our daily lives, followed of course by the massive growth of the Internet, the dotcom boom, and the ensuing redistribution of trillions of dollars to businesses around the world, both real and imaginary. Indeed, by the late 90s, perhaps the only things keeping up with the unprecedented growth in dotcom stocks were the equally unprecedented growth in bicep sizes of Major League Baseball players and, in the same Herculean ways, prices paid for Michael Jordan basketball cards.
We’re talking about the Silicon-coated late 1990s here, folks, years before many readers were even born. It’s late in the summer of 1998, and while Slammin’ Sammy battles Big Mac for home run heroism on the field, inflated bottom lines and cheap muscle mass reach deeply into the furthest corners of American popular culture. Previously for the most part innocent, even the baseball card and collectibles communities witness a massive proliferation in forged autographs, counterfeit memorabilia, and fake and altered cards and other material.
Enter PSA. Under the umbrella of its Nasdaq-traded parent company, Collectors Universe (CLT), and following the 1985 lead of its sister company PCGS, or Profressional Coin Grading Service, Professional Sports Authenticator was founded in 1991 as the world’s first, third-party grading and authentication service for collectible trading cards. In 1998, the Newport Beach-based grading firm then expanded its service to also include autograph authentication under its PSA/DNA label, specifically, as the company’s constantly improving website states, “in response to widespread counterfeiting, forgery and piracy of autographed collectibles.” Two decades later and both PSA and PSA/DNA are the undisputed leaders in their respective fields, growing their expertise to include the “slabbing” and authentication of wax packs, tickets, baseballs, gloves, bats, photos, rings, awards, and even trophies.
Simultaneously working his way through the early years of sports card grading and authentication was a young optometry student by the name of Stephen Hlis. Veterans of the hobby might better remember Stephen by his nickname, DrPSA. After buying his first Michael Jordan rookie card with $300 of his student loan money in the early 90s, Hlis was hooked. Determined to find the finest Michael Jordan cards in existence, he set out across the country, attending card shows big and small, where he would characteristically employ his optometry equipment to measure the centering, first and foremost, on any decent Jordan encountered — on both sides — and then the corners, edges, surfaces… A pioneer in his own right, his quest was perfection.
By the early 2000s, Hlis had amassed a legendary Michael Jordan collection. His goal had been to own the finest possible examples of each of Mike’s regular 1980s Fleer cards, all 12 of them. Condition was everything, and so when he learned about PSA and the concept of third-party card grading, he started submitting the special cards he himself identified as high-grade. Constantly seeking to upgrade each and every one of those 12 regularly issued Fleer Jordan cards from 1986 through 1989, Hlis (and the rest of the card world) soon learned that some of those iconic Jordans would prove to be far more difficult to find in perfect condition than others. On the rare occasions that he did find a higher-grade copy than he already owned, however, he’d proudly place it into what he soon dubbed his “Fleer Showcase,” the creme de la creme of his graded card collection, and he’d then sell or trade the inferior copies to finance his Jordan insert efforts or to feed his growing Carl Yastrzemski appetite.
When someone offered $115,000 for the collection in 1999, DrPSA reluctantly decided it was time to tell his wife what he’d been doing with his optometry equipment after hours. Although she was upset to have been uninformed, MrsPSA encouraged the young doctor, who had just opened his own optometry practice, to keep his cards. Happy she did, Hlis made a website for the collection, and he continued to add to it, paying a record $40,000 for the first 1987 Fleer Sticker to surface in PSA 10 Gem Mint condition in early 2000. Like we said at the start, if you think that sports cards are hot now, then you’re forgetting the years preceding the dotcom and sports card crashes of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Case in point, when Hlis ultimately decided to sell his collection the following year, it fetched an astounding sum of $475,000, on eBay of all places, a record for basketball cards. Payment for the entire collection was split in two parts, with $250,000 paid up front for the inserts and non-traditional cards, and the $225,000 balance to be paid for the Fleer Showcase. The sale can still be verified to this day with surviving bank records, showing the first $250,000 payment, but when the dotcom bubble soon burst, precipitating an even steeper crash in the sports card market, DrPSA was stuck with his Showcase, albeit with a quarter million dollars in toe.
Finally making its way back to market for the first time in nearly 15 years is the DrPSA Michael Jordan Fleer Showcase Collection, which consists of all regularly issued 1980s Michael Jordan Fleer cards, all graded PSA 10 Gem Mint, except for the regular ’88 and ’89 cards which are in BGS holders. Because he was truly a freak — and we say that with all due respect and admiration — the DrPSA Fleer Showcase collection also contains another extremely high-grade 1986 Fleer #57 Michael Jordan rookie card. To be complete, Hlis insisted that his collection also contain the finest BGS-graded 1986 Fleer #57 Michael Jordan rookie card that he could locate through his obsessive searching for the ever-more-perfect Jordan, which at the time meant this incredibly high-grade BGS 9.5 Gem Mint specimen pictured here, boasting Pristine 10 subgrades for both its perfect centering and perfect corners. On top of this, the DrPSA Michael Jordan Fleer Showcase Collection contains yet a third high-grade 1986 Fleer #57 rookie card, chosen to represent the very upper limit of the Mint 9 grade from PSA, that is, a card that looks Gem Mint on first inspection but later reveals a few microscopic imperfections inconsistent with the top grade.
All 15 cards are currently available in Buy-It-Now listings with the option to make offers in the Small Traditions web store and on eBay, where we are previewing them for the first two weeks of August, in accordance with our consignor’s wishes. Any cards that have not sold by August 19th will then be listed with no reserve in our Third Annual Exclusive 100-Lot Summer Premium Auction, featuring The Supermen of The Hobby: Superman, Mickey Mantle, Michael Jordan, Derek Jeter and Mike Trout. In addition to some incredible items featuring these other hobby icons, the complete DrPSA Michael Jordan Fleer Showcase will be available in one lot, and the individual cards will also be listed in individual lots, with the cards selling via whichever format delivers the highest aggregate price for our consignor.
Additional reading: Please click here to read an article about Dr. Hlis and his Michael Jordan collection, published by the San Francisco Chronicle.
Visit the auction August 18th to the 29th: http://smalltraditions.com/catalog.aspx
Limited Consignments Considered at 0% by Aug 17th
To make private offers, or to consign additional Jordan, Mantle, Jeter, Trout, or Superman items, please write firstname.lastname@example.org or call 303.832.1975.