There is a lucrative global market in memorabilia and sport is king.
In 2004, the baseball bat Babe Ruth used to hit the first ever home run at Yankees Stadium sold for an eye-watering $1.3 million. In 2012, a pair of Muhammad Ali’s boxing gloves was bought by casino owner, Lorenzo Fertitta, for $1.1 million. In 2002, the jersey worn by Pele during the 1970 World Cup final sold for $220,850.
According to Craig Trevis and his brother Wayne, the owners of Sandton Stamps & Coins, a memorabilia shop in Johannesburg, to fetch a high price an item must be scarce and in good condition.
Welman Son, the owner of the Fresh Hook Fish and Chips shop in Johannesburg, is curious about a black and white photo he has owned since he was a schoolboy. It is an autographed picture of the Manchester United team that won the league in 1965. It has the signatures of the late and legendary manager Matt Busby, Bobby Charlton, George Best and Denis Law; some of the biggest names in football.
“I went to a Chinese school called Kuo Ting High School, in Johannesburg. During the holidays, my English teacher was going back home to Manchester and I asked if she would be able to get me something from Old Trafford. When I went back to school, she gave me this photograph and the autograph page as well,” he says.
Son is proud of his photo but keeps it in a cupboard.
“I’ve been a football fan, and Manchester United fan, since I was a kid,” says Son.
“I get ragged by supporters of Liverpool, so I put it away to avoid that kind of conflict. But I do boast about it. This was the team that won the European Cup for the first time in 1968.”
Son is reluctant to sell it, regardless of its worth.
“I want to hand it down to my daughter. She’s 26 and has a bit of an interest in football. The day we win, she’ll rejoice with me, and on days we lose, she’ll console me.”
If Son were to sell his prized possession, he might not get as much as he may imagine.
“In 1964/65, because [Manchester United] won the championship, they had a signing session. All the players sat at a long table where they signed the photos and passed them down. There’s no rarity or scarcity in it,” says Craig Trevis.
After a quick search on Google, the Trevis brothers find the same autographed photo on sale on eBay for £250. The photo was also sold by someone else recently for as little as £100.
The key to selling sports memorabilia is finding fans with more passion than sense. Sandton Stamps & Coins sold a framed cricket bat signed by Indian hero, Sachin Tendulkar, for R28,000 (around $2,200). Although the item wasn’t rare – 500 were made – and Tendulkar is still alive, the fan was prepared to pay an unusually large sum for the signature of a player he idolized.
“He wasn’t leaving here without it,” says Craig Trevis.
The Trevis brothers wouldn’t pay much for the Manchester United photo. This matters little to Son and his daughter – for them it is priceless.