A LEGENDARY GOLD COIN, A FANTASY ART MASTERPIECE AND THE GAME-WORN JERSEY OF A BASEBALL GREAT HELP LEAD TO THIRD CONSECUTIVE RECORD-SETTING YEAR
By Robert Wilonsky
Among the many record-setting results achieved by Heritage Auctions in 2023, none looms larger than the one set by the auction house itself.
Last year, Heritage reached $1.76 billion in total sales, the highest ever for the 47-year-old company following record-setting years in 2021 and 2022. Heritage experienced an extraordinary 21 percent growth over 2022.
Heritage also set dozens of significant auction records spanning many of its more than four dozen categories – from U.S. coins to comic art, Batman to Mickey Mantle, the founding of the United States to the end of the Death Star. Numerous 2023 auctions brimmed with headline-grabbers, including Archie and Edith Bunker’s landmark living room and the Boston bar where everybody knows your name. To all of that, we say: Cheers.
“The past year has yet again proven the enduring enthusiasm of collectors and the ever-expanding universe of fascinating objects that fire the passion of our collector-clients,” says CEO and co-founder Steve Ivy. “We are so grateful to those who became part of the Heritage family in 2023 and look forward to a 2024 full of amazing discoveries, thrilling auctions and the passionate pursuit of amazing objects.”
Heritage’s remarkable 2023 was led by U.S. and World & Ancient Coins, which surpassed a combined $368.6 million in sales. Private sales increased significantly over 2022, thanks to high gold prices and a strong coin market. Collector-clients also seized upon some legendary offerings, among them the 1870-S $3 gold coin from the historic Harry W. Bass Jr. Core Collection that sold for a record $5.52 million to begin 2023. Four months later, one of just two known proofs of an 1829 Capped Head Left Half Eagle, also from the Bass Collection, realized a record-setting $2.88 million.
The Bass Collection proved especially notable: Offered in four installments, with the final auction last August, this historic assemblage realized $83.66 million (more than $20 million over its pre-auction estimate), with all proceeds benefiting dozens of Dallas-based nonprofits supported by the Harry W. Bass Jr. Foundation. Heritage is proud to be associated with this storied collection and the impact its sale will have on its hometown for years to come.
The Comics and Comic Art category also recorded numerous records during its wildly successful 2023, capped by a Frank Frazetta work that toppled a … Frank Frazetta work. In June, his 1976 painting Dark Kingdom sold for $6 million to set a new high watermark for original comic book or fantasy art, a record held since 2019 by Frazetta’s 1969 painting Egyptian Queen, which sold at Heritage for $5.4 million. The auction house set numerous records for original art in 2023, ranging from Calvin & Hobbes to Iron Man. And 84 years to the day since it first hit newsstands, Detective Comics No. 27, the comic book that introduced Batman, realized a record-tying $1.74 million.
The Sports category recorded another championship season in 2023, led by the man holding the record for the world’s most valuable sports collectible: Mickey Mantle. One year after Heritage sold a Mint+ 9.5 1952 Topps Mantle for $12.6 million, Heritage sold a Mint 9 example for $4.5 million, the second most a sports card sold for at auction in 2023 and the fifth-highest price ever paid at auction for a sports card.
In that same August auction, Mantle’s New York Yankees home jersey worn throughout the 1958 season sold for $4.68 million to become – by far – the most valuable Mantle jersey ever sold at auction. He wasn’t the lone sports legend to see a new record set for the jersey off his back: In November, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s road Milwaukee Bucks jersey worn during his first two historic seasons in the NBA realized $675,000 to become the world’s most valuable piece of Abdul-Jabbar memorabilia ever sold at auction.
It was a star-studded 2023 at Heritage, as evidenced by the Entertainment category’s record-smashing $39 million year that included James Comisar’s collection of more than 1,000 props, costumes and sets from historic, influential and popular TV shows and more than 550 iconic sci-fi models, props, costumes and art from the fabled collection of Oscar- and Emmy-nominated miniature man Greg Jein. Both collections received worldwide attention, as each featured some of the most recognizable, beloved and coveted items spanning entertainment history.
Jein’s auction produced the most valuable screen-used Star Wars prop ever sold at auction: a screen-matched X-wing starfighter that led the Rebel Alliance’s assault on the Death Star in 1977’s Star Wars, which sold for $3.135 million. During that same event, one of the few surviving Imperial Stormtrooper costumes from George Lucas’ first space opera realized $645,000.
The bar from Cheers, one of the centerpieces from Comisar’s collection, realized $675,000 after an exhilarating and protracted bidding war. Comisar’s magnificent costume collection also included Adam West’s Batman and Burt Ward’s Robin crime-fighting ensembles from the 1960s TV series, which found a new Batcave to call home when the Dynamic Duo realized $615,000. Johnny Carson’s final Tonight Show set sold for $275,000, while Archie and Edith Bunker’s chairs made for and used during the ninth season of Norman Lear’s All in the Family and all of Archie Bunker’s Place found a new home for $250,000.
M*A*S*H star Alan Alda came to Heritage in 2023 to find a new home for the combat boots and dog tags he wore as Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce during all 251 episodes of the landmark TV series. They realized $125,000, with all proceeds from the sale benefiting the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science at Stony Brook University.
Heritage has long prided itself as the leading Illustration and American Art auction house. In 2023, Heritage was again thrilled to set several records in the category, including ones for Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, George Tooker and Arthur Wesley Dow, among many others.
In October, Warhol’s 1985 screenprint Apple from his body of work titled Ads – this one reimagining an iconic ad for the then-young company Macintosh – sold for $250,000. And Haring’s Pop Shop II (1988) and Pop Shop IV (1989) – each consisting of four screenprints on wove paper – realized, respectively, $112,500 and $106,250. Together, too, they made history: In that same auction, Andy Mouse, a set of four screenprints starring a cheeky cartoon hybrid of Warhol and Mickey Mouse, delivered Haring’s vision of Warhol’s ascendance to legend status and realized $945,000.
In June, Tooker’s Sleepers I, from 1951, a tour de force of Magic Realism, brought in $615,000 – a record for the artist. Dow’s 1912 painting Cosmic Cities, Grand Canyon of Arizona likewise saw an auction record for the artist at $375,000.
Heritage celebrated masters in all art forms throughout 2023: The Animation category celebrated 100 years of Disney with two sold-out auctions that realized $8.1 million, a new heigh-ho for Animation Art. The 2011 sculpture Cavallo con Sella, which showed off Colombian artist Fernando Botero’s playful eye for a horse’s healthy proportions, realized $765,000 in November. And Australian painter Brett Whiteley’s 1963 piece Nude Beside the Basin made international headlines in May when it realized $705,000.
Since its founding in 1976, Heritage has become known as the premier destination for history – and a place where history is made. That was never more evident than in July, when, 247 years after its creation – almost to the day! – the first broadside edition of the Declaration of Independence printed in Massachusetts sold for $2,895,000. At year’s end, a signed Abraham Lincoln carte de visite realized $181,250 to set an auction record for an autographed portrait of the president.
Closer to home, Charles William Pressler and A.B. Langermann’s 1879 Map of the State of Texas, which is among the most significant maps of Texas ever printed and one of the rarest, sold in December for $705,000. That is the highest amount a Texas map has ever realized at auction. As we say in Texas, you can’t beat that with a stick.
ROBERT WILONSKY is a staff writer at Intelligent Collector.