Honus Wagner is having his best season since 1917.
Yesterday, a baseball card featuring Wagner fetched a record $7.25 million, up from $6.6 million a year ago. It’s part of a surge in prices for many collectibles.
People have collected objects forever, but two new trends are fueling growth: the ability to buy a “share” in an object and the development of secondary markets.
You no longer need $7 million to buy an actual Honus Wagner card. You can invest as little as $160 in one of the 60 or so cards that exist and trade it online.
I recently got a crash course in collectibles from Bhargav Shivarthy, a former Oppenheimer broker, whose startup is creating price feeds to monitor and analyze the market.
In addition to prices for Michael Jordan sneakers and vintage Lamborghinis, Shivarthy’s company, Pricing Culture, has created indexes that are to collectibles what the Dow Jones Industrial Average is to stocks.
Shivarthy has a great story. He grew up in Bangalore and decided to go to college in New York because his favorite TV show Friends was set there.
Not knowing where to apply, he Googled the general phrase “New York University” and found a link to the very specific New York University.
He studied finance and spent one summer in Indiana working as a brake and tire technician before graduating and landing a job at Oppenheimer.
He went on to work at a series of fintech startups before Covid hit in 2020 and he found himself with some extra money and plenty of time on his hands.
Shivarthy started reading about NFTs and collectibles. Not having grown up in America, baseball cars and other memorabilia was both fascinating and baffling.
He decided to approach investing “as a finance person, with a diversified portfolio.” He spent $100 on as many different cars, cards and other memorabilia as he could.
He soon owned a diverse array of assets that he couldn’t explain or analyze.
There wasn’t an existing solution, so he built one. He hired a contractor on Fiverr to populate an Airtable screen with prices for all the assets in his portfolio and across all the platforms and apps that enable fractional ownership.
Immediately, he noticed plenty of insights and also the critical need to have standardized data across the various assets and platforms. He assumed other investors, application developers and researchers would have a similar need so he quit his job and started Pricing Culture.
The recent extension of financial markets is remarkable. Shivarthy said his parents never even bought a stock, while he now owns shares in an Apple 1 computer, a megalodon fossil and a 1776 copy of the Declaration of Independence.
In case you are wondering, the Declaration is holding up pretty well at $34.20 a share, up from its IPO price of $25 and with argubly lower volatility than the country.