Two of the exact same objects. There is only one difference. One that you can buy at Walmart for $2.97. The other sells for $632,369 at auction in 2018. What is this item, you ask? A baseball ball. The only difference? A sign. Well, 11 signatures to be exact, but more on that in a moment.
Autographs are some of the most sought after memorabilia in the world. Sometimes they will cost you nothing and other times millions. This is a list of the top ten highest priced autographed items ever sold, and you’ll be surprised who makes the list and who doesn’t.
Signatures like William Shakespeare’s are not listed because they have never been sold “legally,” despite an estimated value of $5 million. And John Hancock’s John Hancock didn’t even make the cut. A letter signed by him sold for $10,745, which is not even a fraction of the lowest priced item on this list.
Here are the ten most valuable signed items ever sold.
Related: 10 Most Expensive Items Sold That Don’t Actually Exist
10 Ulysses first edition: $460,500
Irish writer James Joyce wrote Ulises after World War I, and was published in 1922. The acclaimed novel follows protagonist Leopold Bloom through any given day in Dublin. Perhaps the most famous anecdote from the book was the fact that it was banned even before it was published. Joyce sent copies of some chapters to New York, where it was deemed too raunchy for public hearing; there were some scenes in which masturbation and sexual fantasies were acted out.
Although this did not deter Joyce’s readers. Ulises it became so popular that fans paid fifty dollars for a copy in the 1920s (about $800 today). Of the hundred copies of the first edition, Joyce only signed two. One of these sold at auction for $460,500 in 2002. It seems the public grew even more fond of Joyce’s salacious depictions over the years.
9 Baseball Hall of Fame–$632,369
The first and only baseball on the list. A baseball with not one but eleven signatures of the original 25 members of the Baseball Hall of Fame. The list includes legends like Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Cy Young, and Honus Wagner. The world’s most expensive autographed baseball nearly doubled the previous record holder; a humble Babe Ruth signed a baseball that sold for $388,000 in 2012.
The $632,369 ball was sold in 2018 and signed by all eleven Hall of Famers in 1939 at the first induction ceremony to celebrate the opening of the actual Hall of Fame building. Unfortunately, the original fourteen other members were unable to attend the ceremony as they were not alive.
Fun fact: The most expensive baseball ever sold was Mark McGwire’s 70th home run ball, which broke the single-season record in 1998. Shortly after McGwire broke the record, comic book artist Todd Macfarlene bought the ball. for $3 million. The only reason it’s not on our list is that it’s not signed by McGwire.
Second fun fact: The St. Louis Cardinals originally offered the fan who caught the ball, Phil Ozersky, a bat, a ball, and a signed jersey for the ball. The fan had only one counter offer: meet McGwire. McGwire turned it down. A decision that made Ozersky a billionaire.
8 Founding Father Signature: $722,500
Who has the most valuable signature on the Declaration of Independence? Ben Franklin? Thomas Jefferson? John Hancock? Fifty-six signatures. Some were presidents. Others have monuments and museums dedicated to them. One of his names is practically interchangeable with the word “signature”. Although, none of these men have a more valuable autograph than this man who signed the Declaration.
Gwinnett Button is his name. Button was a representative in Congress from Georgia and a founding father of the United States of America. He has the most sought after signature of any of the founding fathers, mainly because his autograph is the rarest of all.
Only 51 are known to exist. In 2010, a Button Gwinnett signature sold for $722,500. After losing a 1777 election, he challenged the winner to a duel. Button died three days after suffering a fatal injury. I guess he should have cut his losses after the election.
7 John Lennon Double Fantasy: $850,000
double fantasy, an album by Beatles legend John Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono, was released on November 17, 1980. Thirty years later, a copy signed by Lennon sold for $850,000. At the time, this was the highest amount ever paid for a single record. It would later be broken by the Wu-Tang Clan. once upon a time in shoalin–only one copy was produced.
Was it Lennon’s most famous work? No. Was his biggest album critically acclaimed? Not even close. Did the copy belong to Mark David Chapman? If he did. Mark David Chapman shot and killed John Lennon on December 8, 1980, just hours after Lennon signed Chapman’s personal copy of double fantasy.
6 Babe Ruth Yankee Contract–$2,300,000
Babe Ruth: A name synonymous with America’s favorite pastime. When someone hears it, a name immediately thinks: “the greatest baseball player of all time.” Babe Ruth, the Babe, the Sultan of Swat, the Great Bambino, was traded to the New York Yankees from the Boston Red Sox 102 years ago. You’d think the Red Sox brought back a lot of promising players, considering they just traded arguably the greatest player in baseball of all time. Mistaken.
The Red Sox traded The Babe for $100,000 so Harry Frazee, owner of the Red Sox, could help finance his Broadway musical. no, no nanette. Ninety-eight years later, the contract Babe Ruth signed sold for more than 20 times what the Yankees paid for the Bambino. Before the trade, the Red Sox had won five of the first 15 World Series played. The Yankees had zero. After the trade, the Yankees won 27 World Series titles. The Red Sox would not win another for the next 86 years. This is the Curse of the Gran Bambino.
5 Fender Stratocaster “Comes to Asia”: $2,700,000
When the Fender Stratocaster “Reach Out to Asia” sold for $2.7 million at a charity event in 2006, it was the most expensive guitar in the world. Kurt Cobain’s Martin 1959 D-18E sold for $6 million and David Gilmour’s black Fender Stratocaster sold for $3.9 million in 2019.
This unique guitar was signed by 19 rock superstars, including Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, and Mick Jagger. Bryan Adams had the original idea for the guitar, and the auction proceeds went to help victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake tsunami.
4 Einstein’s “God Letter” Letter–$2,892,500
After a four-minute telephone bidding war, a letter written and signed by Albert Einstein 68 years ago sold for nearly $2.9 million in 2018. This surpassed the previous record for a letter written by Einstein selling for $2.1 million in 2002. Letter warned President Roosevelt of the possibility of “building extremely powerful bombs” that led to the creation of the Manhattan Project.
The Letter from God, written a year before Einstein’s death, illustrates his belief that there is no god who plays a role in normal everyday life. The mastermind behind the theory of relativity says that he is proud to be a Jew in the letter, but also states that he was anything but captivated by Judaism. The letter was written to Eric Gutkind, who wrote Choose Life: The Biblical Call to Rebellion a year before Einstein wrote his letter. It’s safe to say that Einstein had a lot on his mind.
3 1864 Lincoln Letter: $3,400,000
A handwritten letter that Sotheby’s auction house hailed as “possibly Lincoln’s most personal and powerful statement on God, slavery, and emancipation” sold for $3.4 million during a 2008 auction. The 16th president of The United States wrote this letter in response to a group of 195 children calling on it to free “every little slave child in this country” from slavery.
Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation (the next item on this list) a year before this letter was written. Still, it wasn’t until the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was officially ratified in 1865, eight months after his assassination, that slavery was formally abolished throughout the country.
2 Copy of Robert Kennedy’s Emancipation Proclamation: $3,778,500
In 1964, 101 years after Abraham Lincoln signed the document, Robert Kennedy bought a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation for $9,500. It is one of the forty-eight original signed copies. About half of these survive today. Fourteen are in public institutions and the rest are privately owned. When it went on sale in 2010, experts estimated it would sell for around $1.5 million. It sold for $3,778,500.
The second highest sale of an original copy of the Emancipation Proclamation was for just over two million in 2012. The fact that John F. Kennedy’s brother owned it definitely played a role in its record sale. It’s safe to say that Bobby Kennedy’s investment wasn’t bad, although he never saw any profits due to his assassination in 1968.
1 George Washington Act of Congress–$9,800,000
If you had $10,000,000, what would you buy? A 30,000 square foot vacation home on a private island? A luxury superyacht? A 100 second ad for a Super Bowl commercial? A bidder in the sales room of Christie’s in New York spent just under ten million on George Washington’s personal copy of the United States Constitution and Bill of Rights. Both were signed by Washington. When it was sold in 2012, it broke the record for any American book or document sold.
Just a year ago a new record was set. There was an estimated total of 500 printed copies of the original Constitution. Only 13 remain today. One of these sold for $43.2 million in 2021, breaking the record for the most expensive document or book ever sold at auction. This was just one copy, of which copies were produced for such delegates as James Madison, Ben Franklin, and Alexander Hamilton. There was no original signature on it, so it doesn’t make it on this list. Still, $43.2 million is nothing to sneeze at.
Fun fact: The public later learned that the winner of the bid that bought George Washginton’s Act of Congress was the Union’s Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, a non-profit corporation that maintains the historic Mount Vernon property in Virginia, which was the home of Washington. You can imagine the absurd amount George Washington’s personally signed Constitution would sell for today if the Mount Vernon Union Ladies’ Association ever decided to sell.
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