Two of the same exact objects. There is only one difference. One you can buy at Walmart for $2.97. The other sells for $632,369 at a 2018 auction. What is this object, you ask? A baseball. The only difference? A signature. Well, 11 signatures, to be exact, but we’ll get into that in a bit.
Autographs are some of the most sought-after pieces of memorabilia in the world. Sometimes they’ll cost you nothing, and other times millions. This is a list of the top ten highest-priced autographed objects ever sold, and you’ll be surprised who made the list and who didn’t.
Signatures like William Shakespeare’s don’t appear on the list because they’ve never “legally” been sold, even though the estimated value is $5 million. And John Hancock’s John Hancock didn’t even make the cut. A letter signed by him sold for $10,745, which isn’t even a fraction of the lowest-priced object on this list.
Here are the top ten most valuable signed objects ever sold.
10 Ulysses First Edition–$460,500
Irish writer James Joyce wrote Ulysses after World War I, and it was published in 1922. The acclaimed novel follows protagonist Leopold Bloom through an ordinary day in Dublin. Perhaps the book’s most famous anecdote 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 obscene for the public audience—there were a few scenes where masturbation and sexual fantasies were depicted.
Although this did not deter Joyce’s readers. Ulysses became so popular that fans were paying fifty bucks a pop for a copy in the 1920s (around $800 today). Out of the one-hundred first-edition copies, Joyce only signed two. One of these sold at auction for $460,500 in 2002. Looks like the public grew even more excessively fond of Joyce’s salacious depictions over the years.
9 Hall of Fame Baseball–$632,369
The first and only baseball on the list. A baseball with not one but eleven signatures of the 25 original members of the Baseball Hall of Fame. The list includes legends such as Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Cy Young, and Honus Wagner. The most expensive autographed baseball in the world almost doubled the previous record holder; a lowly Babe Ruth signed baseball that sold for $388,000 back in 2012.
The $632,369 ball sold in 2018 and was signed by the eleven Hall of Famers in 1939 at the first induction ceremony to celebrate the opening of the actual Hall of Fame building. Unfortunately, the other fourteen original members couldn’t make the ceremony because they weren’t 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 purchased 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 signed bat, ball, and jersey for the ball. The fan only had one counteroffer—to meet McGwire. McGwire turned him down. A decision that made Ozersky a multi-millionaire.
8 Founding Father’s 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 their names is pretty much interchangeable with the word “signature.” Although, none of these men have a more valuable autograph than this man who signed the Declaration.
Button Gwinnett is his name. Button was a representative of Congress from Georgia and a Founding Father of the United States of America. He has the most sought-after signature out of any of the founding fathers, mainly because his autograph is the rarest of them all.
Only 51 are known to be in existence. 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 later after sustaining a fatal injury. I guess he should have cut his losses after the election.
7 John Lennon’s 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 Wu-Tang Clan’s Once Upon a Time in Shoalin–only one copy was ever produced.
Was it Lennon’s most famous piece of work? No. Was it his greatest critically acclaimed album? Not even close. Did the copy belong to Mark David Chapman? Yes, it did. Mark David Chapman shot and murdered John Lennon on December 8, 1980, just hours after Lennon signed Chapman’s personal copy of Double Fantasy.
6 Babe Ruth’s Yankee Contract–$2,300,000
Babe Ruth—a name synonymous with America’s favorite pastime. A name when anyone hears it immediately thinks, “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 might think the Red Sox got back a haul of promising players, considering they just traded arguably the best baseball player of all time. Wrong.
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 that Babe Ruth signed sold for over 20 times what the Yankees paid for the Bambino. Before the trade, the Red Sox had won five out of the first 15 World Series ever played. The Yankees had zero. After the trade, the Yankees won 27 World Series Titles. The Red Sox wouldn’t win another one for the next 86 years. This is the Curse of the Great Bambino.
5 “Reach Out to Asia” Fender Stratocaster–$2,700,000
When the “Reach Out to Asia” Fender Stratocaster 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 one-of-a-kind 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 proceeds from the auction went to the aid of the tsunami victims from the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake.
4 Einstein’s “God Letter” Letter–$2,892,500
After a four-minute bidding war over the phone, a letter written and signed by Albert Einstein 68 years ago sold for almost $2.9 million in 2018. This beat a previous record for a letter written by Einstein that sold for $2.1 million in 2002. That letter warned President Roosevelt of the possibility “of the construction of extremely powerful bombs” that led to the creation of the Manhattan Project.
The God Letter, 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 he is proud to be a Jew in the letter but also declares that he was anything but enthralled with Judaism. The letter was written to Eric Gutkind, who wrote Choose Life: The Biblical Call to Revolt a year before Einstein wrote his letter. It’s safe to say Einstein had quite a lot on his mind.
3 1864 Lincoln Letter–$3,400,000
A handwritten letter that Sotheby’s auction house proclaimed to be “arguably 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 replying to a group of 195 children that petitioned that he free “all the little slave children 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 of the Constitution was officially ratified in 1865, eight months after his assassination, that slavery was formally abolished throughout the country.
2 Robert Kennedy’s Copy of the 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’s one of 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 went for a little over two million in 2012. The fact that John F. Kennedy’s brother owned this one definitely played a part in its record sale. Safe to say Bobby Kennedy’s investment wasn’t a bad one, although he never got to see the profits due to his assassination in 1968.
1 George Washington’s 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 spot for a Super Bowl commercial? A bidder at Christie’s New York salesroom spent just under ten million on George Washington’s personal copy of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights. Both of them were signed by Washington. When it was sold in 2012, it broke the record of any American book or document sold.
A new record was set just one year ago. There were a total of an estimated 500 printed copies of the original Constitution. Today, only 13 remain. One of these sold for $43.2 million in 2021, which broke the record for the most expensive document or book ever sold in auction. This was only a copy, of which copies were produced for delegates such as James Madison, Ben Franklin, and Alexander Hamilton. There wasn’t an original signature on it, which is why it doesn’t make the cut for this list. Still, $43.2 million is nothing to sneeze at.
Fun Fact: It was later known to the public that the successful bidder who purchased George Washginton’s Act of Congress was the non-profit Mount Vernon Ladies Association of the Union—the corporation that maintains the historic Mount Vernon estate in Virginia that was Washington’s home. You can imagine the absurd amount George Washington’s personally signed Constitution would sell for today if the Mount Vernon Ladies Association of the Union ever decided to sell.