How is scarcity artificially created? Just look to the world of sports collectibles.
The trading-card industry was undone by overprinting during the 1990s baseball-card boom. In response, it has and continues to produce countless sets of cards ostensibly limited to small print runs. But taking a wider view, even a card serial-numbered to less than 25 copies doesn't carry much value, when there are hundreds of these same types of cards flooding the market.
What about game-worn memorabilia, you ask? On the surface, every match-used piece of equipment is the only one in existence. But it's important to remember that companies contracted to work with sports teams and leagues often have players wearing and using multiple pieces of equipment per season—and, in many instances, within the same game—in order to generate additional inventory.
I could go on, to the dismay of collectors everywhere, including myself. So when something that's actually scarce surfaces, I'm interested. And for me, a collector that specializes in tennis, Bobby Riggs' tennis racquet from the 1973 Battle of the Sexes certainly qualifies. It's a one-of-a-kind piece of history from a once-in-a-lifetime event.
Available for auction starting Jan. 22 on Goldin Auctions' website (click here for a preview), the then-55-year-old's Head frame is expected to fetch $50,000 to $75,000. A temperamental talent, Riggs would do anything for exposure, with his match against Billie Jean King the apex of a long, successful and turbulent career. With a then-record crowd of 30,472 watching at the Houston Astrodome, and a worldwide audience of 90 million watching on television, Riggs walked onto the court with "a bright yellow “Sugar Daddy” robe as he entered the Astrodome arena in a rickshaw pulled by scantily clad models." Considering Riggs' over-the-top character, the large crack on the top of his racquet is fitting—adding, rather than detracting, from the piece.
The vintage racquet is securely encased in a shadowbox display, alongside a photo of Riggs and King in action—and another compelling artifact: a handwritten note. In it, Riggs writes to Doug Dean, a longtime friend who worked with the hustler at the Dunes Hotel in Las Vegas:
“Doug I’m glad you have taken such good care of my tennis racket the one that I used and lost before 90 Million People around the world in 1973 – Bobby Riggs”
The inscription doesn't just add to the impressiveness of the display—it helped authenticate it. In Goldin Auction's research, Dean was contacted, and he confirmed that he was personally handed the racquet by Riggs.
There is no denying the scarcity of this racquet, or the enduring appeal of the Battle of the Sexes. The iconic match continues to resonate with both tennis fans and those outside the sporting world because of the event's gigantic social impact. A movie about the match was released to widespread acclaim in 2017, reinforcing that, 45 years later, Riggs and King are still in the public eye.
I'm willing to bet that Riggs, who died in 1995, would be proud of that fact. And, probably, just as proud of the sum of money his racquet will generate at auction.
For more information on this auction, go to https://goldinauctions.com/Historic_Bobby_Riggs_Match_Used_Racket_From_1973__-LOT39462.aspx