Mykalai Kontilai, who is starting an auction business called Collectors Café, said he has unearthed two original contracts that Jackie Robinson signed (Jack R. Robinson), one with the Montreal Royals in 1945; the other in 1947 with the Brooklyn Dodgers. And — get ready to swallow hard — appraiser Seth Kaller, who has appraised the most important documents connected to American history, assessed the value of these contracts at $36 million figure.
Now framed, the four-page contract for $5,000 is signed by Robinson, Branch Rickey and Ford Frick.
Kaller’s reputation is built on his handling of such acquisitions as Ben Franklin’s signed copy of the U.S. Constitution; George Washington’s and Thomas Jefferson’s letters on the war, religion, slavery and government; Abraham Lincoln’s “House Divided” speech manuscript; and Robert E. Lee’s signed farewell order to his troops. His credentials are impeccable in the eyes of private collectors, museum, library, university and foundation clients.
Kontilai reportedly has visited Rachel Robinson, the Hall of Famer’s 93-year-old widow, who has not lent her name to authenticate the item, has said she is supportive of the idea that Kontilai will donate 10 percent of any sale of the contracts to the Jackie Robinson Foundation.
But $36 million?
“Their effect on American history, and even the world, transcends the bounds of sports,” Kaller wrote in his appraisal. “Jackie Robinson’s contracts are documents of freedom in the same vein as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Emancipation Proclamation.”
Josh Evans of Leland’s, a member of the Appraisers Association of America since the early 1990s, has done numerous appraisals for Rachel Robinson and the Jackie Robinson estate. He said, “There is no justification for this number and this comes across as a method to find some unsuspecting fool with more money than brains to take advantage of. Having sold the most expensive pieces of sports memorabilia (Babe Ruth 1930 Yankees jersey for $4.5 million) I cant see why a Robinson contract can be worth so many multiples of that. Although it is undoubtedly a great piece and something anyone would love to own, regardless this is still grossly irresponsible. It is simply a ludicrous figure with no foreseeable rationale behind it.”
Kevin Keating, dealer/authenticator from Alexandria, Va., reminds us that the marketplace determines the value of an idea. “Appraisals are best guess at what that price might realize” based on comparables,” he said. “In this case, there is absolutely nothing from which to make a valid comparison. The two Robinson contracts are in their own category and transcend the sport they represent. As such, they belong in an institution and my hope is that they will make their way to the Smithsonian.”
To that end, Keating believes someone out there might pay at leasta $25 million or some institution, through which an “angel committee” might underwrite such a purchase.
A guy with an analytical mind, Keating leaves readers with much to ponder: “Where are the missing contracts? Do they exist or were they destroyed or simply lost forever? Might the publicity for the two (Jackie Robinson contracts) lead to the discovery/recovery of the others? And if so, what might that do to the individual values?”
A respected authenticator and dealer told Sweet Spot anonymously, “They are cool pieces, but they are insane at that number. I just hate guys like this guy who owns the contract. They own it so, of course, it has to be worth millions. Hobbyists they are not, they only see dollar signs.”
The $36 million would be the most ever paid for an sports memorabilia item. James Naismith’s handwritten Rules of Basket Ball sold for $4.3 million several years ago.
The path of ownership is general, vague and unclear. Kontilai told ESPN, “We do know they were purchased by a historian and document collection many, many decades ago, and he locked them up in a safety deposit box for anywhere between 50 to 70 years, and from there they resurfaced after his death in 2009.”
The estate sold them in 2011 to a New York collector and Kontilai bought them two years later. Kontilai told ESPN that neither of the previous owners wanted to be publicly identified and declined to share any information about them. If Kontilai can find a buyer who will pay $36M, take the money, deposit it and run as fast as you can to Costa Rica.
He added that he plans to tour the contract so the public can absorb the power of this document, which served to break the color barrier in major league baseball. The tour began recently at the Collector’s Café auction venue on Times Square. They’re moving Friday, April 22, to the New York Historical Society. The itinerary includes stops at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Atlanta, St. Louis, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami and Washington, D.C.
Authenticator John Reznikoff said he authenticated the Robinson contract using a video spectral comparative, which is supposed to detect any hidden alterations to a document. The item “screamed of authenticity in every single way,” Reznikoff said.
The authentication of examining the paper and ink using his magnification device took “a couple of hours.” He said he’s 110 percent sure they’re the real deal.