On June 15, 1958, 17-year-old Edson Arantes do Nascimento made his debut as a member of the Brazilian national football team. At the time, it was just another match the final contest of the 1958 FIFA World Cup group stage. In time, history would record the moment as a milestone, a cataclysmic shift in the sport. Just two weeks later, the young forward led Brazil to its first World Cup title with a two-goal performance against host country Sweden in the Finals. But Gustav VI Adolf, the king of Sweden who visited the pitch to shake the young man's hand before the match, already knew what the world was about to discover: The kid known as Pelé was well on his way to becoming soccer's greatest star.
Sixty-five years later, The Pelé Collection, a centerpiece making its debut in Heritage
's May 11-13 Spring Sports Catalog Auction, is a fitting tribute to the legend. And it should rank among The Beautiful Game's most coveted collections among devotees.
"This is an extraordinary representation of Pelé's remarkable career, featuring some of his rarest soccer trading cards and memorabilia from his personal collection," says Chris Ivy, Heritage Director of Sports Auctions. "Pelé spent his entire career amazing, amassing fans worldwide for the sport he loved. This is only the first offering from this one-of-a-kind collection. Additional highlights will also be featured in upcoming auctions, where they will surely find their way into the collections of those who have not yet dipped their toes into this still-burgeoning market."
Indeed, bursting with scarce cards from throughout Pelé's career, not to mention memorabilia that finds Pelé's signature alongside those of other legends from throughout the sporting life, the origin is what sets this offering apart. Every piece derives from Pelé's personal collection. And each item was autographed by the international icon during a signing session just weeks before his death in December. Despite soccer's place as the world's most popular game, card issues for the sport are vastly underrepresented in the collectible market, which was especially true during Pelé's ascension. That has created a massive gap between supply and demand for Pelé cards, especially for the rookie and early career entries collectors most covet. But this collection contains nearly every cardboard entry in his career, each one owned and signed by the legend himself, among them: the ultra-desirable 1958 Aquarela Ltda entry with the iconic portrait of the star; the rare 1958-59 Tupinamba Ltda Quigol product featuring the young King's million-dollar smile; and the 1970 Panini Mexico 70, his first Panini World Cup issued cardboard.
Despite his age and ailments, Pelé's pen performed as well here as he did on the pitch, punctuating each offering with precise autographs that garnered grades of 9s and 10s from the experts at PSA/DNA who witnessed the entire signing. The auction features more than 100 exemplary card examples, with several only known signed entries and nearly all at the top of PSA's population report for autographed cards.
Pelé also graced the cover of soccer sticker albums, popular South American collectibles in the 1950s and '60s. His autograph adorns his likeness on the front of a 1958 Quigol Album and a card album from the 1958 "Brazil Campeao Mundial de Futebol" issue celebrating Brazil's first victory in the World's Greatest Soccer Tournament.
Here, too, are many remarkable memorabilia offerings that cater to the Pelé fan who prefers the other side of the collectible industry. Included are autographed photos of the legend in action on the pitch, celebrating his extraordinary achievements and even one of his 1968 meeting with Queen Elizabeth. Signed programs and pennants also populate the collection from Pelé's globetrotting endeavors to elevate the sport and awe its fans.
Some of the most intriguing items in the collection tie Pelé to the sporting icons who would come after him, particularly those that derived from his native Brazil as well. Chief among those are a Brazilian National Team jersey signed by Pelé and Ronaldo and a Barcelona FC jersey where Pelé's signature joins that of phenom Neymar. Sure to entice fans of the beautiful game is this offering that combines two of the greatest names in the sport's history: this gorgeous Maradona Opus book produced in 2005 to celebrate the career of Diego Maradona. The Argentine legend signed the limited edition that held a place of honor in Pelé's personal collection. He added his autograph alongside Maradona's on the cover page to complete the only known edition signed by both legends of the sport. When Pelé signed with the North American Soccer League's New York Cosmos in 1975, it changed the course of soccer in America forever. His presence in this country transformed the sport from an also-ran among American fans to one every kid in the country played at some point. So, of course, The Pelé Collection includes items that align himself with other American athletic icons, From his autograph alongside Muhammad Ali's in The Greatest's autobiography to a football signed by both Pelé and another New York legend, Joe Namath, to a boxing glove signed by Pelé and another young champion, Mike Tyson.
This is a one-of-a-kind opportunity for the seasoned soccer collector those looking to invest in one of the fastest-growing areas of the industry or those who appreciate the life and career of one of the most influential athletes ever known. And each item includes a video from the signing, so every winning bidder can witness the moment Pelé puts his name on an item from his collection as it moves to a place of honor in theirs. In addition, a one-of-one NFT will be offered with each item in the collection, combining the digital era with the vintage. A kick, to be sure.