By Chris Olds
If you watched The Late Show with David Letterman on Monday night — or if you’ve been over to SI.com Tuesday morning, you know all about the model who appears on the cover of this year’s Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue, Bar Refaeli.
While she’ll be busy doing signings and personal appearances to promote the magazine staple that has printed annually since 1964, our crack staff decided rather than examine the value of the issues to examine a different niche — certified autograph cards of the cover models.
(Besides, editor Chris Olds already wrote a column on the collectible aspects of the swimsuit issue way back in 2003. The findings? Most magazine dealers say a few issues sell particularly well, but the demand is nothing like the first appearances of prominent athletes like Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods — and we won’t mention that it’s one of SI‘s most overproduced issues of the year. A list of going rates back then appears right here — values likely haven’t changed much.)
For the models, the cover is an iconic achievement that may lead to movie roles and added stardom, but that doesn’t guarantee an appearance on cardboard. In fact, only nine cover models have appeared on trading cards which they then signed for inclusion in packs (certified autographs).
In fact, only two of those nine have cards that weren’t produced for a Sports Illustrated trading card set, meaning they made it enough mainstream to appear in something beyond the four Swimsuit Issue sets made by Stellar Collectibles from 2003 to 2006.
Who are the two?
Christie Brinkley, who appeared on the cover in 1979, 1980 and 1981, and Rebecca Romijn, who was on the cover in 1999 and 2006.
Brinkley appeared on 19 different autographed cards produced by Topps for inclusion in its 2005-06 basketball products. (She joined other celebrities such as Jay-Z, Jenny McCarthy and Shannon Elizabeth in a line of celebrity Rookie Cards.) Most of the Brinkley cards sell for somewhere between $80 and $275 for the autographed card with a piece of her worn clothing embededed into it (seen above).
Romijn appeared on a Topps autograph card included in the set released for the first X-Men movie in 2000. She played Mystique, a role that meant she wore plenty of latex appliances, yellow contact lenses, blue body paint and not much else. (The fanboys surely remember her role well.) These cards sell for somewhere between $75-100.
The remaining models with unquestionably authentic autographed trading cards on the market are below. But first a gallery of the cards produced from 2003 to 2006. Click for a closer look.
Rachel Hunter (covers in 1994, 2006) — Her 2003 autograph has an asking price somewhere between $50 and $60 on eBay. (Beckett Media does not yet track values on non-sports cards such as these. Any volunteers for the job?)
Daniela Pestova (1995, 2000, 2006) — Her two cards from 2003 and 2006 typically go for somewhere between $30-40.
Elsa Benitez (2001, 2006) — The ex-wife of former NBA player Rony Seikaly has a card in the 2006 set and both eBay dealers attempting to sell the card want $100.
Yamila Diaz (2002, 2006) — Her 2005 and 2006 cards have asking prices ranging from $70-90 on eBay.
Petra Nemcova (2003) — The lone dealer with one of her 2003 autographed cards on eBay wants $150.
Veronica Varekova (2004, 2006) — Her 2006 card ranges in price from $34-50.
Carolyn Murphy (2005, 2006) — Her 2004 card has asking prices ranging from $35-80.
We’re not going to bother examining checklists to see what other models pictured inside past issues have certified autographed cards (there are likely a few), but one has to wonder whether the trading card companies who are focusing on non-sports autographs more than ever have considered some of the big names who have appeared on the cover.
According to our research, the following noteworthy cover models — some who have gone on to larger roles in entertainment — have never signed autographs for trading card companies: Elle MacPherson, Kathy Ireland, Cheryl Tiegs, Paulina Porizkova and Tyra Banks.
What’s that sound? Donruss’ Scott Prusha dialing Tyra to broker an autograph deal … (Just kidding. We love ya, man.)
Want to add another aspect of a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue certified autograph collection?
Try athletes who have appeared in the magazine. Tennis stars Serena Williams, Venus Williams, IRL driver Danica Patrick (above), softball star Jennie Finch, tennis star Anna Kournikova, Olympic swimmer Amanda Beard and WNBA star Lauren Jackson all have appeared in the magazine — and all have signed cards available.
Only tennis star Maria Sharapova, above, appeared in one of the Sports Illustrated sets with some dealers sometimes asking more than $1,000 for one of the cards. The rest of them can be found in their respective sports’ sets — some pricier than others.
And then there are all the athletes who have appeared in the issues with their wives. Ah, the work never ends …
Chris Olds has collected sports cards and memorabilia since 1987. Before coming to Beckett Media, he wrote about the hobby for the Orlando Sentinel on his blog, SportsStuff, and for the San Antonio Express-News and The Tuscaloosa (Ala.) News. Do you have a comment, question or idea? Send e-mail to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.