How a celebrity's death moves the collectibles market

When O.J. Simpson died Thursday, prices for his memorabilia climbed on eBay

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An O.J. Simpson rookie card solid for a record price Thursday on eBay, shortly after his death.

The news spread quickly Thursday morning.

O.J. Simpson had died of cancer at age 76.

Once the shock wore off, I did what many collectors do: I went straight to eBay and saw what happens time and time again.

Opportunists will list items as quickly as they can. Buyers will look for the "Buy It Now" button of sellers who had not adjusted their prices since the news broke. And no matter what might make for a sound investment — very little of the O.J. market is rare — buyers bought.

A summary of what we saw Thursday:

A 1970 Topps O.J. rookie card, graded a PSA 7, sold for $2,289, the highest price for that card (with 822 graded examples) in its history.

The day before Simpson's death, that card could have been purchased for $250.

And the urgency to buy is confirmed by this stat: 20 of the 25 Simpson items with the highest prices over the last three months on eBay, were sold in the last 24 hours.

So why does this happen? Why, when we as collectors know, that the moment a celebrity dies often represents the peak of the value for their collectibles.

It’s because we make emotional decisions. When there is a death, especially if we want a signed item from a beloved celeb who has died, rationality goes out the window.

I like to compare it to when our favorite team wins a massive game. We irrationally spend on dumb T-shirts and souvenirs that are very much garbage. But we are irrational. We need it now and spending money gives us relief.

Even the sophisticated collector in me recently bit on a "Rocky" glove, signed by Carl Weathers and Dolph Lundgren. I hit the "Buy It Now" at $1,000 within minutes of hearing Weathers had died. I knew if I waited 48 hours, I likely could get that glove for $700, but what happens if I couldn’t? What happens if everyone bought them? Hint: That never happens.

Simpson, obviously, represents one of the most complicated legacies of all-time. For the first half of his list, he was a beloved Hall of Fame running back, broadcaster and actor. He will be remembered as a pariah, forever associated with the double murders from 1994. He’s universally hated, but he’s also so seared into our minds.

It’s one of the reasons why I bought multiple copies of the ticket to Game 5 of the 1994 NBA Finals and convinced PSA to put the "O.J. Chase" on the ticket.

If you go back to eBay’s history, Simpson memorabilia might have actually experienced one of the first major pops in sales. The site was founded in September 1995, and, in the summer of 1996, unsigned copies of Sports Illustrated with O.J. on the cover got a bump in value during his trial. It happened again when O.J. went to jail in 2008.

Is there any value in buying Simpson now? Absolutely not.

O.J. will never be more relevant than he was Thursday. His prices will never be higher. And yet, many collectors who bought Thursday are happy with their purchases, glad they landed a piece of a history.

Darren Rovell is the founder of and one of the country's leading reporters on the collectible market. He previously worked for ESPN, CNBC and The Action Network.