I Can’t Decide

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“If I had a nickel for every time…”   How many times over our lives have we either used or heard that old cliché?   Personally, I get asked the same question whenever someone tours “ the Room” “What is your favourite piece in the collection?”. I usually smile and please understand, I never get tired of the inquisitive nature of my guests and it’s a very fair question, but as true collectors will agree, that’s almost impossible to answer.

Respected journalist John Iaboni was a guest one day and part way through the tour, pointed at the famous photo of Gordie Howe and the hockey stick tugging at a young Wayne Gretzky,

“Mike I set that picture up because I wrote the first major piece on Gretzky for a national publication when I worked at the Toronto Telegram starting as a teenager.”

John explained his job was to write a weekly piece on minor hockey in Toronto, where he was given full discretion to report as he pleased.   The story read, ‘Little No. 9 with Big 9 aspirations’ about a 10-year old phenom from Brantford who wanted to be the next Gordie Howe and if he couldn’t play hockey he wanted to be a Major League Baseball player like Vida Blue of the Oakland A’s.   That piece brought him to the attention of Hockey Night in Canada and the exposure lead to the meeting of Mr. Hockey and the famous photo, thus linking John and Wayne forever and Iaboni says,

“It’s something I’ll take to my tombstone.”

I have looked at that photo hundreds of times and as anyone else who knows the history recall it as the Star Weekly photo, but after John’s recollection of how it came to be, puts a whole new meaning to the piece.

A colleague from work, Craig Mills who after visiting “the Room” asked if I’d like a donation from him to the Team Canada display. After my immediate “of course” response, he handed me his 1996 Gold Medal from the World Junior Championships.

He explained that rather sitting in a drawer he’d much rather have it on display and couldn’t think of a better place than my collection.

A friend of my cousin’s talked about his purchase of the “Ace Bailey” photo at the Maple Leaf Gardens auction. He explained that the photo had an emotional attachment for him because it was the first picture he would see entering the Gardens with his dad as a young boy. His father had passed away and no longer has room for the photo so rather than sitting in a closet thought it might fit my room. It sure does.

I think you can see where I’m going with this. It’s once again about the stories, peoples’ reactions and reciting their own encounters with memorabilia. The room is therapeutic which allows visitors to re-live their childhood experiences, encounters with greatness, heroes and maybe just the game itself.

Accumulating a massive collection covers every decade in Toronto Maple Leaf history, allowing both young and old to take a trip down memory lane. What that entails for me is the need to hunt for more treasures because the rarer the item, the quicker it resonates with the viewer and not only does it start a chain of questioning, it leads to one off stories that become my true takeaway.

There is a saying that pertains to hockey players, which is, “you’re only as good as your last shift” well the same can be applied to a collector, “who’s only as good as their last acquisition.”

I mentioned in last weeks blog about the rare 1936-37 die cut proof set of Toronto Maple Leafs I’d recently acquired, that is an extraordinary find and would be the envy of any card collector.   Likewise the 1960-61 Parkhurst proof set of Maple Leafs discovered around the same time. These one-of-a-kind items give collectors like myself adrenalin rushes that can only be satisfied by the quest to find more like them.

Walking the recent international hockey show I happened across a chap I’ve dealt with before and he knows what will get my attention. He didn’t disappoint.

He quickly unfolded a stack of mint condition “Star Weekly” hockey photos clipped meticulously from the treasured magazines. These gorgeous photos had barely seen the light of day and as a matter of fact a lot hadn’t been removed from the booklet. They went all the way back into the 1930’s in magnificent black and white imagery. Action shots, team photos, individual players and advertising ads made up the bulk of the pages.   One full-page black and white ad featured the 1935 Maple Leafs standing beside GM, Pontiac automobiles admiring the cars individually. I’d never seen this piece before and anyone I’ve shown it to since says the same and just as rare was the 1935 National Home Monthly, 2-page ad featuring Foster Hewitt endorsing GM products.

Brian McFarlane, legendary, Hockey Night in Canada host and noted author of over 60 publications, was a recent speaker at the monthly “Inside the Room” I host. After a wonderful evening of stories and tales from the past, Brian removed from his briefcase a copy of the kid’s book “Peter Puck,”

“Mike this is a gift from me to you and I hope you enjoy it.”

Inside the sleeve Brian had written “To Mike, a good Friend, Brian McFarlane.”

These are the moments that are special to me. Of all the books Brian has written, why this one as a gift? It adds to the mystery and intrigue of the story and also one of respect that he thought enough of me to pass this along. The same can be said for all the items donated to the collection.

I’m very fortunate to be in the position that I am today were my collection receives the attention it does as this was never the original intent. What it has done is open up a whole new world to uncover additional history and facts about the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The more people visit “the Room” and share encounters or “finds” meaningful to them, the more it inspires me in my quest to uncover additional information about the Leafs.   That is really my favourite “thing” about the collection; the hunt, the find, sharing stories and discovering more and as the MasterCard commercial says, “Priceless.”