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The memorabilia dealer, love him or hate him, is an integral part of sports collecting. But like anything in this world where money is involved, let the buyer beware. The memorabilia dealer is a polarizing figure in the world of memorabilia. He can enhance his own collection through trading, buying and selling or make a living buying and selling items. The means to accumulate artifacts today reaches all mediums. The Internet provides personal webpages, auctions, on line shopping and various other means to reach a potential buyer or seller. The collectors sports shows, while less frequent today, is still in existence. Personally I prefer the human face-to-face contact and interaction. For a period about 20 years ago, my brother and I would set up a booth at a number of the local shows. This was a great way to interact with fellow collectors and pick up leads to new pieces for my collection. This is what the hobby is really supposed to stand for; fellow collectors getting together, exchanging ideas about “finds” and trading or passing on leads. But as I mentioned earlier, when money is involved, the game changes.

Now please don’t misunderstand me concerning the sports dealer. They do provide a needed service and for the most part, are collectors themselves with good intentions.

Every collector has a horror story about getting burned in a deal. I’ve been taken a number of times. It’s all part of the experience and no matter how much you think you know. You still don’t know enough.

Along with collecting mostly Toronto Maple Leaf memorabilia, I at one time collected some baseball as well. (I do have Notre Dame football, Team Canada and Wayne Gretzky collection today).

I wanted to acquire the autographs of the first five inductees into the baseball Hall of Fame. In the early 90’s at the National Sports Collectors Convention in Chicago, that was my goal.

I studied those five autographs, read as much as I could and circled the thousand plus tables for two days examining as many autographs of the first five I could find. I thought if I could find the five together at the same table I’d get a better deal. The dealer I selected had been at previous shows I had attended so he was familiar. After making my purchase ($2,000 later) I felt pretty confident and elated at acquiring these treasures. I just recently found out that all five were forgeries.

The explosion of the hobby in the 80’s attracted both the bad and good. The race to come up with the next gimmick to sell more cards seemed to never end. The greed factor took over. Sadly today the hobby has lost a lot of the core collectors, namely, the kids. The card companies had so many sets, subsets, special cards and mail ins that it just became too cumbersome and expensive for collectors to complete the sets. Of course today those card are all worthless. One idiot with a card company cut up a pair of George Vezina pads thinking this would add some value. It didn’t. Those pieces are worthless and junk. Pieces of a Babe Ruth game used bat were inserted into packs of baseball cards years ago. These are also worthless.

The number one rule for collecting is the significance of the item to the person acquiring it. Period! If the item doesn’t have a story or a meaning, what’s the point of buying the item?

I once turned down a Dave Keon game used stick because the dealer selling it couldn’t tell me a thing about Keon. How can you call yourself a memorabilia expert, live in Toronto and know nothing about Dave Keon?

When dealing in the sports collectable world, do your homework. Deal with reputable businesses that have some history. I get calls and emails weekly from people who acquired autograph photos of players over the years with the pitch that these were limited and investments. I break a lot of hearts telling these people they aren’t worth anything other than what they mean to them the collector. That’s not a bad thing if you just enjoy the piece for what it is. For example, an action shot beautifully framed and autographed by an athlete you admire.

A friend of mine, whom I’ve dealt with for years, runs a framing and marketing of sport figures. It’s called Frameworth.(check out their website) They have never made false promises of investment value when selling an autographed framed picture. As a reputable, dealer you know the piece is authentic and the autograph is real.

Auctions are very popular forms in adding to collections. However, they aren’t foolproof or free of the criminal element. Auction houses that do sloppy research or fail to maintain proper filters are targets for fakes, forgeries and stolen pieces.

Shilling is another practice used by the unscrupulous auction house. Fake bids are posted on items to drive up the price. The dealer gets a percentage of the sale, so the higher the price, the more the house makes on commission.

The biggest red flag from a dealer whether it’s through an auction or direct purchase, is the letter of authenticity (LOA). Proper documentation is imperative. If the dealer can’t provide a registered signed letter from a well-known, reputable authenticator, then buyer beware. I got into a quite an argument, years ago with an American Dealer (his name was Halpern) on this topic. After purchasing an item he said it came with a LOA. I agreed and did the deal. When the item arrived, the LOA was from him. I questioned the validity and his credentials to authenticate the item. He was quite indignant that I would question his integrity. I said it was nothing personal but wanted proof for years down the road and he’s out of business that this would hold up. He said he was going nowhere. Needless to say he’s no longer around today. I still have the piece.

I received a LOA from an auction house by the name of American Memorabilia for a set of Beatles autographs. I had the autographs checked recently and found out they were forgeries. The LOA? The company they used was out of business. The auction wouldn’t return my call after numerous attempts to speak to them. I was a long time customer and have purchased a number of autographed pieces over the years from these guys. Now I question whether they’re all forgeries. I haven’t dealt with them again.

Another place called Coaches Corner was an auction house I dealt with for years. I once bid on a Gretzky, Coffey signed all-star litho. I lost the bid. The next auction they had another one. It didn’t seem right, so I called to question why another one was up for bidding. This was reported to have been a sold out edition. The guy on the other end of the line said they had acquired a number of these pieces from a place going out of business. Now this may have been very true. Happens all the time. Nevertheless something made me a little more cautious about this place. I started noticing a similar pattern on a number of pieces. So either these guys were lying, the market was getting flooded with a pile of speculation items they couldn’t sell or they actually where buying from places going out of business. Over time I started to notice a strange occurrence. They had some great pieces come up for sale. Signed Beatles albums with reserve bids for $50.00 for one. Beatles signed albums are extremely rare. There is talk that the fab-four signed less than a hundred in their lifetimes. A signed authenticated album by the four can sell for up to $100,000 depending on the album etc. Now this was also before the age of the Internet so research was non-existent. My instincts said to be safe rather than sorry. I haven’t dealt with them since. Listen they may be legit but it just didn’t sit right. They are still in business today.

Years ago they had a radio show in Toronto about the sports memorabilia world. I heard the host one-night say that a 1967 Leaf signed stick was worth nothing. Yet this same guy had a store selling framed autographed pictures of modern players for $150-$300. That’s someone in the business to only make money. I won’t deal with guys like that.

This is a subject that can be talked about for hours. I plan on exploring further, the pros and cons of the sports collecting business.

Remember if it’s too good to be true, it usually is.