Most of the time, Larry Rosenbaum doesn’t even try to hide his giddiness over the whole thing. After 35 years in the auction business, selling tens of thousands of items and millions of dollars worth of fine art, sports collectibles and other miscellaneous cool stuff for a very reputable East Coast firm, Rosenbaum could probably be forgiven for adopting a bit of a stuffy, high-brow outlook on the world of memorabilia dealing. If anybody has a right to come off as hard-to-impress, it would be Rosenbaum, president of EAC Gallery in Mineola, N.Y.
So he’s gotta be one of those annoying stiffs in an expensive suit, right? Fugettaboutit!
“Oh, I tell everybody I’m still the kid in the candy story,” Rosenbaum said. “When our shipments of consignments come in, I get in trouble because I can’t wait to rip them open and see what people have sent us. The joke I tell people is that, selfishly, one of the things that makes this job so exciting for me is that we do four of these auctions a year, and I have great visitation rights. We have all these wonderful items sent to us, and I get to look at them and handle them. Then we ship them out and more pieces come in.”
Rosenbaum oozes enthusiasm for his work, and he has a lot to be excited about at the moment. EAC has a loaded auction currently in process (Nov. 1 closing date) with some of the most prized sports and historical items the company has ever had on the block. EAC is also starting to realize the fruits of its labor with its Sell & Consign Program. The fledgling program was instituted in the last year, allowing collectors to sell qualified items outright to University Archives, a partner in the venture with EAC, then receive an additional check (minus consignor’s fee) if the item sells for more than that price at auction.
“We give them a purchase price right on the spot, and they get a check immediately,” Rosenbaum said. “And then it’s entered into auction as if it was consigned by them. Once the bidding ends, they get a second check minus the consignor’s fee. They get the advantage of consigning it, and then, if the bidding goes crazy, they get that much more money. I’ve really noticed an increase in the quality of the consignments we received since we started this. The reaction we get is, ‘No one else is doing it, and this is awesome!’ It’s been just about a year so far, and since we only do four premium auctions, the results are just starting to come in, but it’s been very nice.”
Bidding is likely to escalate over one of the marquee items in the current EAC auction – a fabulous signed 2-?-by-4-inch photo of Abraham Lincoln. The portrait was taken by legendary photographer Alexander Gardner and shows the famously camera-shy Lincoln in a candid pose with his reading glasses in one hand and a newspaper in the other.
“This is one of the best pieces we’ve ever had,” Rosenbaum said. “This happens to be a very famous photo, and it’s documented, so we know that Gardner took it in his studio on Aug. 3, 1863. This is one of the most famous photographs ever taken of Lincoln.”
Rosenbaum said the photo once belonged to autograph collecting legend Paul Richards. At press time, bidding had already reached $60,500 for the photo.
There are quite a few other headline items in the current auction, as well. A team-signed 1955 World Series champion Brooklyn Dodgers ball, team-signed World Series champion ’32 Yankees ball, single-signed Jimmy Foxx ball, super-rare signed color photo featuring Lou Gehrig and a 1930s signed photo that includes Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio are among the lots that will generate interest.
“The irony of the Dodgers ball is that it has Frank Kellert, probably one of the least-known names, on it,” Rosenbaum noted. “Kellert played only in ’55, and all the rest of the guys played in either ’54 and ’55, or ’55 and ’56. He only played in like 39 games, and even though he’s the least important as far as the team winning the World Series, he’s the definitive signature that makes it a ’55 ball.”
History repeats itself
EAC started out selling only historical items before eventually adding sports collectibles to its menu, and it’s common for special historical pieces to share top billing in its auctions with sports memorabilia. In fact, Rosenbaum still counts a non-sports item – an insanely rare signed free frank from President William Henry Harrison – as probably the most memorable piece the company has ever handled.
“Harrison caught pneumonia at his own inauguration and died 30 days later,” Rosenbaum said. “We had an envelope that Harrison franked as president, and Harrison presidential signatures are incredibly rare. It’s the only known Harrison free frank that exists. We sold it for $95,000, but now we’d be talking well into the six figures.”
However, Rosenbaum seemingly gets just as excited discussing more common items, his dealings with customers and collectors and the auction business in general. It is clear the novelty and fun have not worn off. When consigners call him to discuss their items, they have found a kindred spirit.
“What I hear most from people, especially our new collectors, is that, No. 1, they are amazed that these kinds of items are not just in museums and that they can actually get something signed by George Washington, Lincoln, Jefferson, Custer or somebody we learned about in school,” he said. “And secondly, I’m not saying these items are inexpensive, but people are amazed how affordable they are compared to other collectibles like fine art, coins or stamps. It’s amazing how affordable a George Washington or Babe Ruth is compared to a Picasso or Miro.”