By Ross Forman
Mike Stoner had one of the most impressive, eye-popping booths at the Fanatics Authentic Sports Spectacular (formerly the Chicago Sun-Times Show), held March 21-23 in Rosemont, Ill.
Just as he does at every show, Stoner displays his relics.
After all, the booth of goodies from Atlanta-based Stoner Sports & Collectibles is truly amazing. Autographs from Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Satchel Paige, Roy Campanella, Roberto Clemente and hundreds of other sporting immortals.
Many of Stoner’s offerings are cut signatures, framed along with multiple photos of the star or stars. Stoner calls them “ensembles.”
“Hundreds of people every show come to my booth just to look because it’s like a museum,” said Stoner, 70.
At the Fanatics Authentic show, Stoner had a dual-signed ensemble featuring Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella for $3,395 and so much more. Other examples include:
- An original painting of Mickey Mantle, done in 1992 by Upper Deck artist Jolene Jessie, certified by JSA, with custom framing ($2,995)
- A multi-signed item featuring members of the hit TV show NCIS ($2,150)
- Ty Cobb autographed check, plus numerous photos ($3,195)
- Clemente signature ensemble ($3,295)
- A Nellie Fox signature ensemble ($695)
- Jimmie Foxx signature ensemble ($2,195).
“I have framed pieces in my house, items that I might have switched out (with or for a collector). I still enjoy the history of the game. I still enjoy the chase of the autographs,” Stoner said.
Stoner said some of his ensembles take weeks or more than a month to make, especially since he’s meticulous to find the perfect photos for the presentation. He’s been making ensembles for more than 20 years.
“You may bring the items to many shows before you meet a collector who not only loves an item, but also can afford it,” he said.
There is one player he’s still chasing though. Stoner has never produced an ensemble of Christy Mathewson due to the price of an authentic signature of the Hall of Fame pitcher. “If I had the piece, I probably would sell it through an auction house,” he said.
Stoner said glass has been broken on pieces many times over the years, but it’s just a part of doing business. And he never frets. “I don’t want anyone to be afraid to walk into my booth, just because I have glass in here,” Stoner said.
Stoner presents his relics at about 15 shows annually, such as events produced by Tristar, the National Sports Collectors Convention and others.
On the show floor
The Fanatics Authentic Sports Spectacular featured autograph appearances by more than 50 sporting stars, including Colin Kaepernick, Paul George, Frank Thomas, Mike Ditka, Jim McMahon, Richard Dent and other members of the 1985 Super Bowl-winning Chicago Bears, among others.
“It was a pretty good show, no complaints,” Stoner commented.
Many dealers and collectors noted the surprisingly high number of empty dealer tables, as well as the cancellation of publicized signers such as Cam Newton, Hines Ward, Franco Harris, Mark Gastineau and others.
Other show signers included Dan Hampton, Mike Singletary, Jose Canseco, Bobby Hull, Lou Brock, Carlton Fisk, Jim Bunning, John Riggins, Juan Marichal, Ozzie Smith, Troy Aikman, Andre Dawson, Barry Sanders, Brooks Robinson, Ernie Banks, Gale Sayers, Mike Schmidt and Steve Largent.
The show featured hundreds of dealers, hawking hundreds of thousands of relics, probably more – from the latest and greatest to the vintage and the nearly-impossible-to-find.
“Collectors came and were spending money,” said Marty Davis of Marty’s Sports Card Exchange Superstore in Chattanooga, Tenn. “Boxes of new releases were selling really well, except for high-end products.”
Here’s a look at some of the souvenirs being sold at the show:
- A Woody Hayes autographed 8-by-10 photo personalized “To Barrett,” with JSA authentication, was $595.
- Bo Schembechler cut signature, with PSA/DNA authentication, was $95.
- I never knew there were official bobble heads for a generic Chicago White Sox beer vendor ($30), let alone two different versions.
- White Sox fans also could have grabbed a bobble head of longtime groundskeeper Roger Bossard for $20.
- There was a $450 price tag on the green Boston Celtics jersey of Hall of Famer Bill Russell, including a “5X MVP” inscription.
- Chicago fans certainly would have liked seeing the Michael Jordan autographed basketball ($1,700), which was positioned next to signed basketballs by Scottie Pippen ($325) and Dennis Rodman ($175).
- Was tempted to buy the framed, panoramic photo of Soldier Field for $65.
- There were $20 T-shirts and $30 jerseys featuring such pro wrestling legends as The Crusher, Dick The Bruiser and The Vachon Brothers (Butcher and Mad Dog).
- Phil Jackson, the former Chicago Bulls boss who now calls the New York Knicks his home team, had his 1972-73 rookie card on display for only $9.
- Longtime dealer Kevin Savage offered a 1940 Buffalo Bisons team-issued card of Frank Zubik ($350), a career minor leaguer, and certainly one valuable relic.
- An autographed book of legendary newsman Bill Kurtis was $15.
- Greg Olsen-signed Chicago Bears mini helmets were $15.
- There was a 2012 Leaf card, signed by Adam West and Burt Ward – aka, Batman and Robin – for $200.
- A Jimmy Buffett-signed album was $135.
- A chest protector, suited for a Little League player and reportedly from the 1950s, was $15.
- One of the funniest posters seen was the one showcasing the pubs of Chicago’s Wrigleyville neighborhood – $20 for a print or $100 for the framed version. “How many have you been to?” the female vendor asked, laughing.
- Mike Ditka-signed 16-by-20 framed photos were $99 with JSA authentication.
- There was a signed drawing of the Hanson Brothers of Slap Shot hockey fame for $149.
- There was a signed, framed photo of Mickey Mantle, dressed in a suit at a snow-filled baseball stadium, while swinging a bat at a snowball for $2,195.
- From the “Good Deal” Department: Framed plaques with photos of sports stars for $20, which the dealer said, “I’ll sell ’em for $15, if you want to pick some out.”
- There was a Chicago Cubs Budweiser neon sign for $575.
- A Bob Knight-autographed photo, personalized “To David,” was $35.
- A Steve Alford-signed UCLA photo also was $35.
- Devin Hester is no longer a member of the Chicago Bears, yet a 16-by-20 framed, signed Hester photo was priced at $139.
- Longtime Kansas City-based dealer Randy Cook had a postcard sent, and signed, by Babe Ruth to a New York-based fan. The government postcard ($5,500) was postmarked May 13, 1935. The Babe played his last game on May 30, 1935.
- Single-signed baseballs, in a case, of Big Red Machine members Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez and Johnny Bench were $425 for the lot.
- Team patches were as cheap as $3 from one dealer.
Ross Forman is a freelance contributor to SCD. He can be reached at Rossco814@aol.com.