By Ross Forman
R. Todd Williams went to a card show in March 2014 at the Earle Brown Heritage Center in Brooklyn Center, Minn., in hopes of acquiring an autograph from softball sensation Jennie Finch. His daughter, then 14, is a softball pitcher, so the signature would be a perfect father-to-daughter gift.
But Williams struggled with what to get signed, other than a basic 16-by-20 color photo.
Waiting in line, Williams struck up a conversation with the guy next to him, primarily because the other show attendee had a canvas print of Finch he was getting signed.
Williams knew the canvas print was a perfect collectible. So, he wrote down the artist’s name, and shortly after the show he started what would become a near-three-month Internet search. Williams ultimately found the artist – in China, no less – so he e-mailed him, asking to see his inventory.
Thus started Williams’ new memorabilia venture – amazing-looking canvas prints, ideal for framing, mounting and certainly for autographing.
“I e-mail the artist who I want, and if he doesn’t have that particular athlete, he will create a canvas print of the player for me,” Williams said.
Some of the canvas prints are made from paintings, some are photos which he superimposes onto the canvas.
“He does it in a way that I’ve never seen before,” said Williams, who runs Williams Sports Memorabilia, based in Cherokee, Iowa.
Williams was at the annual Fanatics Authentic Sports Spectacular collectibles convention, held Nov. 20-22 at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont. He was selling … canvas prints, naturally.
“I used to be a card show dealer in the 1980s, but then got out of it for 15 or 20 years,” Williams said. “When I decided to get back into it, I wanted to have unique things to sell.”
Hence, canvas prints. He offers superstars from the major sports and has prints for sale of athletes signing at the few annual shows he sets up at.
Williams was selling two print sizes at the Fanatics Authentic show: 16-by-20 and 20-by-24. They were $40 and $50; two-for-$70 or two-for-$80, respectively.
“When autographed, they look fabulous; they really do,” Williams said.
Many collectors agreed. Athletes did, too. Case in point, Pro Football Hall of Famer Dermontti Dawson walked over to Williams’ booth just to buy the remaining prints of himself. And when fellow Pro Football Hall of Famers Elvin Bethea and Joe DeLamielleure saw the Dawson prints, they each asked about them, and wanted prints of themselves, too. Randy White has bought prints from Williams.
Daryle LaMonica has purchased prints from Williams, too, including prints of Jim Otto.
“I don’t collect autographed baseballs, or anything common like that; I want something different … and that’s why I think these canvas prints appeal to people,” Williams said.
At the Fanatics Authentic show, Williams got another Finch autograph … this time on a canvas print.
Williams said Bo Jackson is one of his biggest sellers, as are prints of pro wrestlers. In Chicago, Williams had prints of Scott Hall (Razor Ramon from his stint in the WWE), Kevin Nash (Diesel), Hulk Hogan and others.
“Last year, I came to this show with 10 Hulk Hogan prints, and I sold every one of them in the first hour,” Williams said. “If I had 100 of them, I think I could have sold all 100.”
Conversely, who has not sold?
Mike Singletary, according to Williams, who has had Singletary prints at three shows in recent years. “Don’t know why he has not sold; he was a great player.”
Williams said custom-made specialty prints can be made. At a show last year, for instance, a collector asked Williams if a print could be made of his 10 favorite Baltimore Orioles players. No problem, Williams said. Anyone ordering custom prints must purchase a minimum of three, Williams said.
Williams said his personal favorite prints are “any (of the) Oakland Raiders, and Randy White.”
For more information about the canvas prints, contact Williams Sports Memorabilia via e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at (712) 540-6108.
More from the floor
With hundreds of dealers hawking millions of sports relics for three days, there were cards for pennies to rare, one-of-a-kind goodies that were selling for six figures. This was one of the best shows of the year for collectors, without question. Here’s a look at some of the stuff I spotted:
– A signed, framed Ric Flair 16-by-20 photo was $150.
– A signed, framed Terry Bradshaw 16-by-20 photo was $185.
– A Chicago Bears helmet, signed by the late, great Walter Payton, with multiple inscriptions, carried a $10,000 price tag.
– Mike Stoner had his usual amazing, eye-popping framed relics – and also some new ones with a twist. Make that, with some bling. For instance, he had a 1985 Chicago Bears framed, multi-piece item, including a replica ticket and a replica Super Bowl ring ($389).
– The Coach K (of Duke basketball fame) signed, framed, two-photo piece was $259.
– There were 1960s Exhibits Movie Stars 4-by-6 postcards of Sean Connery ($5), Jack Lemmon ($3), Marlon Brando ($5) … and Orlando Cepeda ($11).
– Chicago Blackhawks’ fans would clamor for the framed photo and postcard set of team legends Tony Esposito, Pierre Pilote, Bobby Hull, Denis Savard and Stan Mikita ($400).
– I wish all items had a visible price tag. Nothing more annoying than having to ask the price of multiple items. Case in point, the dealer selling a load of pro wrestling cards, such as the 1985 Topps Hulk Hogan (PSA 9), the signed Doink (PSA 8) or the signed Kamala (PSA 10) wrestling card. None had visible price tags.
– Longtime dealer Kip Ingle bought and then sold a Satchel Paige-signed baseball at the show. “Satchel Paige was a very accommodating signer, but demand (now) far exceeds the supply,” Ingle said. “Even though (the ball was signed) off the sweet-spot, and not on an official Major League Baseball ball, it is still a special acquisition.”
– Mike Tyson autographs were being blown out at one dealer’s table. He had gloves for $60 each, or two-for-$110. He also offered Tyson-signed 16-by-20s for $50 each, or two-for-$90.
– The 1964 Challenge The Yankees Board Game, with a complete set of cards and unmarked player sheets, was $1,100.
– A brick from Comiskey Park was $45.
– A 1954 Bowman Baseball complete set was $2,300.
– The 1978 Knoxville Knox Sox 25-card set was $150, featuring Harold Baines, Tony La Russa, Steve Trout, Rich Dotson and Rusty Kuntz, among others.
– There was a 1962 Detroit Tigers Japan Tour program, in multi-lot offering, for $750. “If you’re a Tigers fan, this is a pretty cool collectible to have,” the seller said.
– There was a Smitty At The Ball Game book of comic strips, including some with Babe Ruth ($125).
– A replica 2XL DePaul University jersey of George Mikan was $75.
– Kris Bryant’s Tennessee Smokies’ bobblehead was $40.
– Michael Jordan’s first-ever Sports Illustrated cover from Nov. 28, 1983, was $110.
– Brett Favre’s first-ever Sports Illustrated cover from Jan. 15, 1996, was $25 – though the seller’s sign had the former QB’s name spelled, Farve.
– Dick Butkus’ first-ever Sports Illustrated cover from Oct. 12, 1964, was $50.
– The 1979 Green Bay Packers media guide, with Bart Starr on the cover, was $12.
– The 1993 Green Bay Packers media guide, Favre’s first year, was $13.
– Packs of Topps UFC Champions were $5.
– Packs of Topps WWE Chrome were $3.
– John Arcand offered one of the most unique Michael Jordan-related relics. It was a framed piece with two signed golf course flags, and a Jordan-used golf club. Asking price: $2,995. The golf flags were signed by a host of celebrities, such as Bruce Jenner, Chris Chelios, Ken Griffey Jr., Eric Dickerson and others. And yes, they were signed by Jordan himself. The piece includes three COAs, which alone cost $275.
Sign Here, Please
The autograph lineup at the three-day Fanatics Authentic Sports Spectacular was impressive, but there were many cancellations. Pelé, one of the show’s biggest draws, had to cancel. So, too, did one of the event’s tallest stars: Kevin Nash, who stands close to 7-feet tall.
Others who had been announced, but did not attend include Jim Hickman, Rick Reuschel, Hector Rondon, Julie Johnston, Johnny Bower, Matt Carpenter, Stephen Piscotty and Ted Lindsay.
Still, the at-show signers included Andre Dawson, Jerry Rice, Marcus Allen, Scott Hall, Fergie Jenkins, Lee Smith, Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Frank Thomas, Ryne Sandberg, Lawrence Taylor, Bo Jackson, Howie Long, Brett Favre, Albert Pujols, Jim Kaat, Carlos Correa and Wade Boggs, among others.
Ross Forman is a freelance contributor to SCD. He can be reached at Rossco814@aol.com.