Incredible memorabilia headlines the Anaheim Natio

DSC_8492.jpgA National Convention at the Anaheim Convention Center that was alternately saddled with a lustrous history and diminished expectations from less-than-stellar events in 1996 and 2000 produced a steady crowd July 26-30 over the five days of the show, often yielding robust reviews from many dealers.

A roster of nearly 500 dealers tables was easily dispersed in the 400,000 square-foot facility that cemented a place in hobby lore and legend with a reported attendance above 100,000 in the hobby’s giddy heyday in 1991.

Blessed with show stoppers on display like the $1.265 million T206 Honus Wagner card or a stunning Ty Cobb Coca-Cola stock certificate (100 shares) just picked up by Pete Siegel of Gotta Have It in New York City, the annual extravaganza routinely boasts some of the most remarkable material in the hobby.

Sotheby’s and SCP boasted items from the Casey Stengel Collection, including his personal Hall-of-Fame plaque, a 1950 game-used cap, his 1951 World Series ring and a number of team-signed balls and photos. Heritage Galleries’ massive booth showcased a 1932 Babe Ruth jersey; nearby, Lelands.com had steady traffic all week as collectors examined items previewed for the upcoming auction, including thousands of photos from the archives of the San Francisco Examiner that will be featured in that sale and in Lelands.com auctions for years to come (see related articles on pages 26 and 36).

Wayne Varner of Shoebox Cards in Pennsylvania. “This was by far our best National ever,” said Varner. “We’ve done 50 percent better than in any other National we’ve done, and this is No. 26 for us.”

DSC_8502.jpgAnother well-known hobby name, NSCC co-director Mike Berkus, who helped orchestrate the very first National in 1980 and that historic 1991 entry, had some nifty percentages of his own to toss into the mix. “We had 300 percent more people Wednesday night for the VIP Sneak Preview, with 6,000-7,000, and overall we exceeded our expectations for the show by 50 percent,” said Berkus. “We got lucky and we’ve had a good show.”

Tristar chipped in with an eclectic autograph lineup that matched up traditional heavyweights like Heisman Trophy winners and local favorites Charles White, Reggie Bush and Matt Leinart  with hall of famers Eddie Murray, Rod Carew, Dave Winfield, Frank Robinson, Duke Snider, Steve Young, John Wooden and Lawrence Taylor, all to good effect and a busy autograph pavilion.

“We had some incredible autograph guests and the fans sure seemed pleased with the lineup,” said Many Fuerst, Tristar’s vice president of events and marketing. “Magic Johnson was the most popular signer, and many of the guest exceeded our preshow expectations.”

Tristar also provided another unexpected treat when lucky collector Dave Montgomery of Chino, Calif., turned up at the Tristar corporate booth to redeem a 1915 Babe Ruth rookie card valued at $30,000 that had been plucked from the company’s Hidden Treasures product only weeks earlier.

“The show has been excellent, the room is not clogged with people in the aisles, but all the serious collectors come to the National year after year,” said noted autograph expert Phil Marks. “I sold a lot of Hall of Fame 3-by-5’s and album pages, a lot of tougher non-Hall of Fame names, and the Dodgers collectors came out in force. It was a better show than the last time in Anaheim.”

Steve Dickler of Huggins & Scott Auctions was displaying a number of Frankford Yellow Jackets football programs, all part of a major find that the Silver Spring, Md.-based auction company had turned up in the weeks leading up to the show.

The Yellow Jackets predate the Eagles and the beginning of the NFL, and the find of nearly 70 programs includes every game between 1925-31. “We expect to have tremendous activity in our upcoming auction from these programs,” said Dickler. The programs are extremely rare, and Dickler said there were a number of people who wanted to purchase them there at the National. “A lot of national and even Philadelphia-area dealers have never seen more than a handful of these in their lifetimes,” he continued. He said he expects them to fetch between $400-$900 per program, and the initial plans are to included the programs in the Huggins & Scott upcoming auction this fall and in the spring of 2007.

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A signficant improvement from the previous two Anaheim Nationals was a recurring theme for a number of longtime dealers. “This was the best National I’ve attended. Attendance wasn’t as good as in 1996 or 2000, but the sales for us were much better,” said Bob Wetzel of B & B Baseball in Howe Township, N.J. “I am looking forward to coming back to the West Coast. I don’t want to go to Houston.”

That last was a reference to the annual balloting by the National Convention dealers, which will be again be done with a mail-in ballot that will be sent out in a couple of weeks. The NSCC is already tied in to Cleveland next year and Chicago in 2008; the vote for 2009 will be between Houston and a return to Anaheim.

NSCC Notes: Longtime NSCC President Etta Hersh was elected to another term at the top post (making it a full 10 years), and was joined by other returnees: Vice President Barry Sanders (8 years); Treasurer Terry Knouse (7 years); and Secretary Janice Even (6 years). Jerry Hersh and Sanders were re-elected to the board; Al Durso and Ryan Friedman were voted in as new board members.
   
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In an unusual twist on the traditional National Convention saga, some of the most exciting material showcased during the week never made it to the Anaheim Convention Center. Mastro Auctions pulled off a major coup Thursday by including a trip to the Gary Cypres Sports Museum in downtown Los Angeles as the site of the company’s traditional National Convention dinner.

The auction company bused more than 125 hobby dignitaries downtown for the dinner, which was held at the museum. Cypres, easily one of the most prolific collectors of high-end material in the hobby over the last decade, unveiled much of his spectacular collection in the 25,000 square-foot museum in a downtown Los Angeles building that shares space with his travel and mortgage brokerage business. The museum is not yet open to the public, but the gasps of the hobby’s elite on Thursday night made it clear that once it does throw open its doors (perhaps next year), the public is in for a treat. He built it, and they will come, if W.P. Kinsella will forgive me.

The museum features a virtual hobby wish list of much of the most stunning display items from baseball, football and basketball, plus Cypres’ fascinating forays into sports like tennis, golf and bicycling, to name a few.

“You can’t explain the significance of what you’ve put together here,” Mastro Auctions President Doug Allen toasted Cypres prior to the dinner at the museum. His comments echoed the exclamations of other hobby veterans, like authenticator Jimmy Spence who merely said, “I am humbled,” as he strode from room to room, or another high-end expert, John Brigandi, who offered, “You can’t comprehend this place. I am not worthy.”

Cypres’ museum will be the featured as a cover story in a future issue of Sports Collectors Digest, including an in-depth interview with the noted collector and photographs from the rare public viewing at the Mastro dinner.

Officials of the famed auction company also took the ocassion of the National to announce additional details about an initiative launched earlier this year with legendary former Green Bay Packer Jerry Kramer. Mastro’s “The Shirt Off Your Back” auction is slated for the week prior to the 2007 Super Bowl and will auction items from a host of past and present NFL stars to raise money for disadvantaged retired players.

“It’s funny how this partnership developed,” Kramer said in a press conference at the National. “It started out with my frustration in trying to get my Super Bowl I ring back, but then it turned into this opportunity to assist some of the retired players who helped to build the league into what it is today.”

The initial goal is to raise more than $1 million to be dispersed immediately to players in need.

A contestant who was admittedly reluctant to enter the second annual PSA World Series of Autograph Authentication won the winner-take-all $2,500 cash prize during the recent National Sports Collectors Convention in Anaheim, Calif.

Mark Theotikos, Mastro Auctions’ vice president of auction operations, Burr Ridge, Ill., won the PSA World Series of Autograph Authentication, taking home the winner-take-all $2,500 cash prize for the computerized test of knowledge and skill about sports autographs. He correctly identified  27 of 30 autographs in the test.

“I didn’t enter the contest last year and I wasn’t going to do it this year, but some of my Mastro colleagues grabbed me by the arm and took me to the PSA booth. Based on my experience, you either knew it was genuine or not on first glance. The test wasn’t as bad as I expected with the vintage autographs, but the modern signatures threw me for a little loop,” said Theotikos, who has been collecting autographs for nearly 30 years.

“We had 32 contestants in the competition this year. Everyone who participated received a T-shirt commemorating the PSA World Series of Autograph Authentication,” said Joe Orlando, PSA president. Each contestant had 10 minutes to examine 30 autographs on a computer screen and determine their authenticity.  

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