Located at 34 Great Queen St. in the famous Covent Garden shopping district in London, you can find the only sports memorabilia gallery in the city – S. J. Dent and Co.
The company, owned by Simon Dent, specializes in soccer, rugby, cricket, boxing, golf and Formula I. Dent sells memorabilia of sporting heroes from today and yesteryear, and while in Europe, he can still obtain almost any sports collectible in the world with the help of his affiliates. Items the company has offered retail between $130 and $60,000. The high end belonged to the Athleta shirt that Pele wore in Brazil’s 4-1 victory over Czechoslovakia in the 1970 World Cup finals.
If you love boxing and golf, you can relish the signed Sugar Ray Leonard shorts presentation for $1,180, a Leonard glove presentation for $1,300, as well as Mike Tyson and Tiger Woods collectibles. You can view images and information regarding his large amount of memorabilia at www.sjdent.com. Ironically, the site gets most of its visitors from North America. Dent offers certificates of authenticity with all of his items, along with photos of the athletes autographing the desired object.
A new mentality
Dent got the idea for his business in New York City. Dent worked for six years as a lawyer for athletes, resulting in a houseful of sports memorabilia. He sold some privately, but then he saw that other memorabilia businesses were not doing it properly.
“There was a massive problem of forgeries in the U.K.,” Dent said. “I wanted to change that.”
So he included a certificate of authenticity with his products that he considers the best available because of his background as a lawyer. Dent would lose his right to practice law in England if he sold a fake product.
In some cases, when a piece is particularly valuable and historical, Dent takes the recording of the authentication a step further. Pele’s Athleta shirt, for example, came with a signed statement from three players who witnessed the shirt change hands at the final whistle, as well as a statement from the player, Ladislav Kuna, who recently owned the shirt. You also receive video evidence of the swap with the purchase.
Dent loves sports and is affiliated with well-known athletes, many of whom he considers good friends. Their testimonials on his website attest to the authenticity of his business.
“Many businesses hide behind the Internet,” he said. “There is a lot of memorabilia on eBay which is disturbing. You don’t know its authenticity since you don’t know with whom you are dealing.”
Dent said he does not understand why other businesses do not have top athletes endorsing their products because he has found them willing to oblige with their support when asked.
Although Dent has had a home business for five years, his gallery has only been open since September 2007. Through his website, he has sold one or two pieces a week, whereas he sells two or three pieces a day at his shop. He credits the strong storefront sales to a strong customer base.
Only twice has he not been able to find an item for a customer. An English World Cup rugby captain is a big American football fan, and he has asked Dent to find him a jersey worn by Gary “Big Hands” Johnson of the San Francisco 49ers. Dent is still searching. The other difficult collectible to obtain has been a game-used jersey worn by Bobby Moore.
“The future in collecting memorabilia is in these signed match-worn items, because they are part of history, the real thing,” Dent said. “There is only one in the world of them, whereas there are thousands of pictures that could be signed.”
Among other items Dent has offered to the public is Nigel Benn’s WBC Super Middleweight world title belt for $37,000 and the gloves that Benn won in his world title fight in 1995 against Gerald McClellan, an American who would suffer horrible effects from the fight, including blindness and limited mobility ($7,400).
The memorabilia came with another story. Benn became a priest after the fight and was called the “Bible Boxer.” He gave these articles from the fight to Dent, with the proceeds going toward building a Catholic church in the Majorca Island of Spain, where Benn is now a priest.
Dent has provided charities all across England with product to raise money in auctions, and although he has never had anyone ask for his expertise and merchandise in the U.S., he would be glad to be of assistance.
In addition, Dent can provide unique sport experiences – if you make the trek to England. He can offer once-in-a-lifetime excursions surrounding soccer, golf, rugby and boxing stars. For instance, a round of golf with a superstar would run about $29,000.
What does the future hold for Dent? He would love in 12 months time to provide a monthly press release of an index of the top sporting autographs in the world. He said Tiger Woods, Pele and other high-profile athletes would always be on the list.
“I need to learn more about American sports, because a lot of American sportsmen’s autographs will be in the index,” he said.
Dent cannot emphasize enough how strong of an investment an autograph is. According to him, between 1997 and 2007, the FTSE 100 – which is similar to the Dow Stock Exchange – fell 4 percent in value, whereas the average autograph rose 139 percent.
“Autographs, which benefit from being highly portable, are internationally traded in all currencies, and the price obtained is largely constant wherever you sell them,” Dent said. “Over 30 million collectors worldwide protect both the price and the liquidity.”
Dent has always enjoyed sports and wanted to work in the sports field. He clearly knows his work, even though having many superstar athletes as his friends has taken away some of the romance of going to a game. He said that it is hard to cheer for a player that, to you, is just a regular chap.
Working in the collectible market has its huge advantages, though. You can watch and read about all the sports you want without having to feel guilty that you ought to be toiling somewhere. After all, it’s your job.
Ingrid Floyd is a freelance writer from Towson, Md.