Collectors say the value of truly rare items has increased

Posted: 8:00 pm Mon, August 2, 2010
By Liz Farmer
Daily Record Business Writer 

Rick Currence, owner of Sports Card Heroes in Laurel, will be exhibiting at the National Sports Collectors Convention beginning Wednesday at the Baltimore Convention Center.The 31st annual National Sports Collectors Convention begins in Baltimore on Wednesday, and the uncertain economic climate hasn’t dampened enthusiasm for a sometimes pricey industry — local collectors say this is still one of their busiest weeks of the year.

Exhibitors say the demand for sports memorabilia since the 2008 recession has gone two ways — while interest has dropped for the “manufactured” memorabilia, the value of the more rare items has increased.

“We didn’t see a change in interest in the older, true collectible stuff,” said Bill Huggins, co-owner of Huggins & Scott Auctions in Silver Spring. “The ‘true’ stuff is stuff usually [manufactured before] 1970 and it didn’t have a value before. Hence if you’re cleaning out your house, those are first things that get thrown away. Those have really held value through the economic recession.”

The items that have taken a bigger hit are collectibles like limited edition prints or autographed items that don’t have historical significance. (Think Nolan Reimold bobble-heads.)

Rick Currence, owner of Sports Card Heroes in Laurel, said his mail order business in which he goes to collectors shows and obtains athlete autographs for customers who ship him their item (a football or baseball, for example) was down 30 or 40 percent last year.

But this year things are picking up for Currence, who sells primarily baseball cards and signed memorabilia. On Monday afternoon he was working nonstop to fill the rush of mail orders coming in before he heads to Baltimore on Tuesday to set up his booth for the five-day show.

“I’ll probably get somewhere in the neighborhood of 750 autographs for customers,” he said.

The limited edition collectibles market is also making a comeback in some respects — at least when it comes to once-in-a-generation rookie phenom pitchers. The Topps Co. is auctioning off for charity its Washington Nationals Stephen Strasburg 2010 Topps Heritage Rookie Card, No. 1 of 999 made. The auction closes on eBay Tuesday afternoon, and as of Monday evening, 35 bids had put the price at $869.

All proceeds go to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and the winning bidder will also get perks at the memorabilia convention.

“It’s as hot as anything could be — he’s this year’s idol,” said John Broggi, the show’s manager, who added that having popular items like Strasburg rookie baseball cards “helps kick start sales for sports memorabilia.”

Saturday is also expected to draw big crowds with the bulk of big name athlete signings scheduled for that day. Roughly 80 athletes are scheduled for autograph signings over the five days. Some (like former Baltimore Colts running back Lydell Mitchell) are free, others charge a premium. Cal Ripken Jr. will offer the priciest autograph on Saturday, charging $249 for a signed bat. Other Hall-of-Famers like San Francisco quarterback Joe Montana, Detroit Red Wings’ Gordie Howe or Baltimore Orioles outfielder Frank Robinson will autograph your jersey for $199 each.

The show hasn’t been on the East Coast since it was held in Atlantic City, N.J., in 2003. Huggins said he thought that would help attendance on both the exhibitor and attendee side because the sports memorabilia industry has a history here.

“This hobby grew out of the North [Philadelphia], South [New] Jersey area,” he said. “That’s the epicenter of the sports collectibles industry.”

The convention will be held at the Baltimore Convention Center from Wednesday through Sunday, and it’s economic impact is expected to total millions of dollars in spending for the week. That’s largely thanks to the approximately 600 exhibitor booths and 3,000 convention personnel staying for six to seven days in the city. In addition, attendance is expected to reach 40,000 people with some staying multiple nights. Last year’s conference in Cleveland totaled 25,000 in attendance.

Single day, general admission tickets are $16.50 online and $19.95 on site. VIP packages can cost as much as $169.

Ray Schulte, owner of Woodstock-based Schulte Sports Inc. and media director for the convention, said attendance in Baltimore could surpass expectations because of its accessibility from the huge collectible markets of Northern Virginia, Philadelphia and Washington.

“If everything goes the way we think it should, we could be planning to be back on the schedule a few years from now,” he said.