It was not that long ago when the highlight of any sports collector’s week would be when a new Mastro Auctions catalog arrived. Just to see some of the history that was being sold was amazing and the company did its best to create descriptions for each lot that, while often over the top, did whet your appetite for sports history. The photography of some of the major lots made you really want what was in the picture. And that was surely the point.
Bill Mastro, who will report to a federal prison sometime soon to serve 20 months for fraud, was boss of an operation that helped the hobby evolve from a show/store/mail order way of acquiring items to the current market where there seems to be a new auction house popping up every month or so.
I never dealt with Mastro on anything during my dealing days nor did I have the money to buy auction lots from him but I think we can safely say in the first decade of the 21st century, he and his company were a towering presence. To supplement the thousands of consignments that were shipped to Chicago, you would see Mastro employees scouring the floor of major shows, buying and also rounding up items. The dark side would eventually emerge as the FBI found major wrongdoing inside the company’s offices and today, Mastro Auctions is but a memory.
If we say Mastro was the most well-known figure of 2000-2009, we can make the same argument about Alan “Mr. Mint” Rosen in the 1980s. Unlike Mastro, I did have several dealings with Al during my New Jersey days. He was a polarizing figure to many but he was always professional and honest with me and I was saddened when I heard at the National from a mutual friend of ours that he was battling some health issues.
Al has opted not to come to the National for several years but at the very first NSCC I attended back in 1983, he was getting his luggage off the cart in Chicago at the same time as me and seeing him made me realize the show was going to be a good one. If Al Rosen was setting up, we knew there would be people in the room. I don’t think any of us realized just how good the 1983 Chicago National was going to be but it gave me memories which still last to this day of being busy for 12 hours straight. I have never had a day like the opening of the 1983 Chicago show. The crowds were ravenous for sports cards.
Al made a name for himself during the 1980s and his innovative ways of advertising in the leading hobby publications and his stories about his “finds” brought us to new highs. Whether or not you liked his in your face approach, the hobby received a ton of publicity because of Al including a segment on the Today Show, magazine features, radio coverage and wire service stories that appeared in newspapers coast-to-coast and beyond. It brought many collections out of dusty attics and closets and not all of them went to Mr. Mint.
We won’t be hearing from Mastro again and Al’s days as a pitchman are probably in the past but even as their stars have dimmed and other hobby people have evolved to become leaders, it’s not possible to deny their impact on the hobby, even on today’s collectors. Some became attached to “high end” cards as the catalog auction business grew and continue to operate at the highest realms of the graded card market. Others are at the opposite end of the spectrum, like one of my local customers who is an assistant manager at McDonald’s and brings his change jar to buy cards at my shows. Some saw Al Rosen’s wad of cash in an ad and became interested in picking up where their childhood collection left off.
It’s all a reminder that the last 30 years have been a remarkable time in the hobby, which still revolves around photos on cardboard but has had its share of interesting stories and personalities too.