After a couple of years of writing about memories and my hobby life, we’ve been very fortunate in being able to expand Rich’s Ramblings to new directions. The new series with COMC and completing set checklists is a really cool expansion of some of the work I did at Beckett back in the day and another expansion will be to do more in-depth features on leading hobby people. For no particular reason, I asked Chris Ivy of Heritage Auctions to be the first subject and he graciously agreed.
As many of you may know, Heritage Auctions is an extremely successful auction company which has been going strong for nearly 40 years now. When I checked the web site, I counted nearly 30 different categories Heritage has dedicated auctions for. So my first question to Chris was, with all the different options he had available to him, why choose sports memorabilia?
“Heritage dealt primarily in coins and currency for the first thirty plus years of the company. As I was growing up I worked summer jobs for many different divisions of the company including inventory control, shipping, and wholesale. While I enjoyed the work, I had very little interest in coins and currency and I had no intention of working for Heritage once I graduated from college. However, as with many opportunities in life, I was able to carve out a niche at Heritage due to being in the right place at the right time.
I had been working for SGC in New Jersey in 2000, then I moved back to Dallas to start my own sports card business within Heritage. Around that same time, Heritage had begun to branch out using their online bidding platform to create divisions for Vintage Movie Posters and Comic Books. Based on the early success of those new divisions and my natural passion for sports collectibles, I approached the ownership group of Heritage with a business plan to expand into sports auctions. At the time, there were many other well-established sports auction firms in the field, but we had a long term perspective and I felt that we could build a successful sports auction division with the support and infrastructure of Heritage Auctions behind it.
The rest is history as they say and we have grown at a minimum of 20% per year since the first auction in 2004 and we are on pace to do it again in 2013. It has taken significant work to get to this point and I am very lucky to have an immensely talented and hard-working team in the Sports division”.
When you were collecting cards as a kid, who was your favorite player and why?
I was a passionate card collector as a child and my favorite player was Don Mattingly. As I am sure that many of your readers can relate to, I had my mother drive me and my friends all over North Texas every Saturday to visit numerous card shows and regular shops. She also drove me to Beckett Publications at my request when I was 12 or 13 years old so that I could fill out a job application (I did not get the job 🙂
Of all the different sports collections and collectible consignments you’ve worked with, which one has been your favorite and why?
The Black Swamp Find has been my favorite collection to work with to date but it may not be for the reasons that you may expect. Of course I am very happy to be a part of this historic and significant find, but my favorite part really has been working with the family of consignors. As you can imagine, anytime there are large sums of money involved you often see the worst side of people, but my experience has been the exact opposite with this family. They really have enjoyed the process and have been a delight to work with every step of the way. I couldn’t be more pleased that this family is reaping the benefits of one of the most significant finds in the history of the hobby as it couldn’t have happened to a nicer group.
A side and funny story told by Pete Calderon at the 2012 Net 54 National Dinner was that the first people who called Heritage about those E98 cards did not get a return phone call immediately. Pete, who is perhaps the leading expert on caramel cards in the world (he used to write a column on that topic for Beckett Vintage), understood about the importance of that find and spent a lot of time working with the clients to help them sell their cards. The Black Swamp Find was the 2012 hobby “feel-good” story of the year. When such a positive story keeps running, the hobby on a general level can only be helped to grow.
Do you have any fun or interesting stories or two about a collector or consignor?
The stories that I find to be the most fun are the picker finds. There is no doubt that there is still great material out there if you know what to search for.
In 2009 I received a call from a gentleman that had a question about some pieces that he had found at an estate sale. He had gone to a home near Detroit and noticed a pile of trash off to the side of the home, when he looked closer, he saw two Ty Cobb Athletic Goods advertising pieces in the trash. He then asked the owners if he could have them and they said yes because all of that material was going to the dump. Each of those Ty Cobb pieces ended up selling for over $3,000 at auction:
1914 Ty Cobb Advertising Sign, Part One
1914 Ty Cobb Advertising Sign, Part Two
Another of my favorites was from an estate sale find in Nebraska in 2008. A gentleman purchased a group of PM1 Ornate frame pins in pristine condition and with most on their original cardboard backs. I believe that he paid less than $40 for the group and he thought that they were neat, but he had no idea what he really had until he called Heritage to inquire about them. We told him that they were very significant, but even we were blown away by their ultimate prices realized at auction as they ended up selling for over $115,000 for the group of 11. Here are a couple of the highlights:
1915 PM1 Ornate Frame Pins Chief Bender
1915 PM1 Ornate Frame Pins Ty Cobb
What is the best piece of advice you can give to any prospective consignor?
I think that this advice can be applied to most aspects of life, but always do your homework. We provide archives for every lot that we have sold at auction and those can be searched by any member. I suggest that if you are considering consigning that you search to find where similar items have sold before and what they have brought at auction. The seller’s rate is important, but it is not always the most important factor as it is ultimately about what option is going to get the consignor the most money in their pocket.
Each year at the National you run an auction which money is generated for very worthwhile charities. On the second page of the Heritage web site is a social responsibility box. The volume and quality of non-profits helped by Heritage was much more than I ever anticipated. How important is it for HA to give back to the community?
I consider myself very fortunate to be able to work in this field and many of the clients that we work with have achieved a position in life where they can afford to build significant collections. I think that it is very important to support charitable causes at the same time. As you can imagine, Heritage Sports is approached quite often with requests for donations and we work with many great charities. I am proud to say that over the last 12 months the Heritage Auctions Sports department has donated over $50,000 to worthwhile charitable causes including The Ronald McDonald houses of Baltimore and Chicago, The American Red Cross, Laurie’s Children’s Hospital of Chicago, and dozens of other worthwhile causes.
What do you do when you’re not running sports memorabilia auctions? Family? Hobbies?
My wife and I have two young daughters, so when I am not working I try to spend as much time as a I can with our family. I enjoy playing in a regular poker game with friends and as you can imagine, I am a huge sports fan as well, so I enjoy watching sports, playing fantasy football, and going to sporting events.
Rich Klein can be reached at [email protected].