This is the second in an ongoing series of articles written by readers who tell the stories of the sports memorabilia they collect and why.
As a kid growing up in the suburbs north of Boston, it’s no surprise that I became a sports fan. Cheering on the Red Sox, Patriots, Bruins and Celtics is often a family affair that stretches back many generations and my story is no different. I’ve had a desire to collect and learn anything there is to know about sports for as long as I can remember, inspired mostly by my father reminiscing about his Boston sports heroes from the 1960s and 1970s. I quickly grew into a dedicated member of Red Sox Nation, but my deep passion for sports history drove my collecting interests well beyond traditional parameters.
One of my earliest memories related to sports has to do with the relocation of the Cleveland Browns in 1995 and seeing how upset fans were at the loss of their team. I quickly developed a fascination with where franchises had once played and the cities they left behind. Before long I had an encyclopedic knowledge of what year a team moved, where they moved from and what their old nickname and colors were, not to mention a pretty firm grasp on US geography. There were mini pennants of pro teams from all the different leagues bordering my room as a kid, but it wasn’t until I had revisited collecting as an adult that I began to focus solely on collecting and understanding the history of pennants. I noticed pennants more and more as I would frequent card shows, flea markets and estate sales. Once I found a USFL Boston Breakers pennant underneath a pile of stuff at a flea market for a dollar, I was hooked.
I began focusing on building a set of USFL pennants, then the World Football League from 1974-1975. My interest quickly expanded into the Boston teams and anything else defunct. I consider myself a “Pennant Super Collector” in every sense of the term. I’m constantly looking for small variations and printing differences that could indicate where or when a pennant was manufactured. Just this past weekend I completed a huge milestone, adding the Los Angeles Sharks and Ottawa Nationals to complete a full set of WHA pennants.
The total number of pennants in my collection is about 6,500, with 2,000 of them making up my personal collection that I keep off of the market. In my personal collection I have about 1,200 different teams represented from a variety of sports and eras. There are at least 250 different Red Sox flags, dating as far back as the 1930s. My favorite pennants represent franchises that played a single season or folded mid year. I get creative with my displays, often trying to walk the line between good taste and over doing it. I always try to rotate what’s on my walls because pennants are meant to be displayed.
Hunting for pennants quickly became a game of how many I could buy and for how much. I made up bulk pricing guidelines for myself based on eBay purchases and stuck to them at all costs no matter what. Buying on eBay has led to a number of interesting incidents related to receiving pennants in the mail. The average person may not understand how bad folding is for old style screen printing, which can cause it to chip and flake off. There are many occasions when the postal service has less than gentle in transporting them. These incidents led me to develop a perfect method for getting pennants through the mail safely and cheaply. I’ve mailed thousands of pennants flat between 2 pieces of cardboard (I prefer tri folding school display boards found in the stationary section), sealed along the sides with packing tape through first class mail without incident.
I’m usually surprised at how often memorabilia dealers would not bother with pennants, complaining that they were too difficult to store or effectively price. Seeing an opportunity, I sought out these people and purchased large inventories time and again. One of the most memorable examples of this was once when I stopped into a card shop I pass every day while commuting to work, but never had time to stop in. Upon walking in the door I noticed a small table in the back stacked up with pennants and went through them, noticing a lot of rare items. I went to the front counter and asked the store owner if that was his full stock of pennants, he laughed and asked me to follow him out back where he had a literal waist high pile of pennants littered over a store room.
A lack of consensus information about pennants makes it difficult to determine if rarity or demand drives the value of a particular flag. The rarest flags in my collection might not be the most valuable. Some of my absolute rarest finds are a 1974 World Team Tennis Florida Flamingoes, 1972 Southeast Hockey League Suncoast (St. Petersberg, FL) Suns and a 1992 Arena Football San Antonio Force, complete with autographs from the entire team. While these pennants might not bring huge value on the auction block, they are very close to one of a kind.
The most valuable collection I ever purchased came from an inauspicious ad for pennants on Craigslist that turned out to be a gold mine. An elderly man who had grown up a Boston Braves fan from the 1940s until the team moved was downsizing his clutter and came across a group of 13 pennants he had purchased at Braves Field as a boy. The condition truly was immaculate. After moving out of his parents’ house this gentleman carefully took the flags down and stored them in an extra closet in his own home away from light, heat and moths. I’ve never seen another collection like it offered anywhere, it was truly a privilege to acquire such great pennants from their original owner.
I’ve capitalized on the unique aspect of pennants and began to set up tables at local trade shows. I started out trading and selling the doubles, plus non New England teams while using the profits to expand. In a room full of card dealers competing with each other for the best price, I’m always the only one with thousands of pennants to choose from.
My popularity and enthusiasm for pennants at local vintage markets and trade shows led to my nickname, The Felt Fanatic. Like most other collectors, Instagram and eBay have done wonders for networking with others interested in adding an authentic vintage pennant to their collection. My weekends during the spring and summer are now occupied with setting up my booth at vintage markets in my hometown of Salem, MA, as well as Somerville, MA. I would have never imagined that my collection would become a source of income or an opportunity to interact with so many different people.
Studying history in college and as a graduate student has provided me the opportunity to develop the skills necessary to research and gather more information about my collection. I’m quick to point out the thickness of the Standard Catalogue of Baseball Cards, where seemingly every baseball card set ever printed is documented and appraised. There is only one book that attempts to give comprehensive information and pricing on pennants. It’s about 200 pages and only focuses on very specific aspects of pennant collecting. In comparison, imagine having the only baseball card book available be about Topps cards from the 1950s.
As my collection has grown, so has my understanding of how pennants were manufactured and distributed. Finding small variations is very exciting not only because they grow my collection, but also because they provide a small piece to a largely undocumented history.
My collection continues to grow exponentially as I make wise investments and expand my social network. Ultimately, I want at least one pennant of every pro sports franchise ever to play in New England, from the Boston Red Sox to the Holyoke Millers to the Rhode Island Reds. My desire to capture one of every defunct team in addition to any variation has built up a truly limitless checklist.
I strive to be a source of information and genuine expert about pennant collecting. Part of the fun is teaching someone something new or enjoying the nostalgia trip they go on when they find another copy of the pennant that hung in their room as a kid.
I truly enjoy learning and verifying information, I encourage anyone to reach out to me if you’re interested in pennants. I’m always interested in buying and trading collections no matter where they are located. The easiest way to contact me is through my Instagram page or via my eBay page.
Do you want to tell the story of what you collect and why? From players to teams to complete sets, autographs, game-worn material and anything else that has kept you busy for years, we’d love for you to share your story in your own words and photos. Send us an email: [email protected]