Brad Parvin is not a fan of the team, but the Illinois card shop owner now owns of the most incredible collections of Chicago Cubs cards, team-issued photos, pins and other memorabilia.
From Cap Anson to Kris Bryant, including Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown and Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance, and from the 1887 Old Judge set to modern-day Topps, it’s all there. Virtually every notable set. Every player. Cards from when the team was called the White Stockings, the Colts, the Orphans, and finally, the Cubs.
“I’ll argue and bet you that I’ve got the largest Cubs collection in the country,” said Parvin, who opened The Collector’s Bench four months ago in Rockford.
Or the world, for that matter.
Like most card shop owners, Parvin fields telephone calls from people who want to sell their collections. A call in mid-August would lead to a jaw-dropping experience.
“Every day I get a call: ‘Hey, do you buy stuff?’ Well, of course I do,” Parvin said. “He said, ‘I’ve got every Cubs set since 1887.’”
Parvin wasn’t born yesterday. In fact, he’s 36 and has “done this my whole life.”
There were red flags everywhere as Parvin continued the conversation.
“So I tell the guy, ‘bring it in’ and he says ‘well I can’t bring it all in,” said Parvin, who suggested the customer “bring him a sample” of what he had.
The man, who was “a guy 50 to 60,” came into the shop with several binders.
“He was the most organized guy I’ve ever met,” Parvin said. “The binders were labeled, ‘1887-1888,’ ‘1952 to 1954,’ ‘The 1970s.’
“He had all of the (Ernie) Banks cards, all of the (Ron) Santos, all of the (Billy) Williams.”
In the immortal words of the late Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray, “Holy cow!”
Parvin was interested and after reviewing the entire collection the two quickly settled on a price in the neighborhood of $300,000.
Not only did the seller have the cards, he had binders full of papers listing every card in the collection (check out the video below). Parvin did not reveal his name, but he provided some background about a man who “is just one of those Cubs fanatics.”
“He told me ‘I’m not hurting for money. But my youngest son graduates in four years and we’re going to move into a smaller place,’” Parvin said. “He’s still working, he’s got a good job. But he said he couldn’t keep up with all the new stuff.”
So the cards had to go. Along with the massive Coca-Cola collection he assembled for his wife (“He started it for her and then went overboard”). This guy is a hard-core collector. Parvin settled for the cards — but not the Coca-Coca stuff — and wondered if the seller had non-Cubs cards.
He did. A 1933 Goudey card of Lou Gehrig, which Parvin also bought.
“When I asked him how long, he said ‘A lot shorter than you think,’” Parvin said.
Originally, Parvin estimated the number of cards and memorabilia to be in the hundreds of thousands, but now he would not be surprised if the collection had more than a million items.
“I haven’t been able to thumb through it all yet,” Parvin said. “But he’s got the 1969 Dunkin Donuts set, the 1971 Milk Duds, Cap Anson, Mordecai Brown, silks. It was things you’d never seen before. Every day I go through it and find something different.”
Parvin said he especially enjoyed the team photos and the original envelopes they came in.
Not all of the cards are graded, but a significant portion of the most valuable cards are slabbed. Just about everything is in good shape.
“Are they pristine? No,” Parvin said. “Is the collection complete? Well, there are checklists for the cards from the 1930s on. Before that, there may be some cards missing, but I’d bet they’re all there.”
Parvin brought about “10 percent” of the collection to display in his shop, “and it covers all the tables” in the center aisle. Reaction has been positive. The collection has already been featured in a local newspaper and a TV news crew from WGN in Chicago drove over last week to produce a story that aired on Monday.
Card collecting has been in Parvin’s blood since he was youngster growing up in Rockford. It was one way to connect with his father, who was a softball umpire on weekends and rarely saw his son. Parvin’s parents divorced when he was young, but he would talk sports with his father on the telephone.
“I’d open cards while on the telephone with Dad, we’d talk sports,” he said. “In 1986 I’m five years old and ripping packs. I’d pull a Mike Schmidt and I’d say, ‘I don’t know him, is he any good?’ I can’t even tie my shoes but I’m talking Mike Schmidt with my dad.”
Parvin may be in Cubs country, but he is a Yankees fan. Growing up, his favorite player was Darryl Strawberry, who played his final five major-league seasons with the Yankees.
“I’ve got two of every card ever made of him when he was playing,” Parvin said.
Parvin attended Palm Beach Atlantic University in Florida. He has a background in finance, and his take on card values reflects a stockbroker’s mentality. He calls the recent offerings of cards “great.”
“Vintage cards are like mutual funds. They’re safe and they will hold their value,” he said. “The new card market is volatile. If you sold an Aaron Judge card before this season for $100 you were dancing a jig. Now some of his cards are in the thousands.”
Opening a shop in Rockford has been a fun experience. “It’s a card bar, an easy, relaxed place,” Parvin said. “I don’t have stuff thrown everywhere. It looks more like a museum. I’m just a guy that works there. It’s my customers’ shop.”
A father of three and married to his wife Natalie for nearly seven years (their anniversary is Oct. 22), Parvin is hoping the Cubs collection will bring his family some security.
“The ultimate thing is I’d like to sell it to (Cubs owner) Mr. (Thomas) Ricketts,” he said. “Or, if we can find a real good buyer for it that would be great.
“Then again, if we get ‘x’ amount of dollars and season tickets, well that would be cool, too, Parvin said. “If (the collection) was the Padres or the Angels I wouldn’t care. But when it’s such a revered team with such a long history, then that’s cool.”
If a buyer does not step up to purchase the collection, “I’ll piecemeal it” and sell it, Parvin said.
But for now, he will enjoy his good fortune.
“I’m a fanatic, I love it — and I’m not even a Cubs fan,” he said.