Wednesday, December 30, 2009

More Neal Adams

In the past several months I have been able to check a few Neal Adams books from my wantlist. My collecting sweetspot is in the 8.0 - 9.0 range... VF to VF/NM. Here you can obtain very presentable and collectible books for a fraction of "near mint" prices. If you don't look too hard, they are virtually indistinguishable from NM copies. ;-)

Thanks to Blazing Bob for the Batmans and Detective Comics. Bob is not the least (or most) expensive dealer out there... but his grading is dead on, if not a bit conservative. I agreed with him on all of the books, except I think he slightly undergraded the Batman 241 at 8.5. I see no reason why it shouldn't be a 9.0.



From the Diamond Run collection:


I obtained the World's Finest from a CGC Forum member.


Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Happy 87th, Stan "The Man" Lee

Hard to believe Stan Lee is 87 years old. Happy birthday and Excelsior!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Forgeries: Should buyers share the blame?

For great rants against forgeries on eBay and other auction sites, check out TomTresh2 on YouTube. Rant after rant of highlighting fakes and outing the sellers.

An interesting aspect of his videos is that he places 50% of the blame of the scourge of forgeries on the buyers who don't do their homework and buy obvious forgeries. He has a point.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Marvel's Greatest Comics For Only $1.00



Marvel is proud to announce the all-new MARVEL'S GREATEST COMICS imprint, spotlighting Marvel's most-acclaimed series with new printings of these must-read issues priced at only one dollar each! This bold new venture, launching in March 2010, offers a perfect jumping on point for new readers as well as provides retailers with a great low cost first chapter to some of the hottest selling Marvel Collected editions. And to really get things going, the first title from this line, INVINCIBLE IRON MAN #1, is free!

"We're proud of the books Marvel publishes and now not only are we giving retailers a great way to promote our top collections, but also giving consumers a chance to sample some of our top comics, maybe for the first time and at an unbeatable price," said David Gabriel, Marvel Senior Vice-President of Sales & Circulation. "MARVEL'S GREATEST COMICS represents one of the best values in comics today and with Free Comic Book Day only months after the initial launch, retailers will want to be well stocked."

The titles launching in March, at one per week, are:

March 24: THOR #1
March 31: PUNISHER MAX #1

Stay tuned for more details on MARVEL'S GREATEST COMICS at!

Jimmy Page calls his purported autograph on guitar a forgery; attorney dries up legitimacy of John Paul Jones

Jimmy Page calls his purported autograph on guitar a forgery; attorney dries up legitimacy of John Paul Jones

Monday, December 14, 2009

Inside Edition investigates photos used to "authenticate" autographs

Here is an interesting Inside Edition expose on Photo-shopped photographs used to "prove" that a celebrity signed an item.

As always, caveat emptor!

Friday, December 11, 2009

A rich man's hobby?

Of course I was thrilled to see a rightful order restored and the Yankees atop the baseball world once again.

After the series I took some time to go through my collection and take a bit of an inventory... it's been a while since I went through my Yankee autographs, and quite frankly, in some cases couldn't remember who I had and who I didn't.

I'm sure glad that I obtained many of my autographs nearly a decade ago... when you could actually get a current player's autograph for less than $50. I recall going to autograph shows back in the 90s with a few hundred dollars and getting a dozen or more autographs from name brand players.

Today, $200 might get you a Nick Swisher (inscription extra, of course.) Jeter is well over $500 in Steiner private signings. (Thanks for being so fan friendly, Jete!)

Would it really kill today's players to "sacrifice" and charge "only" $50 or $100 a signature so fans other than C-level corporate executives could afford them?

Check out the Sports Locker

Here's a good collecting site that is regularly updated -- much more diligent than me... but that's not saying much!

The Sports Locker focuses on sports cards and autographs. It's well written, interesting and well worth a visit.

Friday, August 28, 2009

The Last Iconic Baseball Card

Here's an interesting article in the decline of the baseball card memorabilia market... will this be the blueprint for other hobbies as well?

Also interesting to note the details of the "chop shop" where they dismantle, chop and cut up memorabilia for affixing to chase cards.


The Last Iconic Baseball Card
Luke Winn, Sports Illustrated

It is mid-July, three weeks to the day before Major League Baseball will announce that, starting in 2010, it is awarding the exclusive rights to produce trading cards with MLB team logos and nicknames to Topps. I am in Carlsbad, Calif., receiving a tour of the headquarters of Upper Deck, which has produced licensed baseball cards for the past 20 years and is Topps's only remaining competitor in a cratering market. We're in a fenced-off area of the warehouse known as the Game-Worn Jersey Room. It is where memorabilia go to slaughter, cut up into hundreds of pieces that will eventually be affixed to insert (or chase) cards, which are placed in random packs in the hopes of enticing collectors.

More than 10,000 chopped-up items are stored in plastic bags on rows of metal shelves. For my visit Mark Shaunessy, the supervisor of this operation, has laid out an assortment of yet-to-be-cut artifacts on a table, including jerseys belonging to LeBron James and Grady Sizemore (with real dirt stains!), a bat of Derek Jeter's and baseballs signed by Joe DiMaggio and Walter Johnson. In the middle of this collection is something that was certainly neither worn nor used in major league baseball, let alone the NBA, NFL or NHL: a sequined, neon-green strip of fabric.

"That," Shaunessy says, "came from Miley Cyrus. It was her headband. We're going to do cuts of that too."

Would you believe that a 16-year-old's hair accessory is far from the strangest thing on display? To its left is a Baggie labeled FRAGILE: TITANIC COAL—containing actual coal pulled from the ship's wreckage. Chris Carlin, the marketing manager leading my tour, informs me that in a baseball set called Goodwin Champions, coming out in September, "there are going to be landmark insert cards: stuff like Titanic coal, the sands of Iwo Jima, Dead Sea salt." Inside perhaps the last packs of fully licensed MLB cards that Upper Deck will ever make, buyers might also find equine hair, with actual hair-sample cards of Kentucky Derby winners Funny Cide and Smarty Jones. (The human hairs of Beethoven and Che Guevara were contained in a pack earlier this year.)

Farther to our left is a briefcase. Its brass nameplate reads S.D. JR., for Sammy Davis Jr. Its leather, its lining, perhaps even the nameplate will soon be cut up and attached to cards. "Just got these in—they're Farrah Fawcett's," says Shaunessy, referring to a pair of olive cargo pants. They seem absurdly small. Carlin wonders whether he could even fit one leg in the waist.

The sports trading card industry is dealing with an uncomfortable present and an uncertain future. The sales of cards peaked in 1991 at $1.2 billion, according to estimates by Sports Collector's Digest, but slid to $400 million by the turn of the century and to $200 million last year. MLB is banking on Topps, now owned by former Disney CEO Michael Eisner, to reattract kids and streamline product offerings. Upper Deck put out 16 baseball sets in 2009 and says that it will continue to make cards with its MLB Players Association license in 2010, though none of the subjects can appear bearing a team logo. A lawsuit by Upper Deck challenging Topps's exclusive deal is also a possibility, a company source told SI last week.

Even so, there's no guarantee that the existing customer base—hard-core hobbyists for whom even jersey swatches are becoming passé—will stay on board. Insert cards have been around for years. Will pop-culture ephemera be enough of a draw? When someone's pack yields a poly-cotton swatch that once hugged the backside of a Charlie's Angel, what will be the reaction? Arousal? Shock? Or, worse, indifference?

You have to go back 20 years to find a landmark baseball card: Ken Griffey Jr.'s 1989 Upper Deck Star Rookie, the number 1 card in that set. That was Upper Deck's rookie year too, and the company stormed onto the scene that March with a wildly successful premium product. Branded the Collector's Choice, it was twice as expensive as its peers' (99 cents per pack, compared with 49 cents for such top competitors as Topps, Fleer, Donruss and Score) and twice the quality (packaged in foil with color photos on both sides and a hologram on the back). But this is what mattered: Upper Deck had the undisputed Griffey rookie card. Topps and Score didn't have the foresight even to include the Mariners' 19-year-old phenom in their first-edition sets, while Donruss and Fleer were virtual afterthoughts in the hobby's frenzy over Upper Deck's premiere.

By the time, say, Derek Jeter came along in the 1990s, the market had become oversaturated with Upper Deck copycats; the Yankees shortstop had eight different rookie cards. When Albert Pujols arrived in 2001, he had 43. In '89 Griffey stood alone, and his card's value has held up reasonably well: at a high end of $40 in the most recent Beckett Baseball. But as his 21-year, surefire Hall of Fame career comes to an unremarkable end in Seattle, it appears unlikely that baseball cards will regain the cultural significance they had 20 years ago. The Kid's Upper Deck debut could very well be the last iconic rookie card ever made.

The image of Griffey that became part of collecting lore, with his blue turtleneck and 'fro-mullet tucked beneath his cap, was doctored. In his home office in Corona, Calif., 75 miles north of Upper Deck's headquarters, Tom Geideman hands me a Polaroid that had been sitting atop a binder of Griffey cards and says, "This—it's cut off a little bit—but this is the original photo." Griffey's wearing the navy-blue hat of Seattle's Class A affiliate, the San Bernardino Spirit, whose logo is a silver S over a red star. The picture was taken by the late V.J. Lovero, an Angels team photographer who shot Griffey and his father for a Sports Illustrated feature in 1988. Lovero sold one of his extras to Upper Deck, which airbrushed the hat royal blue, erased the star, made the S yellow and—ta-da!—completed the makeover.

Geideman has the Polaroid because he was the one who, at age 18, put Kid Griffey on the card. In June 1988, when Bill Hemrick, the owner of The Upper Deck, an Anaheim card store, Richard McWilliam, a CPA, and Paul Sumner, a publishing company executive, founded the Upper Deck Company in Yorba Linda, Calif., they made Geideman, a rabid card collector, their first employee. They paid him $15 an hour, gave him business cards that said product analyst and entrusted him with choosing players for the 700 cards in that first edition.

Geideman set aside the first 26 spots for a subset called Star Rookies, and the logical number 1 card was Mets wunderkind Gregg Jefferies, who had been a two-time minor league player of the year; Brewers infielder Gary Sheffield and Padres catcher Sandy Alomar Jr. were also reasonable choices. Griffey had been injured late in 1988 and didn't seem likely to make the Mariners' big league roster in '89. But Geideman, whose birthday was less than six months after Griffey's, had been tracking Junior through Baseball America and believed he had the biggest upside. When Upper Deck did its first test runs of the '89 set, Geideman told the press workers not to discard the number 1 Griffeys. "I remember saying," he tells me, 'You don't want to rip up hundred-dollar bills.'"

Sets are defined by their rookies, and the Griffey pick was a defining set for Upper Deck. After making the Mariners out of spring training in '89, Griffey was an immediate sensation. Geideman, who briefly attended Cal State--San Bernardino, dropped out of school to work full time at Upper Deck after it relocated to Carlsbad. He would leave the company in 1994 to become the marketing director for The Score Board, a card-and-memorabilia company in Cherry Hill, N.J., and when it declared bankruptcy in '98, Geideman joined with a coworker to form SAGE, a niche sports-card brand that makes autographed sets of NFL prospects that are released during the window between the end of college football season and the start of the NFL season.

Griffey, however, is still a presence in Geideman's Spanish Mission ranch: In a display case just off the kitchen is a triptych with Griffey's '88 San Bernardino road jersey, autographed on the front; an '89 Mariners home jersey; and a 2000 Reds jersey, when he was wearing number 30 instead of 24. Geideman also has cards mixed into the display, and after we're done examining the jerseys, he points to an Upper Deck prototype of Lions running back Barry Sanders, from '91, the year of Brett Favre's debut.

"That was the year we started doing football," Geideman says, "and the guy doing that set felt the need to make his mark and put a guy at Number 1."

There's a reason no one remembers that card: "He picked Dan McGwire."

Before a Mariners game in Baltimore in June, I ask Griffey about the '89 card. He's Upper Deck's longest-tenured spokesman, and this year the company bought 89 of his rookies back from dealers, asked him to autograph them with the inscription 20 YEARS, then inserted them into baseball packs. He says he was never in awe of the card (which fetched $150 as recently as 2000), having already grown up in major league clubhouses. He points to the printout of the card that I'm holding and says, "That hairstyle, that hat. That's why we don't keep it around the house, so my son doesn't see it."

Trey, his 15-year-old son, is sitting two feet away, traveling with the team on summer break. It seems that he hasn't been effectively sheltered from the card. He's rocking the same hairstyle his dad did in '89. "I've already seen it," Trey says. "Grandma showed it to me."

Trey says that he has no interest in collecting cards. "I bet if I brought home a pack of football cards, you'd look at them," Griffey says. Trey is big into football, but his dad's suggestion elicits only a shrug.

"What do you think about now, son?" Griffey asks. "Girls?"

Card shops have died off at an alarming rate, down from some 5,000 in the early '90s to 500 now, according to Sports Collector's Digest—but the original Upper Deck shop in Anaheim still exists, albeit under a different name at a different location, neither of which Geideman is completely sure about. Our first stop is at its original location, a minimall at the corner of State College and La Palma, in a dreary section of town. Its old address—1050 State College Boulevard—no longer exists. A guy running the minimall's pet store tells us that the shop moved a short drive south on State College 17 years ago.

The shop has been renamed Win Lose or Draw Sportswear, and when we get there, Bruce Gershenoff is the only one inside. He bought The Upper Deck from Hemrick in 1988 for $50,000, and the shop is now a '90s time warp: Aside from a shelf of New Era fitted hats, most of the clothing hasn't been updated in 15 years. After Geideman reintroduces himself (they met in '88), Gershenoff explains why he changed the name. When the card market started crashing in '93 and Upper Deck's corporate offices fell behind on payments for services and supplies, their bad credit seeped into Gershenoff's rating and hampered his ability to restock the store.

He incorporated as Win Lose or Draw in '95 but had already given up on cards a year earlier, around the time of the baseball strike, a tipping point for the card industry. "My sales from '88 to '92 were $10,000 to $13,000 a month, and the cost of goods was only $1,000 to $2,000 a month," Gershenoff says. "Then they started putting out so much product, raising the price on packs and putting in chase cards that caused people to stop trying to make sets. Kids ran away. Hobbyists got aggravated because they couldn't afford everything, and speculators backed off because of oversaturation. By '94 my sales were $3,000 a month, and new products were up to $5,000 a month. I had to get out."

He still has some old packs near the cash register. I ask what he does with them.

"I don't even do a hundred a month in cards now," Gershenoff says, "so if somebody comes in and spends $25, I give them a 50-cent pack: '88 Score, '91 Fleer. If they spend $50, I give them a dollar pack: '91 Stadium Club, '91 Upper Deck. A lot of people say, 'I don't want them.' I'll ask, 'Maybe you have a neighbor who's been a good kid?' And sometimes they'll say, 'O.K., I've got a nephew or some Jack I can give them to,' but a lot of times it's just, 'No thanks. I've got a ton sitting at home and nothing to do with them.'"

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A Nancy Pelosi Story That Makes Me Smile

Heard on the Hill: Snubbing the Speaker

By Emily Heil and Elizabeth Brotherton
Roll Call Staff
July 22, 2009

Speaker Nancy Pelosi got dissed by astronaut Neil Armstrong after a ceremony at which the California Democrat honored the moonwalking hero and his historic Apollo 11 flight.

After the event marking the 40th anniversary of Armstrong's "giant leap for mankind," held in the Cannon House Office Building on Tuesday, an admiring Pelosi approached Armstrong with pen in hand, a witness to the snub tells HOH.

Pelosi asked the publicity-shy former astronaut to autograph something for her, but he wouldn't oblige. "I'm sorry, I don't do that anymore," Armstrong informed the autograph-seeker.

Turns out, Pelosi shouldn't take his put-down personally. Armstrong reportedly refuses all autograph requests, no matter how powerful the person asking. He stopped giving out his John Hancock years ago, news reports say, fearing forgeries and concerned about those making large amounts of money from autographed items.

In fact, Pelosi took getting turned down in stride, spokesman Brendan Daly says. "The Speaker would go to the moon and back to try to get what her grandson asked for," he tells HOH. "But he learned a valuable lesson: You can't always get what you want."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Salute to Apollo 11

I'm sure glad I added these items to my collection years ago... not so sure the Armstrong would be within reach now! The "Apollo 11" inscription is quite uncommon and adds a great deal of value to this undoubtedly authentic exemplar. Further, the signature is nicely preserved and exhibits very little fading so commonly seen in Armstrong signatures. My theory is that Armstrong used a blue Flair marker... a pen notorious for fading. Plus, so many people probably displayed their signed photos in a frame -- another reason a high percentage of Armstrong signed photos are badly faded. I purchased this from the original recipient, Scottie Hensley, about 7 - 8 years ago.
Even though Buzz Aldrin is a common signature, his signing fee is high (around $400 last time I checked). Apparently, he still gets people to pay the fee. A common signed Aldrin item might command $100 - $150 on ebay.
Mike Collins used to be the most uncommon signature among the Apollo 11 crew. He signed freely for a few years after Apollo 11 until the mid-70s when he worked at the Smithsonian. After that, he became more reclusive; he didn't hide his dislike for autograph requests. In recent years, he has conducted private signings and appeared at a few signing events. Still, his signature is in high demand.
A signed Apollo 11 crew photo is one of the holy grails of astronaut autograph collecting, commanding thousands of dollars. While I'd love to have one in my collection, I think there is a higher probability of me being the next man to walk on the moon!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

One giant signature for mankind

By Brian MacQuarrie, Boston Globe Staff July 14, 2009

AMHERST, N.H. - Forty years ago on Thursday, astronaut Neil Armstrong hurtled into space aboard Apollo 11 for his rendezvous with immortality on the dusty surface of the moon.

But before he rode an elevator to the top of a 30-story-tall Saturn V rocket, Armstrong paused and wrote a check for $10.50 to a colleague.

“Here’s a check for the loan,’’ Armstrong said to Hal Collins, NASA chief of mission support. “But don’t cash it, because I will be coming back.’’

Four decades later, Armstrong’s autograph would become the most valuable from any living human being, collectors say. That check, with a clearly legible name that flows gracefully across its bottom, is now for sale through an auction house here.

“He’s the most sought-after human being for an autograph,’’ said Anthony Pizzitola of Houston, vice president of the Universal Autograph Collectors Club, the largest of its kind in the world. “That’s based on the fact that he just stopped signing in 1994. It’s just like a stock; that’s basically what it is.’’

The confluence of ultrarare qualities - an Armstrong signature, the timing of launch day, and the approaching anniversary - is sweet music to RR Auction, which is handling the sale here. Bids, which close at 10 p.m. tomorrow, appear likely to top the previous high of $19,000 for an Armstrong signing, Pizzitola said.

RR Auction owner Bob Eaton, whose modest storefront masks a star-studded office where Marilyn Monroe competes with Teddy Roosevelt for wall space, said the check shows something of Armstrong’s character. During a pressure-packed morning of flight preparations, the astronaut took time to repay a friend.

“Before he left for the moon, he wanted to show that this gentleman would be paid back,’’ said Eaton, a native of Newton, Mass., who first dipped his toes in the business at age 19, when he used an $1,800 loan from his grandfather to buy a heaping trove of baseball artifacts.

The check was offered for consignment by Noah Bradley of Charlottesville, Va., a collector of space memorabilia who bought the item from Collins’s son in 2002. With the anniversary of Armstrong’s moon walk approaching, Bradley decided to resell.

“As collectors, we are always temporary custodians of any item, and sometimes it’s time to let it go somewhere else,’’ said Bradley, 52, who restores and rebuilds historic homes. “If you’re interested in space collecting, Neil Armstrong is the pinnacle.’’

Armstrong’s is also a difficult autograph to acquire. The former test pilot and Korean War aviator, who became concerned about the profiteering and forgeries associated with his signature, stopped signing autographs for the public in 1994. He once even threatened to sue his longtime barber, who had sold a bit of Armstrong’s hair for $3,000.

What makes this autograph extra special, said Eaton, who recently sold a signed copy of the famous tongue-wagging photo of Albert Einstein, is that Armstrong included his rarely used middle initial. It was one of only three times he signed his full name, Neil A. Armstrong, during the Apollo 11 mission. The other two times were on a customs declaration after reentry and on a plaque left on the moon, according to the RR Auction staff.

Bids might top $30,000 by tomorrow’s deadline, predicted Bob Livingston, the auction’s director of sales and marketing. After the 10 p.m. window closes, bidders who participated before the deadline can submit new offers during 10-minute segments that are reset with each fresh bid. Once 10 minutes have passed without a new offer, the sale is closed.

Livingston predicted that bidding, primarily from baby boomers with keen memories of the July 20, 1969, moon landing, could continue until 6 a.m. Thursday. So far, bidding that opened July 10 has attracted interest from Europe and across the United States, the auction staff said.

The allure of an authenticated autograph, in addition to its monetary value, includes the knowledge that “it’s absolutely personal,’’ Livingston said.

RR Auction, which offers 1,500 items each month, handles the highest volume of autographs of any auction house in the country, Eaton said. The house’s fees for the Armstrong check will be 18 percent from the buyer and between 10 and 15 percent from the seller, Eaton said.

To walk through the business is to walk through a who’s who of signed photos and memorabilia from an array of politicians, sports figures, entertainers, and inventors.

Thomas Edison and the Wright brothers are favorites here, as well as luminaries as diverse as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, P.T. Barnum, and Ted Williams.

There’s also a ticket to the US Senate gallery for the 1868 impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson; a ticket to the 1935 trial of Bruno Hauptmann, executed in the kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh’s baby; and even a request from 1836, written in Spanish by Lieutenant Colonel William Travis, to buy beef for his doomed men at the Alamo.

From now through Wednesday, however, the focus will be on Armstrong, and a mission of unprecedented human exploration that captivated the world. What $10.50 had bought for a soon-to-be space traveler with no need for money - or any place to put spare cash and coins, for that matter - is unknown to Bradley or the auction house.

But what that check represented, in very human terms, is the unpredictable mortality of a mission whose sheer audacity seems magnified with every passing year.

“It captures that moment forever,’’ Livingston said.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

More Does Not Always = Better

Here's a sad example of not having enough sense to leave something alone. Why add a common $50 signature (Gene Cernan) to a rare and valuable item like an uninscribed Apollo 1 crew photo? This is like adding a Jimmy Carter signature to a document signed by Washington and Jefferson. Senseless and tasteless.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Get Your Freeze-Dried Sod Here!

For the fan that has almost everything -- a freeze dried 3 inch round clump of sod from the old Yankee Stadium. As stated in the ad, "*PLEASE NOTE, DIRT MAY FALL FROM BOTTOM OF SOD." Won't that make a nice display? A pile of dirt and freeze dried blades of grass jumbled up in a plastic cube like sod salad.

If money is no object, you can get a 20 x 20 foot piece of Authentic Yankee Stadium Sod from behind home plate with the interlocking NY... comes complete with a bag of peat moss, grass seed, and a flag stating its origin for only $50,000.

What will they think of selling next? Locker room used urinal cakes?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Essays and Articles on the Golden Age of Comic Books

Noted comic book collector Jon Berk has granted the Network of Disclosure (NOD) the rights to reprint his wonderful essays and articles on the Golden Age of Comics.

A fantastic mix of information, nostalgia and fanboy joy, this is required reading for any serious comic book collector. In a time when it seems like more collectors are concerned with latest sales figures, CGC census data and backslapping over nosebleed prices paid, it's refreshing to take a step back and learn about the humble beginnings of the art form.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Action Comics 54 - The Nazi Sub

Just because I took a long hiatus in posting to the blog, doesn't mean I wasn't collecting. So, I have some nice acquisitions from the past year to share.

I'll start with this copy of Action Comics 54 I picked up earlier in 2009. I love the Action war covers, but they are getting harder and harder to acquire... seems like a lot of collectors have decided to focus on them. The competition now makes me wish I had worked a little harder at collecting them when I started years ago.


Monday, April 27, 2009

Auction House Politics and PSA/DNA

This is a bit old, but still quite relevant...


'Babe' sellers see bad signs
Give authenticators failing grade

By Michael O'Keeffe
NY Daily News
Monday, August 6, 2007

Longtime TV sports journalist Robert Bender left his family with a mountain of medical bills when he died last fall after suffering for years from Alzheimer's disease. But he did leave his survivors with several assets, including a home in Hilton Head, S.C., and his collection of sports memorabilia, most notably a baseball autographed by Babe Ruth.

Bender's family hoped to sell those items to pay off its debts, but the declining real estate market has made it difficult to sell the home in South Carolina. The politics of the sports memorabilia industry, the family says, have set back its efforts to get a fair price for the Ruth ball.

"We were punished," Bender's son Bob Bender says, "because we didn't choose to sell the ball through Mastro Auctions."

In the world of sports memorabilia, authenticators are supposed to be knowledgeable third parties who grade autographed balls, trading cards, jerseys and other collectibles with a cold, objective eye.

But collectors and dealers have complained for years that authentication companies award higher grades for big-volume customers, including Mastro Auctions, sports memorabilia's largest auction house. The story of Robert Bender's Babe Ruth baseball, they say, suggests the relationship between Mastro Auctions and PSA/DNA, the hobby's biggest autograph-authentication service, is too cozy.

"There's no doubt Mastro gets preferential treatment from PSA/DNA," one hobby executive says.

Robert Bender, the longtime sports director at WGY-TV in upstate Schenectady, met and interviewed some of the biggest names in sports history, including Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams, according to his son, who now lives in Atlanta. Along the way, Robert Bender picked up some souvenirs, including the ball autographed by the great Ruth. "He probably got it during an interview," Bender says.

His father, Bender adds, must have had a sense that the ball would be worth something some day, because he didn't leave it lying around the house, where his kids might grab it for use in a sandlot game. Instead, he put it in a safe-deposit box with its original carton, where it sat undisturbed for decades.

Shortly after Bender's death, his family decided to consign the Ruth ball and other autographed baseballs to an auction house. After researching various houses, Bob Bender settled on two candidates - Mastro Auctions and Long Island-based Leland's. Both companies, after being provided scans of the ball, said the ball would be a star of any auction because it was in great shape and the autograph was crisp and sharp. According to Bender, both guaranteed at least $75,000 for the ball but said it would probably go for six figures.

"They both led us to believe it was one of the best Ruth balls they had ever seen," said Jean Bender, Bob Bender's wife.

Leland's ultimately got the nod, Bob Bender says, because it seemed more responsive and more personable. When Mastro president Doug Allen was informed about the decision, however, he told Bender his family had made a terrible mistake.

"The reason for my concern is relationships," Allen wrote in a November e-mail to Bob Bender. "The other balls in the collection will take care of themselves. The Ruth ball on the other hand will depend on relationships; a relationship with PSA/DNA and relationship with high-end customers. I already shared the images with PSA/DNA and am convinced we could have maximized the grade on the ball."

In another e-mail, Allen said, "I hate to see you go with a firm that cannot maximize the grade with PSA and ensure you get a world-class price for this ball."

Allen says he was not suggesting Mastro Auctions could pull strings to get a higher grade than Leland's. Instead, he says, his company knows what items should be graded and how to prepare them. "I spend more money for our customers than any other auction house," he says. "We get record prices for our items."

The Bender family, however, was not persuaded to change its mind. The ball was given to Leland's, which then submitted it to PSA/DNA.

PSA/DNA, however, first claimed there was evidence that two other autographs had been removed from the Ruth ball, which would significantly reduce its value. Leland's submitted the ball a second time and was told an inscription had been removed, which would also erode its value.

Leland's finally brought the ball to James Spence Authentication, a Pennsylvania autograph authentication service that ran the ball through its video spectral comparator, a sophisticated machine that uses magnification and different kinds of light to detect erasures and forgeries.

"You can see things you can't with the naked eye," says Spence. "There was no evidence that anything had been removed. There are differences of opinion, but we had six people huddled around it through different cycles. We did our due diligence and we believe nothing had been removed."

PSA/DNA president Joe Orlando did not return a call for comment. PSA/DNA eventually graded the Benders' Ruth ball an eight on a scale of 10, and although it's a high grade, it would not likely bring the six-figure payoff Bender says Leland's and Mastro Auctions had said the ball would fetch.

The whole experience has left Bender with a bad taste, and he says his family will hang on to the ball for now and try to sell it at a later date.

"I wish I knew more about this industry before I started messing with it," Bender says. "We're not sure what to do now."

Friday, April 24, 2009


Allure is a terrific blog dedicated to the screen stars of the 20s and 30s and their alluring images.

The majority of the images come from my friend Bob’s personal collection of postcards and magazines. Bob is quite a buff of films from this era and has fascinating insight.

Check out Allure for some great images, bios and film reviews.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

I Am Mr. Zipper

As previously noted, I lost my old url, It bummed me out a bit because I'd had it for years... and I liked having a simple, easy-to-remember url that pointed to my blog or website... and was connected to my online message board presence as well. (I am Zipper68 on various message boards.)

But, maybe I found a better one.

I am now, will point to this blog for the foreseeable future. Now, maybe I'll have to change my message boards names to Mr. Zipper as well.

Zipper's Autograph Gallery

I lost my url. I was too slow on the renewal... although I have to say I'm kinda shocked that someone actually scooped it up the moment it expired. Now there is a useless and empty generic "financial services" blog at that address. What's the point?

In any case, my original autograph collecting site, Zipper's Autograph Gallery is still online at the old Geocities address. I haven't updated it in quite some time, however it serves as a good resource and a bit of a time capsule. As long as Geocities will host it for free, I'll keep it there.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Bittersweet Thoughts of Days Gone By

About 20 years ago, they pulled up the flooring in my grandmother's attic, and underneath the flooring were a few dozen newspapers including many Sunday funnies with all the major strips... all from the 40s. Apparently they used the newspapers as a layer between the subfloor and the flooring. The newspapers were as white and flat and fresh as the day they came out.

I held onto the color funnies for a few years and eventually tossed them out because they were big and not easy to store. The guy from the local comic shop told me there was no demand for them and they were basically worthless... he didn't want them at any price. This was long before ebay, obviously...

I really wish I had kept them now. They'd probably be worth a few bucks, but more importantly, it would be a nice memento from my Grandmother's home. What I would give to be there just one more time... to sit at her kitchen table and butter a piece of bread while she stood at the stove cooking.

Visit The NOD Message Board

If you're a fan of comics, comic collecting and the history of comics, be sure to check out the Network of Disclosure's (NOD) message board.

Lot's of great comics on display. You'll also see some of the hobby's most respected names hanging out. Oh, and Marnin Rosenberg is there too.

Where Fan Mail Goes to Get Answered

From the Wall Street Journal, 4/22/2009


Where Fan Mail Goes to Get Answered


In the course of her career as a psychotherapist, Shelley De Angelus counseled schizophrenics, patients with multiple personality disorder, and garden-variety neurotics.

Long exposure to people with inflated expectations, economy-size fantasies and delusions of grandeur serves her well in her current slot as the office manager of Mail Mann, Inc., a Los Angeles-based fan-mail and fan-club service. Daily, she or her colleague Marie Kehoe stops at the post office to pick up white plastic bins of letters addressed to such clients as Anna Paquin, Ralph Fiennes, Richard Gere, Reese Witherspoon, Kyra Sedgwick, Kevin Bacon, Joe Cocker and Samuel L. Jackson, as well as some cast members of the series "Two and a Half Men," "30 Rock" and "Brothers & Sisters."

They've got mail, thousands of missives a week -- from fans who want to express approval/disapproval of their idols' political stands, religious beliefs, recent headline-making behavior, taste in mates or taste in movie roles. From fans who want to express sympathy or support when there's been a death in the celeb's family. From straitened fans seeking cash (five- and six-figure requests are not uncommon) and from fans seeking a far more precious commodity: a date for the high-school prom.

"What surprises me is the intensity of the expectations," said Ms. De Angelus in a recent phone interview. "It's one thing when a 14-year-old writes 'take me to the prom.' But when a mother writes saying 'take my daughter to the prom,' you have to wonder."

She wonders equally about the woman who keeps those cards and letters coming for Chad Michael Murray, star of the series "One Tree Hill." "This fan seems to see him as her best friend," said Ms. De Angelus. "I find it astonishing seeing that she has written many times a week for years and has never gotten a response. Her letters are incredibly boring," she added.

The requests contained in such notes may vary, but the opening salvo and closing line are strikingly similar. "Everyone tends to start with 'I am your number one fan,'" Ms. De Angelus said. "And all the letters end with 'please send a picture."

Mail Mann is one of a small handful of companies that has taken over a job once handled solely by movie studios. "Years ago, that mail was seen as a very important gauge of an actor's popularity," said veteran publicist Lee Solters. "Now it's all about the box office: You're bankable or you're not bankable."

Named for its founder, Mackie Mann, a child actor who grew up to be a producer of TV commercials, Mail Mann was launched 25 years ago. "A friend who was a talent agent asked me if I knew anyone who did fan mail," recalled Ms. Mann. "She had a client, Peter Reckell, who's on 'Days of Our Lives.' At the time he was very big, a teen heartthrob, and I said I'd look into it. I started looking and I couldn't find anyone -- and I thought, hmmm."

She began Mail Mann in her garage, handling Mr. Reckell's correspondence, and soon signed up David Hasselhoff, then the star of the series "Knight Rider." Ms. Mann's husband, a dolly grip, was very helpful with client recruitment. "When he went on location, he would talk to stars about my business," she said. "I got a lot of people that way."

As time passed Ms. Mann increased her revenue stream by helping stars start fan clubs and by creating a Web site to sell celebrity merchandise.

There's an ebb and flow to the client roster. "We usually get called when celebrities all of a sudden have so much mail they don't know what to do with it," said Ms. Mann. "Then they stay with us while their career is peaking. But after a while their popularity may wind down and the expense of responding to their fans becomes more than they want to incur."

The decline in scripted programming has hurt the firm; an actor without a series or a movie of the week may not be getting a sufficient hillock of letters to need assistance in dealing with them.

There's a "set-up charge" of $250 and a minimum monthly charge of $125 for Mail Mann to pick up letters from the post office or a celebrity's home, retrieve emails and deal with correspondence per clients' wishes. For Emilio Estevez and Marina Sirtis, star of "Star Trek: The Next Generation," that means a form letter thanking fans for their support. For most others, it's the dispatch of a 5-by-7 photo (8-by-10s have gotten too expensive) with what's known in the trade as a plate signature (a mechanized copy of an autograph).

"We have a few customers like Hector Elizondo who will come in the office and sign their own photos," Ms. Kehoe said. "He's the sweetest guy in the world. I think Charlie Sheen also signs his photos. He likes to be liked by his fans."

Mail Mann screens letters for threatening content, with protocols in place for handling such situations. "We'll also keep a dubious letter on file for future reference if it's something we don't feel easy about but doesn't constitute an imminent threat," said Ms. De Angelus. The company is also on the lookout for letters that might be worthy of a celeb's special attention -- for example, a charity requesting a personalized item for a benefit auction or a fan with an especially compelling story. "I remember a letter from a young French girl whose father had never acknowledged her and she didn't have a lot of friends. She used Elijah Wood as a role model," said Ms. De Angelus, referring to the "Lord of the Rings" star. "He had inspired her to achieve quite a lot, so she got a personalized photo."

Another attention-getting letter came from a young gay man to the campy actress Elvira, saying that she was his fairy goth mother and had helped him through a difficult adolescence. He too received a personalized photo from his idol.

For some celebs less responsive than Elvira and Mr. Wood, "we're the last thing on the totem pole," said Ms. Mann. "They have managers, they have agents, they have publicists. They don't care about letters accumulating somewhere. The people who want their mail done understand that the fans make their careers."