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."