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EARLSWORLD Administrator

Registered: 11/15/08
Posts: 1929

Inside the world of Heritage Galleries
By Scott Boyter

From Sports Page Weekly

If you were ever a baseball-card-collecting nerd as a kid, then the sports collectibles department of Heritage Auction Galleries is a little slice of nirvana.

Located in the same Oak Lawn building that houses The Ticket, Heritage teems with incredible collections of currency, coins and memorabilia such as vintage movie posters, comic books and historical Americana items. All told, the company handles materials that span across 26 categories.

But the area of Heritage that really stands out to anyone who loves sports and the history that surrounds it is the sports department. It’s the distinct pleasure of Chris Ivy to serve as Heritage’s Director of Sports Auctions, overlooking a department that has brought in tens of millions of dollars for its “consigners,” people who contact Heritage when they want their vintage items put up for auction.

Ivy’s father Steve started the business that would become Heritage as a teenager. He bought, sold and traded rare coins, advertising his business in the back of hobby publications – in much the same manner Heritage advertises its services today. Steve Ivy and Jim Halpern co-founded Heritage in 1976.

Chris was a baseball card collector and budding businessman himself as a teenager, setting up a booth at card shows just about every chance he could. “I didn’t think I’d ever work for Heritage; I had no interest in coins and when I was growing up it was strictly a coin and currency auction company,” Ivy said. “I always gravitated toward sports material. That was my passion.”

But Ivy found a home at Heritage when the company opened its sports collectibles department in 2004. Since that time he’s directed scores of auctions, both live and over the Internet. Live, or “catalog” auctions, feature high-end memorabilia items worth at least $1,000 and take place three times a year. Internet auctions, however, feature items in the price range of just about any collector and take place every week.

How it works
Heritage procures its auction items from the above-mentioned consigners, who will call or e-mail the company when they want to find out how much a piece may be worth. A Heritage representative will then ask the person to provide a scan or digital photo of the piece so the company can verify its authenticity. If it is accepted for auction and sells, the consigner will receive a check for 85 percent of the “hammer price,” or the final bid, within 45 days. Heritage gets the other 15 percent.

“We get contacted all day through e-mail or by phone, and walk them through the steps,” Ivy said. “Once we get the photo, we can give them an idea of what kind of value items have based on their condition. We spend most of the day giving appraisals to people.”

Enough of the nuts and bolts. Let’s get to the cool stuff already.

Ivy shared some of the high-end items that will soon be available for auction. In his office he had a jersey worn by legendary Syracuse running back Ernie Davis during his Heisman Trophy-winning season of 1961, as well as several photos from Ty Cobb’s personal scrapbook. He even had a set of Cobb’s golf clubs.

The signature piece was a game-worn Mickey Mantle road jersey. The dark gray top, with “New York” felt lettering across the front, and, of course, a simple “7” on the back, had “M. Mantle” and “66-42” stitched inside. The latter number signifies the fact it is a size 42 top that was used in the 1966 season.

And if it hadn’t been for the (probably unintentional) foresight of a minor league baseball player, it probably would have been trashed more than 40 years ago.

A fortuitous choice
The consigner, who wishes to stay anonymous, played for a Yankee farm team in upstate New York. Back in the 60s and well before, major league teams would send jerseys to their minor league affiliates after the season ended. Either that or they’d simply discard them; after all, back then they really had no intrinsic value. Someone from the farm team would strip the big league logo and substitute its own, then issue the jersey to the player. Fortunately, the player, who coincidentally also wore No. 7, decided to stash the Mantle jersey as a keepsake. That decision could make him as much as $150,000, Ivy estimates, when it’s put up for auction this summer.

He can make that estimate based on prior auctions Heritage has run. Anyone can go to and find out how much just about any previously sold item generated – not just sports collectibles.

Another one-of-a-kind piece that previously sold at auction was a hat worn by Babe Ruth when he played for the “Bustin’ Babes” barnstorming team he formed in the late 1920s. His team would play one formed by Lou Gherig called the “Larrupin’ Lou’s.” They’d play across the country after the Yankees’ season ended to earn some extra money.

Ruth apparently took a shine to a lady who worked in a hotel where his team was staying. According to one of the lady’s grandchildren, she was known as the “pastry queen of California,” and Ruth, who either liked her or her pastries, gave her the hat. The lady’s family contacted Heritage about the hat and agreed to put it up for auction, where it would fetch $131,000.

Ruth was also mentioned by Ivy in response to a question about one of the highest-profile items ever handled by Heritage.

“We’ve had a lot of really neat items, but one that comes to mind is a Babe Ruth home Yankee pinstripe jersey from 1933,” Ivy said. “The neat thing about Yankee home jerseys is the pinstriping is like a snowflake; it’s different on every jersey. So you can photo match them based on things like how the pinstripes meet up over the shoulder and on the sleeves. We were able to match this one to a picture of Ruth in the first All-Star Game that year where he was wearing the jersey. He hit the first home run in All-Star history in that game.”

That jersey sold in October of 2006. It only brought in $657,000.

Ivy also mentioned something that wasn’t a specific item, but a collection of documents and signed letters belonging to the inventor of the game of basketball, Dr. James Naismith. A member of Naismith’s family kept the items in her basement, which flooded three times. Fortunately, none of the documents were damaged since they were kept up high and escaped the water.

“Anyway, she calls and says she had no idea of the value of what they had,” Ivy said. “At the time, Naismith’s signature alone was going for nearly $2,000. This was really important stuff, though; not only was his autograph of significant value, but there was also the value of the seminal documents of the game of basketball; what his thought process was, what the original rules were, why he created the game the way he did.

“There was amazing stuff in there,” he said. The Naismith collection was put up for auction in December 2006. The total amount the collection items sold for weren’t immediately available.

What’s your motivation?
So for what possible reason would somebody throw down more than a half a million dollars for a Babe Ruth jersey, or, conversely, unload a priceless piece of sports history (not that there’s really anything in the world of memorabilia that could accurately be termed “priceless”)?

“A lot of buyers aren’t ‘one and done,’ they continue to build their collections,” Ivy said. “A lot of these pieces, when they come in I know where they’re going to go; ultimately, I know who the end buyer’s going to be. There will be a lot of bidders, but there are some guys who won’t lose. A certain item will fit so perfectly into their collection, I know who’s going to end up being the most interested.

“It runs the gamut,” he said. “Some of the most high-end pieces will go into people’s private museums. Some guys are only interested in game-used jerseys or equipment from specific players, some only want signed contracts or checks. Others want only photography, while still others only want baseball pieces from the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

“As a collector, you have to narrow it down,” Ivy said. “You’ll find yourself thinking everything you see is cool, but you don’t have the time or money to go after it all.”

On the other hand, those who call Heritage to inquire about the value of an item or collection will do so mainly out of curiosity. When they find out they’re sitting on a significant pile of money, though, all of a sudden they have an extremely important decision to make.

“People have had these things for decades and they’ve enjoyed them,” Ivy said. “But when something starts becoming this valuable, you have to keep it in a safe deposit box, get insurance for it, etc. A lot of people aren’t comfortable with that.

“When they find out something has significant value, they’re like, ‘Wow. I don’t really want that in my house,’” he said. “These things are neat to pass down to kids, but what if you have two or three kids? It’s a lot easier to get a settlement check and divide it up into some sort of bonds or accounts to pass on to them rather than having to rely on someone to figure out what to do with that item once you’re gone.

“Also, if you put that money in some sort of fairly safe account it will accrue interest,” Ivy added. “So you have to ask yourself if that jersey is bringing you $10,000 worth of joy every year. If it’s not, you could be doing something with the money.”

Still rolling
And that money keeps pouring in, despite the battered state of the economy. Ivy said while the sports memorabilia business in general has exhibited some signs of slight decline, baseball card sales continue to be strong. Relatively run-of-the-mill items, such as a baseball signed by Mickey Mantle, may not sell as quickly as usual, as people will tend to wait a few months until the item once again comes up for auction. However, unique items like the Mantle jersey mentioned earlier will sell quickly, he said, because you never know when they’ll come around again.

“We’re not selling anything anybody needs,” Ivy said. “But this is a passion for a lot of people; we have a really thick client base and we haven’t seen much of a decline. This business has seen a steady increase since the late 80s and early 90s, and I don’t see that changing.

“There’s a finite amount of material out there, and there are a lot of people still interested in it.”

Brian Administrator

Registered: 01/24/09
Posts: 603
Loc: New York

Earl, thanks for posting that article. I never would have seen it. As I'm sure you know, Heritage sells a lot of SGC material. Their weekly internet auctions always have a nice selection and the main catalog auctions are top notch. The entire crew at Heritage does a great job.

Brian Dwyer

#1980916 - 02/26/09 06:06 PM Re: HERITAGE AUCTIONS / INTERESTING READING [Re: Brian]

Registered: 01/23/08
Posts: 1501

Nice article, I have won a couple lots from their auctions and been very happy. The fact they take CC and paypal is nice and easy.
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