Sports Collectibles Carry Christmas Memories

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Jeffrey Reed, Editor, LondonOntarioSports.com

Some of my favourite Christmas memories involve my 50-year hobby of collecting sports memorabilia. So when my better half and I recently moved from suburbia, I was faced with the daunting task of painstakingly packing my bubblegum cards and myriad of hockey, baseball and golf mementos.

As a kid during the Christmas school break, I would buy O-Pee-Chee NHL hockey cards from the neighbourhood variety store, and spend hours with my friends trading cards in order to complete a set. We would also camp out in front of the local grocery store and ask shoppers at the checkouts for their hockey stickers handed out by cashiers. We were even cheeky enough to stand by gas station pumps, no matter what the weather, and ask motorists for the hockey stickers they had received with a fill-up.

A 1975 Loblaws NHL action players sticker book

But don’t confuse the tacky trinkets you find in pop-up kiosks during the holidays with the real deal. No logoed beer mugs for me, thank you. The items that carry sentimental value – like framed, autographed photos of Wayne Gretzky and Mike Weir – are some of the few items I have on display in my office and rec room.

As an early-1960s baby boomer, I am amongst the last generation of collectors, according to Chicago-based memorabilia appraiser Michael Osacky.

A life-long resident of the Windy City, Osacky received a shoebox of vintage baseball cards from his grandfather when he was a teenager in 1997. That gift launched a career for the man Forbes Magazine once dubbed “the Dean of Cracker Jack baseball card historians.”

“I would go to local card shows and ask dealers, if you have two of the same cards, why is one worth $10 yet another $100? It kept me immersed. I learned more about the history of the cards, and then also understood the values,” said Osacky of his early interest in sports memorabilia.

Today, Osacky is one of the world’s leading sports memorabilia appraisers. And while his company is called, Baseball In The Attic, he studies not just baseball cards and collectibles but also items from all sports and pastimes – from football to horse racing, and everything in between, in particular older items originating from 1870 to 1975.

Osacky agrees with the oft-heard statement that today’s teens and 20-somethings aren’t interested in collecting anything, unlike baby boomers and even some of the Generation X population. And while he said TV shows like Storage Wars, American Pickers and Pawn Stars have generated more interest in finding hidden treasures over the past five years, Osacky said millennials – Generation Y – are more interested in technology and life’s experiences.

Michael Osacky of Baseball In The Attic

“Go to your local mall, or talk to your neighbour about their kids or grandkids. They’re on iPads, playing games on their phones. They watch YouTube instead of TV. That generation are not collecting things,” Osacky said.

“And to be honest, I don’t think they care how valuable (collectibles) may be. Millennials care more about experiences than values and monetary things – at least right now. Maybe in 20 years that will change. But today, there are millennials who would choose to live in a van down by the river because it’s an interesting experience, as opposed to getting a job and having money.”

One of the most exciting summer jobs I’ve had was working as a bubblegum packer at the now-defunct O-Pee-Chee plant at the northeast corner of London’s Dundas and Adelaide streets. On paper, that job doesn’t sound glamourous. But as a baseball nut, I was a kid in a candy store because I was able to see bubblegum cards in their pristine state – uncut from large rolls and in their pre-packaged condition.

“There are millennials who would rather choose to live in a van down by the river because it’s an interesting experience, as opposed to getting a job and having money.” – Michael Osacky

It’s interesting that the 1975 World Series introduced a whole new generation to America’s Pastime. While the game’s popularity soared, there was a sudden influx of bubblegum card companies. No longer did O-Pee-Chee and its American partner, Topps, have a monopoly on the cards. Suddenly, scores of manufacturers were mass producing cards around the clock 365 days a year. Concurrently, the technology of many printing presses were inferior, according to Osacky.

Soon, collectors overdosed on choices and the market suffered, Osacky explained.

“In the 1950s, ‘60s, ‘70s and early-’80s, the whole purpose of collecting cards was to complete a set. But when you have 25 sets to complete every year, then it is overload. People became over-franchised. It was too much. And companies became too greedy. Everyone wanted to create a company and create cards.”

Osacky said the romanticism of collecting is almost non-existent, thanks to the Internet, in particular eBay.

Roberto Clemente 1955 rookie card

“In 1995, eBay came along. So if you were trying to collect your 1996 Topps baseball card set that had about 800 cards and you were missing 37 common cards, up until eBay you would have to go to a card show and find them. With eBay, you wake up in the morning, you could sit naked in front of your computer if you wanted, and you could find all 37 cards under an hour online and have them shipped to you. Within a week you would have your full set.

“The thrill of the hunt: that was the fun,” Osacky said.

There’s another element to the changing sports collectibles market: foreign investment. According to Osacky, foreign money is being poured into vintage sports memorabilia.

 

Michael Osacky with Chicago Cubs owner Thomas Ricketts

“The Asians are now seeing this market as an asset,” he said. “They’re fully invested in hotels and real estate, restaurants, stocks. Now they’re saying, ‘Let’s put $500,000 into a Babe Ruth-Lou Gehrig autographed baseball.’ So we are seeing world-record prices for high-end items. That market is really, really hot right now.”

As for my collection, it has been downsized substantially since my move, thanks to some not-so-gentle hints from my better half. But there are still some treasures displayed that bring back memories of my childhood, and those Christmas holidays spent begging for hockey stickers, and trading bubblegum cards with my friends while drinking hot chocolate during a Hockey Night in Canada broadcast.

Indeed, those were the good days.

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Jeffrey Reed has been a member of the London sports media since 1980, and is publisher/editor of LondonOntarioSports.com, and LondonOntarioGolf.com. Have a story idea for Jeffrey? Reach him at jeff@londonontariosports.com.

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About jeffreyreed

A leading Canadian communications professional. Corporate office http://www.JeffreyReedReporting.com established 1989. Publisher/Editor of this website and https://londonontariogolf.com.

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