Ex-state Prison Guard Does Time As A Collector

Small Shop Has 1 Million Baseball Cards

January 14, 1991|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,Staff writer

The cold steel clang of cell doors slamming and the shouts echoing through the fortress create an unsettling din. These are the sounds ofthe Maryland House of Correction and, for 20 years, these were the sounds of J. D. Clark's workplace.

No more. The 52-year-old former prison guard retired five years ago, and now he spends much of his time behind a display case filled with baseball cards and sports memorabilia. In his store, Anything Collectible, nobody shouts, nobody threatens, nobody slams a door.

This is worlds away from the clamoring found inside prison walls,and it shows. Clark's demeanor, his very posture, paints a picture of contentment.

He seems to be a man of few words, but sitting in his store on a peaceful weekday afternoon, Clark's body language speaks, and it says, "Ahhhh." In a shop like this, it's OK, even desirable, to let a little dust collect.

Anything Collectible is a combination baseball-card shop, vintage comic book emporium and flea market squeezed into a blue cinder-block building behind the Oxbow Inn restaurant on Ritchie Highway, between Severna Park and Arnold.

"We havea little bit of anything," Clark says. "That's why it's called Anything Collectible. We buy baseball cards and just about anything else collectible. If it's anything I think I can sell and make money on, I'll buy it."

The value of the store's stock has increased from $15,000 to $100,000 in less than three years, said Richard Clark, J. D.'s19-year-old son, who helps run the store.

"Whatever money you make," J. D. said, "you reinvest."

The stock is eclectic but, make nomistake, there are plenty of baseball cards to be found here. Richard says they stock more than a million of them, everything from boxed sets to "wax packs" of cards from 1982 to, of course, the individual cards, lovingly laid out in the display case with price tags climbingas high as four figures.

The most valued card in the store: a 1953 Topps Mickey Mantle. Asking price: $2,000.

And there are other trading cards, too. Football cards, basketball cards, ice hockey cards, even Michael Jackson cards and New Kids on the Block cards. Sports memorabilia includes a football signed by star quarterback Joe Montana, baseballs autographed by Sandy Koufax, old game programs for the Baltimore Colts and Baltimore Orioles, and even action figures of baseball stars Don Mattingly and Ben McDonald.

When his father bought the store 2 years ago, Richard says, about 30,000 comic books were included in the deal. As the Glen Burnie men have moved the focus toward the baseball cards and other collectibles, the stock of comics hasbeen reduced to about 10,000. The prize comic book, hanging from a wall, is X-Men No. 3. The price tag on that is $200.

Of more interest to the Clarks is a back room containing stock accumulated during years of flea market trading. Back here you find old bottles, old glasses, old mugs, old beer steins, old stamps, old cereal boxes, old record albums, old newspapers and old magazines, including a large collection of back issues of Life.

Even old license plates, going back to 1913. Who buys old license tags? People come in every week, J. D. says. Many are bought by vintage car owners, hoping to find a tag that matches their model year.

Then there is a true flea market gem: A framed copy of the text of Gerald R. Ford's presidential proclamation pardoning former President Nixon. It's yours for $5.

Early afternoon on a recent day, the store was empty of customers, but the Clarks said the business picks up when school -- and work -- lets out later in the day. They say students spend large amounts on baseball cards; Richard said a 15-year-old recently bought an $800 card.

Then there are the adult collectors who stop by on their way home from work. Professionals, including dentists and psychiatrists, buy packs of baseball cards to give as rewards for well-behaving young patients.

They say hardly a day goes by when someone doesn't call offering to sell a baseball card collection. And, for some reason, police officers are drawn to their shop, the Clarks say.

J. D. Clark thinks he has an explanation: "It must be relaxing after being out on the road,"he says. "There's no high pressure."

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