Big return not always in program

April 02, 1994|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Sun Staff Writer

If you're one of the hundreds of collectors who spent Opening Day in 1992 standing in long lines to get your game program stamped -- and thought you were holding a valuable collector's item in your hands -- here's some bad news: You should have watched the game instead.

The inaugural game at Camden Yards was designed, in part, with the collector of baseball paraphernalia in mind. Everything from beer cups to cardboard popcorn buckets were designated "Inaugural Game" collectibles. Special tickets were printed for this game, and the ticket takers refrained from the usual procedure of tearing them in half.

The U.S. Postal Service even set up a special stand to sell stamps and "cancel" them, proving for posterity that they were bought at the stadium on opening day.

Some merchandise has risen in value in the collectors market -- the tickets are worth $75 -- but other items, especially the programs, have languished, and professional traders hold little hope for a fast return on those investments.

The program from the game when Cal Ripken Jr. breaks Lou Gehrig's iron-man streak, for example, probably will be worth more than an Opening Day program, even one from the inaugural of a new park. And an Orioles World Series ticket stub probably will be more valuable than one from Opening Day.

Robert Urban, a local collector known as "Mr. Memorabilia," said the first-game Orioles tickets in mint condition are fetching about $75 each.

But the Opening Day programs suffered from overproduction. Extra printings were ordered to correct a mistake in the original, and they were sold all season long, Urban said.

Even the fans who stood in line to have the program stamped are not going to fare all that well. The Postal Service continued stamping the programs for fans for a month or longer after the game, diminishing their value.

"The Opening Day programs are basically worthless," Urban said. "It's very difficult to get more than $5 for them, because it's difficult to authenticate them," he said.

Stadium-related goods rarely appreciate in value as much as merchandise commemorating players or historic games. Nonetheless, Camden Yards, because of its national reputation, has done better than most, say traders of sports collectibles.

Stadium-related goods still will be sought after in years to come, according to Scott Kelnhofer, managing editor of Sports Cards Magazine. "But I doubt they will be worth $250," he said. "While they hold mystique and magic for the fan, the ballparks don't have MVP seasons."

Also, the sheer number of items sold and the tendency of collectors to stash them away likely will keep them from the big leagues of memorabilia, Kelnhofer said.

A yearbook from the New York Mets opening season, 1962, can fetch up to $300. The modern Orioles' first season yearbook, 1954, sells for $250.

Camden Yards' public acclaim has given it special appeal. The Upper Deck commemorative mini-poster handed out to fans at the first game is selling for up to $25, said Theo Chen, a price guide analyst for Beckett Publications.

Other goods that have proven to be good investments: the limited edition pennants, which were originally priced at $3, are worth $20. The "I Was There" pins have also done well, getting from $10 to $25 at auctions. Special-edition beer cups, which tend not to be sought by collectors, are only worth a few dollars.

"There is too much talk of investment with this stuff. You shouldn't buy it as an investment, it is a memento," Urban said.

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