National Sports Collectors Convention comes to Baltimore

Sports memorabilia enthusiasts converge on city's convention center

August 06, 2010|By Colin Stevens, The Baltimore Sun

It took more than an hour of waiting for Jeff Skaggs to receive his limited edition Stephen Strasburg Topps Heritage rookie card at the National Sports Collectors Convention on Friday afternoon.

The card is one of 999 being given out during the five-day convention and is selling for more than $100 on ebay.com. One day it could be worth far more, making the wait bearable for Skaggs, an Indiana native.

"I think he's going to be a great player," he said. "They knew coming out of college he was a great player and he's really brought a lot of excitement back to the hobby. Everybody wants this card."

The giveaway is just one of millions of items bringing collectors from around the country to the Baltimore Convention Center through Sunday. The event's biggest day is expected to be Saturday, when Hall of Fame athletes Cal Ripken Jr., Eddie Murray, Jim Brown, Joe Montana and Gordie Howe appear.

The memorabilia industry has come under scrutiny the past three years. A grand jury in Chicago has reportedly been looking into the industry's practices and the FBI has visited the convention the past three years, including Thursday at the convention center.

Established in 1980, National Sports Collectors Convention is hosted once a year and is making its first stop in Baltimore. Visitors to the city have been impressed with the venue and the surrounding attractions.

"Baltimore's been great because they have the aquarium. We've seen a lot of families out here," said Thomas Fish, the co-owner of Blowout Cards, which is in Sterling, Va. "This is the first time it's in Baltimore so we're getting a lot of new faces we haven't seen before."

Fish's stand focuses on the sale of trading cards, but there is far more to find at the convention. Baseball bats used by Ty Cobb, which look more like twigs than bats, are for sale. Helmets worn by former Baltimore Colts can be found. Even one-of-a-kind signed pictures Babe Ruth sent to his sister, Maimi, are available. That picture is one item Shulte Auctions president and CEO Ray Shulte has for sale at his online auction.

"This is a multi-billion dollar industry, the collectable industry is, and this is the premier showcase," Shulte said. "If you're going to make it to any show as a collector, this would be your No. 1 show."

Schulte, whose business is based out of Baltimore, has several items up for auction he is selling for the Ruth family. All of his pieces have been authenticated, and Schulte said the increased surveillance is a step in the right direction for the business.

"I've always been pro authentification," he said. "There needs to be an objective policing aspect to this business. And when they say the FBI is involved, I want them to be involved because I want people on the outside … to know that there is that element that's overlooking this industry. So when I see that, for me it's good. I welcome that opportunity."

J.P. Cohen, the owner of Memory Lane, an auction house based out of southern California, feels the same as Schulte.

"The kind of stuff that always causes problems are when people buy things that are unauthenticated and are not validated and they end up buying something that might be fake or they buy something that wasn't authenticated and valid," he said. "There is, of course, going to be a lot of bad apples. I don't care what industry you're in. And you hope that that gets weeded out and maybe from an investigation or something going on, they do take care of that."

Cynthia Yates, a spokeswoman for the FBI office in Chicago, told the New York Daily News that the FBI does not comment on current investigations.

Even though there are countless memorabilia to see at the convention, some of the best memories are made at the autograph table. Tom Kelly, 52, of Baltimore, came to the Convention Center to meet heroes from his past, even if it's just for a few seconds.

"I accidently heard about it on the radio and then I looked it up and you look at all the names of everyone coming, and you're like, oh my goodness," he said. "I'm going to meet Jim Brown and Y.A. Tittle. I mean, when would I ever get a chance to meet guys like that?"

colin.stevens@baltsun.com

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