Collectors seem to be turning their attention toward memorabilia. Dealers say most of their business remains in trading cards but that memorabilia sales are increasing.
Dealers who noticed the trend during the Christmas buying period say it has continued, going beyond gifts to a new direction for many collectors.
Joe Bosley, who has always had an extensive memorabilia selection at The Old Ball Game in Reisterstown, says sales are picking up. His customers are looking for "anything old, particularly baseball," he says, even "things that people probably threw away." One of those, an Orioles popcorn holder/megaphone from Bethlehem Steel Night in 1961, he recently sold for $100. "The hard part is continuing to get the stuff," Bosley says.
At Bud's Starting Lineup in Baltimore, Bud Williams doesn't stock a lot of noncard items, but he likes to pick up Orioles and Babe Ruth items at auction because Baltimoreans are partial to them. "The average person coming in doesn't ask for an old program," he says. "You have to show it to him. . . . More people are going for the nostalgia. . . . The cards are getting so ridiculous in price."
Tim Collins at Larry Beck in Baltimore agrees. He thinks there are too many cards. He says he has seen increased interest in old Colts and Orioles programs and autographed items, with many collectors picking up cards only because they've just come out.
"With the memorabilia," says Collins, "it's something you can't find everyday."
Robbie Davis, who sells cards and autographed items at Robbie's First Base in Timonium, says memorabilia now accounts for about a quarter of his business and that he's planning to add a memorabilia showcase to his store.
Tom Blair says memorabilia has jumped from about 2 percent of business at Jay's Sports Connection in Towson to 10 to 15 percent. He says he is carrying a variety -- popular items connected with Memorial Stadium and Camden Yards, unusual items such as unreleased pin sets of Memorial Stadium and high-end autographed balls -- and plans to add more bats and jerseys "to try to get the real collectors back."
He thinks shopping channels have sparked the interest he and other dealers are seeing by giving viewers a price, which they can compare at a local hobby shop. Blair also thinks collectors may be turning away from cards because of "limited editions" that weren't.
Forgeries scare Chuck Hoffman at Doubleplay Sportscards in Severna Park. "We stay away from [memorabilia] because of the alarming statistic that 40 percent of the autographs are fake," says Hoffman. "I only carry what I personally get autographed." But he does a good business in photos for collectors who are banquet- or card show-bound.
At Baseball Card Outlet in Eastwood, Mike Tanner is also sticking to cards. Over the holidays, he sold Cal Ripken autographed items he'd purchased from Ripken's Tufton Group, but, he says, "None of us know anything about [memorabilia] . . . so we're pretty much just cards."
Jack Perkins, 37, of Silver Spring was the winner of Topps' 1993 FantaSports Football Game. The fantasy game, licensed by the NFL, included a 200 cards and a book of statistics.
No hockey set yet
Action Packed, which had advertised a Hockey Hall of Fame set in hobby publications, has delayed production. "We have found it to be more difficult than we anticipated to find the kind of quality archival photography that we need for the Hockey Hall of Fame series, and we won't rush out an issue just for the sake of getting something on the market," says creative director Tom Hansen. However, Action Packed issued a set in conjunction with the 1993 induction. It is sold at the Hockey Hall of Fame.
Today, Babe Ruth's 99th birthday party and preview of the celebration of his 100th birthday, Babe Ruth Museum, 216 Emory St., noon, (410) 727-1539.
Saturday, card show to benefit Babe Ruth Museum (expected signers include Chuck Thompson and Ken Singleton), Oriole Park at Camden Yards, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., (410) 727-1539.
CARD OF THE WEEK
SkyBox Premium NBA Basketball Series 2 has 150 cards, plus insert cards. There are 33 rookies and 67 player updates. One of the insert cards is an exchange card, redeemable for a 12-card preview set of USA Basketball's Dream Team II. Cards come 12 to a pack and will be available later this month. (Shown is Terry Dehere.)