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  #1  
Old 08-18-2007, 04:59 PM
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Default $40 Million A Year and Growing-USA Today Feature Story....

Posted By: bruce Dorskind

Historic, offbeat pieces of sports history up for bid

EnlargeBy Anne Ryan, USA TODAY

Some of the items to be auctioned by Mastro Auctions include a Hank Aaron 1969 Atlanta Braves signed game worn home jersey, a Mickey Mantle 500th home run ball (darker), a Babe Ruth single signed ball, a Ty Cobb game used bat, and a set of T215 Pirate Cigarette baseball cards.

By Mike Dodd, USA TODAY
BURR RIDGE, Ill. The heart of the warehouse for Mastro Auctions looks like it could be a storage room for any company large metal shelves filled with white cardboard boxes and black plastic tubs.
The sports fan's heart, however, will beat a little faster upon closer inspection.

The 18,000-square-foot facility in suburban Chicago is the temporary home to some of the most sought-after and a few of the more offbeat pieces of sports memorabilia in the country. It is here items set for auction are authenticated, documented and photographed for the auction catalog, then shipped to their new owners.

This year, it has held memorabilia as valuable as a set of 1912 "Pirate" cigarette baseball cards that sold for $960,000, as noteworthy as Yankees manager Miller Huggins' 1927 world championship ring and as unconventional as a clump of Mickey Mantle's hair and Hank Aaron's 1968-73 Georgia driver's license.

Mastro, the largest sports auction house in the world, recently sold the baseballs from Mantle's 500th career home run ($144,000) and Barry Bonds' 70th homer of his record-breaking 2001 season ($14,400).

The ball from Bonds' 755th homer, tying Hank Aaron's career record, will go up for bid in an internet auction by Sotheby's and SCP Auctions the end of this month. Bonds' record-breaking homers 756, 757 and 758, but not 759 were caught by fans, along with Alex Rodriguez's 500th homer, and it's expected several of those balls will go to auction.

Sports auction houses are sophisticated operations, a byproduct of striking growth in the memorabilia industry. Longtime collector/dealer Bill Mastro's first auction in 1996 pulled in $767,000. Today, the firm generates about $10 million from each of its three premium auctions and totals more than $40 million in sales of sports memorabilia and Americana a year.

A staff of 40 employees prepares and runs the auctions from the office/warehouse, many mixing a passion for the subject with their acumen for the business.

"I still love this stuff," says Mastro president/chief operating officer Doug Allen, a former vice president for a technology company who used to set up a table at weekend collectors' shows to buy and sell tobacco cards and Chicago Cubs memorabilia.

At times, there's as much as $15 million worth of memorabilia stored in the secured warehouse, with some of the more valuable and portable items in the three large safes on the premises. Most items are kept in the boxes or tubs, each tagged with an inventory code.

The auction house, which collects a 15% consignment fee from the seller and a 20% premium from the buyer, receives items up until two months before the sale in order to produce the slick 500- to 600-page catalog.

Items are photographed in one of two in-house studios, one with a camera hanging from the ceiling by a cable to capture large objects, and trading cards are digitally scanned.

"Everything is done internally except the printing of the catalog," Allen says. "The goal of this facility is we don't want anything to have to leave here."

Nationally recognized experts in autographs and game-used materials come to the facility for two days at a time to authenticate the items before each of the three auctions.

Invariably, there are items that are not authentic, and they are placed in a separate bin to ship back to their owners.

"We call them, give them the bad news, then return them," Allen says, adding that many items are caught by Mastro's consignment specialists earlier in the process.

The auction house works with sellers to try to document the provenance of a high-end collectible, such as a game-used uniform or bat. A letter from the player, a teammate, team equipment manager or, with older items, the original owner, can enhance the value. "It places it in the hands of the player," Allen says.

Mastro employs eight full-time writers, each with an area of expertise, who research the items to identify them as specifically as possible, then write detailed descriptions for the catalog.

For example, researchers identified a baseball signed by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig as one from a barnstorming tour in 1927, the year Ruth hit 60 homers. The distinctive balls used on the tour were made by Worth and featured red-and-blue stitching. This one sold for $72,000 at Mastro's live auction in Cleveland in conjunction with the national sports collectors convention this month. (Eighty-three high-end lots sold for $4.3 million at the auction).

The writers have several bookcases of reference material for the research, ranging from a book with patent-pending dates to three-ring binders with copies of every big-league box score from 1920 to 1999.

In addition to its three premium auctions conducted by internet and telephone, in which lots sell for an average of $5,000, Mastro also conducts three internet-only "classic" auctions each year, with lots averaging $1,200 to $1,500.

The current auction, which runs for about three weeks and closes in stages from Aug. 29-31, includes a 1939 Hall of Fame induction ball signed by six early inductees including Ruth, Walter Johnson and Honus Wagner.

Allen says he has "put some feelers out" to the fans who caught the Bonds 756 and A-Rod 500 balls and is waiting to hear back. The Bonds ball could sell for about $500,000 and the Rodriguez artifact for $80,000 to $100,000, he estimates.

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Old 08-18-2007, 05:04 PM
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Default $40 Million A Year and Growing-USA Today Feature Story....

Posted By: Max Weder

Someone should tell Mastro that it can replace its three ring binders of box scores from 1920 to 1999 with a simple double click on http://www.retrosheet.org

Max

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Old 08-18-2007, 05:08 PM
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Posted By: barrysloate

15% from the seller and 20% from the buyer?

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Old 08-18-2007, 05:17 PM
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Posted By: leon

How many times does an auction house get the full 15% sellers fee in this market? Answer- very few....

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Old 08-18-2007, 06:14 PM
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Posted By: Jim VB

Thanks for posting that Bruce. I hadn't had time to read it yet.

What did "we" think of the article?

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Old 08-18-2007, 11:44 PM
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Posted By: Cobby33

Wethinks that Mastro is getting 15% on our consignment in their current auction.

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Old 08-18-2007, 11:46 PM
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Posted By: Zach S.

Well played, Cobby....

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Old 08-19-2007, 11:54 AM
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Posted By: peter chao

Somebody on this Board must know who "we" are. I would think that at the minimum Bruce would know. Could somebody enlighten me?

Peter C.

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Old 08-19-2007, 11:55 AM
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Default $40 Million A Year and Growing-USA Today Feature Story....

Posted By: boxingcardman

Geez... Bonds may be hated now but some years down the line when the memories of his behavior fade and new generations of collectors come up, that ball is gonna be worth a lot more.

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Old 08-19-2007, 11:58 AM
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Posted By: Bobby Binder

To straighten out the "We" part I believe Mr. Dorskin has a group of 3 or 4 investors. They work together buying high grade cards for their collection and they lend out the items to special events and museums.

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Old 08-19-2007, 12:57 PM
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Posted By: barrysloate

Bobby- I don't believe there is any group of investors involved. Bruce has his own collection.

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Old 08-19-2007, 02:04 PM
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Posted By: peter chao

Barry,

So it is Bruce, Bruce, Bruce, and Bruce.

Peter C.

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Old 08-19-2007, 02:10 PM
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Posted By: barrysloate

Something to that effect.

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Old 08-19-2007, 02:37 PM
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Posted By: PS

I should know this but don't where is the Hank Aaron 715 ball? Cooperstown?

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Old 08-19-2007, 02:41 PM
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Posted By: davidcycleback

I don't whether its 715 or 755, but know Aaron has one of the important balls in a bank safe. Saw a tv show years ago where he and the reporter went into the safe and looked at the ball.

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Old 08-19-2007, 02:42 PM
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Posted By: barrysloate

I think Tom House caught it- did he keep it?

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Old 08-19-2007, 02:47 PM
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Posted By: PS

Barry I have read House gave it to Aaron. But no idea what he did with it.

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Old 08-19-2007, 03:11 PM
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Posted By: barrysloate

Then either Aaron kept it or gave it to the Hall.

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Old 08-19-2007, 03:13 PM
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Posted By: PS

I imagine the Aaron ball would be worth more than the Bonds?

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Old 08-19-2007, 03:17 PM
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Posted By: barrysloate

Hard to say.

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