Sports Guru: Thrift Store Jackpot


Featured in Autograph March 2009

Bobby Hurley signed photo

Local thrift shops are unsuspecting places to find sports and autograph items. But recently I took the cake! On my way home from work, I usually make a stop at a Goodwill store. I’ve even become good friends with one of the workers since I see him nearly every day. He knows I’m a diehard collector and alerts me to any donations that may have come in.

In December I was chatting with him when another worker came up and said, “We just had a guy drop off a bunch of signed sports stuff.” My friend told him to bring it out from the storeroom so I could take a glance.

Feild of Dreams Certificate of Authenticity

It was my lucky day. Six items were donated and priced at $10 each. They were all signed photos; a few were on plaques. I was thrilled when I saw a Certificate of Authenticity included with a photo of former Duke University basketball star and NBA player Bobby Hurley. The C.O.A. was from Field of Dreams, a sports memorabilia company that operates in many malls. Hurley’s in-person signature compared to the one from Field of Dreams looked very similar. The photo features Hurley in his Sacramento Kings uniform and it’s signed in silver paint pen.

I had the chance to meet Hurley several years ago when he conducted a youth basketball clinic. He was a great teacher and the kids seemed to get a lot out of the experience. I did too when he signed a basketball for me that day. Hurley’s NBA career didn’t last long after he was in a serious car accident during his rookie year, but he will always be remembered as one of the great Duke Blue Devils. In his four years at Duke, he led his team to the Final Four three times and won it twice.

Bo Jackson signed photo with engraved nameplate plaque

One more of the six items was authenticated by the same company: a signed Bo Jackson Kansas City Royals plaque with the engraved nameplate that reads “Bo Knows Baseball.” Jackson has always been a tough autograph since his two-sport days, playing left field for the MLB’s Kansas City Royals and running back for the NFL’s Los Angeles Raiders. An all-star in both sports, Bo owned the endorsement market with his Nike “Bo Knows” campaign. Not only could he play baseball and football, but he also ran track in college and tinkered in hoops, playing for a minor league team in Los Angeles.

Jackson does do quite a few shows, but his autograph commands more than a hundred dollars. As a kid during the “Bo Knows” days, I’m thrilled to score an authentic signature for a 10 spot.

Larry Bird signed photo

A couple of other hoops legends were included in my stack of bargains: “Larry Legend” Bird and “The Round Mound of Rebound,” Charles Barkley. These two guys couldn’t be further from each other in personality, but they both have one thing in common—they were phenomenal basketball players.

Both photos came with a C.O.A. from Daniel Enterprises Marketing out of Chino, Calif. I have never heard of the company and couldn’t find out any information on the store. Both signatures appear to be genuine, though collectors have to be careful, especially with Bird. His mail has been ghost signed forever and he’s not a big fan of signing autographs. Bird proved his dominance again and again, winning three NBA titles.

The photo of Bird is from the early ’90s—which is good news. It seems there are many more photos forged today than during Bird’s playing days. Back then a signed photo was worth maybe $30-$50. Today, it’s worth much more, so it’s logical that it’s tougher to secure a legitimate Bird signature unless you’re willing to break open the wallet.

Charles Barkley signed photo

Barkley is the polar opposite of Bird, and continues to entertain today as a broadcaster. His stories could fill a 10-volume series. There was the time Barkley got in a bar fight and decided it would be a good idea to remove the guy from the bar via the plate-glass window, or the time he lost $2.5 million playing blackjack. And have you seen this guy’s golf swing? He’s terrible. However, he’s never one to turn down a good charity golf outing—Barkley routinely tees it up with guys like Michael Jordan, and never fails to leave everyone rolling on the putting green. You would think a guy that plays that much golf would be competitive. He’s not. But it’s sure fun to watch.

On the hardwood, Barkley was a dominating power forward, earning the NBA’s M.V.P. Award in 1993. He also won two Olympic gold medals as part of the first two Dream Teams.

Framed and matted photo of James Worthy

Last but not least for hoops autographs was a framed and matted picture of Los Angeles Lakers legend “Big Game” James Worthy. It’s not the best signature I’ve ever seen, but for $10, I’ll take it. It almost looks like it was signed twice, or maybe the Sharpie wasn’t working well. My fear is that the real autograph started to fade and some joker decided to trace the signature over the top to “restore” it to its original beauty. I guess we’ll never know.

Worthy will always be recognized as one of the true gamers. He played his best ball in the playoffs, and was part of three championship teams with the Lakers. He also won the NCAA championship in 1982 with UNC as a junior. Worthy used to be a great signer through the mail, but those days are over. Today he hosts the Lakers pregame and postgame shows, and is the CEO for his company, Worthy Enterprises.

Andre Reed signed plaque photo

The lone football autograph in the bunch is Buffalo Bills receiver Andre Reed. A 2008 finalist for the Hall of Fame, I think it’s only a matter of time until he will be sporting one of those awful yellow suit coats. Reed has always been a great signer and still answers his fan mail. But I’m guessing that may end when he gets the call from Canton. Reed was a crucial piece of the Bill’s Super Bowl days in the 1990s. They never took home the hardware, but they did make it to four straight.

Affordable History: Longest Serving Congress Members


Featured in Autograph March 2009

New York senator, Emanuel Celler

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Masters of Golf: Henry Picard


— Autograph February 2009


My favorite golfer of all time is Henry Picard. I got to know Picard in the late 1980s and corresponded with him often. Known as “Pick” to his friends, Picard was one of the finest dressed golfers ever to hit the links. Sporting finely knitted sweaters, he was the textbook definition of the gentleman golfer. Picard burst onto the golf scene in 1932 by winning the Mid-South Open. He captured the 1938 Masters by edging out long ball hitter “Lighthorse Harry” Cooper. A year later he won the 1939 PGA Open for his second major. By the time he retired in the late 1940s, he had won 26 PGA tournaments, and was inducted into the Golf Hall of Fame in 2006. Picard remains a legend of the Great Depression era golf and one of the all time good guys of the game.

A signed check from 1973

Picard signed in a very flowing and legible hand. His signature shows a nice right slant and his letter construction is strong. It’s extremely legible and has good eye appeal. He usually signed his name as “H. G. Picard,” but on occasion he signed as “Henry G. Picard.” His hand remained rather consistent throughout his life, but early signatures tend to be a bit more rounded and softer than modern ones. As the years progressed his hand became more pronounced and the signature became bolder and more compact. Picard’s hand remained strong nearly his entire life, but material signed in his final months show a slightly labored appearance. His signature is difficult to replicate, so well executed forgeries are very limited.

Picard was a willing and gracious signer throughout his life, but he never received many autograph requests, so the population of Picard material is limited and generally restricted to index cards. Golf scorecards, 8×10 photos and gum cards are uncommon. Picard’s life-long love affair with golf translates into a limited amount of fine content letters. Letters, both typed and handwritten, are scarce and highly desirable. About 40 vintage letters originated from the estate of famed golf instructor Alex Morrison and were quickly absorbed into the market. Picard golf balls are scarce and are on most wish lists. The majority of Picard golf balls in the market are forged, so be careful when purchasing one. Picard told me that he rarely signed golf balls or equipment of any type. Canceled bank checks are the toughest to come by—there is just a handful known and they should be considered rare. To sum it up, Picard has a scarce signature for which demand far outweighs supply.

Prices of Picard material have increased at a continuous and moderate pace. Signatures sell for $75. Signed 8×10 photos are desirable and sell for around $200. A typed letter signed sells for $150-$200, while autograph letters signed are valued at $400-$500. On the occasion of coming across signed golf balls, one in good condition will sell for $300-$400. Bank checks are typically valued at $400-$500. I think that Picard’s signature will increase in value in the years to come and will be a fine investment.

Masters of Golf: Byron Nelson

Featured in Autograph January 2009

Title page to Winning Golf, signed and inscribed by Byron Nelson in 2001 with his occasional paraph.

Fabled golf writer O.B. Keeler tagged Byron Nelson with the nickname “Lord Byron” for his gentlemanly and regal nature. As one of golf’s greatest ambassadors, Nelson set what many consider the greatest record in all of sports history—even greater than Ty Cobb’s 12 batting crowns record. In 1945 Nelson won an incredible 18 tournaments with 11 consecutive wins, a record that will likely never be broken. Nelson captured five majors, including the 1937 and 1942 Masters. Like Gene Sarazen (Autograph December 2008), Nelson is considered one of the 10 greatest golfers of all time.

Nelson’s autograph is simply one of the nicer golf signatures. He signed in a flowing hand with effortless strokes and a nice curvy look. It’s a signature that developed throughout the years. Early signatures are less appealing and appear rough around the edges when compared to modern examples. It lacks any measurable slant and is basically vertical in nature. Letter construction is marginal and letters tend to blend together, which adversely affects legibility. Nevertheless, the wonderful strokes of

Signed photo.

his hand make for a signature with excellent display value. Nelson’s extremely flowing hand makes replication very difficult, so there are no well executed forgeries in the market. Forgeries of Nelson exhibit a labored appearance with thick methodic strokes and generally stand out with little examination. One final note, on occasion, Nelson would add a paraph under his signature, a variant form of his signature that is uncommon.

Nelson was a gracious signer throughout his life and the amount of genuine material is sound, but not overwhelming. He is generally found on index cards, scorecards, photographs and gum cards. Letters are also available but should be considered scarce, albeit borderline. Nelson also signed golf balls but it’s my understanding that it was not one of his favorite things to do, so signed golf balls are uncommon and many forgeries exist.

In the last year of his life, Nelson restricted his signing due to

Close up of Nelson’s signature that he penned less than a week before he died.

health concerns, but he would still sign on occasion. Nelson died in September of 2006, and material signed only days before his death still exhibit good flow though a slight unsteadiness is evident. Nelson’s hand never produced a truly shaky signature.

As a price guide will show, Nelson material has increased greatly since his death and it’s safe to say that his is a very good investment signature. Index cards and other non-premium items are

Earlier examples of Nelson’s signature have less of a slant.

valued at less than $50. Signed 8×10 photos sell for $75-$100. Typed letters signed sell for $100-$150, while autographed letters signed sell for $250-300. Golf balls have, in recent years, jumped in value and now easily sell for more than $200. A signed copy of his 1946 book, Winning Golf, is a rare find and will sell for nearly $400.