Dan Walker’s booth at the 33rd annual National Sports Collectors Convention didn’t feature high-priced jerseys or cards, like most of the other 800 exhibitors with him in the Baltimore Convention Center.
But he nonetheless received a lot of interest during the show’s opening Wednesday.
That’s because the Hunt Valley company, Collectibles Insurance Services, that he represented provides a specialized service for attendees and exhibitors.
“We are collectors ourselves, so we know what these collections mean to people,” said Walker, who bought the agency from another collector in 1983 before selling it a few years ago. He remains as a producer with the company, now owned by $385 million Irish insurance business Global Indemnity.
The company insures not only sports collections but books, comics, stamps, toy trains, yo-yos, coins and more against theft, fire and other calamities. Collectibles Insurance has had a booth at the annual national sports show for a dozen years or so, Walker said.
“We’ve gotten a lot of business through this show,” he said. “That’s why we keep coming back.”
This year’s show, which rotates among cities nationally and was last in Baltimore in 2010, features what industry officials say is the highest-priced sports memorabilia item in history, as well as one of the most lucrative recent finds in an Ohio attic.
The earliest-known jersey worn by Babe Ruth in the 1920s — which fetched $4.4 million in an April auction — was being shown under glass at the booth of Lelands.com. The New York auction house brokered the sale to a private collector.
The item will be sent back to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y., where it was since late June, to be on display for another year until the 2013 Hall of Fame weekend, said Michael Heffner, president of Lelands.com.
Some cards from a recent discovery in Ohio, featuring well-preserved 1910 cards — some of which feature Hall of Famers Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner and Cy Young — were shown at the Heritage Auction booth. The cards were to be auctioned off Thursday evening, and the entire collection of 700 cards could be worth $3 million, said Chris Ivy, director of sports auctions for Heritage.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime find,” Ivy said.
Scores of attendees gazed at the cards, which were behind glass, as a security guard stood nearby Wednesday. Several members of the family who found the cards were expected to be at the booth and the live auction Thursday, Ivy said.
This convention is the top one in the industry, said Bill Huggins, president of Silver Spring sports memorabilia businesses House of Cards and Huggins & Scott Auction House. He has sold items at the event for more than two decades.
“We’ve always done a good amount of business here,” Huggins said.
Among the items at his booth was a nearly complete set of 1910 E98 cards, the same series as the ones discovered in Ohio. The cards are being auctioned off online through Thursday.
The event, which ends Sunday, also includes appearances and autograph signings by prominent former and current professional athletes. Prices for signed items paid by attendees ranged from free for former Baltimore Orioles infielder Bobby Grich and Detroit Tigers pitcher Jack Morris on Wednesday, to $250 apiece for former Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith and New York Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera, slated for Saturday.
Other higher-priced signatures include $150 for those of former Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken Jr., $140 for former boxer Mike Tyson, $120 for former Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders and $100 for former Boston Celtics forward John Havlicek.
Annual sales in the sports collectibles industry exceed $2 billion, with more than 16.7 million collectors worldwide, according to Tri-Star Productions, which is producing the Baltimore show.
Organizers expect about 45,000 attendees during the five days, about the same as in Chicago last year. The record attendance was some 101,000 in 1991 in Anaheim, Calif.