Curiosity Podcast Transcript: Why Do Humans Collect Things? Confessions Of A Sports Collectible Expert

What gives a collectible item its value? Certified sports memorabilia expert Michael Osacky has been the official appraiser for athletes from the Chicago Bulls, New York Yankees, and other professional teams, and on this podcast, he sheds some light into the world of collecting.

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Curiosity Podcast Transcript

Cody Gough:

I'm curious. What do you think collections and collectors can tell us about history or about ourselves?

Michael Osacky:

With collectibles and collecting in general, essentially these are artifacts. Whether it's an autograph or a ticket stub, it should bring you back to a time in history when things were very different. Things were very different 50, 60, 70. 80 years ago, and it's sometimes nice to look back and reflect how things were.

Cody Gough:

Hey. I'm Cody Gough from Curiosity.com. Today we're going to learn about the hobby of collecting and what collectors really value. Every week we explore what we don't know because curiosity makes you smarter. This is The Curiosity Podcast.

Everybody owns something, right? Everybody has stuff. And they say that one person's trash is another person's treasure, but to a collector the value of an item can be radically different from what you paid for it, if anything at all. But why is that? What gives an object value, and why do people collect?

To get some answers I spoke with a certified expert in sports memorabilia. We're going to talk always about collecting in general. You'll get a little extra bonus if you're really into sports, but fear not if you are not interested in sports whatsoever. We're going to talk all about collecting of all sorts. And by the end of our conversation, I'm guessing you might be motivated to list something you own on eBay or Craigslist.

I'm Cody Gough, and I'm here with Michael Osacky, certified sports memorabilia expert. He's worked with the Chicago Bulls, the New York Yankees, the Chicago White Sox, presumably other organizations?

Michael Osacky:

Yep, that's correct, and some organizations, Cody, I can't talk about because of the people who I've been working with, both from an executive management level and also players standpoint, but the Yankees, the Bulls, the White Sox, also the Chicago Cubs I can talk about.

Cody Gough:

There are actually confidential ... Why is that?

Michael Osacky:

Yes, because some former players, and actually a couple current players, but some former players have played in professional sports, they don't necessarily want their family to know that they're potentially selling some items or looking to have something appraised for estate purposes. Sometimes a player is going to want to sell it and doesn't want to tell their family for whatever reason.

And other times, when they do an appraisal for estate purposes, it's a surprise and they want to pass it down to their next of kin, but they don't want to really inform their next of kin exactly how much things are worth or even what they have.

Cody Gough:

Wow. Interesting. How did you become certified in this? What's your background?

Michael Osacky:

This all got started in 1997, 20 years ago. My grandfather, for my birthday he bought me a shoebox full of very old baseball cards for my birthday. And he did that because he noticed I was very interested in current baseball cards. I would jump on my bicycle and I would ride to the local grocery store or pharmacy, and I would buy all the new packs, basketball, football, and baseball.

And, that one day, for my birthday in 1997, when I opened up that shoebox, the cards inside were extremely old, cards from the '50s and '60s and even '70s. And it got me on the hunt of not only trying to find more of those cards, but also learn about the history associated with all those ball players back then. So, that's kind of how it got started.

And then over time, because I was so interested in learning, I started learning about values of autographs and sports cards and just memorabilia in general. And then after many years, a couple national newspaper publications called me up and they said, "Hey, would you like to write for us? We know you're a qualified expert." And so I started writing, and then I got certified by the National Association of Professional Appraisers. Then I did a lot of radio interviews and a lot of TV interviews. And then some professional organization saw and they called me and said, "Hey, can you work with us or can you work with some of our players or staff members that have championship rings or vintage collectibles that they want to know what it's worth?"

I'm based here in Chicago, but I frequently find myself on the road. I think last year I did 40 speaking engagements. Most of them are on the weekends, and I think of the 40, 32 were out of the state of Illinois.

Cody Gough:

You're still a collector? Do you still collect?

Michael Osacky:

I'm still a collector at heart, yep. I'm still a collector. There are still some things that when I see it, I just have to have it and I buy them. And I do have a fairly large collection, but it's interesting because, Cody, people ask me all the time, like with art, when they buy art, you put it on the wall, and you have guests over and you're entertaining. 'Wow, this is whatever it is, a Picasso.'

Well with sports collectables, when people come into my house they don't really see anything because it's really all stored in safety deposit boxes, right? Whether it be cards or ticket stubs or whatnot. And so people tell me, "So you can't enjoy what you have." I'm like, "Well, I have everything on an Excel spreadsheet. I know exactly what I have, how much I paid for it, when I acquired it, what the story was."

That's the other thing, Cody. When I buy items, it's very important to me that they have a story attached. And when I say a story attached, I don't mean a fake, made up story. I mean something was obtained by a former player on the New York Yankees in the 1950s who won three world championships, and he passed away and I bought something from his son. Things like that. I have so many stories of some of the collectables that I have, and that to me is really interesting.

Cody Gough:

So the primary motivation for you is the stories, and then some of those objects just happen to also have value to other collectors?

Michael Osacky:

Yes. The stories and also the history, too, right? Because it could have a story attached to it, but it could most likely also be historic. It could be, let's say, a Babe Ruth autograph signed in August of 1948. Well, Ruth died in August of '48, so that autograph might be one of his last ever signatures. And so, it's things like that that really draw me in. I'm like, "Wow, this is really unique. It's not just a Babe Ruth autograph, but it's one of his last ever autographs."

Cody Gough:

Do you think that's what draws a lot of collectors into collecting?

Michael Osacky:

I do. I do think that is one of the reasons that draws collectors into collecting. I also think, and this is not necessarily true now, but back in the day when card shows were more prolific - they were at the Holiday Inn, Ramada Inn, all hotels across the country - is it was something for kids to do with their fathers. Nowadays, with the advent of eBay that's not the case anymore. You can literally wake up in the morning in your boxers and buy something on eBay. About 20 years ago, that wasn't the case.

Additionally today, there really aren't any card shows, and collecting has changed. I mean, with the advent of the internet, kids these days, they would much rather play with their iPhone or video games. And since they've never really grown up with cards or opening up packs of baseball cards, that may affect the values of these collectibles 20, 30 years from now. Because as people today start dying off - let's say the people in their 60's, men in their 60's or 70's or 80's - the next generation may be interested. But then the generation below that, all these Millennials, probably won't ever be interested in collecting these collectables because they just never grew up with them.

Cody Gough:

In your speaking engagements and in all of your writing and traveling around, have you then seen that as a trend, that most of these collectors are more advanced in age?

Michael Osacky:

Yes. I would say 100 percent. But it does always excite me when sometimes I do a programming or presentation, a talk, and I do see a dad with his son or a grandfather with his two younger sons, because that reminds me of myself and my grandfather, and that's how I got started back then. So every time I see that, I always make sure to call that out because I think it's something special.

Cody Gough:

That's cool. I'm really interested in what gives something value, because you talked about autographs. So, let's say I've got a baseball that Babe Ruth hit a home run and I've got that ball. That's really great. But then if he signed it and you've got the Babe Ruth autograph on there, then suddenly that jumps in value. Why does an autograph have value?

Michael Osacky:

An autograph does have value depending upon who it is, if it's a Hall of Famer versus a common player. A Hall of Famer being, in your example, Babe Ruth; a common player being like a John Doe, essentially nobody. And the value is different depending upon the item that the autograph is signed on. Is it signed on a piece of paper or a football or a jersey or photo or a baseball bat? Those things, really drastically differ in value.

For example, in your Babe Ruth signed baseball, non-game used, just a regular Babe Ruth signed baseball, ranges anywhere in value from $2,000 to $50,000. But a signed baseball bat is much more. A signed piece of paper is less. So again, it's not just about who signed the item, but it's also about what the item actually is.

And then once that's determined, how strong is the autograph? Meaning, is it dark, is it very dark, or is it faded? And there's many, many things that kind of go into value, but that's kind of from a 30,000 foot view. I hope that answers your question.

Cody Gough:

Kind of. I'm just interested in when did an autograph start to matter as a thing that has value? Because when you think about it, I can scribble on a piece of paper and, okay, I did that. But if somebody notable scribbles on a piece of paper or on a baseball or on a football or on a CD, then suddenly it has a huge amount of value. Do you know how long that's been a 'thing'?

Michael Osacky:

That's actually a great question. I don't think anyone's actually, has ever asked me that question. But it did start in about the 1980s.

Now, people were signing autographs well before the 1980s for sure. There was plenty of Babe Ruth autographs, plenty of Ty Cobb. But from a formalized hobby, the autograph really started in the 1980s where there actually show promoters that would organize guests, which are former ball players or current players, on the weekends. They would go around signing, the country. They would go to a hotel and sign from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. That started it in the 1980s, and that really is when the hobby and the value started to actually take off and rise.

Ashley Hamer:

Hey, Curiosity editor, Ashley, here. I just wanted to touch on some of the science behind all this collector stuff. Psychologists have studied why people value autographs and other memorabilia that have touched celebrities. They call it the "Magical Law of Contagion." It's a superstitious idea that when someone comes into contact with an object, some of their essence rubs off on it. So when you're holding a baseball bearing Babe Ruth's autograph, you're not just holding a baseball; you're holding a little bit of Babe Ruth.

Psychologist Bruce Hood has been known to demonstrate a version of this phenomenon. He'll hold up a sweater and ask who in the audience would be willing to wear it. After a bunch of hands go up, he reveals that the sweater belonged to a serial killer. Despite the fact that it's the exact same sweater, most people quickly changed their minds.

Cody Gough:

Your specialty ... I'm guessing you can't appraise the value of anything in the world. What's your scope of really specific expertise?

Michael Osacky:

1870 to 1970, those 100 years across all sports. So baseball, football, hockey, even horse racing. And it could be cards, autographs, ephemera, really anything. I do know a lot about items from 1970 to 2017, which is today, but the reason why I only specialize in that time period is because generally speaking there isn't a lot of value.

A couple of things there. One, in the mid-1970s card manufacturers started to mass produce cards. So they would produce them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days of the year. So because there was a limitless supply and the technology of the printing presses changed, that severely affected the hobby.

The second thing that happened in the mid-1970s was people started to hoard what they had, because they said, "You know what? That stuff from the '50s and '60s that we threw out or that we put in our bicycle spokes? That stuff now has value." So if you think about the supply and demand equilibrium, that quickly became out of whack. And then that quickly moved into the 1980s, and card manufacturers were producing cards by the billions.

And so here you are today, I can go across the street from where I live and I guarantee that person, that home, is going to have cards from the 1980s, 1990s. Everybody has them. I get calls every day. "Michael, I have 100,000 cards. How much can I get?" And they're always from the '80s or '90s. One day I hope someone calls me and they're from 1952, but that's just not the case.

Cody Gough:

So the primary deciding factor in what gives an item value is supply and demand?

Michael Osacky:

Yes. It's definitely supply and demand.

Cody Gough:

And the same kind of thing happened with comic books, didn't it?

Michael Osacky:

Yeah. Comic books, the same thing. And I'm not, of course, as familiar with comic books as I am with sports. But again, there are some really extremely rare comic books that are worth quite a fortune. But with comic books, the same thing with cards, it's all about condition. You could have a comic book that is super rare, and in mint condition maybe it's $300,000. But in just mediocre condition, maybe it's just $3,000.

And with a baseball card or a football card or a basketball card, it's the same thing. You could have a card, a rookie card of Hank Aaron, and in mint condition maybe it's $300,000. Which by the way ... so I say "maybe." It actually is, today, as we're sitting here talking it's $300,000 in mint condition. But in near-mint condition, which to the naked eye looks exactly the same as a mint condition, that card is only worth $20,000. So there's a huge price decrease. And in comic books it's the same thing.

Cody Gough:

And how do you appraise that? How do you determine ...? First of all, how do you determine the authenticity of an item?

Michael Osacky:

With cards, at least for me, it's not that difficult because every card year has a certain feel and look, and even smell. And so, I can quickly put my hands on it and smell a card, and realize okay, is this real or not? Additionally, if you turn the card over in most cases on the bottom it will say 'reprint' or 'manufactured in XYZ year'.

So I'll give you an example. Back in the 1930s, mid-'30s, there was Goudey Gum Company in Boston, Massachusetts. They manufactured a set of cards for two years in '33 and '34. And today, that set is widely collected. There's four Babe Ruth cards in the set, two Lou Gehrig cards in the set. It's a beautiful set.

But many decades later, a company reprinted that set of cards because it was so popular, so colorful. People loved to collect them. So when I see those cards today, they look very different than the original 1933 cards. But additionally, if you turn the cards over it'll say 'reprinted in 1981'. So obviously you may be looking at a Babe Ruth card, but if it's from 1981 it's not original to a 1933 year.

And that's very easy to spot. A lot of people don't notice that. But on most cards it'll have the year that it was manufactured on the back. If it doesn't, you need to do more investigative work. How white is the card? Because I know a card, or paper, oxidizes at a certain rate over time each year. And so I've seen beautiful mint cards from a hundred years ago, but that's not the norm.

Now today if I see a beautiful mint card, it still might be authentic but I have to do my due diligence and look at it further. How sharp are the corners? Is it too good to be true? What about the color of the card? A lot of times the color of the reprints and the original are different. So you just to have to really do your homework, do your due diligence. And if you're going to buy something, make sure you understand if it's a reprint or not.

Ashley Hamer:

Counterfeit baseball cards are definitely a 'thing' and eBay has a few tips for collectors who don't want to get scammed.

First, if you can, compare the card to another from the same year and set to see if the color, texture and other details are the same. You should also double-check the grade label and number of the card with a grading company. And like with anything, make sure to buy from reputable sellers.

Cody Gough:

Where did you learn how to tell the difference in smell of baseball cards?

Michael Osacky:

You know, I shouldn't say 'learned'. It's just over time, every day seeing large collections of cards, they do; they just have a certain ... I shouldn't say 'stench' because a stench has a negative connotation, and they don't, in my opinion, have a stench. But it's like this old, musty smell.

Cody Gough:

Can you describe it?

Michael Osacky:

It's like going to your grandpa or grandma's house for dinner, and you walk into their bedroom and it's like ... you know, it has this smell. A certain smell of almost like mildew that's been building for decades and decades. It's quite fascinating, I must tell you.

Cody Gough:

I'm fascinated by it. You mentioned that a lot of people collect, you collect for the history and for the stories around it. Do you think it's the primary reason why people collect, or do you think there are people that use it as an investment almost?

Michael Osacky:

I hope that people buy it because of the stories and the history. I always tell people buy what know and buy what you like. Never buy for investment purposes. If this hobby that I'm in was so easy that you could literally just put all of your money into sports memorabilia and then sell it 10 years later and make a lot of money, everybody would be doing it. I would be doing it. But it ebbs and flows just like the economy, just like real estate.

I got an email the other day from a lady and she was asking, looks like Hall of Fame rookie cards in high grade have been going up and up for the past couple of years on a huge percentage. And I said, "Yes, I agree with you. But don't forget, if you look at the overall economy for the past two years, that's been going gangbusters. Real estate is coming back. So it's everything."

"But just like in 2008 when the whole economy collapsed, the sports memorabilia values did as well because, to be honest, people were trying to not foreclose on their home and put food on the table and keep their jobs. And they weren't spending their money on autographs or memorabilia."

Cody Gough:

You mentioned sports memorabilia as your specialty. People collect lots of different things. Music collections, video game collections, coins and stamps, and things like that. What similarities or differences are there between different things people collect? And what's the same across the board that you've noticed or that you're aware of?

Michael Osacky:

One of the things with stamps and coins and even baseball cards is, there's always a 'holy grail' or a couple of stamps or a couple of cards or a couple of coins that are keynote items; where if you find them, they're worth millions of dollars.

So it's funny, because when you talk about baseball cars, it's the T206 Tobacco Honus Wagner baseball card. Every so often you'll see it on CNN or the Wall Street Journal and the news because someone sold one for whatever it was, $1 million, $3 million. And with coins or stamps, they have similar key items that people always talk about.

Additionally, there's also errors with sports memorabilia, cards, and coins and stamps. You have coins that are over struck and you have cards that, the same thing. Back in the T206 1909 to 1911 Tobacco cards, the factory stamp sometimes was struck more than once, and that is considered a variation, some sort of error card, and people often collect those. So there are some similarities, yes, across multiple collectable categories.

Cody Gough:

I was going to say, I was going to ask about anomalies and if those are worth more or less.

Michael Osacky:

There are some, and it's hard to talk about because there are so many different errors and anomalies and variations that people collect. Some of them are actually known; they're put in publications. But then then there's others that are less known that maybe a couple of guys in Pennsylvania are like, "Hey, have you ever noticed from this set, there is the letter 'r' missing from the word 'suffered' and maybe that's a different variation that no one's ever heard about before." And then they start collecting them.

With this hobby, a lot of it is up for interpretation. Also, every so often new things are being discovered. Not necessarily new collections in attics, but new anomalies or error cards that people never thought about before.

Cody Gough:

What about the losing team Super Bowl championship hats?

Michael Osacky:

Oh, no. Usually, almost always what happens with those is they are boxed up and they're sent to third world countries, like Haiti and the Dominican Republic, for kids to use because it does really no good to keep them in the States. So that's what they do; they ship them.

Cody Gough:

They don't destroy them, though?

Michael Osacky:

No. They always ship them out overseas.

Cody Gough:

Do they have any value to anyone?

Michael Osacky:

No.

Cody Gough:

Really.

Michael Osacky:

No. And it's funny because from time to time, someone will call and say I have this, not necessarily like a hat, but a like a phantom ticket. So let's say a team advanced far in the playoffs, it doesn't matter what sport. Take football for example. And let's say maybe they were a couple of wins away from going to the Super Bowl. The team will make and print Super Bowl tickets assuming that the team is going to advance and go to the Super Bowl because they want to be ahead of the curve, so when they advance they can put their time into other things.

But let's say that team does not advance to the Super Bowl. Those tickets have already been printed and a lot of times the executive management will hand them out to senior staff members, players, what have you. And so from time to time, I'll get a phone call, "Hey, I have these Super Bowl tickets called 'phantom tickets' because it never actually happened for that team." And they want to know how much it's worth. And the value is negligible; it's 10 bucks.

Cody Gough:

I don't know if you'll know this, but let's say that happened with a concert. Let's say I've got tickets to a concert that's coming up and the lead singer died or something tragic happened and they canceled the tour. How about that kind of a 'phantom ticket'?

Michael Osacky:

That would have value, especially if someone died. If they just canceled the tour because the lead singer broke his foot, that's not a big deal. But if someone died and this was the last concert on the last leg of the tour or the last week of the tour, and that's it and the band breaks up; or maybe they go on a five year hiatus and find a new lead singer, then yes, that would definitely have some value.

Ashley Hamer:

At the time of this recording there's a pair of unused tickets on eBay for the London concert that was canceled after Michael Jackson's sudden death. The asking price? $1900.

Cody Gough:

We talked about scarcity earlier, and I'm thinking about guitar picks. Now we know that the guitarist in Cheap Trick throws out a million guitar picks, so I'm guessing not super valuable compared to, maybe at the end of each of his concerts with Guns 'n Roses, Slash throws out his guitar pick. Guessing there will be a discrepancy there?

Michael Osacky:

Yes. Also it's difficult to determine a provenance, or authenticity, there. Yes, Cheap Trick may be using a certain style or brand of a guitar pick, but it may be tough to prove. Let's say you got one and tried to sell it, you have two things going against you. One is, as you correctly described, there's a million of them out there. But also, how do I know that it actually was used at the concert? It would be much more valuable if it was signed and you even had a letter of provenance from someone in Cheap Trick.

I've seen in years past guitar picks signed by Billy Corrigan of Smashing Pumpkins, and that could sell for a hundred bucks, two hundred bucks. But really when it comes to music, signed guitars by the entire band usually fetch good money.

Cody Gough:

What's good money?

Michael Osacky:

It varies. Anywhere from 200 bucks to several thousands of dollars, depending upon who the band is, if they're current or not.

Cody Gough:

If you've got the whole band or maybe missing one member, or original versus a replacement member?

Michael Osacky:

Yes, that's important, too. Because if think about Journey, they have a new - and when I say new lead singer, I mean he's ... I forget his name now; he's been there for quite sometime now, but he's not the original.

Ashley Hamer:

The new lead singer is Arnel Pineda. And he's been performing with Journey since 2008. He sounds just like Steve Perry, the original singer.

Michael Osacky:

If you can get a guitar signed by Journey with the former lead singer, that would have some value. And there's different caches. At the top you have the Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Who, maybe a couple of others, like U2. And then there's different classes, also.

Cody Gough:

Do you ever get weird crossover memorabilia? Like let's say, you talked about stories. Let's say I've got a story, I went with my grandpa to New York and I caught a home run ball by the Yankees at a World Series game. But then, that weekend the Beatles were playing. And so I had the Beatles sign this baseball. So for me, it all happened in one weekend and that's great. But it's totally two different worlds. Does that ever happen?

Michael Osacky:

Yes. And some of them can be quite rare, actually. If you think about ... let me just give you a couple of examples here. Marilyn Monroe - this is obviously going way back - Marilyn Monroe never played baseball and was obviously not a baseball player. But she did date Joe DiMaggio for a couple of years.

Ashley Hamer:

Marilyn Monroe was actually married to Joe DiMaggio. The marriage only lasted nine months before ending in a pretty messy divorce. But after Marilyn passed away, DiMaggio had flowers delivered to her grave twice a week for 20 years.

Michael Osacky:

A single signed baseball of Marilyn Monroe - just her signing a baseball; now she has nothing to do with baseball really - could sell for $150,000.

Cody Gough:

$150,000.

Michael Osacky:

Yeah.

Cody Gough:

Wow.

Michael Osacky:

Yeah. So that's just kind of one example. Another example is in politics. Barack Obama, when he was running several years ago, when he was first elected president in 2008, he signed for whatever reason, I don't know; people were handing him baseballs to sign. He's a big baseball fan; he's a White Sox fan. At the time those baseballs were being sold for $2,000, $2,500. This is a politician and the President of the United States. Again, nothing really to do with baseball. But a signed baseball by Barack Obama was two thousand bucks back then. Now today, it's probably worth about 600 or 700 bucks. But heck, it's still worth good money, 600 bucks.

Cody Gough:

Yeah. That's to too bad of a return. What's the strangest collection that you know of?

Michael Osacky:

There's a lot of strange collections, and also strange people. A lot of people I deal with in this business are different, and that's okay because I think it makes it all the more interesting.

But one guy called me and he has ... I don't know if you're familiar with Joe Garagiola, he was a baseball player and then he also when on to be a commentator, a TV commentator, and also did some radio back in the day. I believe he's passed away several years ago now. But this gentleman had Joe Garagiola's jock strap and thought of it as the pinnacle of his collection. And I was asking him how he obtained it and why he thinks this is so valuable. And he was like, "Well, this is one of a kind. He wore it on his ..."

I said, "There's no monetary value here because who's going to buy it? People don't call me and be like 'I need someone's jock strap'." And the gentleman's telling me, he's like "Michael, that's exactly right and that's why it's so valuable. It's rare. It's one of a kind." And I said, "Good luck trying to find someone who's willing to buy it for any, even $5. It's just too unique, too different, strange, bizarre." Sometimes the unique and bizarre sells, but in this particular case, it's ... He thought of it as very valuable, and I was on the total opposite side of the fence. "No, it's not valuable at all."

Cody Gough:

Do you think he called somebody to get a second opinion? Is there ever a discrepancy between appraising experts like yourself and others?

Michael Osacky:

Sure. People are always willing, because it's their collectable, they can call for a second opinion. But I don't really know what he decided to do with that. I kind of lost contact with him over the years. I think I rubbed him the wrong way when I told him it didn't have any value.

Cody Gough:

That's really good. I want to ask how infamy affects something's value. So Pete Rose, for example. One of the best ball players according to many, and yet mired by scandal, the whole gambling thing and all that. So what happens to the value of something like Pete Rose memorabilia?

Michael Osacky:

Pete Rose is an interesting example because, yes, you're right. He's a great ball player. He had 4,256 hits over his baseball career, which is a ton. But when you think about the value of his autograph, his full-time job for many years now is, he works in Las Vegas at the Caesar's Palace Forum Shops. And six days a week he signs his autograph, literally almost around the clock, over and over again for years. And so if you were to go out to Las Vegas and get his autograph, you'd probably pay about a hundred bucks to get his autograph. You could shake his hand, exchange pleasantries.

But let's say you did not want to fly out Las Vegas but you still did want a Pete Rose autograph. You can buy a real, authentic Pete Rose-signed baseball on eBay for about half of that, even less, about 45, 50 bucks.

Cody Gough:

Because he's doing so many autographs.

Michael Osacky:

So many. Again, supply and demand, Cody. Exactly. So today, let's say Pete Rose was to pass away tomorrow. The value of his autograph would not increase. A lot of times you see a bump when someone passes away, like in the '90s, like Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams the same thing happened. But that's not always the case.

Bob Feller, same thing. Bob Feller, a great hurler for the Cleveland Indians. In fact, Feller gave me his last public interview in 2010 before he passed away. But when he passed away the value of his autograph actually went down. He told me he signed over the course of his lifetime several million autographs, and I believe it. Anytime someone, a kid or someone would say, "Hey, I want your autograph, Bob" he would oblige and sign.

And he was a great ball player, a Hall of Famer. But there's just, again, supply and demand; there's just so many of them out there. So when Feller passed away everyone already had his autograph. And then people rushed to cash in, so they thought, to sell and there was really no demand for it, so we were flooded with Feller autographs.

And the same thing would happen with Pete Rose. If he was to die, we would be flooded with Pete Rose autographs. That would drastically decrease the value of anything he signed.

Cody Gough:

So let's say we keep the supply equal across the before and after. Let's say there's a football player, he's really great, he's got a good career, he's solid. And then a little bit of a scandal, had some weird personal stuff happen later on. Do collectors look at that and say, "Well, he's kind of worth less as an autograph now, or his legacy is tainted or tarnished" or anything like that? Or does it pretty much hold up despite all the outside, off the field stuff?

Michael Osacky:

It differs by person and what they did. But usually, almost always, yes. Something, it gets tainted, and the value decreases. Now, you will have people who can potentially look past the 'taint-ness' or whatever crime occurred or whatever it was because the player was such a great player when he did play ball.

But one of the things that's very current I'm thinking about is O.J. Simpson. Now he was a great football player and obviously we all know what happened in the 1990s. Then with the whole sports memorabilia, he went to a hotel room in Las Vegas with two of his buddies, actually more than two of his buddies, with guns to try and take back his sports memorabilia. I mean, the value of his autograph is not very valuable. But there is still a little demand out there because people still remember that, "Oh, he was a great football player." And if people are collecting football autographs, especially of running backs, and if they need his autograph then they have to get it.

Cody Gough:

Interesting. So it sounds like a lot of it's a bit of a moving target. Overall, the primary thing to pay attention to is supply and demand. You know that if people wanted something it's got some value, and if there's not a lot of it, it's got even more value.

If I'm looking around my attic and I'm looking around my house and I see some old things sports or otherwise. Let's say maybe an album from the 1940s or '50s, or something else that's just got some age, maybe a rare coin. I can look up the value online, but what's a quick way to kind of just eyeball it and say okay, this might be worth something?

Michael Osacky:

Well, I think your suggestion makes sense. You could go to eBay and type in what you have, but I always tell people - and this is very important - if you're searching for something on eBay you have to check the box that says 'sold items' because you want to see what's actually sold at market. There's a buyer and seller that come together.

What happens is, if you do not click that button essentially the prices you're seeing are outlandish, are crazy prices. It's similar to, let's say you were to list your house for sale for a million bucks. That's great, but let's say it sells for $250,000. Well, the $250,000 is all that matters. A million doesn't matter. So too often I see people, say "Hey, I have this. It's on eBay for $5,000." And then I say, "Well okay, but it sold last week for 500 bucks."

Cody Gough:

Makes sense.

Michael Osacky:

And sold it sold the week before for $475. That's a true market. The market isn't $5,000. People are ... too often they see, "Oh my God, it's $5,000, it's $10,000." They see crazy prices and they call me, and it's just not the case.

Cody Gough:

And that's why it's also important to check the date, because as you said this is a moving target with time and the economy. Somebody might have had $3,000 to pay for something in 2010, but if the economy's not doing real great I may get $1,000, $800 for it.

Michael Osacky:

That's true. Prices do change over time. I've had people call me that they had gotten an appraisal on something 10 years ago. And they said, "Well, 10 years ago it was $5,000. We're hoping it's $10,000." Well, sometimes it may be. Maybe sometimes it's more than $10,000, but also sometimes it might be worth $1,000. It depends on what it is.

Let's say that you found an unopened box of baseball cards from 1975, and maybe it was worth 10 years ago $5,000; I'm just putting a fictitious number out there. But then let's say you hold on to it and then last week, maybe 20 of those boxes were found in an attic in New York. Well again, supply and demand. All of a sudden we just found 20 of them in an attic, and so the value of yours is going to greatly decrease, not increase. So just because you have something old that is valuable, there are always discoveries being made, and that also affects the price.

Cody Gough:

I've got one more question about the consumerist aspect of this. There are a lot of products and brands these days that will tag the phrase 'collectors edition' onto things. You can get Major League Baseball collectors edition wine. You can get ... Monopoly has 8,000 different collectors edition versions of Monopoly. There's collectors edition video games. The "Assassins Creed: Origins" collectors edition is selling for $800 when the regular game is 60 or 70 bucks. There's all these different collectors edition everything. Are they collectable, and do collectors put value in them? Or is this just a scam to get people to pay more money for something?

Michael Osacky:

Never, ever buy anything that says collectable, souvenir, even some like the limited editions from the '90s and 2000s. Think about it. These things were made to sell to you. A lot of times you see them on QVC or Home Shopping Network or some infomercial late at night, or you see them at the grocery store 'collectors edition'. No. Those are never, almost never valuable, worth anything. You can buy those for gag gifts. Or if you like them, it's an impulse buy. But never, ever, ever buy any of that stuff if you are trying to make money.

Cody Gough:

Wow. That's pretty strong. Even if it's got a limited quantity? Sometimes they'll say 'only 500 in the world'. That kind of a thing?

Michael Osacky:

Because a lot of times what happens there, and they're very sneaky, it's true. Limited edition of 500. And then guess what? They sell out of the 500, and the next week they make another thousand, and then they say 'limited edition of 1,000'. The next thing you know, they've had seven printing runs and they've printed 50,000 of these.

Cody Gough:

Wow. All right. Well, you heard it here first. Never buy the collectors edition. Cool. Just outside of supply and demand, just kind of a final question, you talked about the personal connection and story with all these things that you're so interested in. What's your favorite story of an item that maybe you have or that you've heard from someone else?

Michael Osacky:

There's so many stories as you can imagine. But one of them, because I kind of touched briefly on it earlier in this interview, was the example that I said of the Babe Ruth autograph, one of his last signatures.

So a couple of years ago when I was on the east coast, I met a gentleman and his son, and the gentleman showed me a Babe Ruth autograph dated August of 1948. And there were a lot of people, I was at an event and at the event everyone has something to show me. And I'm trying to go see it, go through it all and see everything. I have a flight to catch, I'm running late.

And so I saw the Babe Ruth autograph and it was beautiful. It was bold and genuine. And I said, "Congratulations." I gave him a price and he's like, "That's all?" And I said, "Yeah, that's what it's worth." And he goes, "But how about the date?" "What?" And I didn't see the date, and I looked and it said August 5th of 1948, and I was like "Whoa." He only died a week and half later. I'm like, "You mean to tell me that The Babe signed this August 5th, 1948?" He goes, "Yes." And I said, "Prove it. Show it to me."

And what happened was, this gentleman, his mother was friends with The Babe's priest. And when Babe was sick and he was in the hospital of cancer, the mom and the priest went to Babe's hospital room, and he had some blank photographs in his pocket. And he took one out and he signed it for her, and he dated it. And he had a picture of them together, a very old picture. And also he had other notes from The Babe to the priest from years earlier thanking him for helping him out, and 'I look forward to seeing you next time I'm in town'.

And so the provenance, which is essentially the lineage or history for this item, was impeccable. And my eyes basically popped out of my head. And he told me he wanted to sell it, and we came to terms. And so that was just a phenomenal, fantastic story, and of course, also item as well.

Cody Gough:

How can you put a price on that that's better than that story? I imagine it fetched a pretty high ...

Michael Osacky:

It was high. Yeah, yeah. Because a Babe Ruth autograph by itself is worth a lot of money. But this, because of the date, it was worth even more money. I think he was happy. I was happy. I was also happy as a collector because I know I'm probably never going to see something like that ever again with that story.

Cody Gough:

For a very, very final thing, we do a quick little end cap to each podcast with a little thing we call the "Curiosity Challenge," and I tell you something that you don't know, since you told me lots of things that I don't already know. Maybe you already know this; we'll find out.

Have you ever heard of the Forbes Pigment Collection?

Michael Osacky:

I have not.

Cody Gough:

All right. You might be interested in this. I learned about this on Curiosity.com.

On the fourth floor of the Harvard Art Museum is a wall of color and it's called the Forbes Pigment Collection. And it a vault of more than 2,500 pigments, or the small color particles that are mixed with other materials to make paint. And this exists so that by knowing what materials were used to create pigments, art experts can actually determine how to restore a painting or to use a mismatch in materials to determine whether something is fake.

So the Pigment Collection was actually used in 2007 to find that certain pigments in three disputed Jackson Pollack paintings were not created until the 1980s, which was 15 years after Pollack's death. And samples of the pigment have been sent all over the world so people can study and authenticate and preserve the great art masterpieces.

Michael Osacky:

Wow, and what museum or hotel was that in did you say?

Cody Gough:

It's in the Harvard Art Museum at Harvard University.

Michael Osacky:

Wow. That's pretty cool.

Cody Gough:

Yeah, Forbes Pigment Collection. So there you go. That's the one way to authenticate art. It's too bad they don't have anything like that for sports specifically, were you can kind of just compare two things side by side. You have to use all that experience in sniffing out, literally, some of the authenticity.

Michael Osacky:

I guess I learn something new every day.

Cody Gough:

Yeah, absolutely. And you, too, can learn something new every day if you download the Curiosity app for Android or iOS.

Now I will give you the opportunity. Anything we didn't cover that you can tell me that I may not know about?

Michael Osacky:

Not necessarily about things like that, but about me. My dad was born in Cuba, and so I'm very interested in culture, language, things like that. Because he came to the States when he was seven or eight, and obviously being a Communist country. But now, it's a little bit different now. I know there's some people from the U.S. are not able to go to Cuba, but it's supposed to be a very beautiful country. So hopefully, one day I'll get to go there. But I think because of the line of work I'm in, I think the history of family is also, and ancestry is important and also interesting.

Cody Gough:

Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. And if some of these 'artifacts' as you called them can help people learn more about I guessing some of their history and lineage and things like that ...

Michael Osacky:

Definitely, yep.

Cody Gough:

... do you end up dealing with a lot of international artifacts and collectables?

Michael Osacky:

No, but there are a lot of international people who will call, especially from Asia. A lot of Asian people now are looking at sports memorabilia as an asset class, where they're looking at their portfolios and saying, "Well, we have a ton of money in hedge funds and mutual funds and real estate and automobiles and art and whatever. Where else can we invest our money? And I'm looking at sports memorabilia, high end sports memorabilia as a vehicle."

So I get calls from businessmen in China saying help me make some money. What do you think is going to go up in the next five years? Can I get seven or eight percent annually return?

Cody Gough:

Interesting. So it is very specifically being viewed as an investment for some people.

Michael Osacky:

For some people. But as I said earlier, I never recommend that. But I guess when you're worth tens of millions of dollars, and for you to invest $500,000, that's not that much if your net income if $50 million or more.

Cody Gough:

Yeah. That's quite a lot of money. Well, if people would like to ask you questions, how can they get in touch with you?

Michael Osacky:

There's a couple ways. My website is baseballintheattic.com. Or find me on Facebook, Baseball in the Attic, and 'like' my page or send me a message.

Cody Gough:

Are you on Twitter, too?

Michael Osacky:

I'm on Twitter, too. @baseballattic.

Cody Gough:

@baseballattic. Cool. Well, thanks again, Michael. I really appreciate it.

Michael Osacky:

Thanks, Cody.

Cody Gough:

I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Michael Osacky. Remember to check the show notes to learn more about the subject we covered today. And you can also learn more every day on Curiosity.com. Not everything we write about has to do with collectibles. For instance, did you know that our son may have been formed with a twin? Yeah crazy, right? The easiest way to learn more about that is to download the Curiosity app for your Android or iOS device.

And speaking of additional information and knowledge, I'd like to thank Ashley Hamer for her "Fast Facts" this episode, and I'd like to thank you for listening. If you enjoyed this episode then please leave us a rating and review on iTunes. We would really appreciate it. And if you want to impress your friends, then tell them to check out our podcasts so they, too, can learn something new every week. Seems like a slam dunk to me.

For the Curiosity Podcast, I'm Cody Gough.

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Written By Curiosity Staff August 15, 2017