By and large, over the past year and a half, I have written about items, venues, and hobby/industry issues. For 2007 I plan on writing about some of the various individuals I have come across over a number of years. I have decided to start with Mike Heffner’s at Leland’s for a number of reasons. Mike was one of the first hobby/industry people I came into contact with through my early efforts dealing with Cincinnati Reds items. Over the years, Mike has established some very solid Reds contacts in Cincinnati and we know a number of the same folks in that respect.
The other reason I felt it was appropriate to start with Mike is that is organization has no formal ties to mine. I don’t want this series of pieces to be seen as simply a way to “throw a bone to one of our own.” This happens with all too much frequency in this industry/hobby. When venues and publications only cater to those that do business with them, there is very little objectivity on both sides and the hobby/industry at large does not benefit from this. For this piece, the questions are mine and the answers are Mike’s. His responses have not been edited nor should they be. With that, lets’s get started.
DG Q: I know that you are a collector as well, when did this start for you and what was it with?
MH A: Like most kids, I began collecting baseball cards when I was around 5 years old; this was during the mid 1970’s. I was a little different from the rest of the boys collecting cards because I discovered that there was a value to these little pieces of cardboard. I also discovered, at an early age, that condition of the cards was important. When I was 10 years old (1980) I purchased a box (36 packs) of 1980 Topps Baseball cards for $6 at the local grocery store. I kept that box underneath my bed for 10 years without opening a pack and ultimately sold it for $500. I was fortunate to have grown up in Pennsylvania close to several large flea markets and antique complexes. This is where I discovered sports memorabilia and as soon as I started purchasing bats, balls, uniforms, programs and so on, I knew that this is the stuff that really meant something to me. That’s when I turned my attention away from baseball cards. It was not until I met Josh Evans, who then resided in Allentown, PA that I began to learn about and appreciate game worn items. This was in 1986.
DG Q: On a personal collecting level, what is the one item you have parted with over the past that you wish you still had?
MH A: Over a year ago I sold a large portion of my personal collection but since then I have accumulated a good number of new items. The piece that I really wish I would still have is Mike Schmidt’s 501st homerun baseball. It was special because I personally bought it from Pete Rose. The ball was signed and personalized to Rose by Schmidt. I thought that it was a really special piece because Schmidt credited Rose with taking him to the next level as a ball player and he wrote this on the ball and gave it to Rose as a gift. It also showed how much appreciation that Schmidt had for Rose. Add to that the fact that I am a big Pete Rose collector. I did not sell the ball but traded it to a friend for a 1959 Frank Robinson cap and a few other items. I still have the cap and my friend still has the ball so there is still a chance that I can get it back. That is something that I have learned in this hobby, in many cases there will be a second chance to buy an item or one very similar even if you miss it on the first go around or have it and get rid of it.
DG Q: How did you come to be involved with Leland’s?
MH A: While in high school I made weekly visits to all of the local venues that sold antiques. I would purchase items for my collection from flea markets and shops. I realized that in order to pay for college I would have to sell some of these items. In 1986 I found a large group of T206 cards, around 200, and about 50 B18 Blankets including a Joe Jackson. I did not know that best way to sell them and had just found out about Sports Collectors Digest. I was amazed when I found a full-page ad for a company called Lelands. The ad stated that the company was looking to buy vintage sports memorabilia and cards. The amazing thing was that they were located a mere 15 minutes from my home in PA. I took the cards to their office, sold them to Josh for a very good profit and the rest is history. I continued to pursue the markets, buy sports memorabilia, and sell it to Josh. It paid my way through college. When I graduated, Josh had just moved the company to New York City. He offered me a full time job and I began my career at Lelands. I started working at Lelands doing all sorts of stuff including shipping. In the years that followed, I progressed to the position of Director of Acquisitions, to Managing Partner to President, to 50% owner.
DG Q: What are three things that you would like to see change within the industry/hobby and why?
MH A: One, I would like for everyone to work together. I know that this is a very broad statement but this hobby would be so much nicer to work within if collectors, dealers, and auction houses just communicated with one another in a more positive way. I do not mind at all when people call me and ask me questions on items that they are thinking about purchasing. I also do not mind when someone calls me and tells me to take a second look at an item that we are selling. I actually feel good when people do ask me questions, it makes me feel useful, like I am making a difference and helping someone and helping the hobby. It also shows me that people still care to look beyond what is spoken or written. I think that if everyone just asked around if they were not sure about something, this hobby would be a much more friendly and educated place. Two, I would like to see collectors, dealers, auction houses and authenticators be more responsible for what they sell and authenticate. Simply stated, if someone makes a mistake, they should be held accountable for it. This does not mean that I am in favor of public lynchings of anyone who makes a mistake or sells or authenticates a bad item. I would just like to see people accept accountability and back up what they sell. To put their money where their mouths are so to speak. Dealers, auction houses and authenticators need to realize that people put their trust in them. Trust is the most important element for attracting and keeping new collectors involved with this hobby. Lastly, I would like to see the people who knowingly sell fraudulent material ostracized from the hobby and business. It is very hard to get law enforcement to respond to the criminal acts of fraud and counterfeiting within the hobby. There are many reasons for this and that is a separate discussion in itself. But, we can police our own ranks. I believe that those who are counterfeiting goods should be barred from doing business. A simple boycott would send a message. Some of the larger dealers, auction houses and authenticators could sit down together and in a matter of minutes identify the main culprits. And, when someone is caught red handed, they should be banned from ever doing business within this hobby again. I know it sounds unrealistic and it probably is but we all have to keep in mind that fakes are the single most damaging thing in the hobby. They destroy the credibility of the industry, they damage the potential value of the real stuff, and they drive the future of the hobby into the ground by turning off new, young collectors who get burned their first time out. They hurt everyone and the people who manufacture and sell them have to be dealt with.
DG Q: What are three things that you consider the strengths of the industry/hobby at this time and why?
MH A: The hobby has become risky for collectors over the past several years. One reason is a shortage of legitimate materials and a sharp increase in the values of these items. This tends to encourage fraud. The hobby has been adjusting to the rapid increase of bogus items and we now have several public forums where collectors can go to try to find out about the items they are buying. One big plus is the number of resources for research are increasing every day and that is making the hobby better by educating collectors. Take, for example, Getty Images. Twenty years ago you would have to go out and buy 100 magazines just to come close to photo-matching a jersey. Now we have sites like Getty that offers us photos at the click of a button. Second, I think that the amount of competition in the industry is good and an asset for collectors. It allows more material to become available and also keeps most of those who operate these businesses on their toes. Third, I think that there is a solid awareness to the problems in our hobby and therefore we can begin to attack those problems. Most issue are no longer just sweep under the rug.
DG Q: Complete this sentence/thought…If I was just starting to collect game used sports memorabilia, I would recommend….
MH A: Doing my homework! Look before you leap. Ask questions. There is no such thing as a dumb question. And, don’t just get one opinion, ask several educated parties. Even if it comes with a letter, double-check the facts. Find other like items to compare to the item being bought. This is all pretty simple stuff but being collectors, myself included, we often get giddy at the sight of something that we have been looking for and we write the check too fast. In addition, buy from reputable sources and make sure that if you are getting a letter that it comes from a reputable source also. By reputable source, I mean a company or individual with a good track record, one that if they made a mistake will refund your money in full.
DG Q: Who do you consider the most important sports personality of the 20th Century with respect to influence on the hobby/industry in the following sports and why?
Baseball-Without a doubt, Babe Ruth. He is the most recognizable name in baseball, maybe all sports, and was the first player with such mass fan appeal. He treated fans like family and signed more autographs for them than any other player of his time. He is as popular with collectors today as when he played and his game used memorabilia is still some of the most sought after. His name is responsible for propelling this hobby to new heights. When an item sells for hundreds of thousands of dollars, it is likely that it was associated with George Herman Ruth.
Football-I was going to say O.J. because he made such a ruckus in the media and also brought so much attention to the hobby by selling his Heisman, doing signings, getting thrown out of shows and the fact that his memorabilia escalated in value and then plummeted. On a positive note, I’ll go with Joe Montana. He was huge when the hobby really took off in the mid 1980’s. His game used equipment was some of the first of the modern material to really be worth a lot and he was one of the first to do “authenticated” private signings.
Basketball- Michael Joradan. Just the fact that his rookie card came out during the height of the sports card explosion and he single handedly put basketball on the map. Around the same time that Jordan came on to the scene, several collectors began to assemble Hall of Fame-caliber basketball jersey collections. A coincidence? His game used stuff hit heights that no current player’s ever had before.
Hockey-Wayne Gretzky. He really took hockey to a new level, both as a sport and in the collectibles field. He was also one of the first players in any sport to hand out to friends and fans game used items in quantity. He was very generous with game used sticks. His jerseys are another story, the real ones are so limited and desirable that the early ones now fetch in upwards of $100,000. Thus, his jersey is the most valublable of any player from the last 30 years.
Boxing-Muhammad Ali. There was and probably never will be a boxer that endorsed as many products as Ali. Thus, his name offers the collector an almost endless supply of items to collect. His fight worn material is the most sought after in the hobby and his autograph, although plentiful, is still one of the most desirable of all the living legends out there.
DG Q: I have just let you in on a project I have been working on for the Department of Defense that involves time travel…Mike Heffner, (Jack Bauer is booked) you have 24 hours to go back in time an retrieve one piece of sports memorabilia, what do you go after and what do think the value of it would be in today’s market?
Oh man, that would be a blast. I would have to go back to the origin because it all starts there. The first ball used in the very first organized game of baseball. It would be priceless to me. In auction with perfect provenance, it could sell for millions. I am sure there is a more creative answer but this would sort of be like having the Holy Grail, the cornerstone of our national pastime. Off course I would have to make sure that I brought the LOA along back with me. I’m smiling!
Additional Information about Mike Heffner and Leland’s can be found at:
The Leland’s Website is located at:
LTC MEARS Auth, LLC can be reached for comments or questions about this article at:
LTC MEARS Auth, LLC
Woodbridge, VA 22193