If you collect sports memorabilia, I’ll take a guess and figure you have been to a sporting event at some point in time. The thing you have shared with possibly thousands of others is the seat you sat in. Something as simple and essential to the viewing of a contest as seat carries with it a lasting connection to a place and time. I few years back I had the chance to pick up a set of four original Crosley Field seats. I knew they were original because they still sported the “redish-orange paint” and not the red paint that you see so many done in. The seller said he would deliver within a 150 mile radius… I had him drive 150 miles in my direction and we met a road-side stop in West Virginia. I loaded them into my Jeep Cherokee and headed back east towards DC…These have been a functional and attractive part of my “Baseball Room” ever since.
I was looking for a seat from Ebbets Field to go with my latest collecting focus when I came across a web site at www.collectiblestadiumseats.com. The site is run by a man named Richie Aurigemma. The site intrigued me for a couple of reasons; selection with great color images from all sports and some interesting descriptions such as “unrestored”, “semi-restored” and “restored.” I thought I would drop Mr. Aurigemma a line and see if he would be willing to talk about what he has and how he got into to this line of memorabilia. Richie gladly accepted the opportunity and I am glad he did. Here goes:
DG: Could you tell me a bit about how you got started in collecting and offering stadium seats and memorabilia?
RA: I was raised in The Bronx, so I was very familiar with Yankee Stadium & all its history …. even though I was and am a Mets fan. Anyway, I was walking one day under an elevated subway train (the “El”, as it is referred to in these parts) in Pelham Bay when I spotted a couple of interesting things in the window of a baseball card store that I patronized on occasion. In the window were two old wood & metal stadium chairs that were painted dark blue. The paint was chipping on both of them, revealing an avocado green color underneath. One seat had a black seat number on the top slat, while the other seat was missing its top slat completely. Being unsure of exactly WHAT I was looking at, I walked into the shop & asked the owner where the chairs in the window were from. He informed me that they were from Yankee Stadium.
Now, I had been to Yankee Stadium in 1977 & 1978 & knew the seats in there were plastic, not wood … so I was a little confused. The owner explained that these seats were removed from Yankee Stadium after the 1973 season, when Yankee Stadium was closed for a two year renovation. I remember falling in love with those seats that day & vowing to buy one. To make a long story short, I eventually did acquired one of those two seats (the one missing the top slat), which I purchased for the then ‘hefty’ sum of $100!! I still have that seat in my personal collection ‘til this day.
A short time later, I came into contact with a gentleman named Mike Seitz, who I consider one of the pioneers of the seat & stadia collecting. Mike had acquired some construction left over, ornate arm seats from Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Baltimore’s brand new retro ballpark. The logo, a turn of the century ballplayer sandwiched between the two Olde English “B”s (for “Baltimore Baseball”) was a really cool looking!. While these seats were never actually used in Camden Yards, they were identical to the seats that were installed there & were manufactured by the same company (American Seating). Mike’s price for one of these seats was very reasonable at the time & the “BB” logo was on both sides of the seat, so I bought one. It started as innocently as that. When you have one seat, you have just that …. one seat. When you have two seats, you now have a collection. That was how it all started for me.
The other major influence in my career & success in this hobby was being introduced to Paul Ferrante. I first met Paul through his writing. Paul is a stadium seat collector, baseball historian & writer for Sports Collectors Digest. Paul’s columns in ‘SCD’ are dedicated to ballpark & stadiums, past and present. Paul’s elegant style of writing captured my imagination & fueled my drive to learn more about all the old ballparks, as well as attempt to find seats & other memorabilia from them. Paul was also living in New York at that time, so we got to know each other, first through letters & phone calls, and then later through visits to my retail memorabilia shop. Paul worked within driving distance to my shop in those days, so he actually dropped by on more than one occasion to chat. A friendship began & over the years, we have attended several ballgames together, as well as have had the families over each others homes, etc. He’s a great guy & he has really helped me, directly & indirectly, to become very successful in this hobby.
DG: Do you have any seats in your private collection that are your favorites and why?
RA: WOW?! Now you’re putting me on the spot here, Dave! That’s like asking the parent who has more than one child which one is his favorite! I have always been a fan of stadium seats that have figural, or ornate end aisle seat ends. A figural end seat is just so much nicer to look at than just a regular ‘mid row’ seat in my opinion. I am lucky enough to own a triple seat from The Polo Grounds that is all original (unrestored) and has the New York Giants “NY” figural end on each side of it. My favorite figural seat is the “batting tiger” ones from Tiger/Briggs Stadium. The detail on these are really great and the logo is on both sides of the armrest, too! Most figural ends seats are ‘flat’ on the inside, but Tiger Stadium figural ends are double sided. The batting tiger logo was resurrected into the armrests of the seats in Comerica Park, but they abandoned the double sided detail on these seats in their new digs.
DG: What would you consider to be the most rare or valuable stadium seats and why?
RA: The rarest seats generally tend to be the ones from the stadiums that were torn down long ago. Seats from The Baker Bowl in Philadelphia & Braves Field in Boston are two prime examples of seats that are missing from most stadium seat collector’s collections. As far as arena seats and/or “Original Six” hockey seats are concerned, original Madison Square Garden wooden seats are far and away the toughest seats to locate. I have seen maybe three of four in the past dozen years … including one that I currently have posted on my site for sale. I don’t expect to have it very long, but I do have one right now. A MSG seat is one really tough seat to locate these days.
As for the most valuable? That’s hard to say. Wooden stadium seats from the key ballparks in the major cities with large fan bases, such as Yankee Stadium, Ebbets Field, The Polo Grounds & Fenway Park, seem to be the ones that stand a notch higher above the pack. Condition again also dictates how much a seat can be worth, too.
DG: In some of your descriptions, you list the seats as “semi-restored”. What makes a seat fall into this sort of transitional category?
RA: Good question. When I use the term “semi-restored” on my websites, I am telling my customers that I have done some work on this particular seat since acquiring it from either the former owner, else the original ballpark that it came from. The amount of work can vary, but the key to declaring a seat “semi” restored is that I have left as much of the original ‘stadium’ paint on this seat as possible, while attempting to make this seat look nicer by repainting it & making this seat look great again. A semi-restored seat will never be a seat that has been totally stripped of its “fingerprints”, or history. Once you totally strip a seat of its history …. you make it a lot tougher to authenticate it down the road. Again, this is what I mean when I use the term semi-restored.
DG: I have a number of references in my library that deal with stadiums and ball parks. Are there are references you have on hand that you would recommend collectors picking up if they are looking to collect stadium seats and memorabilia?
RA: Sorry to say, there is no book out there that I am aware of that deals with helping collectors who are into stadium seats. There is a price guide put out by Krause Publishing (the parent company of Sports Collectors Digest), but its only a couple pages long & only gives you an idea of what book value is of many of the different seats & stadium memorabilia. As far as excellent books on the history of ballparks, two immediately come to mind. “Green Cathedrals” by Philip Lowry is one. The other one is “Lost Ballparks” by Lawrence Ritter.
DG: When I was stationed at Ft. Campbell KY a while back, I went to watch Michael Jordon when Birmingham came to play the Nashville Sounds. I noticed a bunch of old wooden stadium seats out under the infield bleachers. I called the Sounds the next week and arraigned to buy a few. In talking to the gentleman who sold me the seats, he informed me that these seats were purchased from the Atlanta Braves and were the original seats from Fulton County Stadium. Do you know of any other examples of stadium seats being sold off or re-used in other facilities?
RA: I do. Seats from The Polo Grounds were trucked from New York City via potato truck to St. Augustine, Florida in 1964-65 & used in an outdoor amphitheater for another 30 years! Seats from Ebbets Field were sold to a baseball field in The Bronx & were used there for almost 40 years after their Ebbets Field days. Seats from Shibe Park/Connie Mack Stadium in Philadelphia and Old Yankee Stadium wound up in an old minor league ballpark in North Carolina. They were in service in this cozy ballpark from the mid 1970s until a few years ago, when I was very fortunate to discover them and acquire the remaining inventory of these seats that was still in service.
It was a different world 30+ years ago. Old, used, worn wooden stadium seats didn’t hold much value & were prone to a lot of maintenance … so they were often either handed down to farm teams (as was the case in Nashville), sold for a few dollars a seat to fans or other interested parties, else scrapped or junked. Few people back then had any clue that these baseball relics would become as popular & valuable as they have over the past few decades. I am constantly meeting people who bought original wooden Yankee Stadium seats in 1974 for about $10.00 each who say “Boy, I wish I had bought a whole bunch of these back then!”. Who knew, right?
DG: Besides seats, what do find people looking for or what was the most unusual or interesting stadium artifact you have come across?
RA: I have to tell you Dave …. I consider myself a “hard core” stadia collector. As long as an item was either used in a professional ballpark/stadium or was a fixture in it, you have my attention. With that said, I can not for the life of me understand why anyone would want to own a used urinal from anyplace …. especially from a stadium!! A urinal from Busch Stadium sold for $1500.00 during the Busch Stadium Sale/Auction a couple years back. Needless to say, I was not one of the parties who placed a bid on it! To each his own I suppose, but count me out on a urinal.
I DO have a sink from The Polo Grounds in my personal collection, so, as you can see, I do not have any bias towards bathroom fixtures! I was also fortunate to acquire a couple of light up numbers & a few light up letters from one of the two auxiliary scoreboards from the current Yankee Stadium a couple years back. The scoreboards were overhauled about two seasons ago & replaced with totally new high tech lights & effects. I was lucky to come into contact with an electrician who was involved with the project & he was able to fish out some of these pieces of American history from the trash. Sometimes, you’re just in the right place at the right time.
As far as what are other collectors are looking for? Ballpark signs are popular. Signs display nicely, generally don’t take up much space & complement other stadium items, such as seats for example in collectors stadium themed rooms or shrines. Bricks are also pretty popular. They also don’t take up much space, are generally not very expensive AND they can serve a purpose … a paper weight.
Well, it’s been an absolute blast doing this interview. I wish you had more questions for me! Thank you, Dave, for contacting me & allowing me to share my stories & my passion for stadium seats & stadia collectors with all your readers. I invite each & every one of them to visit both of my websites: www.CollectibleStadiumSeats.com & www.YankeeStadiumSeats.com. In case you haven’t noticed by now, I live & breathe stadium seats, so I am ALWAYS working on acquiring new ones, both from my personal collection, as well for my websites. Therefore, check each site often, as I never know what I am going to find next!! Take care, everyone.
For questions or comments on this article, please feel free to drop me a line at DaveGrob1@aol.com.