|By Eric C. Rodenberg
BIG RAPIDS, Mich. — When veteran auctioneer Phil Currie stepped up to the auction block on June 8, he was somewhat disappointed at the turn-out of bidders.
Currie, a popular auctioneer in western Michigan, usually packs 100-150 bidders in his auction gallery on 220th Avenue. But here it was, Currie with a massive collection of sports memorabilia — the only such auction that he has conducted in 33 years — and only 45-50 bidders were in the gallery.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” he says. “There were very few local folks, and that surprised me. I know there were a lot of graduation open houses and it was a beautiful day, in the 80s.”
Or, maybe, he mused, it’s because of all the “fakery” in the baseball collecting world.
However, he wasn’t too far into the auction when he realized that he had hit a home run, scored a touchdown and, perhaps, was in the process of making a “hat trick.”
He was scoring big points in baseball, football, hockey and even Olympic skating, what with skates autographed by Nancy Kerrigan and Tanya Harding, each selling for $100.
The 45 bidders were from across the United States.
“And they were serious bidders with deep pockets,” Currie says.
Literally hundreds — maybe thousands — of lots crossed the block that day. Currie worked the auction from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., and as one serious collector and bidder later told Currie, he was getting retail prices for much of the items that went through the auction block.
The impressive collection came from the home of Larry Potter, who died two years ago at the age of 79. Items that he collected in the 1950s and 1960s, and up through the 1980s had the bidding crowd standing on their toes in anticipation.
“I knew Larry for years,” Currie says. “But I didn’t know that he was all this into sports collecting. He worked as a mechanic for the city of Big Rapids, and he went to spring training nearly every year in the 1950s and 60s.”
Potter’s wife had died before him, and they had no children; the proceeds went to a couple of neighborhood kids that he helped raise.
At spring training, he brought baseballs to the park and, after a game or work out, he would ask ballplayers for their autographs. He also took several trips to Las Vegas and bought from a well-known sports memorabilia store.
There was no hint of fakery in Potter’s collection. He went directly to the source of his collection, with many of the items sold with a Certificate of Authenticity.
Much of the memorabilia was from the state of Michigan — baseball, football, hockey and more.
The auction offered more than 100 baseball bats, which sold for an average of $50 each. However, there were “standouts” such as the 1968 Detroit Tigers Reunion bat with 28 signatures that sold for $575.
And there were baseballs galore, at nearly all price points. At the top of the heap were the Ted Williams signed baseball which sold for $400; a baseball signed by the legendary Mickey Mantle, also $400; a 1956 Detroit Tigers ball with 28 signatures, $140; a 1947 Detroit Tigers team signed ball, $140; a 1958 Tigers signed ball, $330; a 1935 Detroit Tigers team signed ball, $130; and a 1976 Tigers signed ball went for $130.
At the very top of the heap of memorabilia was an 1886 Lorillard’s Plug Tobacco advertising poster, featuring “The Detroit League Base Ball Club” that sold for $1,250. Another big hit at auction was a 10-figurine set of the 1927 New York Yankees “Murderer’s Row” line-up that sold for $500.
Even a Detroit Tigers score books from the 1930s and 1940s sold for the handsome price of $350. Signed National League Football helmets sold well, with four of them selling for $1,000.
“It was a fun sale,” Currie said. “It doesn’t really mean anything whether a lot of people show up. The thing is, you get a selection of bidders with deep pockets and who are ready to bid, you’re going to have a good sale.”
This “good sale” was an old-time type auction, with no reserves and no Internet bidding available. Currie said he received many compliments from bidders after the sale, remarking on the apt job of showcasing and calling the auction.
“It took us about a week to put this sale together,” Currie said. “I couldn’t have pulled it off without my right-hand man Tim Woodard and the fine crew we have. The consignors were very pleased, and the buyers were all very happy. I’m ready to do more of these sports auctions.”
Contact: (231) 349-0533