Explore hockey’s history through its unique and most desirable memorabilia
Whether it’s a ticket stub from a game that father and son saw together, an autographed photograph from a hero, or a puck that went up and over the boards, hockey memorabilia is a record of our beloved sport’s history.
He Shoots, He Saves looks at hockey’s collectibles from hockey cards to commemorative beer cans to postage stamps. The book features artifacts from all 30 NHL teams, the greatest players of all-time, the WHA, the international game including the Summit Series, and the women’s game. Hockey greats such as Martin Brodeur, Frank Mahovlich, Ted Lindsay, and Sidney Crosby recall their own days collecting and offer their perspectives on memorabilia.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
He Shoots, He Saves
The Story of Hockey's Collectible Treasures
By Jon Waldman
ECW PRESSCopyright © 2015 Jon Waldman
All rights reserved.
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Simply put, there is no better experience than meeting your hero; and there is no better reminder of this moment than an autograph. A scribble on a piece of paper may not seem important to an outsider, but ask anyone who's ever had a signature of a hero and he or she will understand its importance. "Everyone has an idol or someone they look up to. For some people it's a parent or grandparent, but for most people it's a celebrity. The majority of people are never going to meet that celebrity, so the next best thing is an autograph," explains Hersh Borenstein, president of Frozen Pond, a Toronto-based memorabilia company that specializes in autographs, selling signed items through their store and arranging autograph sessions for past, present, and future heroes. He remembers his first signature. "When I was a kid of nine in '79, I wrote a letter to Wayne Gretzky. I wrote it to the Edmonton Oilers at the Edmonton Arena. I said, 'You're my favourite player ...'" Borenstein recalls. "[Finally] in 1983, I was sent an autographed 8x10 in the mail. I still have it."
Borenstein's memory is hardly unique — most collectors will remember the signatures they acquired decades ago. "I remember Ted Lindsay coming into my hometown. We got his autograph on a stick," Frank Mahovlich, a hockey superstar from the 1960s and 1970s, remembers. And even when he himself was a star, Mahovlich would pick up a signature from players he admired. "I've got a signed bat and a signed program of Eddie Mathews," he says. "He was with me when I was traded to Detroit. He was staying at the same hotel that I was. I got to meet him and know him. That was the year the Tigers were in the World Series. He gave me one of his bats and signed it to me."
Acquiring autographs today is easier than ever before, between special player appearances at collector shows, sending requests through the Internet to players or their representatives, and the growth of hobby shops that carry signed items. But the core of the hobby still remains at hockey arenas. Fans of all ages will glowingly share stories from their days of waiting for their heroes outside locker rooms and arenas. It inspires them to stay connected to the game. "For me to get something autographed from a professional hockey player was just off-the-charts amazing for a kid growing up in a town of 700 people," says Delaney Collins, a three-time national champion with Hockey Canada's women's program. "I remember going to my first Winnipeg Jets game, and my dad took me down to get Brett Hull's autograph. I was so scared. He signed something for me and I said, 'I'm going to be the first girl in the NHL, you know.'"
For many fans and collectors, getting that single autograph from their favourite hockey hero is sufficient; but for others, getting a photo or puck signed by one player just isn't enough. Dating back to pre-World War II, autograph seekers embarked on multi-signature projects with themes such as members of a Cup-winning team or 500-goal scorers. The reason for these ambitious projects that can take years to complete is simple. "More than anything it's the pursuit," Borenstein says. "People like projects. A '72 Team Canada piece that you've been painstakingly working on for 10 years for everyone to sign ... a '67 Leafs piece that you've taken around yourself or mailed around to get signed ... it's not about the value."
WHAT TO GET SIGNED ...
In the purest form, it doesn't matter what an autograph is affixed to — virtually anything will do. There's no better proof of that than today's collectors, who still ask for autographs on plain pieces of paper or index cards. It was these early forms that dominated the pre-collectibles autograph market, primarily, as Borenstein describes, because of what was actually signable in an era before a gold Sharpie was around for pucks or silver paint pens for jersey crests.
"Back in the day, it was an index card or recipe card. There weren't souvenir pucks ... sometimes there was a team-issued photo, but not very often — as recently as the 1950s there are very few signed photos." As such, he continues, if you did want a piece of equipment signed in the pre-Sharpie era, you pretty much had one option. "There are more team-signed hockey sticks going back 50 years ago because there was nothing else that could get signed."
Today, there are more pieces for signing than one can even imagine. Just about any memorabilia can and has been signed. Jerseys, pucks, cards, photos, tickets, programs, helmets, skates, posters, pennants ... yeah, there's an endless array of options; and when a "standard" item doesn't suffice, fans get creative in their pursuits. Borenstein recalls one item in particular: "A fire hydrant painted blue and white — the guy was getting it signed by all the Leafs. He would bring it in on a wagon."
Part of the autograph game is recognizing that players are human and have certain preferences. An experienced collector will freely share advice with you on what a particular player will and will not sign, and often from these tips come urban legends. Borenstein remembers one of the more famous stories in the hobby. "I've been told several times that Paul Coffey won't sign Detroit stuff. I haven't asked him personally, but there is Detroit stuff out there. Apparently, his reason is that he hated Scotty Bowman; he was so pissed when he got traded for Brendan Shanahan. I asked Scotty about it, and he said, 'No, I'm friends with Coffey, and there's no ill will.' I hear that one more than anything."
Similar stories are told of other players but have less to do with emotional ties and more to do with incentives. "Gary Leeman won't sign Montreal cards and that's for financial reasons. He thinks eventually he'll sign and there will be huge demand," Borenstein comments. "Mike Bossy — whenever he signs a McFarlane [a figure produced by McFarlane Toys] — will only personalize it and put the personalization right into the signature so you can't rub it off. I asked him about it once, and once again it's for financial reasons."
Other players simply don't sign often. During his playing career, Mark Messier was an infamously hard signer, rarely putting pen to paper. Since his retirement, he's softened his stance and is now a major signer for companies such as Steiner Sports. Other legends, including a famed Habs goaltender, have stood firm and are extremely hard to get an autograph from. "Ken Dryden is always difficult," Borenstein notes. "I heard rumours that he turned down $100,000 for appearances. About five years ago, I sent an email to his campaign office offering him $60,000 for an appearance. Within five minutes I got an email back from his campaign office saying, 'Thanks, but we're not interested.'" But even Dryden isn't full-out impossible. During his time in politics he would occasionally sign along the campaign trail, and while he was with the Toronto Maple Leafs he made a rare fan-friendly appearance at the closing of Maple Leaf Gardens.
A step beyond Dryden lies the truly impossible autograph subjects. There are several tales of how some players are practically reclusive and do everything possible to separate themselves from the sport that made them household names. George Armstrong, a Toronto Maple Leafs legend and Hall of Famer who stayed with the franchise as a scout, for example, is infamous for staying clear of any autograph opportunities.
THE AUTOGRAPH BIZ
Generally speaking, hockey players have grown to understand the nature of autographs, especially as the sport has evolved into a multimillion-dollar industry. At the same time that sports memorabilia grew from a childhood hobby into a business, so, too, did autographs. The fans who once would wait outside arenas or in line at department stores for a player purely to meet their hero would soon line up not with a single item but with as many as a dozen. This soured some players on autograph requests, while others grew to accept it as being part of their job. "When I started in the league, there weren't really autograph seekers," Mark Messier explained in a 2003 interview. "You signed an autograph because a person wanted it for themselves and it was on a piece of paper or in a notebook. As we all know, it's completely different now. It's a business — I think everyone knows and accepts this."
Brian Propp sees this business side through his website and in his everyday interactions. It's a reality — with the fame of being a hockey celebrity, there's bound to be autograph seekers. It's something that he doesn't shy away from — rather, he embraces it. "I don't look at it as being hounded — I look at it as they're children or adults who are trying to collect for their family or themselves," he says. "I know that through my website, brianpropp.com, we get a lot of requests. As people join my website, I'll send out a picture. I've always been very forward with having tons of pictures and I carry them with me wherever I go. In my work world, I've always got people that I meet, and I give pictures to kids down the street."
Propp doesn't see an autograph as just an autograph — he sees it as an opportunity not only for the collector but also for himself. "I might be a bit different than most people who might look at it as a bother, but I look at it more as a branding of yourself," he says. "On my pictures, I've got the logo of the company that I work with that can help people in Canada and the U.S."
But as Messier describes, the value of a signature became less about how much it meant to the recipient and more about its potential resale value, heightened by the arrival of eBay in the mid- to late 1990s. As a result of resellers, a new industry emerged — the autograph business. Now, players routinely charge a fee for their signatures at organized events such as collectibles shows. And it isn't uncommon to see a special guest player sitting at a table at events large or small, willing to sign any item for a price. Naturally, this has led to some controversy, with many believing it unfair for a fan to have to pay at a public signing. Yet here's the stark reality: the lead-up to the fan arriving at an event. "Someone has to pay for the athlete's time, photos, advertising, etc., and then figure a way to recoup most of that," Ryan Rajmoolie, a former promoter with the Toronto Card Show, said in 2011. "For the most part, the people who come to the signings, who are actual collectors, know why [there is a fee]. Collectors are educated in the behind-the-scenes events that lead to a public appearance by an athlete at something like a sports card show."
For those unable to attend an event, there are always other opportunities to acquire the signature of your favourite hockey superstar. Companies will hold private autograph signings, where fans can order an item to be signed, often with the sort of personal inscription (e.g., to Michael, my best friend) one would get at an in-person event. Otherwise, these companies will stock items in their own stores and distribute to other retail outlets.
The offshoot of this dynamic has been a new level of security for the secondary market. Almost as soon as autographs became commodities, forgeries increased dramatically. Scammers would — and still do — routinely post autographed items with claims of their authenticity.
But with a recognized dealer — one who has proven to be trustworthy and has a solid relationship or full licence agreements with leagues, teams, and/or players — a collector now has a resource that confirms the legitimacy of the autograph, more often than not augmented with a certificate of authenticity. In addition, any autograph that has not been previously certified can be taken to third-party companies for verification.
RETURN TO INNOCENCE
With forgeries a still-present concern, an increasing number of collectors are wary of purchasing a signature that has not been certified authentic. In that respect, the autograph market has, to an extent, come full circle. Now, even in cases where an athlete will charge into the three figures for a signature, a more genuine collector has emerged, one whose relationship with the player has returned to the fan state that existed prior to the memorabilia boom. For the players, this is a very welcome opportunity. "I remember being a kid and wanting to get autographs of guys I looked up to," says 500-goal scorer Keith Tkachuk. "I don't mind signing at all for anybody. These are people that come watch us play, these are people who, hopefully, you can make a difference in their life and the most important thing is to try to help them out, especially kids."
It is that pay-it-forward mindset that makes hockey unique — that you're doing the same thing for a kid that your heroes did for you. When you come into fortune, you share your goodness with others around you. "Johnny Bower never had two nickels to rub together and used mattresses as goalie pads. Gordie Howe grew up with no money," Borenstein says. "When you come from humble beginnings, you're more willing to go above and beyond to make the fans happy. Hockey players are just down to earth."CHAPTER 2
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When a ticket, program, or photo just won't cut it anymore, collectors will take their collections to the next level with a piece of the action — game gear. Gear comes in many different forms but shows a higher level of dedication to the hobby. Items generally carry high price tags, acting as a dividing line between the casual collector and the serious hobbyist.
More often than not, purchasing these collectibles focuses on personal heroes. Take, for example, Barry Meisel. As president and COO of the MeiGray Group, a leading distributor of game-used jerseys, pucks, and sticks that partners with hockey leagues and national bodies, he sees hundreds of game-used pieces go out to rabid collectors. Naturally, Meisel has his own assortment of memorabilia. It doesn't even take him a second to identify his favourite item. "The major theme for my collection, as it is for most people, is my favourite team — the New York Rangers. So the number-one jersey in my collection is the white jersey Craig McTavish was wearing during the Stanley Cup Finals."
At the baseline, a jersey will usually start as low as $100 for lesser-known NHLers and some minor and junior squads; but the price tag for those worn in special events or by top-rank players can go well into six figures.
Today's jerseys are fairly easy to navigate. Teams, along with partners like MeiGray, will include tags inside the sweaters that act as a certificate of authenticity, indicating what year the jersey was worn and potentially what "set" it came from (helping discern whether it was a pre-season, regular season, or playoff tog, for example) along with a registration number. These tags are invaluable to collectors who want to know as much as they can about their new prized possession. Where collectors may run into trouble, however, is in the vintage market, where a jersey from other eras cannot easily be authenticated. As a result, collectors will look to the experts to ensure they are getting the authentic piece they desire, and reputable companies will do extensive research and put their name and reputation on the line each and every time they put a jersey up for sale.
"Obviously, you can't go back in time and put a tag in a vintage jersey," Meisel explains. "Our knowledge and willingness to do the research and stand behind the products that already existed takes knowhow and a discerning eye to say when you're not sure. We would register jerseys when we would say we were sure. There were many ways to do due diligence, but we also took a very conservative approach that we'll only stand behind items that we know came from the correct sources — that we're correct."
This knowledge drives the value of gamers; but after that, a number of other facets come into play. "I think the most important factor [in a jersey's value] by far is the absolute authenticity. Two jerseys being equal and authentic, the collector will go for the one that's been worn more," Meisel says, "but that has to be counter-balanced by the importance or popularity of the player who wore the jersey, or the year or the moment behind the jersey." These moments become a factor that push the ordinary player's equipment to extraordinary values and the superstar's numbers into the stratosphere. Meisel reports that the jerseys and equipment he sold from the Boston Bruins and Los Angeles Kings' recent Stanley Cup runs were much more sought-after than regular-issue items.
Excerpted from He Shoots, He Saves by Jon Waldman. Copyright © 2015 Jon Waldman. Excerpted by permission of ECW PRESS.
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