Tales from the Bourse is a unique collection of short stories and anecdotes written by David Lawrence about some of more interesting events that took place in his journey to becoming a coin dealer on a national scale. It was originally published in 2001 and has been reprinted numerous times due to popular demand. The book is published online here in its entirely.
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I haven’t dealt much with sports memorabilia, but I’ve learned never to ignore a potential opportunity if one falls in my lap. So I once handled a set of 1948 (or ’49) baseball cards that a portrait photographer from the shopping center down the street found in his old boyhood camp chest. I even took a 1940′s era Lionel train set in trade for some key Barber quarters. I remembered seeing similar cards and trains in my youth and they had little appeal to me. But when a genuine Babe Ruth signature walked in the door, I was excited.
The Babe had a clear, almost boyish, signature and this one was written right across the front of a 1943 game program on the 25th anniversary of Yankee Stadium — “the house that Ruth built.” Ruth had long since retired, but was brought back for the ceremonies. My customer, an older man, had been at the game as a child with his father and gotten the famous slugger to sign it for him. They had scored the game in pencil and the binding was somewhat torn. Otherwise, the program was as fresh as the day it was printed.
We had no idea what this item was worth. My customer (I’ll call him Herman — we were on a first name basis) wanted to sell it. I don’t know why. He didn’t need the money, but I think he had been told back in Pennsylvania it was worth $200, and that sounded good for something that was just lying around the house. I took it on consignment.
The next day John called a coin dealer from New England who sometimes bid on baseball items at auctions. He was interested, and we sent the program to him. When he received it, he called and said he thought it was valuable but wanted to bring it with him on his coming trip to New York to make sure it was genuine. (A lot of sports memorabilia is not.) We had no problem with that because we knew its background. I was sure Herman had told us the truth.
A week or so later, the dealer called again. He had confirmed its authenticity and found out it was worth about $1,700 retail. He offered us $900 as he had to wholesale it himself.
John and I decided we had to run it by one of our customers first. He was a California lawyer who had season tickets to both the Dodgers and the Angels. Definitely a baseball fan. I called him and told him what we had. I was sure he’d be interested. He wasn’t. “Dave, if the signature were on a baseball, I might be. Of course, then it would be worth a few thousand.”
So we let it go to the Massachusetts dealer. I’m sure we could have gotten more if we had offered it around at a big show, but we figured he had gone to the trouble to look into its value for us, and anyway, he might return the favor some day. (In a way he has, because once in a while we did some valuable deals together.)
A few months later an article appeared in the local paper about some baseball cards being worth a lot of money. The reporter cited the Mickey Mantle rookie card as one that was worth thousands.
That afternoon I got a call from an older man who said he had one. He lived in the neighborhood and I told him to bring it by, which he did. I remembered Mickey from my Brooklyn days but, not being a baseball fan, I didn’t know what year he broke into the majors. I asked him to leave it with me and I would find out what it was worth.
The card was not in great condition. It was rather beat up and one corner was missing. Turning it over, you could see it was not from the Mick’s first year — the back showed statistics from his first few years in the majors. A phone call quickly ascertained it was not valuable.
I called the old fellow and gave him the news. He didn’t believe me and came by to retrieve his card. On his way out, I offered him $20. I figured I would give it to my nephew’s son. He left.
A few days later he called. “Will you still give me $20 for my card?”
“Sure,” I said. And he brought it by again. I gave him a twenty. I sent the card to my grand-nephew in Long Island. Mickey’s name is still magic in New York.