Baseball card shop enters World Series of Collecting
By Jay Greene
While most market-watchers are reaching for the stock pages every morning, Max Himmelstein leafs through the sports sections to track his investments. As owner of the Valley Baseball Card Shop in Tarzana, Himmelstein finds his leading indicators that way. He may consider Will Clark, the San Francisco Giants first baseman. Or perhaps Nolan Ryan, the Texas Rangers ageless pitcher.
Himmelstein started collecting cards when he was young, stopped for about 20 years and picked up the hobby again in 1974. While he makes money selling cards, he said investors often overlook the fun in collecting. "There are some guys who... look at a card and they just see dollar signs," he said.
Himmelstein started the business with a friend in 1981. Within a month of opening, he quit as western regional manager of Standard Packaging Corp., a paper products maker. Three months later he bought his partner out. Since then he has watched the relatively small sports card and memorabilia business develop into burgeoning industry. "In 1981, I was the third store to open" in the San Fernando Valley, he said. "There are probably 12 or 13 right here in the San Fernando Valley now. That's not counting Agoura or Westlake." Even with increased competition, Himmelstein said business is strong, though he declined to discuss the store's annual sales.
One reason for the prosperity may be the growing number of card makers. In 1981, cards made by Topps Co. controlled the market. Today, investors are just as interested in purchasing cards made by Fleer Corp. or Donruss Leaf Inc. or a handful of other smaller companies.
And the number of sophisticated card collectors is expanding. Himmelstein said he doesn't have a single Nolan Ryan card left from the pitcher's rookie card left from the pitcher's rookie year through 1980. Collectors realize that Ryan will likely be inducted into the Hall of Fame and his card's value will jump substantially, he said. "Four or five years ago, people would wait three months before a guy was going into the Hall of Fame when he'd get a lot of action," he said. "Now you see people (asking for former player) like (Jim) Palmer, (Tom) Seaver, (Joe) Morgan, (Mike) Schmidt. They know these people will be going into the Hall of Fame. Now they're looking ahead, saying let's get them at $3, $5, $8 before it's tripled." Insurance companies offer policies covering card collections and Himmelstein said he is called on as an appraiser.
How did you get into the business? "As a collector. I started collecting in 1974. I collected as a kid like everybody else in the early '50s and then for 20 years I had no interest in baseball cards whatsoever. I went to visit a nephew of a good friend of mine and he showed me some old cards a friend had given him, early '50s stuff, that's what brought back the memories. And he said 'these cards could be worth 50 cents or a dollar each and this Mickey Mantle is worth $75.' I just couldn't believe a card had any value. That's the same Mantle that's worth about $7,000 right now.
What's the most valuable card you have? "It would probably be the Mantle card from that collection. Nice condition, but not great. It's probably a $5,000 Mantle. I have some $2,000 to $3,000 Ted Williams cards. Things like that."
What's the most expensive card you've ever sold? "I think I sold that '52 Mantle for $3,200. that's the one that runs about $7,000 now. I sold a set last week for $12,000. There are sets that go $5,000, $6,000, $7,000. That's not the usual thing, but its not unusual either. You don't want to sit with too many $1,000, $2,000 cards. The buyers are there. But the audience is a lot larger for your $20, $30, $40 that might move up to $100 or $200 in time."
What's the hottest card now? "Nolan Ryan cards right now. His rookie card, which lists at $400, will go anywhere from $400 to $700. Will Clark, because he's been hot, and Mark Grace. It's the players who've been hot. And the younger players. (New York Met) Gregg Jefferies was the hot guy in 1988 and disappointed. A lot of guys are sitting on Gregg Jefferies cards who paid maybe $5 and $6 and $7. He might be listing at a few dollars less now. Some may have sold them and taken a loss. Others may be hanging on, figuring he may be a star, he just had a tough year... He's got a lot of years left."
Does a player's card go up if they go four-for-four? "Yeah. Not if they go four-for-four one day but... it's like the stock market. If a player is hot for a week or two a year his card's going to go up. It's all supply and demand. Just last week, when Clark had that good series and Grace had that good playoff series, more people are asking for Grace and Clark cards and most dealers will raise them. More demand, higher price, that's all that is.
Is the opposite true of Pete Rose? "I think you're going to see action on the Rose card. I haven't seen tremendous action, but... we've sold some Rose autographed balls, we've sold some Rose pictures... I think it hasn't hurt his Hall of Fame chances. That's why I don't think its going to hurt his card."
Valley Baseball Cards
Your Home for Sports Cards & Memorabilia since 1981!
"A written certificate of authenticity is provided with each autographed collectible, as required by law. This dealer may be surety bonded or otherwise insured to ensure the authenticity of any collectible sold by this dealer."
We regret to say that Max passed away on October 28, 2009. He is remembered fondly by the thousands who met him. He will be remembered for his kind heart, magnetic personality and zest for life. For generations Max Himmelstein was the Valley's sports card figurehead and will further remain a beacon in the hobby industry.
Why did the name of the store change?
Baseball was always the 'King of the Industry' during the vintage years of card collecting but in recent years basketball, hockey & football have become equally prevalent. Although we strive to maintain the feeling of the old store people often misunderstood the name and thought that the shop did indeed sell 'just baseball cards'.
We welcome all contributions!
If you have a photo, comment or story about Max that you would like to share please contact us @ email@example.com and put MAX in the title. Thank you!
Valley Baseball Card Store, still located at 19640 Ventura Blvd. Tarzana, Ca 91356, is known worldwide and is well known as the oldest remaining card shop in the San Fernando Valley.