David Kohler, SCP Auctions interview: 'Authenticity is very important' (Part Two)

SCP is one of the United States' biggest auction houses. Its recent blockbuster sales included the auctioning of the trunks Muhammad Ali wore in The Fight of the Century against Joe Frazier in 1971 (Ali lost the fight, and never wore red trunks again...).

David Kohler formed SCP in 1979. Recently David kindly took time to speak to Paul Fraser Collectibles about his recent auction highlights and upcoming hopes for 2012. Here is Part Two of his exclusive interview with us...

See Part One of David Kohler's interview with us here

PFC: How did your background lead to you becoming a leading expert in sports collectibles?

David Kohler: I collected baseball cards as a kid like we all did here in the US. In high school I started attending some of the sports memorabilia conventions for cards and things like that.



David Kohler: 'People love sports.
That's not ever going away

I started to attend those [while] I was going to school and college at the same time, and then started a business buying and selling baseball cards. [I later] started a small auction house, and then opened a tradition baseball card store back in the '80s. And I just grew the company.

Of course, the market grew and matured. The authentication process for all of these memorabilia things that we handle has been refined and fine tuned.

So today, when a client wants to buy a game worn jersey or a game used bat, we know and the client knows that what you're bidding on in an auction, or what you're buying privately, is 100% authentic and has all the paperwork that backs it up.

That has really grown our market: where people have the confidence to say, 'Hey, if I buy a Babe Ruth signed baseball bat then, no doubt about it, all the paperwork is with it. And if I ever want to sell that - or my kids want to sell it - 40, 50 years from now, it's still a Babe Ruth autograph.'

That's very, very important to our market.

PFC: How have the sports memorabilia markets changed since you formed SCP?

DK: Well, we've probably added a zero to the prices of everything! But it's just matured, and books have been written and people have been educated. A lot of the dealers today are more sophisticated and professional than maybe 20 years ago, which is a good thing.

Y'know it is a business, it is an industry. And, at the end of the day, people love sports. That's not ever going away. That's not a fad. And what we do, we're a piece of that pie. People love to collect sports memorabilia. And 50 years from now they will be collecting it, just as they do today.

PFC: Are you seeing more participation from emerging economies like Asia? Baseball is quite big in Japan for instance...

DK: We have actually started to see that in the last couple of years, where we have people from the European market or overseas. The Far East have started to bid in our auctions and acquire items, which is very interesting. 

Again, the internet makes that possible, where you can register relatively easily, know the rules and bid competitively in an auction on the internet.

I'm sure eBay over the years has kind of 'groomed' some of these people. So that when they come into [an auction] program like we have, which is similar to that, they know how to do it and understand the rules.

And they know our reputation: that if they win something in the auction they're gonna get it. It can be invoiced, it can be shipped. It's very easy.

PFC: From all your years in the business, is there a sale of which you are most proud?

DK: Well, we sold the most expensive baseball card ever: the Honus Wagner sports card in 2007 for $20m. And that's still a record.


T206 Honus Wagner baseball card
Honus Wagner: the record-selling 'Holy Grail' of rare baseball cards

Then there was the bat that we found which had all the relevant documentation, and it was the bat that Babe Ruth used to hit the first home run at the Grand Opening of the Yankee Stadium in 1923. That was a record at $1.265m.

We've had a lot of the biggest items that have traded in our industry, that my company has been involved in.

PFC: What is your advice for new collectors of sports memorabilia?

DK: Well the first thing is: deal with a dealer or auction company that has a great reputation and has been around for a long time. That's vital. [A dealer] that's going to be there for you five years from now and has done a lot of things.

Certainly everything you buy needs to have a letter of authenticity from the third party companies that authenticate autographs, or game worn jerseys or game used bats that have all the records.

That's important, because it's not just [about] having a letter from a dealer. It's also having a letter from an authentication firm that is independent. Because anybody can make up a letter of authenticity, right? That's as good as the paper it's on.

I think you need to have both of those. Like in our auctions, if we sell a Babe Ruth baseball ... we still go and get it third-party authenticated by PSA/DNA or JSA (these are two foremost autograph experts companies in the US).

And we always have that paperwork with it, before we ever take it to auction or offer it privately.

Sometimes we have both companies' paperwork with it. So we know that when we sell that, or auction that, there are no issues later. It all comes down to price in the auction; that we've dotted our 'i's and crossed our 't's.

Then the client can be very comfortable with it, as they should be.

What upcoming highlights can we expect from SCP in 2012?

We're working on some bigger deals, we've got some great stuff coming up.

Our next auction will be in April and we have some pretty high-end game worn jerseys that are going to be in that sale. Some really high-end bats - we've got a couple of Ty Cobb bats from the teens and the '20s.

And some significant Babe Ruth items, including Babe Ruth's will from 1933 that originates from the family which is very important.

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