David Kohler, SCP Auctions interview: 'Great pieces bring great prices'

Whether it's 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...). Or the sports memorabilia collection of Julius Erving, one of the best basketball players in history...

These are just a couple of the high-profile sales handled by SCP Auctions in recent times. If any company has deep involvement with the biggest and latest auction sales in the US, then SCP of Laguna Niguel, California, is it.



David Kohler's SCP Auctions is
one of the largest dealers of
rare sports memorabilia in the
United States

In the wake of SCP's recent sale of Muhammad Ali's 'Fight of the Century' trunks for a $173,102 World Record price, SCP's President David Kohler - who founded the company in 1979 - kindly took time out to speak with Paul Fraser Collectibles about his 2011 highlights and hopes for 2012.

PFC: Congratulations on your World Record sale last month of Muhammad Ali's 'Fight of the Century' trunks. What have been SCP's other major sale highlights in 2011?

David Kohler: Well, I founded the company 32 years ago, SCP auctions, so we've handled many of the rarities of the sports memorabilia world. And that auction in November was our largest-ever: we did $6.5m in the auction.

Of course, it included the Muhammad Ali trunks that he wore in the Fight of the Century versus Joe Frazier in 1971. Those brought about $175,000, and we were very pleased with that.

Along with that we had the Julius Irving Collection [nicknamed "Dr J"] which he consigned to us - we were very proud to handle that. That was the biggest basketball collection that any one player had put on the market. And that brought about $3.5m in the auction.

PFC: 2011's headlines have been dominated by talk of 'recession' and 'economic downturn'. How and why are sports memorabilia items and collectibles achieving such big sales?

DK: Over the years, great pieces bring great prices in any economic market.

We've seen that with all collectibles - and especially in sports collectibles. If it's a rare high-end baseball card, or a team worn jersey of Lou Gehrig or Mickey Mantle, or a bat that they used...

Or, like this last sale in November. We sold the ABA (American Basketball Association) ring that Dr J won in 1974 with the New York Nets.

That went for $460,000 which is a record for a sports ring. In fact, in our sale we set five records [including] the 'five most expensive sports rings ever sold.'

So the demand is there. People love these tangible assets, that they can hold and appreciate. That have the rarity and scarcity, and the provenance.



World Record trunks: Ali's shorts from the Fight of the Century

PFC: What kinds of people, and collectors, are bidding on these items and winning them at your auctions?

DK: They are from all walks of life. Business people... There are some athletes and celebrities.

Just from everywhere. There are all kinds of different clients. And a lot of them are building some great collections - there are some world class collections. And they're having fun with it.

Down the line, a lot of these [sports memorabilia items] are proven to be a very good investment, if they are ever to be sold again.

PFC: The sports memorabilia markets should be 'hot' in 2012. What advice would you give to new collectors for the New Year?

DK: You've gotta deal with a dealer that's been around a long time, has a great reputation.

It's more [a case] of figuring out the kind of areas you'd like to collect - which categories. Once you figure that out, then you can come up with the game plan. I think that's what gets people going on the right path.

It might be: 'I want to collect the game worn jerseys of the big time Hall of Famers over the next 10 years.'

So that's what they may be focussed on. Or the game used bats of some of the best players that ever played. Or it could be sports rings, baseball cards, football memorabilia, basketball memorabilia...

So there's a lot of different categories you could do. But, we've found with our clients, if we can get them focussed on certain areas, instead of just finding something random, all over the place... [Otherwise] you can get really 'burned out' after a while.

But once you have a path and a focus - 'Hey, if I do this, this is something special and I can have fun!' It's gonna take time, but that's OK. You just can't buy it all tomorrow.


T206 Honus Wagner baseball card
Highly valued: the T206 Honus Wagner baseball card

PFC: Baseball tobacco cards are especially popular among US collectors - like your sale of the "finest known Honus Wagner card for $2.8m in 2007. Can you explain this collecting phenomenon to our other global readers?

DK: In our market, the graded card is what you want to buy.

There are two grading companies that authenticate and grade cards on a scale of one-to-10: SGC and PSA. And that's how the market is.

So if you want to collect vintage cards of Mickey Mantle or Lou Gehrig, or any of these types of players, you buy them in the holders.

There are price guides out there and a lot of dealers that deal in them. Or you can simply bid in the auctions also.

PFC: Are there are any types of sports collectibles that you are expecting to do well in 2012?

DK: High-end, rare pieces continually seem to - when they trade again - bring a higher value at auction or private sale later.

This is not something that, if you bought [it] today, you could sell next week and possibly turn a profit. But, as years go by and the market grows and there are less and less [new] finds, people are willing to pay up.

Let's say if you want a beach front property, the best of the best. There are other clients down the line that will have better interest in that [in the future].

Again, not everything is focussed on investment - 'I'm gonna buy this because I'm gonna make a bunch of money later on it.'

But the thing is: if you buy the right piece and you enjoy it and it's scarce and rare, usually five or 10 years later that piece is going to sell for a lot more money.

Watch this space for
Part Two of our exclusive interview
with David Kohler

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