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When a collection becomes TOO BIG TO KEEP

PHOTO: Sports Museum of Los Angeles salutes Jackie Robinson in support of the Zimmer Children’s Museum


From Volume 21, Number 3, December-January 2013-’14

Gary Cypres, a Los Angeles real estate tycoon who housed his massive collection in a spare, 32,000-square-foot warehouse as a sports museum in 2008, has said in recent interviews it’s time for his collection to have a new home. In a recent interview with Tom Hoffarth with the Los Angeles Daily News, Cypres, who collects in all sports but seems most passionate about collecting Dodgers items, offered revealing insights into his favorite habit. Our thanks to Mr. Hof­farth who gave Sweet Spot permission to quote from his excellent article. As long-time collectors reach senior status, they face the decision of who is going to house and take care of the treasures that others may perceive as one man’s junk. Cypres was asked about the challenges that go into making such a decision and a variety of other matters to which all serious collectors will relate.

CYPRES: I’ve wrestled with this. First, it costs a fortune to house all this stuff. From a business point of view, it’s the worst thing I’ve ever done. It’s hor­rible. It got really expensive to try to keep it open to the public because of security reasons. This is all readily accessible. It’s not like the Hall of Fame where it’s be­hind glass and you can’t touch anything. That’s not how this operates.

We could also put some of it on tour, like the Brooklyn Dodgers items to see if other places might want to house it. Maybe even the Dodgers some day? I don’t think it’ll ever go to Dodger Stadium, for whatever reason.

My instincts are to put all my Dodger stuff into a perpetual trust and hopefully find a home. When you amass a certain collection, now you have the history of a major historical thing. Probably unless someone says here’s $30 million bucks. I don’t think current owners are as interested in that. Ask yourself the question: Why don’t more teams have museums of their own? The answer is that almost none of them do. They haven’t saved their artifacts. Why? When Ebbets Field went, they auctioned off everything. I can’t believe it. Gratuitously, I got a lot of it. Why is it? It’s rare you have ownership that is both interested in historic things as well as the future of their ownership. That’s been a great problem for museums now. Maybe owners are beginning to understand to have the artifacts important to the franchise.

The Amazing Part of Collecting

For awhile, I got a lot of Dodger stuff, and a friend will email me with Dodger things from his collection and wonder if I’d buy it. So it’s, all right, here I go again. It’s like the forbidden fruit. I said enough, but then he’ll say, well, I have these, and it’s oh, well. I wanted to relax for awhile. I’m getting old. I have estate issues. But somehow, maybe it’s a good thing I get drawn right back into it. It’s like the famous line from “The Godfather.” No matter how much I want to stop and consolidate, something comes up that I treasure and all these logical considerations stop and and the collector comes out.

Good time to sell . . .

This is a good time to be a seller and be a buyer. From a seller, you’re seeing substantial gains over things you’ve bought over the years. It’s a strong market. The dynamic between seller and buyer is there, especially for expensive things. You need that combination.

Good time to buy . . .

For the first time, you see a lot of new buyers. All my friends in the auction business say there are new, younger, wealthy buyers. We saw a Babe Ruth uniform go for $4.4 million — that’s a milestone, like they’d have in contemporary art. You’ve always broken through price-resistant barriers. You have to remember it takes two to create auction prices. The auction houses are having record years. More are coming in. It shows the industry is maturing.

Social part of collecting . . .

There’s a social part to this. The reality is as a collector there’s some who want to open it up and share it, and there are some who personally want to get their satisfaction just from owning it. I’m in that first category.

The fun is the chase . . .

I come in every morning, walk around here, say hello to all my old friends. I remember 25 years ago when I bought this piece and that piece and dwell on the fact it can’t be 25 years because that’s impossible. From a collecting point of view, the fun is always in the chase. Anyone who’s serious will tell you it’s what’s coming tomorrow. That’s one of the problems if you stop collecting. It’s that joy that really isn’t money-driven. It’s the objects seeing new stuff.

The good, the bad, the bogus . .

In 1999, Barry Halper, one of the most well-known collectors in the industry, became ill with cancer and died a few years later. His entire collection went up for auction. But prior to doing that, he sold many of his own items to the Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, it was discovered that a lot of it was bogus. Now, this is the Hall of Fame. You’d think they’d have the ability to siphon through that. For reasons I don’t quite fathom, the Hall of Fame never made any issues about it, maybe because they were embarrassed to admit they paid millions for items that weren’t real.

Era of authenticating . . .

A lot of authenticators have come up, and there are questions if they can do the job honestly. There are some federal cases ongoing against Mastro Auction for fraud charges, and they sold more than $40 million a year at one time. And quite honestly, I’m sure in my own collection, I’ve got some real bogus junk in here. It happens at museums, with forgeries oc­curring even in the best of circumstances. Every collection, no matter how diligent you are, has some degree of fraud. Like everything in life, there’s a risk. Hope­fully, it’s not too bad and inflation and price increases offset the losses you take. You hope it all balances out. But you still have the joy of collecting, right? That never goes away.

Who is the sports collector . . . ?

Face it, to collect on a major scale you have to be slightly insane. I won’t run away from that. I readily admit to being a little nuts in this area. But I don’t know a serious collector who isn’t a little irra­tional about all this. The auction houses are very smart.

One thing they like about live auctions versus Internet auctions is this loss of discipline that occurs even with the most sophisticated business people. Two guys bidding against each other can go way over the value of something being auc­tioned. In any other situation, they would not let their associates do something like that. But they wind up overspending. That’s their joy. That’s human nature. We appreciate that we have excesses in life.

Collecting is for everyone . . .

If you have limited resources, even within the baseball world, there are all kinds of things to collect that doesn’t have to be high-end stuff. Think of all the bobbleheads or other giveaways over the last 20 years for just the Dodgers. ➤

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