Baseball

Collector enjoys sports memorabilia, and the stories told

Michael Osacky is a historian. He’s been curating items and their stories since he was 11, but he’s only interested in one aspect of history: Vintage sports cards and memorabilia.

Osacky started getting serious about his collection hobbyabout 18 years ago, and is now a certified appraiser. He has been all over the United States, and has written for a handful of publications about sports memorabilia. He’s set to make two appearances in Wichita on Saturday to give a presentation about memorabilia, authentication, and self-appraisal. He will be at the Rockwell Branch of the Wichita Public Library at 10:30 a.m., and the Central Library at 2 p.m.

“What’s valuable to me is not the items but the stories,” Osacky said. “I get to talk to people whose grandfather got a baseball signed by Babe Ruth in 1928.… These items are brilliant pieces of history, they’re historical in nature. How they came to be is really truly amazing.”

Osacky started collecting after his grandfather brought him a shoebox full of vintage baseball cards. He was struck by the quality and the nature of the cards. So, instead of riding his bike to the store to get more modern day baseball cards — cards that would have little value today — he started his hunt for vintage cards.

He still collects now, as well as appraising, but after he graduated from college in 2002, he wasn’t sure he wanted to make a career out it.

“I was active in college with traveling and seeing collections, and I was placing classified ads in newspapers and magazines trying to find things,” Osacky said. “When you’re passionate about something, and you enjoy it, you know deep down in your heart and say, ‘OK, this is what I should be doing.’”

A few years ago he appraised a complete set of 1915 Cracker Jack baseball cards — 176 of the cards that were packed into each pack of the caramel corn — which was worth $60,000. He has appraised items for players of the New York Yankees and Chicago Bulls. In Wichita, part of his presentation will be about self-appraising, which can be broken down into basic steps.

“You have to, first and foremost, figure out what year the collection is from,” Osacky said. “Stuff from the ’80s and ’90s is useless, because it was mass produced.… Secondarily, once you figure that out, you have to look at how sharp are the corners. When valuing cards, it’s important that you make sure the cards have sharp corners.

“Additionally, what does the centering look like? A lot of time you could see a card that has good sharp corners, but maybe it’s off-center, top-to-bottom, left-to-right, and it’s visually unappealing to the eye. That decreases the overall value.”

Osacky also said that trimming is something to look for, as cards can be trimmed down to make the corners sharper, essentially crippling the value of the card. Lastly, he looks for paper loss: since cards used to be glued into a scrapbook, sometimes glue can be stuck to the back of the cards, or a whole layer of paper could be lost.

“People always think what they have is worth a million dollars,” Osacky said. “People also think if they have quantity over a quality, that’s a big deal. It’s really not. It’s actually really quality over quantity. You can have one very, very old card that’s in really good condition, and that value can trump 1,000 baseball cards from even that same set, but in much lower grade.”

On top of talking about appraising, Osacky will use some of his time to talk about the card industry as a whole, which has taken a fall since cards began to be mass produced in the 1980s.

“If you think about kids and children today, they don’t collect; they play with their iPhones and video games,” Osacky said. “Even if someone was interested in them, they’d have a hard time finding a pack because all the card shops are shut down.”

More information is available at Osacky’s website, baseballintheattic.com.

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