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Saving Sports Memories

After more than five decades of buying and selling sports memorabilia, Plainview resident Les Wolff is pitching his expertise to the collecting public.

Using a series of local presentations, Wolff decided to hand-off his knowledge to other collectors in the hopes of informing them about the ins and outs of collecting; and hopefully help others make a mint in memorabilia. But more than that, Wolff wanted to help people save precious valuables from destruction.

“I started my lectures because I saw what happened with Hurricane Sandy, I saw whole collections devastated,” said Wolff. “A lot of people don’t know whow to protect memorabilia. I show them how to collect, but also how to protect and preserve. And not just sports memorabilia, but also things like family photos and albums.”

Wolff began his collecting in 1959, saving newspapers that featured New York Yankees on the covers. Then, in 1968, he began his quest to get every major athlete’s autograph. He went to a New York Jets practice that summer and met Joe Namath; from then on, he was hooked.

“I always loved sports and when I realized I would never make it onto the Yankees, I decided to meet as many athletes as possible instead,” he said. “First I was collecting stamps and coins, but that was just boring. Sports seemed like a natural alternative and soon it grew into a major business.”

Meeting as many people as possible in the sporting world helped Wolff branch out, and he eventually started the first sports auction in the world in 1986 and launched Sports Auctions of New York in 1987. Long before the Internet was a household regularity, Wolff was appraising, auctioning, buying, collecting, selling and trading sports memorabilia worldwide through telephone auctions.

Some notable items Wolff auctioned include the only known copy of Josh Gibson’s contract, a Lou Gehrig contract and check, along with a few mint autographed Babe Ruth baseballs.

But it was never just about pure profit for Wolff. He developed relationships with professional athletes and a true love of meeting others in the memorabilia world.

“It’s fun getting autographs. You meet these stars and get a picture with them and get to know them on a personal level,” he said, adding that he was friendly with Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, Mickey Mantle, as well as Major League Baseball managers Dusty Baker and Bruce Bochy. “But the most fun part is seeing someone’s face when you tell them what they have. A lot of people don’t know what they have until someone tells them.”

Wolff had the opportunity to personally appraise items while working with ESPN/Cox Communications in 2005-2006 traveling the country and authenticating sports collectibles including authentic game worn jerseys, bats, championship rings, autographs, golf balls and books.

With so many items in the sports world to buy and trade, knowing which items are the best investment is a challenge, according to Wolff. He said that vintage baseball memorabilia is probably the most profitable, with the vintage, older stuff holding the most value.

“The steroid era really made all that vintage stuff really worth the price,” he said. “The old records achieved by all the greats stand alone now, and their items will never go down, only up. Old is where the money is.”

But collectors could lose money on vintage material if they get fleeced by a seller who is not on the up and up. Scams and fakes are out there and Wolff cautions all buyers to tread lightly.

“You have to know who you are buying from. If a deal seems to good to be true, it probably is,” he said. “I’m in this business for the long run. I have a proven track record and that is what puts me a cut above the rest.”

Wolff brings a multi-media presentation to the Farmingdale Library Feb. 25, where he will give pointers on collecting and preserving valuable sports memorabilia. Preservation is the key — as with all memories, they are vulnerable to stress and deterioration.

“Memorabilia is memory. What we love is what we store in our brains,” he said. “And it must be stored wisely.”

To contact Wolff and perhaps do business with Les Wolff Sports, LLC. visit www.leswolffsportsllc.com or call 516-933-7787.