By Bert Lehman
When Alex Kolosow began buying packs of baseball cards for five cents a pack when he was seven years old, he had no idea it would lead to a lifetime of collecting joy and a houseful of sports and non-sports trading cards.
“I would have 25 cents for milk money and I would have 25 cents for nutrition money, and since packs were five cents a pack, I would buy anywhere from five to 10 packs with the money I got to go to school,” Kolosow said.
Kolosow said the first packs he purchased were of 1956 and 1957 Topps Baseball.
“I was a kid that played baseball in the neighborhood. I heard about guys named Mickey Mantle and Hank Aaron, and one of the first packs that I opened, even though I was reluctant to spend my five cents, I pulled a Mickey Mantle and a Hank Aaron,” he said.
After noticing numbers on the backs of the cards and finding a checklist in a pack, Kolosow was convinced to start putting complete sets together.
Kolosow said the original cards he collected didn’t succumb to the fate of so many cards from that time
“Mom never threw mine away,” he said.
He still has the cards that originally sent him down the collecting path. The 1957 Topps Baseball set is a set that he will probably always keep.
“It’s the first one I was able to complete a set on,” Kolosow said. “And I didn’t realize until years later that in 1957 it was the start of short-print cards. Cards in the middle of that ’57 series were short printed and it was very difficult, you had to buy quite a few packs, as a matter of fact a few boxes (to complete the set). It took me awhile to complete that ’57 set along with the ’56. But the ’57 (set) was a lot more difficult (to complete) than the ’56.”
From that point on, Kolosow was hooked on card collecting. While still collecting baseball cards, he also began collecting non-sports cards, starting with Ripley’s Believe It or Not! cards. Football cards were then added to the mix, followed by more non-sports cards, including: Elvis, Fabian, The Beatles, etc.
“I had a part-time job at McDonald's and I spent money on cards, and again, completing sets, and setting aside the doubles,” Kolosow said.
As an adult and in his own home, Kolosow began organizing his cards. Each sport got its own room in the house. And the most valuable cards are stored in a vault. This includes complete Topps baseball sets from 1953 through 1970.
Kolosow’s son, Alex Kolosow II, said he tried to get his dad to inventory his collection on a computer, but that hasn’t happened yet. The entire inventory of the collection is hand printed on graph paper.
When asked if he knew what his collection was worth, Kolosow said dealers and auction companies have viewed his collection, adding that one made an offer for the collection in the early 2000s.
“I knew it (offer) was 10 cents on the dollar because I got opinions from other dealers,” Kolosow said.
Kolosow estimated the value of his collection at that time bordered on $100,000.
“As a collector I knew that people wanted my collection,” he said. “They would either low ball me or try to grab it from me. But I was reluctant, and held on (to it).”
Now 68 years old, Kolosow is working through the agonizing process of deciding whether or not to sell his prized collection. And if he decides to sell his collection, what is the best way to go about selling it?
His son said they know they would receive more money if they sell the collection piece by piece, but that would be time consuming.
“We’ve had offers for less (than six figures) because obviously when you’re buying bulk, you buy the whole thing all at once so you don’t have to worry about selling the whole thing slowly,” Kolosow II said. “So they come in offering a little less, but the advantage to that is your entire collection is purchased.”
Kolosow also acknowledged that his collection would be worth more if the star cards were graded. With that knowledge, he said he has had some of the major star cards graded.
“I stopped (getting cards graded) because it got expensive,” he said. “I was paying $5, $7 to have a card graded. Now it’s a minimum of $5 to $15 to $20, and now some of the star cards like your Jordans, like your Mantles, like the real prestigious cards that would grade a 10 really have a value of hundreds of thousands of dollars, just to grade. What’s a kid that collected supposed to do when he has a collection that’s making money but people won’t buy it unless it’s graded. People won’t buy unless it has some sort of label. You’re in a dilemma. I’m in a quandary with my son. What do we do?
He added that he imagines there are other long-time collectors out there facing the same questions.
Kolosow said he and his son haven’t made any final decisions on how to sell all or part of the collection, but he said the time has come to sell at least a portion of it.
“Of course we would love to have a buyer come in and purchase the estate for the price we want,” Kolosow II said. “That’s the quickest and probably most efficient way. We want to do it the right way. We’re not in any hurry with our cards and we want to do it the right way.”
This brings up other dilemmas, such as whether to remove high-dollar cards from unopened packs and have the cards graded, or leave them in the unopened packs.
“It’s the father and son dilemma,” Kolosow said. “Do we keep enjoying these (cards) or do we share them with people? And how do we do it at a good price where everybody is happy?”
Bert Lehman is the editor of Sports Collectors Digest. He can be reached at Bert.Lehman@fwmedia.com.