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The autograph that turned into gold

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During his autograph collecting heyday, Tim Gallagher knew exactly where to go to obtain signatures of prime athletes.

Gallagher, who lived in Phoenix in the 1980s, knew the Chicago Bulls stayed at Hotel Westcourt when the team came to town to play the Phoenix Suns.

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Prior to boarding a bus to head to the arena, Bulls players gathered near the front of the hotel to get a little sunshine and fresh air. Gallagher was one of only a handful of collectors hanging out near the lobby. On Dec. 5, 1986, second-year guard Michael Jordan was one of the players Gallagher got to sign one of his cards.

“Although it was Michael Jordan, it’s hard for people to understand the context of the times,” Gallagher said, “but it was a fairly routine effort.”

Gallagher had recently pulled the card from a pack of 1986-87 Fleer. He didn’t really consider the Fleer product to be Jordan’s true rookie because he had a habit of buying 1984-85 Star Co. cards.

It wasn’t a big deal that Gallagher got Jordan to sign the card. During his college years and first four seasons in the NBA, Gallagher collected about 30 Jordan autographs.

“Even though Jordan was a star and I’d seen him as an Olympian in Phoenix in an exhibition game, and I obviously knew him at North Carolina and winning the NCAA tournament his freshman year and all that, getting Jordan at that time was really not much different than getting Dominique Wilkins or Isiah Thomas or any of the other star guys at the time.”

Fast forward 34 years. That Jordan signature obtained outside the hotel is now worth a pretty penny. The card has since been graded a 9 by Beckett Grading Service (BGC) with a 9 autograph. It is part of The Tim Gallagher Collection featured in SCP Auctions’ Summer Premier Auction that runs Aug. 12-28.

In May, a 1986-87 Fleer Jordan autographed card sold for $125,000. That card was graded an 8.5 by BGS with a 10 autograph.

“Ours has got the card grade beaten and the card grade’s obviously way more valuable going up even a half point than going down a full point in auto,” SCP auction director Brendan Wells said.

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In its spring auction, SCP Auctions featured another great Gallagher piece: a 1984-85 Star Jordan autographed card No. 101 with a BGC 8.5 grade for the card and 9 for the signature. It sold for $42,955, which was a record price for Jordan Star Co. cards.

“I think we caught a break starting off with the Jordan signed Star rookie, and not the ’86 Fleer, because the value of MJ’s ’86 Fleer rookie went sky high after the ESPN ‘Last Dance’ documentary,” Wells said. “That’s one of the biggest items we’re going to have in this upcoming auction. People have looked at it and told me it’s a six-figure card well over, based on what the others have been going for. The unsigned versions in a 10 (grade) are going for almost a hundred grand.”

Gallagher, now 62 and residing in the San Diego area, has collected autographs for 50 years. He figures at his peak, he had over 25,000 autographs – most obtained in person – on cards, Sports Illustrated covers, media guides, tear-outs from publications, index cards, you name it.

“I think it has to be the largest basketball autograph collection that’s ever come on the market,” Wells said. “It’s hard to monetize that collection, because I think there’s so many more baseball collectors of autographs than basketball. It’s a niche. It’s hard to find the bread-and-butter basketball vintage autograph collectors. There’s a lot more game-used jersey collectors or NBA championship ring collectors out there than just hoops autographs.”

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The Tim Gallagher Collection features eight Jordan lots in the summer auction. Another hot Jordan item will be a 1986-87 Fleer Sticker graded 5.5 by BGS with an 8 autograph. There are a pair of Jordan and Sam Perkins dual autographs on the covers of Sports Illustrated and a University of North Carolina media guide. There’s also a signed team photo of the 1957-58 Boston Celtics that has autographs from Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Frank Ramsey, coach Red Auerbach and owner Walter Brown. Two Kobe Bryant high school era autographed items are great pieces as well.

“I still have some mixed emotions about selling some of this stuff – part because it’s meant so much to me and part that I didn’t get in for the financial reward of it,” Gallagher said. “It’s just kind of worked out that way.”

Auction of the Week

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Collect Auctions Summer Auction

Collect Auctions bidding ends August 6 and bidders can view each lot on our website at www.collectauctions.net. There are more than 1,000 lots of vintage sports cards and sets; what we believe is the strongest unopened lineup any auction house has ever offered. Bidding ends Thursday, August 6 at 9:00 p.m. CST (10:00 EST).