Skip to main content

Leo S. Ullman was waiting for the birth of his grandson in Madison, Wisc., and he had some time to kill.

There was a local sports card show at a hotel next to the hospital, so Ullman decided to check it out.

“I bought 12 Nolan Ryan cards for $1 each thinking I had a collection, having no idea what I was getting into,” Ullman said.

More than 27 years later, Ullman still can’t believe what his purchase led to.

A real estate investor and former owner of the Shore Mall in Egg Harbor Township, N.J., Ullman wound up collecting nearly 15,000 individual items related to Ryan, the baseball Hall of Famer and MLB’s all-time strikeout leader. The collection of cards and rare memorabilia, believed to be the largest Ryan collection in the hobby, was recently appraised at more than $1 million.

Ullman has donated the collection to Stockton University in Galloway, N.J. The school plans to use it as the focus of a new class on collecting for the spring 2023 semester.

Part of Leo S. Ullman's $1 million Nolan Ryan Collection.

Part of Leo S. Ullman's $1 million Nolan Ryan Collection.

Also See: Stoneham family Giants collection up for bid at Hunt Auctions

Ullman’s eclectic collection encompasses nearly every kind of collectible imaginable, including thousands of baseball cards, bats, balls, hats, gloves, shirts, shoes, stamps, coins, bobbleheads, statuettes, knives, posters, photos, paintings and pennants. It even includes cowboy boots, a saddle, guitar picks, ice cream sticks and “every kind of candy and food you can imagine.”

“There are just enormous quantities of items that bear his name and likeness,” said Ullman, 83, who lives in Sands Point, N.Y. “There are few products with even the most remote link to baseball and baseball memorabilia that did not merit his endorsement.”

Leo S. Ullman's Nolan Ryan Collection is believed to be the largest of its kind.

Leo S. Ullman's Nolan Ryan Collection is believed to be the largest of its kind.

The collection features more than 8,500 baseball cards, about 3,000 which are signed by Ryan. But there are also numerous unusual items, including:

• Signed cowboy boots.

• A full-size leather saddle featuring Ryan’s likeness.

Leo S. Ullman's $1 million Nolan Ryan Collection includes a saddle signed by Ryan.

Leo S. Ullman's $1 million Nolan Ryan Collection includes a saddle signed by Ryan.

• Ryan’s high school yearbooks.

• Seven signed, hand-painted baseballs, one for each of Ryan’s seven no-hitters, by American pop artist Charles Fazzino.

• Progressive proofs of a number of Topps cards, including rookies and other significant cards.

• A watercolor painting of Ryan by Dick Perez of Perez-Steele Galleries that was used in Ryan’s 1999 Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

• Various items from Ryan’s charity golf and fishing tournaments and from his restaurants, cattle ranches and bank.

• Items from his save for the Mets in the 1969 World Series.

• Hall of Fame items and tickets from specific victories and strikeout achievements.

“Stockton is excited to become the new home for Leo’s vast and unique collection of Nolan Ryan memorabilia,” said Leamor Kahanov, Stockton provost and vice president for academic affairs. “We believe the collection will be a great academic resource for courses like sport history or statistics.”

Stockton President Harvey Kesselman and Leo S. Ullman (right) sign an agreement to donate Ullman's Nolan Ryan collection to the university.

Stockton President Harvey Kesselman and Leo S. Ullman (right) sign an agreement to donate Ullman's Nolan Ryan collection to the university.

Ullman’s ties to Stockton go back several years as he and his wife, Kay, funded the creation of the Schimmel and Hoogenboom Righteous Remembrance Room at the university’s Sara & Sam Schoffer Holocaust Resource Center. The room honors the people who sheltered and protected Ullman and his family in Amsterdam, Netherlands during the Holocaust.

Ullman, who is also working on a book on the collection, is thrilled his treasures have found a new home and will be the focus of a university class on sports collectibles. He believes the hobby is “worth a course on the prospect and on the effort of collecting and creating value through collecting.”

“As much as I admire Nolan Ryan both as a person and for his career in baseball, without limit, the collection is focused not about Nolan Ryan per se,” he said, “but rather, it’s all about collecting a very significant part of all that’s out there to honor this special iconic person.”

Ullman still marvels that his collection started as “a complete fluke” 27 years ago.

“I had no goal. I knew I’d never capture the entire market. I just found the products interesting,” he said. “There’s also a measure of joy in finding something that you didn’t know existed, or in acquiring an item that was impossible to find.”

A Nolan Ryan autographed baseball is one of nearly 15,000 items included in Leo S. Ullman’s Ryan collection.

A Nolan Ryan autographed baseball is one of nearly 15,000 items included in Leo S. Ullman’s Ryan collection.

Appraiser Leon Castner said the collection is one of the largest private collections of its kind, covering “all types of memorabilia, from the mundane and common to the unusual and rare.”

“This collection is not simply an accumulation of individual items. It is an archive of modern sports collectability,” he said. 

You Also Might Like: Sale of rare Babe Ruth rookie card tops Lelands auction 

Auction of the Week

galaxy-auctions

Galaxy Auctions

Sports cards, rock posters, music memorabilia, collectable card games, Hollywood, pop culture, historical, autographs, publications, art, and much more!