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Memorabilia Memories: Jersey Collecting

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You might recognize the "Memorabilia Memories" (formerly "Lighting the Lamp") feature from the Game Time paper. Rick Ackerman has been nice enough to send over his column for the website. "Memorabilia Memoirs" will be featured every home game day.

Memorabilia Memories, with Rick Ackerman

My current and most absorbing (and expensive) obsession is with hockey jerseys. At one time, I was an orthodox traditionalist and called them "sweaters", really just an homage to the days when jerseys were actually made of wool. However, now it is easy to accept and use the term "jerseys" since the vernacular allows for that inaccuracy in common usage. There are three main categories of jerseys for a collector: game-worn, authentic and replicas. Gamers are always those actually worn by a player during a game, although some could be classified as "Team Issued" since the official jersey for a player was not actually worn during a game, or only worn by the back-up goaltender during the warm-up. (Some really picky collectors would call that a "Warm-up Worn" jersey, just as they call official team jerseys worn by a player to an official team function or event "Event-worn".) An authentic jersey is made in the same style and material (including a fight strap) worn by the players on the ice and are usually more expensive, well over $200 or even $300. They are licensed by the NHL and/or individual teams. Replica jerseys are sold by the NHL and individual teams as a cheaper fan alternative, without a fight strap and with slits added on both "hips" of the jersey. Replicas are made of a much lighter material, too. However, beware of cheap, poorly-constructed knock-off replicas, around $30-$50, mostly made in China or other Asian countries.

My very first jersey was a red Chicago Blackhawks replica purchased in 1966, the best I could do to impersonate a St. Louis Braves jersey, the Blackhawks' farm team of my childhood. It featured #19, a tribute to my favorite player, Alain "Boom-Boom" Caron, the Braves high-scoring winger. Unfortunately, I lost that jersey in a bus accident in 1969. I was a member of the Miami University Hockey Club in Oxford, Ohio, yet in order to practice, we had to travel by bus to Covington, Kentucky (just southwest of Cincinnati), believe it or not, the nearest rink to Oxford at the time. We were returning to campus one night when a truck hit us from behind on I-75 (road construction) and the bus caught fire. It ended our season as our goaltender broke his back and several players broke bones. I got lucky and was not hurt, but lost all my equipment in the fire.

My very first game worn was a Blues home white jersey purchased in 1983 at the Blues' garage sale at the Arena, featuring #9, Frank St. Marseille. I owe my brother Andy a lot for that one, since he was the one who actually went and gave Emile Francis, the President and GM of the Blues at the time, the $30 cash for it. It turned out there was some controversy later when a fellow collector had it "authenticated" as a Kansas City Blues jersey from the same era, yet when St. Marseille came to St. Louis for a show a couple of years ago, I showed him the jersey and he said he believed it really was his Blues jersey from the 1968 season.

My most recent game worn jersey was just purchased in an auction at NHL.com, a Blues jersey from the home-opener this year, #28, Ian Cole. It was a wild and wacky auction as serious collectors had to ante up some serious cash in order to claim to be the first to obtain the new style home jerseys this year. The highest bid for a single jersey was almost $2700 for Vlad Tarasenko's #91, followed by around $2500 for T.J. Oshie's #74. Both centers Paul Stastny and Jori Lehtera brought in just over $1800. The lowest price jersey was #32, Chris Porter, who did not play and as his jersey was just team-issued,  only garnered $400. #34, goaltender Jake Allen, was only practice worn since he did not play in the game, yet still brought in $740. In comparison, starter Brian Elliott's #1 cost $900, a real bargain at that price.

My most costly jersey, a gamer of course, is the #26 that was worn by Peter Stastny of the Blues (Paul's father) during a game in 1993, followed by Blues goaltender Rick Wamsley's #30 issued in 1984. Both were around $1000 each. Jake Allen's #35 Chicago Wolves (the Blues  farm team) jersey from last year when he won the AHL Goaltender of the Year Award was just over $900. Out of a total of 250 hockey jerseys I now own, 118 are game worn (almost 50%). Of those 250, 58 are Blues jerseys (almost 25%), and of the 58 Blues jerseys, 34 are game worn (almost 60%). 49 Blues jerseys are signed by the player, including 27 gamers. Yes, I keep statistics (and the cost) of all my jerseys. Some day in (I hope) the far future, my wife will sell them all at auction. My excessive pride and vanity makes me think serious collectors of Blues jerseys will come from all over the world to bid.

Should one get jerseys signed by the player(s)? Serious collectors say no, wanting to keep the jersey pristine and in the exact same condition as worn during the game. Others, like myself, say yes as it enhances the look and possible value of the jersey. In the long run, it really is just personal taste, as most game worn jerseys will appreciate in value over time.