- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 4, 2018

When someone reached out to Dave Hunt wanting to put a 1938 Lou Gehrig jersey up for auction, Mr. Hunt was skeptical.

As president of Hunt Auctions, he had to be. The Philadelphia-based sports memorabilia auction house needs to authenticate items, and pristine Gehrig jerseys don’t often materialize.

But in 2007, one did.

“I’ll never forget it,” Mr. Hunt said. “The gentleman walked in, just pulled out a duffle bag and just laid it right on the table.”

That New York Yankees jersey sold for a half-million dollars.

The business of sports memorabilia isn’t always that lucrative, but Mr. Hunt expects similarly surprising finds at the All-Star FanFest in the District of Columbia, a weeklong baseball-themed event at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center leading up to the MLB All-Star Game on July 17 at Nationals Park.

Hunt Auctions, a partner with MLB for 14 years, will offer free appraisals for memorabilia from July 13-17 and hold live auctions on the final two days of the festivities.

In addition to items brought in by fans, Hunt Auctions will feature over 125 artifacts from 12-time All-star Mel Ott’s career, over 600 original photographs, a Babe Ruth professional model bat and Mel Allen’s 1952 Yankees World Series ring.

“Baseball clearly leads the way in sports collectibles as far as price, categories, types and also, most importantly, age,” Mr. Hunt said. “It’s the oldest American sport — purely American sport. And it’s largely unchanged.”

Baltimore native Jim Ancel, who has been collecting memorabilia for about 25 years, is among those looking forward to seeing the city take center stage in the baseball universe.

Mr. Ancel got his start as a hobbyist when he stopped outside a Las Vegas memorabilia store and saw baseballs signed by Ruth and Gehrig. He was amazed that such items were on the market, so he bought them.

That was before he knew much about the industry. A few months after the purchase, an authenticator told him the signatures were not real. He returned the baseballs for a full refund.

Still, that episode started a hobby that he continues to this day. The market, once rife with fakes and fraudsters, has been cleaned up, Mr. Ancel said.

“It’s like night and day from when I first started,” Mr. Ancel said. “The dark side is gone a long time ago.”

Mr. Ancel owns letters between Gehrig and his doctor chronicling the last year and a half of the Hall of Famer’s life. He loaned copies of the letters to Jonathan Eig, who was writing the book “Luckiest Man: The Life and Death of Lou Gehrig,” published in 2005.

That kind of history behind available memorabilia is a big part of the reason Mr. Ancel has developed one of the best collections in the Baltimore-Washington area.

“It’s much more collectible and valuable than football items are,” Mr. Ancel said. “It came from like a stamp hobby collection to this mass business that’s gotten all this exposure.”

Mr. Ancel also owns a set of baseballs signed by each president from Theodore Roosevelt in 1901 to Donald Trump. He hopes to display the collection in Washington during All-Star week.

“It’s a one-of-a-kind collection,” Mr. Ancel said. “It would be really cool for it to be presented in D.C. because this is about the presidents and about baseball.”

The Nationals have been in Washington only since 2005, but the sport has a rich history in the area. The Washington Senators won the World Series in 1924. The Washington Grays in the Negro Leagues won a slew of titles. Other players, such as Ruth, toured the District for war bond rallies and other appearances, Mr. Hunt said.

So, as the game’s current best players arrive in Washington for the 89th All-Star Game, fans get to explore and perhaps own a piece of baseball’s colorful past.

“You’ve got a great venue with a storied past,” Mr. Hunt said, “that hasn’t had an event like this since 1969.”

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