Saturday, June 4, 2016

Muhammad Ali, The Greatest, discovered on a Saturday morning

The sad passing of boxing legend Muhammad Ali has been all over the news. There's no doubt that Ali was the most famous and most recognizable professional athlete in history. On his passing, I thought this would be an appropriate time to share one of my little yard sale flips, that yes, actually had a direct connection to "The Greatest."

About two years ago, I was doing my usual Saturday morning picking, this time at a community yard sale held in the parking lot of a real estate office. Meandering around, I stopped at a table and spotted a piece of paper for sale with an autograph on it. The small, aged paper was protected under a clear plastic sheet, the type you might snap into a three ring binder. The seller was asking twenty dollars for it. Looking closely at the signature, my jaw dropped in read "Muhammad Ali".

"The Greatest" found at a yard sale.
If anyone was watching me at the time, I am sure they would have observed a very confused looking dude. Could the autograph of the greatest heavyweight champion and most famous athlete in the world be for sale at a yard sale? Clutching the plastic sheet in my hand, I stared at the autograph wondering if it was legit or not? This once-in-a-lifetime find had me excited, but I needed more information before pulling the trigger. I asked the sellers what the story was on the signature? The sellers, a couple in their 70's, explained they once lived down the street from Muhammed Ali in the town of Cherry Hill, New Jersey. They went on to tell me they met the Heavyweight Champ at a neighborhood cocktail party. Describing Ali as a gentleman and very accommodating, they said the Champ gladly signed autographs for many of the neighbors on the street. Like everyone else at the party, the couple asked Ali for an autograph and he obliged them, signing the piece of scrap paper I was now holding in my hand.

Listening to the couple's story, it all seemed to ring true to me. I knew for a fact that Ali actually did live in Cherry Hill back in the Seventies. Also, the autographed piece of paper had some age to it and looked like it could easily date back to the 1970's. Processing all this information, it didn't take long to make my decision. However, just to reduce my exposure in case the autograph was a fake, I offered the couple $15 bucks which they accepted. As an added bonus, there also happened to be a separate autographed postcard of another boxer under the plastic sheet. This made my $15 dollar purchase a very nice two-for-one deal!

Jack Demspey restaurant postcard
Before getting to the main event, let me share how the postcard worked out. Researching the vintage postcard, I discovered it was signed on the reverse side by a boxing legend from an earlier time; the great Jack Dempsey. Dempsey, who was the heavyweight champ back in the 1940s, retired from the ring and opened a popular New York City restaurant, appropriately named, "Dempsey's".  In fact, fans of the first Godfather movie will recall the scene where young Michael Corleone was picked up by the "bad" cop right in front of Dempsey's restaurant. Unfortunately, I also learned that Dempsey gave out these autographed postcards to dining patrons like some establishments hand out after dinner mints and toothpicks. In other words, Dempsey's autographed postcards are quite common and not worth a whole lot. However, it was worth just enough to cover my initial investment. The autographed Dempsey postcard sold for $15 bucks on eBay. This sale brought me back to even on my initial investment with Ali's autograph still to sell.

The undercard sale of my Dempsey postcard now completed, I moved on to the main event. When posting Ali's autograph on eBay, I carefully laid out all the details the sellers shared with me regarding how they obtained it. To reinforce and back up their story, I also cited that fact that Muhammad Ali resided in the same town as the couple did during the early Seventies. And while not claiming to be a hand writing expert, I also pointed out my yard sale autograph looked "spot-on" to any of Ali's known signatures found on the internet. This elaborate description discussing it's provenance seemed to assure bidders. My Muhammad Ali autograph sold for $160 dollars! That's what I call a yard sale knockout!

As I write this, eBay auctions for Muhammad Ali's autograph are now going through the roof due to
his passing. Obviously my find would have sold for even more money today, but no worries. The Champ did me a solid a few years back with an unbelievable yard sale find that turned a $15 investment into $160 dollars. So here's to "The Greatest." There will never be another one like him.

How about you? Ever find or sell a famous autograph? Share the story in the comment section below...

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