FORT MCMURRAY, Alta. - There's a powerful lure to the memorabilia that connect sports lovers to their favourite game, but ace collector Shawn Chaulk has a few words of warning.
"It's not unlike crack," he says, only partly kidding. "Once you get a taste, you're itching for your next fix.
"Trust me. When that FedEx guy gets to the door, it's a high."
Chaulk should know. He's amassed one of the most extensive, complete and valuable collections of Wayne Gretzky memorabilia in the world. He's auctioning off most of his collection, but he hasn't lost his taste for the pastime and shares some tips:
1. Buy for love:
"Be in it for the enjoyment," he says. "Don't ever think of sports memorabilia as an investment. It's like a car. It's an expense. Don't ever plan on getting your money back. When you're in it for the enjoyment, you're never going to pay more than you're comfortable spending. Then you can spend with heart."
2. Focus, focus, focus:
"When you're a rookie collector, anything that comes across your path, you want. You end up blowing money on everything that's there, because it's there and you want it, and all of a sudden you're looking around at a roomful of crap with no focus and no theme. And you've put a boatload of money into it that you can't necessarily get back."
Everyone dabbles at first, Chaulk says. He still does — sometimes. He's got 45 Dan Cleary jerseys just because the Red Wing forward is a fellow Newfoundlander, but that doesn't deflect Chaulk's laser-like bead on game-worn Gretzky stuff. All collectors need to find an affordable theme for their enthusiasm. Once they figure it out, they must be patient.
"Eventually, your wanted item will be found within the hobby."
3. Don't overspend:
"You have to pay what you're comfortable paying. And pay an amount you're not afraid to lose. It's very easy to get caught up in overspending and I've seen it happen many times," Chaulk says.
"You collect within your means. As my means improved, so did the theme of what I collected."
Positively link the item with the sports figure it's associated with. Every item in Chaulk's collection comes with a photo of Gretzky actually using it.
"Provenance is absolutely key. You have to first examine your piece and know where all the significant marks are, or repairs, or anything that would be a telltale sign to look for in a photograph. Then you go to magazines or video archives or photo archives of that era and painstakingly analyze the photos and videos to try and find the marks on your piece in action. With Internet and photo publications and libraries it's not as hard as you might think. It just requires a fair bit of dedication and work."
Chaulk says reputable auction houses are the best places to start. See what price things fetch. Read. Talk to others with similar interests. Be nice.
"Everyone is connected to somebody who has something you want."