Welcome to The Memorabilia Network, a new adventure in sports and entertainment memorabilia from the heart and mind of Harlan J. Werner. The Memorabilia Network is here to support the collectors and value the stories behind their collections.
“Whether you’re the lead singer or the grip, the ball boy, the star of the team, the owner of the team, the person that’s tuning up the guitar, everyone has a story and everyone has collected something, inherited something,” Harlan says. A longtime collector and seller of sports memorabilia, over the past three decades he has represented some of the biggest names in Professional Sports including Sandy Koufax, Joe Namath, John Riggins, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Jim Brown, Fernando Valenzuela, Clayton Kershaw, and The Greatest of All Time, Muhammad Ali.
Harlan Werner started collecting baseball cards when he was 10 years old. His enthusiasm for the hobby earned him a job sorting cards into sets for a local baseball card dealer near his home in the Canoga Park area of Los Angeles’ San Fernando Valley. “I got something like $5 a set,” he recalls.
Before he graduated high school, he had started a mail order baseball card business and become a vendor with his own table at baseball card shows. “I had a neighbor who was seven years older than me, a baseball card collector, and he started driving me to baseball card shows when I was 11, 12 years old,” he says. “I was fascinated by the cards, the business, all this baseball stuff and I loved baseball. They had jerseys and baseballs and cards and photos. It was just overwhelmingly beautiful.
“Then I was, well, I’m setting up at card shows, why can’t I run one.”
Los Angeles Times Ad, September 1, 1984
One of the early shows he organized was this 1984 San Fernando Valley Baseball Card Convention at a hotel near Van Nuys Airport. It features former Los Angeles Dodgers Al Downing and Tommy Davis signing autographs for free. He did that, he says, “to promote the industry, to promote me. No one had ever done that before [with athletes of this stature]. I was the promoter, I was selling tables, next thing I know I’m promoting shows that had 300 tables, 5,000, 10,000 people. I went from being a collector to a show promoter. Then I owned a card store. It was called America’s Favorite Card Store, and people from all over the world came to my store because I had the best cards on the West Coast.
“I opened my store with numerous 1952 Mickey Mantles cards, unopened packs of everything you could have imagined, and then when the Garbage Pail Kids hit, I became the Garbage Pail Kid king because I had a relationship with Topps.”
Perhaps more important to Harlan J. Werner’s succeeding endeavors in the sports memorabilia business than the store itself was its Sherman Oaks location, across the street from something called Ali Realty. It would lead him to meet Muhammad Ali and become his agent, confidant, and friend for 30 years, but not in the way you might expect. That’s a story for a future post.
Harlan has lots of stories to tell. He was there in the room when Muhammad Ali met Ted Williams at the Disneyland Hotel in 1988. When Tom Cruise waited in line at one of his shows to get Joe DiMaggio’s autograph. There are several reasons why Los Angeles Dodgers icon Sandy Koufax knocked on his door over 30 years ago, and why former Detroit Tigers and Cincinnati Red manager Sparky Anderson chose him to help revolutionize the sports memorabilia business for retired athletes.
Los Angeles Times Ad, December 7, 1988
The Memorabilia Network, Harlan’s newest enterprise, is truly a show of a lifetime. It debuts to a worldwide audience on October 24th with its first auction, a global sports and entertainment memorabilia online auction that runs through November 6th. An array of baseball, football, basketball, hockey, and boxing memorabilia will be auctioned including Mickey Mantle memorabilia, Jackie Robinson memorabilia that spotlights his high school and college sports achievements, memorabilia from Los Angeles Dodgers icons Vin Scully, Clayton Kershaw, and Sandy Koufax; and Kobe Bryant memorabilia. Collectors have also contributed items from actors and musicians including Kevin Costner, Sylvester Stallone, Geena Davis, Jack Nicholson, Paul McCartney, and Prince.
Unique to this auction is the Muhammad Ali memorabilia that comes from Harlan’s personal collection, and from the collections of Ali’s friends and colleagues. Their stories about the items and their experiences with Ali will be shared in a video that accompanies the auction and in print in this blog. These stories are “a living provenance,” Harlan says.
A highlight of the auction is a rare set of four art prints of Ali generated from an original artwork by Andy Warhol. Warhol and Ali signed the prints, which are from Warhol’s “Muhammad Ali, 1978,” Warhol’s first ever published edition portfolio of a sports figure. The series was also remarkable for being one of the first artworks by Warhol to feature a black hero.
Harlan, as Ali’s memorabilia agent, was present each time Ali signed a portfolio of these four prints. There are only six portfolios consisting of both Ali’s and Warhol’s signatures in existence.
Also featured in the auction is a vintage Muhammad Ali training robe used in the mid-1970s as well as a unique jump rope used by the Champ.
“This company is called The Memorabilia Network and the tagline is ‘where the collectors are the stars,’” Harlan says. “Sometimes the collectors are more important than the item itself because a great story can make an average item become a superstar. I want to build a company that lets people tell their stories, and then let the public decide what has value, where the value is.”
In this blog, we’ll tell stories about the athletes and celebrities from people who have known them, about the collectors and the objects in their collections, about the images and autographs that immortalize an event, make a statistic meaningful or preserve a glorious moment in a fan’s life. We’ll cover The Memorabilia Network’s unique approach to working with people who have acquired memorabilia and want to explore options for what to do with it.
“There are a lot of people like me who have worked in the entertainment business, sports, music, they’ve worked for clients for decades, they have stuff,” Harlan says. “We’re offering services to help people with that, whether they choose to have us sell it for them or to use a company that they or their family are familiar with. We can help them with the process, and the placement of their items. Or if you’re a buyer, we can help you understand what the item is, its history, the provenance, what it might be worth, what you should pay.”
We’ll also cover the past, present and future of the memorabilia industry with informative posts on topics such as the evolution of authenticating and grading of objects, appraising objects, and auction estimates. The business has continually changed since Harlan began his memorabilia industry odyssey. “Four or five years ago signed trading cards were sacrilegious. Now trading cards autographed and graded are like the holy grail,” he says. “Autographed cards of rookie cards of icons are much rarer than the cards, the print run themselves. Graded baseballs, graded signatures, never thought of before.”
Harlan has a lot to say about such things. The bottom line for him may be out of sync with the larger industry. It remains true to the kid who set up his first table at a card show: “I loved cards, I loved collecting, I loved going to the shows, I loved the action as I got older. But I was a collector. I still like looking at nice cards.”