By Jef Rietsma
Collector? Steve Ellis.
Collection? Numerous collections, including sports memorabilia, books, toys, knick-knacks, magazines, lunch boxes, games, record albums and 45 rpm records of all genres, felt pennants, old radios, ashtrays from old restaurant in Michigan, vintage board games, dozens of ticket stubs to concerts and sporting events, baseball bats from the 1930s and ‘40s, baseball and hockey season schedules, baseball mitts, posters, road maps, Hot Wheels cars, Thermos bottles, buttons and match books.
How do you even begin to describe your collections? “I’m not really sure. Some things I have hundreds and hundreds of, other things I may have only five or six of. I will admit I’ve got to start weeding things out.”
In addition to such a vast collection, you have some impressive memorabilia. “Yeah, a couple wood seats from Wrigley Field in Chicago and a pair of seats from the old Municipal Stadium in Cleveland stand out.”
Have you always been a collector? “My grandfather and grandmother on my mom’s side collected antique clocks and old dishes but I didn’t really get into them. Then, my dad got into antique clocks and tools, and we’d stop at every garage sale and flea market he’d come across. Finally, around 1966 or 1967, I started developing an interest in comic books and baseball cards.”
Have you ever gotten rid of anything? “Some time ago, I sold a collection of about 1,500 comic books to Fanfare in Kalamazoo … I wish I had them back. And I sold a thousand albums once to the Bop Stop. I just ran out of space and most of them were duplicates. I’ve also sold lots and lots of baseball cards.”
This could be a tough question to answer but what are some of the most unique items you have? “When I was a kid, I bought a book that had the addresses of all the old, retired Major League Baseball players. I’d send two index cards, a self-addressed, stamped envelope and include a note asking if they’d send me their autograph. Stan Musial, Bob Feller, Don Drysdale, Ron Santo … I probably mailed 40 or 50 and about 90 percent send them back. Those autographs are pretty unique, I’d say.”
Why did you collect such a wide-ranging variety of items? “Well, it was stuff that I really liked. I’ve had so much stuff for so long it’s now considered nostalgic. I never bought it to make money … people tell me all the time I need to get rid of this crap. But it’s not bothering anybody right now, though my girlfriend hates all this stuff and my kids have no interest in any of it.”
What is something you have always wanted but don’t have? “This may sound kind of silly but probably a handful of metal lunchboxes from the 1960s and 1970s. I really, really wanted an original Green Hornet lunchbox but they are consistently around $100 (on the secondary market). I don’t want it that bad. I’d always wanted a Tarzan lunch box, too. It’s been 25 years since I last bought a lunch box.”
What’s the most you ever paid for an item? “I don’t even know what it would be but I’m pretty sure I never paid more than $100 for anything. So many items in the collections were what I bought when they came out, so I was paying retail price for a lot of this stuff, especially the sports stuff.”
Footnotes: Ellis, 66, is a member of the South County News Board of Directors. He is a Pontiac native but now a Vicksburg-area resident. Ellis said the father of Detroit Tigers legend Kirk Gibson was his math teacher at Waterford Mott High School.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Readers, our cupboard is bare! Please consider sending in information about a collection you’d like to share with South County News. We have no more collections to feature, but we would love to continue this column.