When O.J. Simpson was arrested for allegedly trying to steal memorabilia earlier this week, the Goldman family saw it as another opportunity to claim reparations due to them following their victory in the 1996 wrongful death suit involving their son, Ronald. A judge has given Fred Goldman one week to come up with a list of things stolen from the Las Vegas hotel room. But according to Mike Heffner, president of Leland's sports auctioneers, it may not be worth the time. "People like O.J. Simpson and Michael Vick have done horrific things," he says. "And the collecting public doesn't want to deal with that stuff."
For the past 50 years memorabilia auctions have grown as an industry for people who want not only to invest but to flaunt what they've bought. Stocks and bonds don't look so great in a trophy case, especially when compared to Lou Gehrig's uniform. And just like more traditional investments, the worst time to buy is when something (or someone) is in the evening news, especially if the press is negative. "It's one thing if you have a little bit of gambling or womanizing, like Pete Rose—those are victimless crimes," says Heffner, whose company is the leading memorabilia auction house. "But when you get to a serious felony, then people grow weary."
So who are these weary souls? Generally middle-aged men, ranging from "trash collectors to prominent politicians and lawyers," who do their research to buy things not only for their aesthetics but their investment potential. In the short term, things are hot when they're in the news, but they have a tendency to come down in price after the story is forgotten. The best test is history. Watergate and Monica Lewinsky are sure to appear in high-school curriculums, thereby increasing the value of items associated with those scandals. Larry Craig's tapping shoe? Not so much. But if there's one rule to auctions, it's that there is a right price and right person for any item. "Despite all the other things for sale," as Heffner says, "there are people who collect items from serial killers." Talk about negative publicity.
With no baseball uniform or Heisman Trophy spared, the sports and pop culture collectible auction industry has been growing rapidly for the past 50 years. In response to O.J. Simpson's alleged apartment ransacking to seek out his own memorabilia, we asked auction expert Mike Heffner, president of Leland's auction house, what some of America's most iconic items might fetch on the block. Take our quiz to see how you would fare as a memorabilia appraiser. Perhaps it's time for a career change, or at least a trip to "Antiques Roadshow."