Chris Nerat lives in a world surrounded by stuff: clothes, comic books, baseball cards, fine art, antiques, dinosaur bones, game-worn jerseys of professional athletes, rare coins and much more. It’s a fascinating world where something made simply of paper and ink, like a Batman comic, for instance, can sell for more than a million dollars.
The 2001 UW-Green Bay graduate, and former Fourth Estate sports editor, works as a cataloger and consignment director in the sports division at Heritage Auction Galleries in Dallas, Texas, (HA.com) the world’s largest collectible auction house.
Infatuated with the hobby since he was 10 years old and with the fact that sports memorabilia and gum cards were worth money, Nerat (pictured above wearing World Series rings from the 1954 Giants, 1960 Pirates, 1998 Yankees and 2006 Cardinals with an estimated value of $75,000, and below holding a signed baseball by Babe Ruth valued at $60,000) put himself through college, and has made a career out of his childhood hobby — buying and selling vintage sports memorabilia.
“Some people like the items to collect, but I was purely interested in their value,” Nerat says. “My dad was always a business man, owning a furniture store in Menominee, Mich., and my mother was always into antiques, and I was into sports, so I kind of combined all of those attributes into buying and selling vintage sports memorabilia.”
At Heritage, his job in cataloging involves researching and describing the memorabilia that comes in for publication on the company website and in catalogs. As a consignment director, he tracks down clients who want to sell their memorabilia. Throughout his career, he has dealt with an array of celebrities (Penny Marshall, Dominique Wilkins, Whitey Ford, Pete Rose and many others), pawn shops, investors and long-time collectors.
Nerat is having a blast.
“Holding that Batman first appearance comic book (which Heritage sold for a record $1,075,500) was amazing, but that same day I had the chance to hold three coins, none of which that were larger than a dime,” he said. “The coin division manager informed me that they were each worth about $2 million. That’s pretty overwhelming stuff.”
Despite the exciting environment at Heritage, Nerat said he is most proud of the investigative report he wrote regarding the sales of unauthentic Brett Favre jerseys, which were being sold as legitimate game-worn pieces. Nerat’s 2008 investigation included an eight-page, four-color spread in Sports Collector’s Digest (his previous employer), which included a summary of the bogus jerseys and other memorabilia, and the ways to identify fake Favre merchandise.
“For many years innocent collectors were being duped into spending thousands of dollars on these fake jerseys,” said Nerat. “As a journalist, I felt it was my duty to the hobby to bring to light what was actually going on. It wasn’t an easy story to write, but at the end, it was worth it.”
Currently, Nerat said he is enjoying the weather down south, but some day plans to move back to Green Bay to open up a business strictly focusing on high-end Green Bay Packers memorabilia. In fact, he currently runs a similar business on the side, see www.titletownnostalgia.com.
“My website is more of a hobby, where I get to display some of my favorite pieces,” he said. “I love talking to fellow collectors, educating them, as well as buying and selling. I plan on dealing in sports memorabilia for the rest of my life.”
Submitted photos by Grant Smith.