Sports auction firm visits Indy seeking ABA, Clowns items

A nationally-recognized authority on vintage sports memorabilia is coming to Indianapolis this weekend as part of a two-day "Antiques Roadshow"-style event.

Officials for New York-based Clean Sweep Auctions said they chose Indianapolis for one of about eight of its road shows it will conduct this year due to the area’s affinity for sports and the desire to bring in vintage wares from the old American Basketball Association, which operated from 1967 to 1976 and featured the three-time champion Indiana Pacers.

“We’re looking for material for our catalogs and auctions,” said Steve Verkman, president of Clean Sweep. “Believe it or not, there’s a big, national market for ABA items. There’s a zealot’s passion out there for those types of things.”

“The Indiana Pacers were one of the great teams from the ABA, and we invite people who might have memorabilia, autographs and other items from that league to come out and visit with us,” Verkman added. “We’re certainly interested in looking at other items too, but our interest in the ABA is a big reason that brought us here.”

Verkman, an expert on sports, presidential and entertainment memorabilia who has appeared on CNBC and been quoted in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, will attend the Indianapolis show along with two other appraisers.

Verkman also is interested in any items related to the Indianapolis Clowns, a professional baseball team that enjoyed its heyday in the Negro American League in the 1940s and '50s.

Free on-site appraisals of items will also be provided to those who attend the event, which is scheduled to take place at the Wyndham Indianapolis West Hotel on April 30 from 9:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. and on May 1 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free.

Attendees will be under no obligation to sell their items to Clean Sweep, Verkman said, but he added that his firm will offer to buy items “that have a strong market” for a fixed price or contract to auction off any item he values for more than $1,000 for percentage of the sale price.

While Verkman said every item will get an “honest appraisal,” he said usually only about half of the collectibles brought in have enough value to merit an offer from his firm.

“But there are always some people who are surprised by the value of the things sitting in their garage or attic,” Verkman said. “Someone recently brought in an old Chicago Bears [jersey], and it ended up being from 1939. We valued at $8,000. And we’ve had more valuable things than that come in.”

In addition to appraising and offering to buy items, Clean Sweeps also will have a number of items on display and for sale. Included in those offerings will be a 1975 Cincinnati Reds world championship ring and team-signed baseball; a 1972 Cincinnati Reds National League championship ring; a Babe Ruth-signed photo; a Jackie Robinson-signed 1960 plane ticket; and a 1936 New York Yankees signed baseball.

Other items include a 1960 American League All Stars team signed baseball; a Cy Young-signed photo; a Muhammad Ali-signed letter and drawing; Bill Russell and George Mikan rookie basketball cards; and an unopened box of professional football cards from 1969.

Verkman is coming into town April 29 to do a round of local media interviews ahead of the show.

“This is a really unique event, so we’ve gotten a lot of interest about the show and Steve,” said David Ayers, spokesman for locally based MZD Advertising, which is handling marketing for the event. “It’s not every day you have an expert in town who can put a realistic price on your sports memorabilia.”

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