By Vanessa M. Gezari
Sunday, August 3, 2008
PAUL MALC was 8 years old the first time he slid a coin across the counter at a candy store in Jersey City for a stack of sports cards and a stick of bubble gum wrapped in opaque wax paper. He didn't like the gum, but he loved the cards, and in the coming decades he would buy and trade thousands more -- once even painting a co-worker's kitchen in exchange for a full set of 1969 Topps baseball cards -- until he'd amassed more than 100,000, some dating to 1911.
But unlike countless men whose childhood collections of sports memorabilia were relegated to dusty attics or tossed in the trash after they left home, Paul has turned his fascination with the history of sports into framed compositions, studded with rare autographs, photos and tickets, which he sells to private collectors and at auction. His collages evoke memories of historic sports moments, such as Mickey Mantle's record-shattering World Series home runs and Babe Ruth's 1932 "called shot" into the Wrigley Field stands.
"Most of what I do took place either before I was born, or before I was old enough to understand what was happening while it was happening," says Paul, 44, of Oakton. "You have to become a student of whatever game you're portraying in your pieces."
After receiving a psychology degree from New York University, Paul sold real estate and worked at Prudential, helping companies move employee retirement savings from one account to another. He took a 12-year break from collecting until a co-worker showed him a price guide to baseball cards. Then he dived back in, buying stadium seats, a turnstile, timeworn ticket stubs, even a wrapper for peanut brittle sold at Brooklyn's Ebbets Field in 1952.
At first, he financed his collecting by selling individual items on the Internet and to collectors he met at sports memorabilia shows. Sometimes a buyer would wonder aloud what the items would look like hanging on the wall. Paul would offer to get them framed and charge $20 extra. "Then you'd hand the piece back to the customer, and they'd say, 'Wow, that's really nice,' " he recalls. "I thought maybe I could do something with that. I stopped waiting for a customer to ask for them and just started producing them."
He still sells individual items, mainly through word of mouth to other collectors. But most of his sales are framed pieces. At first, he reached out to auction houses; now they call him. He also has two pieces on consignment at the Scherer Gallery in New York. "Paul's pieces have shown me that the passion of these pieces, and the memories they invoke in people, are tremendous," says gallery owner Neil J. Scherer, who owns several of Paul's compositions.
In 2000, Paul left his job in finance and returned to school to earn his teaching certification. When his wife, Carol Raskin, got a job at Freddie Mac, the couple and their two children moved to Northern Virginia, where Paul teaches math and science to gifted sixth-graders at Mantua Elementary School in Fairfax. In 2006, he contacted Sotheby's and sold one piece through the auction house that year, five in 2007 and six more this year. Paul says that after expenses he made roughly $15,000 from his sports art last year and has made about $6,000 so far this year.
Paul is often at his basement computer until well after midnight, hunting down souvenirs and composing his sports art. But he's not hoping to supplant his teaching career. He enjoys the classroom hours too much. "I would feel a sense of loss if I wasn't doing all of it," he says.
Are you succeeding with a new and unusual business? E-mail email@example.com.