EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — A fresh, out-of-the-box professional hockey jersey can cost less than $200.
When a player wears it, sweats in it and possibly bleeds on it, then it really becomes valuable.
This is the business of Milton Byron, a 52-year-old Egg Harbor Township man who turned his love of hockey memorabilia into Byron’s Hockeyland: buying and selling game-worn jerseys, old sticks, used helmets and ripped hockey pants.
His office and stockroom are his house on Rally Road, home to what he estimates as 2,000 jerseys, 1,000 sticks, 400 pairs of gloves, thousands of game-worn socks, as well as other memorabilia.
Among the rows of hanging jerseys is a Chicago Blackhawks one that Bobby Hull wore during a fight with George Ferguson. The jersey, which includes faded bloodstains, is selling for $50,000, the most expensive item he carries.
In the right market, it can sell for more, he said.
In the memorabilia business, prices vary considerably based on the item, who wore it and when.
For an average hockey player, a game-worn jersey can range from $350 to $600, he said. For a helmet, $75 to $200. Sticks from $35 to $150. Skates from $75 to $150.
Even game-worn elbow pads and shin guards are memorabilia, although not as sought after. Sometimes they’re bought for use at a men’s hockey league.
Like other forms of sports collectibles, authenticity is paramount.
A Philadelphia Flyers’ Bernie Parent jersey is simply worth more if he once slid his arm through the sleeve.
So verifying memorabilia is part of a tricky, detail-oriented undertaking.
Byron said it is not unlike identifying fingerprints in his former profession — he is a retired police detective from Somers Point.
He checks the holes, wear marks, crest of the neck, placement of numbers and other details to determine if the jersey is real. For cross reference, he has shelves of reference books and more than 5,000 videos of old hockey games.
This once landed him as an expert witness on “The People’s Court” with Judge Wapner to authenticate an Andy Moog Boston Bruins’ jersey.
Several details proved the jersey was fake. Moog, a goalie, customized his sleeves, the jersey itself was too small, and it would normally have wear marks around the neck where his goalie masked rubbed against it, Byron said.
Byron started collecting hockey cards as a teenager with his father and got into the memorabilia business professionally in 1980.
“First you’re a collector. Then you become a collector/dealer. Then you’re a dealer/collector. Then you become a dealer,” he said.
Much has changed. Sports shows and a mail-order brochure once made up most of his business. Now he does about 98 percent over the Internet on his website.
He opens his home — and inventory — to prospective buyers on appointment.
The economy has dampened the game-used memorabilia market. His business is smaller than it was at its height in the mid-1990s.
Due partly to health problems and family issues, he downsized in 2003 and had to lay off his two full-time employees, he said.
During the past several years, the economy has most affected the memorabilia collectors in the low to middle range whose disposable incomes were downsized, he said.
Byron said the memorabilia market is ready to rebound. He hopes to expand in the future and is searching for an investment partner.
“It’ll come back. It always has,” he said.
Game-worn memorabilia has an unrivaled appeal for sports collectors, he said.
“Think about how many (trading) cards they print. When you talk about only six (jerseys) a year, that’s pretty rare,” he said.
The market for game-worn items fluctuates.
There are memorabilia speculators — like gold prospectors of the sports world — who invest in collectibles of hot rookies and hope their stocks will rise upon their future achievements. Sometimes, this doesn’t pan out.
Take former Philadelphia Flyers player Eric Lindros.
Byron sold a Stanley Cup finals jersey of his for $7,500 when Lindros was still playing. After being injured, his career fizzled. The jersey is now worth less because of the diminished hype, he said.
Then there are subsets of collectors: Those who only buy hockey jerseys that belonged to goalies, or fighters, or Finnish players, or those who wore the number 18.
And autographs — widely seen as a valuable addition to baseball cards — can actually discourage some memorabilia seekers wanting a jersey as close to game condition as possible.
Byron’s Internet listing for the Bobby Hull jersey prominently mentions the signature can be easily removed.
Location: 11 Rally Road, Egg Harbor Township
Owner: Milton Byron, 52, of Egg Harbor Township
Employees: Owner operated
Contact Brian Ianieri: