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HOT CORNER : Market Ripe for Anniversary Series of Baseball Statues

World Series mania might be over until next year but some fans are taking their enthusiasm into extra innings.

William K. Alley, president of Hartland Plastics in Hartland, Wis., says there has been a “tremendous rash of orders” for the company’s 25th anniversary series of statues of such immortals as Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams.

“The company is behind in the initial orders,” he said. “We’re playing catch-up.”

Alley, an attorney who has “two kids at the baseball age,” bought the company 1 1/2 years ago as “a fun thing.”

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“I really want to rejuvenate the craftsmanship-workmanship aspect of this,” he said. “The company has about 20 workers who hand-make, hand-paint and hand-assemble about 500 statues a day--an exact reproduction under the direction of Frank Fulop, the original designer.”

It was their quality that set the 7- to 8-inch-tall originals apart from most memorabilia of the ‘50s and early ‘60s.

Hartland Plastics, a contract manufacturer for other companies, added the baseball player statues as a product line, at Fulop’s suggestion, to fill in slack periods between job orders. The firm hired local sculptors to go to Milwaukee Braves games to sketch players who had signed royalty deals with Hartland. Not surprisingly, the first players cast were Eddie Mathews, Henry Aaron and Warren Spahn.

Hartland’s original statues--made from 1958 to 1963--are favorites among collectors of baseball memorabilia. They merit two classified column headings in Sports Collectors Digest, the enthusiast’s bible.

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In one ad, $165 is asked for a Mathews statue, in another, a Nellie Fox with the original box is priced at $395. A mint-condition Dick Groat, which had a run of only about 5,000 statues, can bring $500 or more. The 18 players in the series originally sold for $3.95 to $5.95.

The company abandoned its line of figurines in 1963, switching to makeup compact cases for a cosmetics firm.

Bob Lemke, the publisher of Sports Collectors Digest, is one serious collector who is happy that the firm is making the reproductions.

“The original statues are priced out of the range of most collectors,” he said. “This is the next-best thing. It will have no effect on the market for the old ones. If anything, it increases the interest in the originals. Those who can afford to buy the originals will do so. Those who can’t will be able to buy the new ones.”

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Max Himmelstein, owner of a baseball memorabilia shop in Tarzana that trades in the originals, agreed that the replicas won’t hurt the market for the older statues.

“Topps baseball cards reissued their set of ’52 cards and it didn’t affect the price of those,” he said.

He has seen the first reissued statue, Ruth.

“It looked real nice, well-made,” he said.

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The new statues have a pencil-eraser-sized stamp on the back, just below the players’ belts, marking the 25th anniversary. The plastic is whiter than the originals and Alley said he has gotten some phone calls on that.

Alley was more worried about calls from irate collectors, but he has received only a “few complaints, and about 700 positive letters.”

The letters were a nice boost to Alley, who wasn’t sure whether the limited offering of 10,000 copies of each statue at $23.75 would fly.

Now, says Alley: “Please don’t print our address--we’re swamped.”

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Zimmerman, a View copy editor, won’t tell his wife how much he paid for his original Willie Mays.


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