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Run-Up in Price : Orange Investor Gets Unique O.J. Cards; He Plans to Score With Trial Raising Value

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Derrick (DJ) Johnson glanced down at the four plastic-encased trading cards on his coffee table and briefly, happily, considered their worth.

“They’re $1,000 right now, easily,” Johnson said, grinning. “By the time the trial actually starts, $1,600 to $2,000. And once they’re all gone and the trial’s over, you set the price.”

At least that’s what Johnson is betting. The card collector and dealer will not disclose exactly what he paid for the four O.J. Simpson trading cards he received from a Washington state dealer Tuesday morning, but says it was over $700 apiece.

The cards are among the first made available of a group of 300 cards recently signed by the football Hall of Famer as he awaits trial in the June murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Lyle Goldman.

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Another 2,500 cards, also signed by Simpson in jail, are being marketed by Signature Rookies, a Fleetville, Pa., trading card company, and will be sold starting Sept. 1. Those cards will be inserted randomly into multi-sport “six-packs” of featured players, spokesman Paul Golden said.

Johnson’s cards, though, along with the other 296 distributed by dealer Darren Adams of Washington, are special, they argue. The cards, numbered in two groups of 150 by Simpson’s agent, Mike Gilbert, are part of the former USC and NFL star’s personal collection and come with a copy of a letter of authenticity signed by Gilbert.

The two groups of 150 display different photographs of Simpson--one during his USC days, the other while he played for the Buffalo Bills--and the dealers are guessing that many collectors will want one of each.

In fact, requests for the cards, sparked by an ad in a trading card collectors’ digest, already are pouring into Adams’ office in Federal Way, Wash., about 15 miles south of Seattle. And many are requesting specific numbers of the run, said Adams, president of West Coast Sports Cards.

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“We’ve been offered $4,000 for the pair of Number 1 or Number 32 (Simpson’s jersey number),” Adams said. Other people want number 61, reflecting Simpson’s career touchdown total or other numbers correlating to years he won the Heisman Trophy as a collegian, broke NFL rushing records or was inducted into the Hall of Fame.

“One guy was so fanatical,” Adams said. “He said he had every article he’d read on O.J. from the ‘60s. He wanted number 68,” the year Simpson won the Heisman.

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Adams said he has sold about 50 of the cards so far, including the four to Johnson, who is hoping to purchase more.

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At a gathering of dealers and buyers Tuesday in Santa Ana, Johnson’s display of four autographed cards attracted Wayne Rexrode, 33, of Garden Grove, who stood staring for a long time.

“It’s $850. Man, 850 bones. I gotta think about it,” Rexrode said. “It’s tempting, I know that.”

Other dealers said Johnson most likely will get his price. Already, some dealers are advertising the same cards for $1,000.

Charles Mack, 46, of Fountain Valley, who sells and trades cards full-time, said he attended a national card collectors convention in Houston recently where Simpson paraphernalia were hot sellers.

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“It wouldn’t surprise me if (Johnson) sells all four this week,” Mack said.

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Johnson, 35, said he expects criticism from people who believe he is capitalizing on Simpson’s situation. And to a certain extent, he acknowledges, he is. But he said, “People want to buy this stuff right now, and you can bet they’re going to find a place to get it.”

Simpson’s “unique situation,” as Adams put it--the charges the former football star faces in the June 12 slayings--clearly increases the value of the cards, although perhaps not their long-term value, the dealer said.

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“If a Hall of Famer only signed 150 cards (of a certain type), the price would be up there anyway, probably $1,000,” Adams said. “But because it’s O.J. Simpson right now, because of his unique situation, they’re much more salable.”

Both dealers drew a distinction, though, between what they’re doing and the vendors hawking T-shirts, bumper stickers, POGs and other Simpson memorabilia outside the courthouse where another preliminary hearing in the case was held Tuesday.

In this instance, Johnson said, Simpson himself is profiting too, probably to the tune of at least $50,000--or $200 a signature.

Adams would not disclose the amount of the deal, which was completed Aug. 3, “but I can tell you it was not cheap.” Simpson signed and dated the cards on Aug. 4 and Aug. 18.

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Gilbert, Simpson’s agent, and Leroy Taft, his personal attorney, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Times staff writer David Reyes contributed to this story.


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