“For some people collecting is simply the quest, in some cases a life-long pursuit that is never complete.”
It was around this time that Robert "Bob" Tibi walked into an antique store in Lyons, Colorado and purchased a baseball uniform and a Hutch leather football helmet; relics that ignited a passion for collecting vintage sports equipment that now spans nearly four decades. Bob's collection covers multiple sports, including artifacts from the early days of football, baseball, basketball, and soccer. Bob's football collection alone, however, rivals some of the best football artifact collections in the country.
Unlike most sports memorabilia collectors that focused on cards and autographed items, Bob's passion was "to experience and appreciate the whole story of the various sports by discovering and understanding the evolution of the games from their inception some 100+ years ago to the current era through the changes in equipment, uniforms, and various memorabilia for each sport."
Igniting a Passion
Collector Spotlight: Robert Tibi
A Passionate Collector
August 16, 2015
In 1980, a small group of sports memorabilia hobbyists started the first National Sports Collectors Convention at the Los Angeles International Airport Marriott. Today, in its 35th year, the convention draws hundreds of vendors and tens of thousands of collectors. However, in its early years, the founding members were part of a relatively small group of passionate individuals dedicated to growing the hobby. The convention soon became an annual reunion of sorts for sports cards and memorabilia dealers and, in the days before the internet, provided an opportunity for collectors to see and purchase rare sports collectibles.
During these early years the handful of sports equipment collectors who attended the convention, were considered "garbage collectors, guys who bought, sold and collected what...[dealers]...considered, at the time, to be worthless with no future business investment potential." [Bushing, 2008]
The Birth of a Hobby
"Today, when you watch a football, baseball, or basketball game you are experiencing the latest chapter in a story that started in this country in the 19th century."
Amassing a large collection of artifacts in the days before EBay and internet auctions required patience, making connections with dealers, and canvassing antique shops and sports memorabilia conventions. While Bob's diligence has yielded a remarkable collection, every new discovery still evokes the same excitement and joy as his very first purchase.
"Seeing a picture of an early leather football helmet just cannot compare to actually holding one in your hands, feeling and smelling the leather, putting it on and experiencing what it must have been like to play the game with the equipment of that era."
An Historian at Heart
Bob starts most every morning with a check on his favorite EBay searches. On average, he adds 35 to 40 new pieces to his collection annually, "from a relatively low cost pinback or ticket stub to a $5,000 - $10,000 'must have' item." Bob is still a regular at the National Sports Collector's Convention and maintains frequent contact with other collectors and dealers. Bob's extensive football helmet collection includes numerous examples of late nineteenth century 4-spoke helmets and improved head harnesses, turn-of-the century flattops, 1910's aviators and raincaps, and 1920's and 30's Grange-style and executioner helmets. As an advanced collector, Bob now focuses on acquiring..
As Bob's collection grew, so did his desire to connect with the individual artifacts he acquired. "Today, my goals have expanded to discovering the story behind the various relics and memorabilia in my collection." One of Bob's prized possessions is an 1894 University of Pennsylvania sleeveless foot ball jacket, or smock, he acquired in 2013.
Some of Bob's favorite football artifacts include a circa 1901-1911 Spalding Varsity Union Suit, a Spalding No. 50 Improved Head Harness, and the aforementioned University of Pennsylvania canvas jacket. Bob's other cherished football relics include his early head harnesses and batwing nose mask. Of his baseball collection, his favorites include an 1890 fingerless glove, 1911 Rawlings Sure Catch duck web glove, 1907 Ted Kennedy model pita pocket mitt, 1913-1915 Reach ambidextrous mitt, and an 1890-1900 webless crescent pad workman fielder's glove.
1894 U of P Football Smock
Circa 1901-1911 Spalding Union Suit
Circa 1900 4-Spoke Head Harness, 1915 Spalding Princeton Helmet
A portion of Bob's vintage football helmet collection
A grouping of executioner masks
Batwing nose mask
Circa 1900 Spalding No. 50 Improved Head Harness
Circa 1901-1911 Spalding Varsity Union Suit
Circa 1900-1920 Morrill nose masks
A grouping of helmets
"..the rare, hard to find pieces and oddities needed to define the various sports from their evolution....the DNA of the sport. I'm not focused on a single sport but rather collect any sports related item that dates to the early, formative days of the sport...primarily the 1800's to the WWII period. Although my collection covers a wide variety of sports the majority is focused on football, baseball, basketball (men's and women's) and soccer. Basically, if it is old or unique, I want it!"