It was dubbed the Christmas Miracle when a Haddonfield cardiologist swooped in at the eleventh hour last year to buy a rare baseball card from an order of Baltimore nuns days before Christmas.
But the 1910 Honus Wagner baseball card wasn’t the first item in the collection of Dr. Nicholas DePace. In fact, DePace’s collection of sports and entertainment memorabilia was called "one of the great collections in the country, probably the world," in a Philadelphia Inquirer story in December.
But DePace wasn’t done with the $210,000 purchase of the Wagner lithograph card, described as the “Holy Grail” of baseball cards.
“We just bought the sailor suit Frank Sinatra wore in 'Anchors Away,'" DePace said last week. “We also bought the raccoon coat Peter Lawford wore in Easter Parade, the dress uniform Dean Martin wore in Young Lions and the robe Caesar wore in Ben Hur during the chariot scene. We plan to put some of them in the crowd of a display with the 1945 goal post I own from the Army-Navy game.”
Many of the jaw-dropping 5,000 collectibles DePace owns have graced his Haddonfield home over the years. But DePace now has grander plans. He is in the process of buying a former bank building on Haddon Avenue in Collingswood he plans to turn into a museum for his collection.
“It has a Cooperstown, NY, feel,” DePace said, referring to the location of the Baseball Hall of Fame. “It’s like a middle-America town. It’s more appropriate than in an inner-city because most sports started in these types of communities.”
The building also has a vault to house his priceless collection.
The opening of the DePace Sports Museum of Collingswood is about a year away, he said. He is also in negotiations to feature some parts of his collection near local sports arenas and casinos around the country. But, the Haddonfield doctor stressed he wants hospitals like Our Lady of Lourdes and other nonprofits to benefit from any proceeds from his displays.
“There’s a little too much economics in sports today,” he said. “It’s taken the joy out of it a little bit. The old-time sports give us a little bit of purity. That’s why memorabilia is so important.
“Times are bad; the economy is bad. People need things to lighten them up and to make them reminisce back to when it was a happier world.”
DePace’s collection includes artifacts such as game-worn apparel from sports greats like boxers Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali, including Frazier's robe and trunks worn to a weigh-in before his title fight with Ali in 1971. Frazier is a patient of DePace's and a friend, the doctor said.
Other items in the collection include apparel from Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Roberto Clemente, Jackie Robinson and Joe DiMaggio. DePace even has DiMaggio's marriage license to Marilyn Monroe, their passport pictures and divorce decree, he said.
His collection crosses sports, decades and eras, including items from Michael Jordan, Bill Russell and Larry Bird; Jim Brown, Joe Namath and Peyton Manning; soccer greats Pele and David Beckham; and the blanket from Seabiscuit, the prize-winning horse.
He said he has thousands of items, all with a story and some significance to some sports fan somewhere.
DePace, 57, said his passion for collecting started in 1962 when he was 8 years old after attending a homerun derby between Yankee greats Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris.