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Hake's Americana & Collectibles Turns 50

A huge birthday cake with 50 candles on it is ready to be lit this year in York, Pa., for a trusted and respected business: Hake’s Americana and Collectibles.

The three heads of the business: Ted Hake, the creator; Steve Geppi, the owner; and Alex Winter, the president, are why so many people have discovered the joy of collecting and finding the one treasure to touch their hearts and shelves.

The three leaders all feel quite lucky that a childhood, joyful hobby has turned into a passionate lifetime career. Just look at the company’s website, www.hakes.com, to realize the immense plethora of memorabilia Hake’s offers in its auctions, from Disney items, to pop-culture collectibles, to high-end sports desires to political buttons, new and old.


Hake is an icon in the memorabilia business. At 7 years old, it took one coin to spark the collecting flame in him forever. By high school, he dabbled in the area of presidential campaign items and pin-back buttons, opening a window of his love for American history. From his being a collector as a boy, in college he became a dealer working in New York selling presidential campaign collectibles for two years, though largely wholesale to a coin dealer. He visited five Manhattan collectors at their offices and sold out of his attaché case. This would change, however, in 1967, when Hake transferred from New York University Graduate Film School to the University of Pennsylvania Annenberg School of Communication. There, Hake decided to run his business out of his apartment with a series of priced sales lists of primarily presidential campaign items, every few months.

The move to Philadelphia had cut Hake off from the New York direct sales methods, and it is why he has always thought of 1967 as the first year of his business, and hence 2017 celebrated as the 50th anniversary of the company. Hake said, “Hake’s Americana and Collectibles didn’t spring into existence fully formed. Its creation was more a series of incremental steps.“

It was a crazy time having the business run out of the home. Hake said, “In the early 1970s, before Jonell, my wife, and I moved back to our York, Pa., hometown in 1975, our apartment was in downtown Philadelphia {on South 21st St.}

“While spacious as apartments go, it was a third-floor walk-up with a small, skinny mailbox on the ground level. Between orders and bid sheets, mail often exceeded the box’s capacity,” Hake said. “We cut down on climbing steps and our mailman’s wait time by dropping a cord from our third-floor side window into the walkway between buildings. The mailman pulled the cord – this rang a bell anchored on our windowsill. And then I’d lower a basket on a rope to the mailman and haul in the mail. A rather Pavlovian solution, but practical for our growing auction business.”

Hake ran his business out of his home for 18 years because of the convenience and efficiency it offered. In 1977, his son was born and it was a pleasure to watch his child grow into grade school while he worked nearby.  But soon the business hit its space limits at home, and in 1985, Hake said that he “purchased an office building in York and began using computers to conduct the auctions.”

Back in 1967 when Hake had a series of priced sales list, his West Coast buyers were frustrated because the East Coast collectors got the lists first. By the time the West Coast received them, most of the collectibles were sold. Thus, Hake started the auctions.

His first auction was in 1968, dubbed a “Special Interest Auction” closing April 26, 1968. It consisted of non-political pin-back buttons and other small collectibles. A collector had to bid a minimum of 75 cents. The auction offered 155 lots. Hake’s sold 99, grossing $193.67. The auction had no pictures, just text descriptions. It was a success, leading to Auction #2 in the next month.

Hake’s Americana and Collectibles became the first auction house to specialize in 20th century popular culture artifacts.

Hake’s has some other milestones with its auctions. It was Auction #4, with an August 4, 1968, catalog date, that included photocopy images of the items. By April 10, 1972, Auction #25, Hake’s had expanded its offerings from small collectibles into paper and 3-D items, with a special emphasis on entertainment characters and personalities, along with selections from areas of advertising, transportation, sports, expositions and wars. In 1987, the business introduced custom software for bid entry and auction processing. September 13-14, 1988, Hake’s hit Auction #100 and was the first auction house to feature full-color covers and highlighted pages. In 2000, the company introduced custom software that made bidding via the Internet possible. May 2010 brought Auction #200, and one year later in November 2011, Auction #204 was Hake’s first auction to break the $1 million mark. Hake’s has conducted 219 auctions and will have its 220th opening online in February 2017. Auction #219 grossed $1 million.

Geppi said that one reason for the success of Hake’s is, “Ted’s attention to detail and dedication to getting it right were and are unparalleled.” Hake will tell you that from the start he puts himself into the shoes of every person receiving a package from him. He said, “I’ve always wanted every person to be 100 percent satisfied with their purchases from me. Collectors quickly learn which dealers are worthy of their trust, and earning that trust was paramount to me.”

The company grew in 1978 by adding its first employee, Deak Stagemyer, as shipping manager, until joined by others. It now has 11 full-time staff members with an extended family of experts, consultants and the like via its sister companies with the current owner, Geppi.

In 1985, Winter became Hake’s shipping assistant, writing shipping addresses into the UPS log book each afternoon after school. Hake said that Winter “soon graduated to packing, bid taking, describing items, photography and serving as my assistant, as we would select items from the inventory shelves for the upcoming auction.” In 2014, Winter became president after climbing the ranks from the bottom to the top working at Hake’s for 31 years as the cataloguer, merchandise manager, production manager, and general manager. His expertise in the company–and also as a young teen with his love of collecting at flea markets and toy shows–makes him the oil for the engine of the business, while Geppi and Hake are the entrepreneurs and the visionaries. Winter works 70-hour weeks planning three big auctions a year.

In 1996, Hake first collaborated with Geppi, who collects everything as evidenced in his creation of the Geppi’s Entertainment Museum next to Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore – a must-see for toy collectors. Geppi especially loves comic books and original comic art, and owns warehouses containing all types of memorabilia. His Diamond Comic Distributors is now the parent company of Hake’s, whose Gemstone Publishing published Hake’s Price Guide to Character Toys. Geppi bought Hake’s Americana and Collectibles on March 17, 2004, adding to his other businesses.  Hake said that he knew Geppi for decades and that because Geppi loved collectibles as much as he did, making Hake’s a part of the Diamond Comic Distributor family of Geppi’s was a perfect match.

Geppi was a mailman who gradually owned a single comic book shop. From there, he branched into a chain of stores, becoming a sole distributor of comic books and related products to some 4,000 stores.

Winter said that now Hake’s is part of the “ultimate pop-culture family,” because of its sister companies, Gemstone Publishing, ComicWow, Diamond International Galleries, Geppi’s Entertainment Museum, E. Gerber and parent company, Diamond Comic Distributors, who supplies every comic book store in America with its product. Hake’s memorabilia includes pop-culture items with both vintage collectibles and new merchandise. Hake’s preserves and conserves materials, writes price guides and reference books, among other activities. And of course, in his auctions are priceless and interesting toy memorabilia.

Winter said, “The biggest ticket item we have ever sold was a pair of Mickey and Minnie Mouse Charlotte Clark display dolls, which realized $151,534. They were first listed on eBay in the neighborhood of $25,000, and many collectors saw them but thought it was too good to be true and did not bid. The owner then came to us to see if perhaps we were a better outlet. With Hake’s behind them and giving them the promotion they deserved, needless to say we ended up with a very happy consignor.”


Hake has always enjoyed the passion toy collectors feel to their hobby. He said, “There are many different motivations for collecting, but so often toy collectors feel a really intense personal connection with their pursuit that I admire.”

Winter said, “Toys of all types have always been a part of our auctions. We represent everything from cast iron toys of 100-plus years ago to action figures of the here and now. And whatever toy becomes the new collecting trend, we will be there for that as well.” The toy business is special to Winter because, “It is a great way to stay young. Reclaiming one’s youth physically is not possible but being surrounded by things that spark the memory of those cherished years gone by is easy to accomplish in this business.”

Although Hake was known for his superb knowledge in political campaign collectibles and pin-back buttons, writing books on the subject and honored by the American Political Items Collectors in 1981 as a member of their Hall of Fame and with the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016, Hake was also considered knowledgeable in toy collecting. In fact in 2003, the History Channel interviewed him as their featured expert for its show “History of Toys.” In 2005, the first edition of The Official Price Guide to Disney Collectibles by Hake was published. In 2008, the publication of The Official Price Guide to Pop Culture Memorabilia with more than 16,000 objects pictured, described and evaluated occurred. In all, Hake’s has had published 20 different price guides and reference books.

Hake is now a full-time consultant to Hake’s Americana and Collectibles. His top three interests are pin-back buttons, advertising specialties made of celluloid and Disney items from the 1930s. Retirement is a distant concept for him. When he thinks of his time at the helm of Hake’s, one of his favorite stories about working in his business involves the children’s author, Maurice Sendak, famous for his Caldecott Medal-winning book, Where the Wild Things Are. Hake and Sendak met in 1967, several years after the publication of the book because Sendak loved pie-eyed Mickey Mouse collectibles from the 1930s.  Hake spent five decades bringing him these items to expand his collection. But soon after the two men met in 1967, Hake was selling Sendak advertising pin-back buttons from the same era as well. Sendak, at the time, was working on “In the Night Kitchenas a sequel to the earlier book. Hake said, “I did not learn until the 1970 publication of {the book, starring a boy named Mickey) that Maurice was using the buttons for artistic inspiration. Much to my surprise and delight, among the cityscape illustrations that accompanied the story, Maurice included my very own “Hake Coffee” can building.“

Hake said that I now “assemble the presidential and political items to be offered, along with all the small collectibles in our many other categories, ranging from advertising to sports to entertainment. Since these are my favorite categories, selecting the items and describing them” is a perfect job for me. He works with consignors and travels with Americana specialist, Scott Mussell, to evaluate collections and participate in shows.

Winter knows a lot about all sorts of different collectibles and wants to keep learning. Although he collects a myriad of items himself, the top of his list is record albums, original art and autographs. But he does know about toys and explained that what is popular in toy collecting now is “action figures from the ’70s and ’80s, especially Mego, Star Wars, Transformers, Thundercats, He-Man and G.I. Joe. Video games from the same decades are also gaining in popularity and value. However, key and rare pieces from the ’60s are still strong: Batman, Bond, Universal Monsters, Marvel Superheroes, Aurora models and Hot Wheels.” He added, “Comic books, comic art and toys have all been embraced by investors as values continue to rise, especially on the rare and high-grade pieces.”

Toy collecting is still a male-dominated field, but Winter said, “I see more female interest in newer items based on popular TV shows, movie and comic books, rather than a great need to go back in time and collect vintage. However, once the collecting bug hits you, branching out to other eras and areas is bound to happen.”

Hake has auctioned some unusual and interesting items, three of which are:




Winter said that Hake’s has sold “everything from fossils that date from the Devonian Era, 350 million years ago, up to toys and comic books that are only a few years old. Toys specifically range from cast iron from the early 1900s to action figures of the 2010s.”

Hake’s is meticulous about planning auctions. The next one will be online February 21, 2017, and closing March 14-16, with 2,700 items and more than 200 collecting categories, as per usual.

You can find anything at Hake’s auctions. Hake’s even offered something as weird as a pair of Elvis Presley’s underwear.

It takes a three-month process to put the auction together and one month to promote. Winter said, “We currently conduct three auctions a year, each with between 2,500 and 3,000 items.” The auctions do not have one theme, so you do not have to wait for a particular theme to come up. Hake’s, for a rare piece, will take the item in whatever condition you deliver it barring reason, but will reject it if it is a common piece and is low quality or mid-quality.

Winter said that Hake’s bills itself as “America’s first and most diversified auction house for a reason. Since 1967, we have led the way in offering just about every type of pop culture collectible and Americana. We continue to offer all manner of ‘classic/vintage’ items, along with following the trends and offering more ‘recent’ material that continues to expand and cultivate collectors of this generation and beyond.” He may be selling his company, but Winter said, “Prices of bids are going up because interest continues to grow.” Hake’s is expanding with its connections and collectibles and has since 1967.

They are not doing anything special for the 50th anniversary except continuing to do what they always have done: have a passion for collectibles and their customers. They plan to do the same for the next 50 years.