Al Sorenson’s collection started about 20 years ago. He and his wife – an antique collector – moved into a home with a finished basement, and he was looking for items to decorate the space with. The first piece he purchased was a baseball autographed by Fergie Jenkins. It wasn’t a super valuable piece, but Al is a Cubs fan, and he displayed this item in its own case. Pretty soon, that one baseball grew into a much larger collection. He then turned to Hall of Fame baseball items, and eventually, he took on new categories and the collection grew into what it is today: a variety of mostly autographed sports, movies, and television memorabilia – plus a few pinball machines.
Al’s favorite aspect of collecting is the thrill of the hunt. For him, it’s not just about the moment when the item gets added to his collection – it’s about the process of finding it. So many of his pieces bring back memories of favorite toys or other items that he had during his childhood. “I just added 25 metal lunch boxes to the collection,” Al shares. He finds himself thinking of things that he and his friends had in school – or toys that his friends had. “Collecting is a way to get some of those things you never had as a kid – or [things that you] did have and would just like to have again.”
It’s hard for Al to choose just one favorite item from the collection. A good friend told him to think about what he would grab first in a fire, and he concluded that it would be his autographed Italian Stallion robe. “I’m a huge Rocky fan!” If he had the time for a second item, he would take a piece of his own artwork that is autographed by Michael Jordan – it’s an item that can’t be replaced.
In total, the collection has around 400 individual items – 95% of which are autographed. “In terms of autographs, I have well over 1,000,” Al shares. This is possible because many of his items carry multiple autographs. “I have some golf items with 20 or 30 signatures.” The value of everything is well over $100,000. The most valuable item is the aforementioned Michael Jordan artwork, which would sell for at least $10,000.
Many of Al’s collectible items are sports-related. He has an autographed pair of gamed-used shoes worn by Bryan Urlacher, the Hall of Fame linebacker from the Chicago Bears. The shoes are from the last playoff game he won as a Bear. He has a 1980 Olympic Hockey Jersey signed by all the players from the gold medal-winning team. He also has a signed Walter Payton jersey, which is another treasured item. “I’ve got a whole case of Hall of Fame autographed baseballs,” Al shares. “People come over and look at that [collection].” He has signatures from the likes of Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio, and Sandy Koufax.
As the collection has grown, Al has branched out into other categories – a big one being movies and television memorabilia. “I used to grow up watching the TV show The Six Million Dollar Man,” Al shares. “Those toys are some of the most popular toys on the planet.” He purchased a 10-inch high action figure in the original box and eventually had it autographed by Lee Majors – the star of the show. “I paid $350, and it’s now worth at least $1,000,” says Al. “I didn’t do it for value, it was just one of my favorite toys as a kid.”
Another prized item in the collection is a replica of the bat phone from the popular show starring Adam West and Burt Ward. The phone is autographed by the stars. “I loved the old Batman TV show growing up,” Al explains. “I knew Adam was cancelling shows, and there was one left called The Hollywood Show. I sent it to the promoter [to have it signed], and it cost me a few hundred bucks. I’m glad I did, because a few weeks later Adam had passed away.”
He has a replica golden ticket signed by the cast of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory – both the kids and Gene Wilder. He also has a cast photo signed by the kids. “The golden ticket alone goes for roughly $1,000 to $2,000. It wasn’t listed properly on eBay, so I got both items for $250. If I sold them now I would get $2,000 for each of them.”
Al’s eclectic collection has something for everyone’s interest, and he likes it that way! “Some people focus on one thing, but I like to have a little bit of everything.” Still, there are a few items remaining on his wish list. “I’d like to get my hands on a Babe Ruth autograph. I may have to sell something to pay for it, but I don’t have the patience to save up,” Al shares. “You’re never finished [collecting], but getting that autograph would be something.” He also wants a Robert Redford autograph from the movie The Natural. “He’s in his upper 80s, and his autograph is expensive, so there’s a premium on that now.” He’d also like to acquire a Mr. T autograph and the autograph of the boxer from Rocky 5, Tommy Gunn. This would complete his collection of gloves signed by each person that Rocky fought.
This incredible collection has seen the limelight before: Al’s been featured on a TV show called Collector’s Call, hosted by Lisa Whelchel (who played Blair on The Facts of Life). The show is headquartered in Chicago, where Al lives, and they stopped by for the day to film and feature his collection.
The collection is on display throughout Al’s home, roughly organized into sections. “My wife has been in retail forever,” Al explains, “and she’s big on having everything organized a certain way. I try to keep the football stuff, the baseball stuff, the racecar stuff, and the television memorabilia together. It’s not perfect, but for the most part each section is its own theme. Everything is in display cases. I try to display it really well so people can enjoy it. I am not one to put things away!”
The biggest issue with the collection now is finding the space for it all. Al doesn’t have room to add any more large items. “I would have to sell something,” he says. But though he does occasionally sell duplicates, he doesn’t like to sell items from his collection. Al doesn’t collect for money or investment, but rather for the enjoyment of it. “I’m a caretaker of history. Collecting is a way to hold on to things from the past and share history with people. It’s a way to educate them about the past. Sometimes I look back and think, ‘Did I actually buy all of these? Did I actually collect all of this stuff? It’s crazy!’”