When Kristian Pope and Ray Webbe Jr. were commissioned to produce the new book Professional Wrestling Collectibles, they knew they were setting out into new ground. Toy guides and card magazines had occasionally featured wrestling-related materials, but nothing on the market tried to capture all things wrestling, from the toys to the memorabilia, from autographs to dolls to video tapes.
It took the two friends from Minneapolis-St. Paul over a year to complete the book, and along the way they made many new friends while compiling the data they needed to start establishing the wrestling collectible market.
“We had to start from scratch,” explained Pope, 28, a sportswriter for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “What that entailed was interviewing and talking to as many different fans around the country as we could, finding out what they had, what they paid for it, and kind of going on that. Using them for a barometer for how much this stuff is worth around the country.”
As the former promoter with Pro Wrestling America with Eddie Sharkey, Webbe, 44, brought a wealth of contacts and friends to the project. “We got on the phone and networked the best we could, compiled data and wrote away,” said Webbe, who is also a sportswriter in Minnesota. “[There’s a] base of fans, but you really don’t know who’s collecting what, what they have, what’s out there, what some of the wrestlers have kept, what they’ve thrown away, what they’ve lost. Trying to find what’s out there was an overwhelming task in itself.”
Professional Wrestling Collectibles is therefore much more than just a price guide with endless lists of products and prices. It becomes instead a celebration of all things wrestling. Krause Publications, a veteran publisher of the hobby business, has filled the book with an amazing array of photos of goodies from the squared circle.
“What we tried to do was put one of everything you could find out there in the book, like some posters of old-time wrestling, a title belt, the dolls, cards, and different items that you could find out there,” Pope explained. “If you are a collector, and you have some stuff in your garage or on your bookshelf and you don’t know what it’s worth, hopefully you’ll be able to read through this book and find something that, even if your item is not in the book, hopefully you’ll find something that’s similar to it. You might get a better idea of what it’s worth.”
“The publisher wanted something that was not going to be a straight price guide. They wanted something that was going to take advantage of different pictures that we had. They wanted to have some biographies of wrestlers in there to kind of give it a different perspective than just a straight price guide that you can find with baseball or hockey or football,” said Pope. “So we tried to give it a real encyclopedia-type feel and there’s a lot of different biographies in there, there’s a lot of great stories, chapters that you can actually sit down and read. It’s not something that you’ll just flip through and throw on your desk.”
Webbe saw the same thing as Pope with Professional Wrestling Collectibles. “We wanted the book to be sitting on your coffee table. We didn’t want it to be offensive. We wanted it to be so you could open it up at any particular page, just glance at it for 10 minutes, enjoy it.”
Pope has known Webbe since 1987, when he was publishing a fan newsletter called Twin Cities Wrestling Update and Webbe was a local promoter. They stayed friends over the years. When Pope got a tip that Krause Publications was looking for someone to do a book on wrestling collectibles, he got involved quickly and brought his friend along too, knowing that Webbe had always dreamed of writing a book – something that had eluded him in his 25-year career as a writer and broadcaster in the Twin Cities.
“I think that Ray has a different perspective to wrestling than I do because he’s a lot older than I am,” Pope said. Webbe did a lot of the historical parts of the book, such as the chapter on wrestling and music that features scans of the covers of both (!) of Classy Freddie Blassie’s albums.
Neither Pope or Webbe are hardcore collectors themselves. Pope said that he has a bloody Abdullah The Butcher doll and a Mankind doll on his desk and that was basically the extent of his collection. Webbe is more into collecting tapes than anything else.
They also had different takes on what was the coolest memorabilia they saw. For Webbe, it was the head-lock machine from Strangler Lewis. “That’s the one that really sticks out for me.”
For Pope, the coolest products were the Jerry Lawler cartoons. “[The cartoons were] always something that I had heard that he had done. Through the years, I had seen a few things in a couple of magazines or sometimes on a USWA show from Memphis they would have something on the air that he had drawn. But I had never seem a real copy of it, never seen a hard copy of one of his pieces of art. I think those are really unique. I don’t think a lot of people have those available. I’ve never heard that Lawler sold his stuff or made it available to the public. So when we were able to come across a couple of those, that was something that we knew was really, extremely unique. It was really fun to see.”
The hope for both authors is that Professional Wrestling Collectibles will stimulate and help to establish a true market for collectibles. It will provoke debate, and help put collectors in touch with each other. And if all goes according to their plan, it could mean a second edition and another chance to call up their new friends and talk wrestling.