Shawn Chaulk: Avid collector, hockey fanatic and businessman

An exclusive interview with Shawn Chaulk, a leading hockey and sports collector also known as the “Wayne Gretzky of Wayne Gretzky collectors.”

Sometimes known as the “Wayne Gretzky of Wayne Gretzky collectors,” Shawn Chaulk of Fort McMurray, Alberta was previously the world’s leading collector of Wayne Gretzky sports memorabilia and the owner of Hockeyman Holdings Inc. His collection of Gretzky game-used equipment was larger than that of the Hockey Hall of Fame, and included thousands of pieces worth millions of dollars.

MAGPIE’s CEO Kathryn Harrison sat down to talk about his passion for the hobby, how he began his collecting journey, how he engages with other collectors, and much more. You can watch the full recorded interview  or read a shortened version below (responses have been edited slightly for length and clarity).

I would love for you to start by telling us a little bit about your interest in the hobby. When did it start? How did you get into it? Tell us all about your passion for collecting. 

I’ve been a sports fan all my life, with an unwavering love for sports since childhood. Of course, I’m passionate about hockey in particular — I mean, I’m Canadian — but really do have a love and respect for all sports.

The collecting part of my life has been really evolutionary. I started, like many people, by collecting autographs back in the early 90s. I had just gotten into playing golf, and subscribed to Golf Digest. The monthly feature article was about Arnold Palmer, and it interviewed the people in his life, including his assistant. She talked about how once a week, she would open and organize his autograph requests for him to sign the following day. And I thought, “that’s kind of cool, I’ve got to give it a try.” So I clipped the pictures from the magazine, and not having a clue where to send them, mailed them to the editor of the magazine and asked him to forward them to Mr. Palmer. Lo and behold, a couple of months later, I opened the mailbox, and there were my first autographs in the mail.

I became addicted to autograph-seeking through the mail, and spent years writing athletes. Sometimes, I would drop 300 letters in the mail at one time. It was ridiculous.

Over time, I built up 50 to 60 thousand autographs, but years passed before I realized there was a game-used memorabilia part of the hobby. That all changed when one day I found myself with time to kill in an Edmonton pawn shop. I noticed a few hockey sticks behind the counter, and the employee explained that they were NHL players’ sticks. He passed me Wayne Presley’s, and for $25, I had my first piece of the game.

This opened up the next chapter of my collecting journey. I dove into this world of game-used memorabilia, got educated, and became part of that community.

So how did you decide to focus on Wayne Gretzky?

I’ve always been passionate about the Oilers [Gretzky’s team], and moved to Alberta in 1980 when the team joined the league. In 2005, the Oilers held a large auction of a former staffer’s collection, which included Wayne’s game-used memorabilia, in conjunction with Classic Auctions in Montreal. At that moment, I decided to collect and focus on Wayne Gretzky game-used memorabilia going forward.

Then, about three years ago, I decided to press the brakes on the game-used memorabilia Gretzky world and transition into card collecting and investing.

What advice do you have for someone that is interested in or getting into collecting? 

The biggest piece of advice I have is to collect out of passion for something or someone in the hobby. Whether it’s a certain type of card, particular athlete, or favorite team, select a focus and stick to it. If you don’t, you’ll find yourself spending tons of money, time and effort building a big collection with no real theme. Additionally, it’s just much more fun to have a focal point; it refines your search for interesting items and networks of like-minded people. I just wish I had maybe done that a little sooner.

How do you connect with other collectors today? 

The internet is everything. When websites were first emerging, user forums were the place to be. Now, I’d say that 99.5% of collectors’ networking takes place within Facebook groups.

However, in-person get-togethers are still very important in the hobby. For example, I attended the Toronto Card Show a few years ago, and in the days leading up to it, I had a realization: Almost all of my interactions in the card world were electronic. In Toronto, I was finally able to put faces to the names, shake hands, and grab dinner or beer with these other enthusiasts. Even though I already valued these relationships in the digital world, the face-to-face interaction solidified them and added a personal touch.

Let’s talk a little bit more about Wayne Gretzky. I know you’ve had a chance to interact with him and his family while amassing your impressive collection. What have those interactions been like? Would you share a fun or interesting story with us? 

One of the highlights had to have been back in 2010, when the Edmonton Kinsmen Club invited me to set up my collection for a function with Wayne as the keynote speaker. So I packed up two trucks and two trailers, and spent an entire day with a team of people to set up the display. In the end, it was pretty spectacular. But the best part was privately walking Wayne through every single item in my collection — it was absolutely thrilling. As a Gretzky collector, at that point, I had reached the summit.

What does your family think about your collection? Are they avid collectors, too? Or do they leave it to you? 

To say that my family is supportive would be a massive understatement. We all have our passions, and having the people closest to you support them is integral to being able to enjoy them. Despite my passion for hockey, my kids are all skiers, dancers and swimmers. They support me and my Oilers fandom, but again, they’re just not big hockey people. But they know I am, and join me on the couch during the games. I appreciate that they understand it’s important to me and support it.

I would imagine there are lots of families where one member is a big collector and others are not. What should those collectors do to ensure that their families understand and appreciate what they have? I know you have a system in place if anything unexpected were to happen to you. 

This idea is a very misunderstood part of the hobby, and one people do not take seriously enough. One of the reasons I downsized a few years ago was because, one day, I looked around and realized how disorganized I was at the time in terms of what I had, how much it was worth, and where it came from. I thought, what happens if I get hit by a bus tomorrow? Where would that leave my family? How would they deal with that? Attempting to understand a niche collection with thousands and thousands of items would be overwhelming, especially in the wake of a tragedy. So at the time, I used the tools that I had — mostly Excel spreadsheets — to lay out everything I owned. I also have an envelope which I have left for my wife which includes a high level overview of the collection and the right people to get in touch with in order to auction the collection if that is what she would like to do.

How do you think a digital platform like MAGPIE can help in this regard? 

MAGPIE truly is on the leading edge. The platform not only allows collectors to input values, purchase prices and locations, LOAs, and photographs, but its market analysis follows the current auction results for specific items and draws them into the database. So whether collectors themselves use it for personal organization or set it up for family members in case something happens, the inventory is always accessible, well-organized, and up to date. I think it will become key in the proper execution of what to do with what you have.

Once the inventory is loaded into the platform, it’s a great tool for insurance reasons. Imagine simply sharing a link to your Vault with your adjustor or provider. It’s fantastic, because it’s a live platform! They’ll have an immediate, current picture of the value of your collection.

You obviously have an incredible display behind you, and you’ve put on amazing shows in the past. How do you share and show your collection today? 

This is a real challenge. In the past, I’ve lacked an established, publicly accessible way to share my collection. I’m on some really great Wayne Gretzky and vintage card Facebook groups, but finding the right photos and information to share is a manual and spread-out process. I’d like to utilize one-stop shopping for this purpose, and I’m hoping that as I populate my Vault, I’ll be able to easily share it when people ask, “What’s in your collection?”

There’s been a lot of talk that we’re in a little bit of a bubble at the moment, and we may go into a bear market. What do you think? 

Let me just preface this by saying: this is just my opinion. But I think that the market will stay quite solid. There’s been some ups and downs in the past 20 years, but overall growth is rolling along really well and is supported by a tight-knit community of collectors and investors. More and more people are balancing their portfolios with tangible collectible assets. Unlike stocks, bonds, and other securities, there’s a real feeling of enjoyment from owning a card (and money to be made from it).

Additionally, the supply for mid-range and vintage cards is fixed, but the demand is high. In those conditions, the market just doesn’t go down unless external economic factors like employment and inflation really hit this area hard. To be clear, I don’t think we’re bullet proof, but we have a pretty good flak jacket to ride it out.

Stay tuned for an upcoming virtual walk-through of Shawn’s favorite collectibles. In the meantime, start managing your own collection like the pros for free right now with live market data, easy inventory organization and resources, insights from a passionate community of alternative asset enthusiasts and much more. Also, take a sneak peek at one of Shawn’s many treasures right now on MAGPIE!

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