OAKLAND PARK, Fla. — Three decades ago, Ken Kallin began amassing the 120,000 pieces in a memorabilia collection that includes photographs signed by Muhammad Ali and Neil Armstrong along with rare books and trading cards. By the end of Saturday, he's hoping to have gotten rid of nearly all of it — at an auction to benefit his ailing daughter.
Kallin's daughter suffers from a rare autoimmune disease that makes her bones dangerously brittle and causes her body's defenses to attack her own blood vessels. Her treatments are expensive and can involve powerful chemotherapy drugs often used to treat cancer patients.
A memorabilia expert who's not involved in the sale described Kallin's collection as "once-in-a-lifetime" and expects the auction to attract big spenders.
"It's for a higher purpose," said the 67-year-old Kallin.
His daughter, 43-year-old Julie Susi, suffers from mixed connective tissue disorder, or MCTD, which shares features with lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Her brittle bones make it difficult to get around. She walks with a boot on her broken right foot and takes a dozen pills a day to help relieve back and joint pain. She also received chemotherapy treatment for vasculitis, an inflammation of blood vessels.
She can't work and said she and her husband are struggling financially. They have two children, she pays $2,200 a month for their insurance and her deductible is $1,250.
"I'm in a lot of pain," Susi said. "Some days are better than others."
But she also sees the sale as a chance for her father's private collection to have a public debut that shows the value of his years of collecting. The sale is taking place at a warehouse outside Fort Lauderdale with J. Sugarman Auction Corp.
"I had never looked at this to benefit me. I just want to see my father make it," she said.
Susi said she didn't bother turning down her father's offer. He wouldn't have listened to her anyway.
Kallin says he began collecting memorabilia after meeting actress Bette Davis in 1980. By the end of the evening, Davis had given Kallin five photographs with her signature on each.
From there, he pieced together his collection by attending golf tournaments and other celebrity appearances, often carrying head shots and other glossy photos to be signed. He scoured garage sales for collectibles. He even bought some items from friends.
"When I started, I said everything I get has to be on an item with their picture on it," he said. "Anybody can walk up to a celebrity and get a piece of paper and have them sign it. But to be prepared and to get it on a photo, takes a lot more work. But it's more viable."
Throughout the years, his collection grew to include 22,500-plus original photos with everyone from Michael Jackson to Julia Child and Elizabeth Taylor.
Kallin said he researches every photo's authenticity before including it in the collection by recording every detail from where it came from to its condition. He then follows two dozen other steps before placing the photos in protective plastic covers.
"There is a profit factor here, but if you calculate all of the sacrifices that we've made, it's a return on investment," said Kallin, who's earned money with a number of jobs ranging from counseling veterans to helping businesses be more efficient.
The collection includes more than 680 antique books; 7,300 or more contemporary books; about 1,430 letters; over 22,520 photos and some 60,740 trading cards — all autographed. He is also selling movie posters, sheet music dating back to 1864, vintage Tin Tin books in French, bowling pins, collectible plates in sets, sports memorabilia and other collectibles.
Kallin said he put together the massive collection for personal enjoyment and hasn't sold pieces of it before.
The collection hasn't been independently appraised, but the auction house and Kallin believe it's worth $4.5 million based on valuations for comparable items that have sold recently.
Kallin and the auction house also say his books would beat the Guinness World Record for a private collection of autographed books. They've asked Guinness to verify the claim, but it hasn't said whether it will send a judge to the auction.
"I don't think there's been a collection like this offered, or featured, in the history of auctions," said Jay Sugarman, the owner of the auction house.
The auction will include a dozen lots divided by category, so the 7,300-plus books will be auctioned as a complete set. Bids can be made online and the auction is expected to last just over an hour.
"That's a hall of fame caliber collection," said Neil Whiteley-Ross, who sells trading cards and other items for Bristol Collectibles on eBay. "That is a once in a lifetime collection that needs to be seen by everyone."
Whiteley-Ross, who isn't involved in the sale, said the collection should attract some of the biggest spenders in the industry.
Kallin is keeping two books by Bob Graham, a former Florida senator and governor, and one photo of Davis, the woman who started it all.
"There's things that have memories," he said. "They are all favorites. They were all like my babies when they came in."