Generations from now, when the history of the 20th Century is studied, it is clear that Elvis Presley, The King of Rock 'n' Roll, will be remembered as one of the most influential and dominating forces of the era.
Had Presley's life not ended in his Memphis mansion on August 16, 1977, he would have turned 75 this year, and while 33 years have passed since The King physically roamed the Earth, he still maintains a major presence with fans that grew up with him, as well as with those who were born long after his death. Today, Elvis Presley Enterprises generates more annual revenue than the company's namesake ever made in any year of his life. They operate the hugely popular tourist destination of Presley's home – Graceland, and also oversee the worldwide licensing of Elvis-related products and ventures, the continued offering and repackaging of Presley's music and films, the company's Internet presence, the management of their significant music publishing assets, and much more.
For collectors, Elvis has generated just about every sort of collectible item imaginable. Just log on to www.shopelvis.com, the official online store of Elvis Presley and Graceland, and you will quickly see, one would need hundreds of thousands of dollars, and a museum-sized home to purchase and display all the available Presley offerings.
When it comes to collectible cards, various Presley-featured offerings have been produced over the years. The most popular of the Elvis cards was a 66-card set issued in 1956 by Topps. The release of the set coincided with the release of Elvis's debut film – Love Me Tender.
The film was shot under the working title of The Reno Brothers. Upon its release, the title was changed to Love Me Tender, the film's theme song that was based on an 1861 classical song, Aura Lee. Along with images from his concerts and studio work, the cards also included 20 cards with scenes from Love Me Tender. The card set's categories included Ask Elvis, that were numbered #1 through #46, and Elvis' Career, that were numbered #47 to #66. Originally sold as five-card packs for a nickel, cards from the full-color set could also be purchased as single cards for a penny.
A perennial favorite with non-sportcard collectors, this set has been known to be counterfeited in black and white. For those who know and collect these cards, they are well aware that it is extremely difficult to find these cards in high grades being as that they are known to have two major defects – centering, and the presence of background "snow."
As of press time, only two cards from the Elvis set have ever graded PSA Gem Mint 10, and both are owned by collector John Martines of Newton Lake, Pennsylvania. His set, known as "Johnny's Elvis Set," is currently the number one finest set of all time on the PSA Registry.
"Sports Market Report" recently caught up with Martines to learn a bit about the man who is the reigning king of the King's cards.
Sports Market Report: Let's start with your start. Tell us a bit about your childhood.
John Martines: I grew up in Carbondale, Pennsylvania. I attended St. Rose Grade School, and then moved on to St. Rose High School. My dad was a shoe repairman and, while I was in high school, I used to help him in his shop. My dad's life was cut short by cancer at the age of 51 in 1969. When my Dad passed away, my mother sold the shop to my dad's younger brother Joe. My uncle still operates the shop today along with his son. Ten years after my dad died, my mom remarried. She and her new husband had a great life together. She lived to be 86 and passed away in 2005.
SMR: Pennsylvania is serious sports country. Were you a big sports fan as a kid?
JM: When I very young, I was a New York Yankees fan. Growing up, I lived next door to an American League umpire named Joe Paparella. He was an umpire from 1945 to 1965. In the late 1950s, he would take me to Yankee Stadium. I have great memories of sitting in the Yankee dugout watching the team take batting practice. I still have the autographs I got from Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Phil Rizzuto, Whitey Ford, Casey Stengel, Billy Martin and many others. That was a real thrill for me. So, while I was a Yankee fan when I was young, that all changed the first time I saw Willie Mays play. From that moment on, I became a Giants fan. I am still a huge Giants fan today and have attended many games at ATT Park.
SMR: Did you participate in sports as a kid?
JM: Playing sports was a big part of my childhood – Little League Baseball, junior basketball leagues, and pick-up football games. Of course, with the birth of rock 'n' roll, music also became a big part of my life. Teen dances were a weekly event at my high school. I remember that most of the guys would hide when they announced "ladies choice." There were two high schools in Carbondale – St. Rose and Ben Franklin. The kids from Franklin hung out at a place called Lukie's and the St. Rose gang made McCawley's the spot to hang out. They were mom and pop restaurant and malt shops that were a lot like Arnold's on the TV show "Happy Days." It really was a lot of fun growing up in the late 1950s and early '60s – doo-wop was big, and of course Elvis was the King of Rock 'n' Roll.
SMR: Where you a card collector as a kid?
JM: Like most sports-minded kids in the 1950s and '60s, I collected baseball cards. I really like the cards, and it was just the thing to do. I used to flip them and trade them with my friends. I will always remember the Immaculate Heart of Mary Sisters who operated the grade school I attended. They would not allow us to flip cards because they felt it was a form of gambling. They were always taking our cards from us and destroying them. But, boys will be boys, so the flipping and trading of cards always continued. For me, more than playing with the cards, I was always more inclined to collect them and try to build sets. I still have some of those cards from my youth, but their condition is not very good because I did flip some, and also, like so many kids, I used rubber bands to hold them together which caused some damage.
SMR: It sounds like your life was right out of a "Happy Days" episode. What path did you take when you completed high school?
JM: I went on to attend the University of Scranton and graduated in June of 1968 with a degree in business management. Three weeks after I graduated, I married my wife, Cheryl, and in July of that year, I started my first job as a national bank examiner with the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency. I was there until 1973 when I took a position with Scranton National Bank as a branch manager and loan officer. Six years later, in 1979, I became the chief executive officer of the First National Bank of Lake Ariel, Pennsylvania.
SMR: Wow! That was quite a career path.
JM: I spent 21 years serving as the president and CEO of the bank, and during my time there, they changed the name of the bank to LA Bank. I remember when we changed our name, we moved our headquarters from Lake Ariel to Scranton and I hired Tommy Lasorda to be our spokesman. Tommy was a very recognizable sports figure to people in Pennsylvania because he was originally from here. He did a great job promoting our bank for three years. Being the former manager of the "LA" Dodgers, the tie in with "LA" Bank worked perfectly.
SMR: Are you still working?
JM: I'm semi-retired. In 1998, I had some health issues. The pressures of operating a 24-branch financial institution were huge and I thought the best option for me, and for our stockholders, was for us to merge with a larger bank in New York. In 2000, LA Bank merged with Pioneer American Bank to become Pennstar Bank, and we became a division of NBT Bank in Norwich, New York. I remained on the board of directors and served as chairman of the board for about a year. Then, in 2001, I decided that I wanted to try a new avenue of business, so I helped my daughter start her own mortgage company. Nine years later, she is still doing very well and I'm semi-retired. I've been involved in various real estate ventures and have many business interests. I'm also presently serving as the managing member of LA Commercial Services, which is a commercial loan company that offers alternative financing options to business owners.
SMR: Are you also enjoying some rest and relaxation?
JM: Yes. Without a "real" job, my wife, Cheryl, and I spend a lot of time with our family. We also do a lot of traveling. We especially enjoy traveling to Aruba and Italy. Then, as a member of the Country Club of Scranton, I always find time to play a few rounds of golf every week, and after a round, I'll usually sit in on a game or two of gin rummy.
SMR: What about card collecting?
JM: Well, as I mentioned earlier, I have been interested in collecting cards since my childhood. In the mid-1970s, a friend of mine, Phil Craparo, and I started a small baseball card business. We did a lot of the shows and bought and sold all types of cards. I accumulated a really nice collection of cards. Then, in the late 1980s, my son, John, was competing in a barefoot water skiing competition which inspired me to sell my collection and buy a boat. So, I gave up my baseball card addiction for the remainder of the 1980s. Then, in the 1990s, the bug came back and bit me again. I began buying and selling cards and concentrated on PSA grading. Like most collectors, I had been burned a few too many times. That's when I learned the only way to be in the card hobby is to deal in PSA graded cards. I think PSA is the best thing that has ever happened in the card industry.
SMR: Is that when you got interested in the Elvis cards?
JM: Yes. That's when I started compiling my Elvis set. I had been an Elvis fan since I was a teenager, and in 1971, my wife and I were lucky enough to see him in concert in Philadelphia, which was a great thrill. Well being as that I had been an Elvis fan for some 50-plus years, I decided that I wanted to put together the best Elvis card set possible. I did that, and to this day, I am constantly working to upgrade the set.
SMR: It has been known that these cards are fairly easy to find in lower grades, but almost impossible to find in very high grades. Have you found that to be the case?
JM: That's right. As you know, there are only two Elvis cards from the set that have ever graded at PSA 10, and I'm fortunate to own both of them. As you can imagine, those two cards are very special to me. I am also very fond of two other things – a display box that the packs came in and an unopened pack of Elvis cards.
SMR: Do you collect any other type of Elvis items?
JM: I do have a few other Elvis cards that were not a part of the set and I have a very nice collection of Elvis stamps. I also have a few other pieces of Elvis memorabilia but nothing that comes close to the value and status of my card set.
SMR: Do you also still collect sportscards?
JM: Besides my Elvis set, I have compiled a PSA 8.17 average grade 1951 Bowman baseball set and a 1954 Topps baseball set with an average grade of 8.12. I once had the number two-rated 1955 Bowman set and also the number two-rated 1955 Bowman football set on the PSA Registry. A few years back, I decided to sell all those sets and invest my money in other business ventures. I sold all my cards, but could not give up my Elvis Set – I just couldn't do it. So today, all I have left of my card collection is my number one-rated Elvis Set – every one of the 66 cards, all PSA graded, with an average grade of 8.66. I really don't ever see me selling my Elvis set.
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