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Rare Pikachu, Kobe's Sneakers — A Hidden Vault Guards It All

$200 million worth of collectables are guarded behind two 7,500-pound vault doors, each more than a foot thick, in Delaware.

Collector's Vault CEO Ross Hoffman
Davidde Corran / AP
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The ordinary brown brick building, tucked within a nondescript block on a street in Delaware, would probably not garner much attention if it weren't for the razor wire and armed guards outside — hints that something important lay inside, possibly even precious.

Fort Knox it is not. But the stash of collectibles the building holds is undoubtedly worthy of guarding.

There's a rare Pikachu card and a century-old one of baseball great Honus Wagner, which recently sold for $7.25 million in a private sale. In addition to the trading cards, there are baseball bats and basketball shoes, including a pair of sneakers worn and signed by the late NBA great Kobe Bryant.

In all, $200 million in collectibles are stored in two vaults inside the building, equipped with some of the latest technology to keep the valuable cache safe from harm or thieves.

"A lot of people don't keep jewelry at their house. They keep it at a safety deposit box," maybe at a secure bank, said Ross Hoffman, the chief executive officer of Goldin Co., a division of industry giant Collectors, which operates the vault, a high-security facility specializing in protecting collectibles.

The building has no signage, and the company asked that any hint of its location not be divulged. Inside is a technologically advanced facility with a guarded vault, equipped with seismic motion detectors that will sound the alarm should anyone try to jackhammer through walls.

To move from room to room, a security guard ushers you through a card-activated double door entry way, letting the first door close before passing through the next. There are surveillance cameras everywhere.

Behind one of two 7,500-pound vault doors, each more than a foot thick, are rows of shelves that extend to the building's rafters. Rows upon rows of boxes are filled with collectors' items — including some with relatively little monetary worth but that represent sentimental value for their owners or that could someday be worth much more.

Hoffman called the facility a "pain killer."

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"There's pain of things getting lost. There's pain in the things getting stolen," Hoffman said.

Interest in sports collectibles and memorabilia has boomed in recent years, not just high-ticket items but also for rediscovered pieces that had been tucked away in attics or basements. In August, a mint condition Mickey Mantle baseball card sold for $12.6 million, surpassing the $9.3 million paid for the jersey worn by Diego Maradona when he scored the contentious "Hand of God" goal in soccer's 1986 World Cup.

"A lot of times people have collectibles for the bragging rights to show it to other people so they can go, ooh and ahh," said Stephen Fishler, founder of ComicConnect, who has watched the growing rise — and profitability — of collectibles being traded across auction houses.

But some people don't want the burden of being responsible for securing their property, which they view as investments akin to stocks, Fishler said. These storage facilities help better liquify collectibles by treating them as assets that can be more easily bought and sold.

Hoffman, whose parent company also runs one of the leading grading and authenticating services, said his newest venture is an acknowledgment of the big money now involved in collectibles.

Before the pandemic, the sports memorabilia market was estimated at more than $5.4 billion, according to a 2018 Forbes interview with David Yoken, the founder of Collectable.com.

By 2021, that market had grown to $26 billion, according to the research firm Market Decipher, which predicts the market will grow astronomically to $227 billion within a decade — partly fueled by the rise of so-called NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, which are digital collectibles with unique data-encrypted fingerprints.

While digitized NFTs don't require vaults for safekeeping, the trade in physical collectibles is expected to remain busy and lucrative.

"For a lot of people that buy cards, they have an intention of selling it," Hoffman said, "so to keep it liquid and safe is a great thing."

Additional reporting by The Associated Press.