Kentucky Derby

Derby collecting a good bet

After the last call to the post, when the last horse crosses the finish line and the remains of all the mint juleps are downed on Kentucky Derby day, what happens to all of the paraphernalia?

The Derby glasses, Derby pins and Derby programs are not just cherished one day a year. To many, especially Derby fanatics, these items are valuable collectibles.

Kim Neuner, an owner of Derby City Antique Mall in Louisville, said people come in search of Derby collectibles. And Neuner's antiques dealers carry a wide range.

"Every day, especially closer to Derby, we get a lot of out-of-town people that want to finish their collections of pins and glasses," Neuner said.

Finding rare Derby items is not limited to brick-and-mortar stores such as Neuner's. The Internet provides collectors with another avenue to locate items. Craigslist and eBay often have several listings for Derby collectibles selling for hundreds or thousands of dollars.

Ro Spinelli, a collector who started accumulating Derby glasses more than 35 years ago, recently had a listing for some on Louisville's Craigslist.

"I think it was just a fascination," she said. "When you get one, you think it is kind of fun, and one thing led to another. I've got so many of them."

Spinelli's collection began many years ago. Her husband, Mike, who grew up in Bowling Green and lived in Louisville, worked as a Derby photographer for United Press International in the 1960s. He started adding to the glass collection.

The couple met on the West Coast and used to throw a big Derby party each year at their California home. In 1978, Mike Spinelli's father sent the couple 28 glasses to use at one of their parties.

Spinelli used a few of the glasses but mostly just displayed them in her country-style kitchen. She is now looking to sell her collection because she and her husband moved to Arizona. As a frequenter of antiques shops, she's found there is a demand.

Will they be worth anything?

Well, the value of Derby glasses depends on when they were produced. The first mint julep glass was made in 1938, according to the Kentucky Derby Museum Web site and, until 1952, fewer than 100,000 were produced annually. Production increased in the years after and has reached 700,000 today.

It wasn't until 1974 that glasses could be purchased outside of Churchill Downs, and certain glasses are popular because of design, color or errors.

Judy Marchman, author of Kentucky Derby Glasses Price Guide, said glasses from the 1980s have a red dot, indicating that Genuine Risk, a filly, won the Derby. The dot was left off some of the glasses.

Marchman said glasses with mistakes like that can run about $300 to $400.

On eBay, Derby glasses are listed for a wide range of prices, depending on their history. One seller had a listing for a 1940 glass with a $14,999 "buy it now" offer. No one had taken the seller up on the offer this week.

People also buy and sell Derby programs and Pegasus Pins, which are popular.

An official program from the 1930 Derby recently sold on eBay for $835. Its seller, Ted Waters, a retired teacher from Indiana, buys paper items from estates. He bought the 1930 program for $75 from the daughter of a couple who went to the Derby while they were on their honeymoon.

After doing some research, Waters realized the horse who won that year, Gallant Fox, went on to win the Triple Crown and then sired the next Triple Crown winner Omaha. Waters said he also sold for $1,300 a program that listed the match race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral in 1938.

Pegasus Pins, which cost $4 at retail locations and $5 at festival events, were introduced in 1973 and account for 20 percent of the Kentucky Derby Festival budget, according to the KDF Web site. Seven years ago, the pin program introduced pin trading, meaning collectors could buy and trade pins from previous years during festival events.

Sharon Hall is the dealer who sells most of the Derby items at Neuner's store. Hall said she started collecting Derby stuff when her husband, Phil, brought home a box of Derby glasses 40 years ago.

"I thought it would be fun to just keep (them) a while," Hall said.

After growing a collection, Hall has sold glasses for hundreds of dollars. She has also collected Derby shot glasses, which she said are worth more. Although the glasses are the mainstay of her collection, Hall also sells pins, programs and other items.

Collecting souvenirs has become one of the traditions of the Kentucky Derby, and whether people do it for sentimental reasons or to turn a profit, these collectibles have a life after the first Saturday in May.