Dave Pareti grew up in Lakeview, trading baseball cards with friends.
“We’d buy a pack of gum, and it came with trading cards,” he said. “They would make thousands of some players and just hundreds of others, so you were always saving up your duplicates to try to trade them for the players you didn’t have.”
Pareti’s card trading days have long been over, but they brought him a bit of holiday cheer when Joel Magee, a visiting collector and toy expert who calls himself "The Toy Scout," bought a big stack of Pareti’s cards while hunting for collectible toys in New Orleans.
Magee, a Disney aficionado who may have the world’s largest collection of Disneyland promotional posters, has recently landed a gig as a consultant to the wildly popular “Pawn Stars” television show.
“They already had a toy expert, so it didn’t seem as though they would need me. But then they encountered a rare Disney item and called me. Now I’ll be on the show whenever they need Disney expertise.’’
But Disney isn’t Magee’s only expertise. In the years since he started traveling the nation in search of collectible toys, he’s learned volumes about Barbie dolls, BB guns, GI Joes, Star Wars lunch boxes, Superman comic books, little red wagons and more. He not only knows the history of them all, he can answer the burning question: “What is my (fill in the blank) worth?”
“Everyone comes in hoping to learn that the lunchbox they had in the sixth grade is worth thousands of dollars, and occasionally, it happens,” Magee said. “More often than not, though, it’s worth a lot less.”
Pareti showed up Wednesday morning carrying a box of trading cards at the Homewood Suites in Metairie where Magee has set up shop (Through Saturday, Dec. 30, 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., 2730 Severn Ave., Metairie)
“They aren’t just baseball cards,” he said. “They’re basketball players, movie stars, actors and all sorts of cards. I told (Magee) I’d sell them for the price he wanted to pay me if I could keep this one card.”
The card? “Pistol Pete” Maravich when he played for the New Orleans Jazz.
“He was our hero when I was growing up,” Pareti said. “He’s really the reason that my friends and I started playing basketball. I wish I had the rest of my collection to bring in.”
The rest was destroyed when floodwater from the levee failures after Hurricane Katrina inundated Pareti’s Lakeview house with 9 feet of water over 12 years ago.
“Just by chance, I had left one of the boxes at my mom’s house in Metairie, and she came across it not too long ago.”
Craig Daste wasn’t much for trading cards as a kid; he preferred comic books.
“There were seven of us in my family, but every weekend, one or two of us would get to spend the night at my grandmother’s house on Pine Street uptown. She’d take us to the dime store on Oak Street and let us pick out something. For me, it was Hot Wheels and comic books — I loved 'Betty and Veronica' and 'Richie Rich.' But I also liked Grand Prix and Superman,” Daste said.
It was Superman that caught Magee’s attention.
“With comic books and other toys right now, it’s superheroes that are attracting the highest dollar,” Magee said. “Just because a comic book or trading card is old doesn’t mean its worth a lot — it has to be in demand.”
And demand, he said, is nostalgia-based. When people get to be about 30 or 40, they become nostalgic for the things they loved when they were growing up, and they want to try to get them back. The ages of 7 to 12, he said, are the magic years that people want to recapture.
“It started for me when I was at a flea market and, from 100 feet away, I saw a GI Joe lunchbox just like the one I used to have as a kid,” he said. “It brought everything back to me, including the fact that my mom never put pickles on my sandwich because she said it would get soggy if she did.”
Magee purchased items from most everyone who appeared with toys to peddle. but what he didn’t buy was as illuminating as what he did. One man came in with a case of Star Wars items from the 1990s.
“They’re wonderful but I’m afraid they’re too recent,” Magee told him. “If you can hang on to them for another 10 to 12 years, they should be in demand, and you’ll be able to get more for them.”
The pilot for Magee’s show, “The Toy Scout,” has been shot and it’s being shopped around now. The odds are good that the show will be picked up. In the meantime, Magee had a prophecy and a warning to share.
“People ask me all the time what the next big thing in the toy collecting world will be, and I tell them Harry Potter,” he said. “So be careful when you’re cleaning out your kids’ room — you don’t want to throw away the wrong thing.”